American Cup 2019: Women's competition breakdown

Mai Murakami of Japan.

Mai Murakami of Japan.

The American Cup stands as a particular point of pride for the U.S. women, where the last non-American to win the title was Elena Zamolodchikova in 2001. The list of champions after Zamo’s name reads like a roll call of American greats: Schwikert, Patterson, Liukin, Johnson, Wieber, Bross, Ohashi, Price, Biles, Douglas, Smith, Hurd. Among them you find ten Olympic gold medals and two appearances on Dancing with the Stars (with Ohashi’s candidature still pending.)

To resume: The American Cup is always the first all-around event on the international calendar and (almost always) the one in which an American walks off with first place. The rest of the world tends to see this meet as an extended world cup podium training or a water-testing of new seniors, but Americans take it very seriously indeed.

Except this year, the headliners are heading elsewhere. Simone Biles is preparing for the Stuttgart World Cup, and 2018 American Cup champion Morgan Hurd is going to the Tokyo edition later this spring. Fortunately, American depth has become as renowned as American difficulty, so while Biles prepares to bulldoze the competition in Germany and Hurd practices her Japanese greetings, we’ll be treated to a most interesting matchup between junior national champion Leanne Wong and 2018 world team gold medalist Grace McCallum, the breakout star among the new seniors last year.

Both have terrific qualities: like so many gymnasts who train at GAGE in Missouri, Wong is impeccably polished, but she also possesses a zen, Kyla Ross-like calmness on the podium. Thrust onto the world stage last October, McCallum didn’t flinch either: she nailed every routine and comes to Greensboro with a dramatic new floor routine and the confidence boost of having won the latest national team camp.

McCallum and Wong are similarly balanced in D-score capability (according to last season’s numbers) which is prone to make the battle close. Both competed double-twisting Yurchenkos (5.4 D) and had bars sets around 5.7. At the close of 2018, McCallum had a edge of a couple of tenths on both beam and floor, but they are close. McCallum’s difficulty, calculated based on what she did in 2018, is 22.2, the highest in the field, but Murakami is just behind with 22.1.

The biggest threat to American domination in Greensboro is likely to come from world all-around silver medalist Mai Murakami, who looked sharp and ready in Thursday’s podium training, and Ellie Black, who struggled here and there but whose potential difficulty, if well played, could land her on the podium. If she does everything she’s capable of, Black’s total difficulty is around 21.8, same as Wong’s.

Among the international field, the experienced Kim Bui, 30 and stronger than ever, has potential fantastic difficulty on bars but is unlikely to challenge for the podium due to a weak vault and beam, which she doesn’t compete too often these days.

Celia Serber, the French junior national champion last year, impressed with big skills and excellent form and should prove an exciting addition to the field. The Netherlands’s Sanna Veerman is a bright young competitor for a country that has made remarkable strides in the past few years. Veerman has the skills but lacks some of the polish, and this competition should be excellent experience for her.

2018 Youth Olympian Lee Yunseo of Korea is making her senior international debut at the American Cup and has some excellent skills up her sleeve. Of the eight women in the field, we saw the least in podium training from China’s Lu Yufei, who remains a question mark.