With the London Summer Olympics drawing closer, US gymnasts are gearing up in preparation for the US Olympic Trials, June 28 through July 1 in San Jose, CA. The Olympic roster has yet to be announced, as there remain three qualifying meets in May to determine eligibility for US Nationals in St. Louis, MO the second weekend in June.
Unlike the old days when every member had to compete all apparatus, teams are now comprised of three all-around (AA) athletes and two specialists for a total of five. This means the door is open to gymnasts like Nastia Liukin, the reigning AA Olympic champion. Her specialty is uneven bars, a weak spot for the current US team compared to China.
At the Visa US Nationals competition, the selection committee will be paying close attention, more so now that both rosters will be announced live on NBC immediately following the US Olympic Trials.
Marta Karolyi, Steve Rybacki and, if she is not competing, Nastia Liukin will need to have their wish list solidified before the athletes hit the podium at Trials. They will have overnight to consider their final decision for the men’s Olympic team, but only 20 minutes to choose the five-member team plus three alternates for the women.
According to USA Gymnastics Scott Bregman, the selection process hasn’t really changed, just shifted. Whereas in 2008 the athletes competed at Trials and then went back to the US Olympic Training Center where the final choices were made, this year's Trials replaces that step, making US Nationals even more crucial for those seeking a spot on the coveted Olympic team.
This does not suggest that the US Olympic Trials does not factor into the equation:
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They’re going to probably have a good idea of what the team is going to be going into the second night and, you know, baring disaster from someone or a high performance from someone, there’s not going to be a whole lot of movement on the team. But every chance you can get in front of the selection committee it’s more and more important and time’s kind of running out.
At the national championships, the top eight AA finishers automatically advance to Trials. The selection committee will also hand pick six to eight more to round out the competition. This is where specialists like Liukin will be afforded the opportunity to compete for a berth on the Olympic team.
As for Marta Karolyi, no official word as to whether or not she will continue in her role as the national women’s team coordinator, a post she has held since 2001. A decision will probably be made after the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, but for now she is still in charge.