Next American gymnasts tumbling onto scene

March 2, 2013 - 4:29 PM
American Cup Gymnastics

Jacob Dalton, of the United States, performs on the rings during the American Cup gymnastics competition in Worcester, Mass., Saturday, March 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — Katelyn Ohashi remembers watching the American Cup on television when Jordyn Wieber won last year.

The 15-year-old Texan was planning to take in some TV again before finding out on Tuesday that, instead, she would be making her senior debut in the event that has sent Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin to Olympic titles.

"It was amazing just to be here," she said on Saturday after a strong performance on the balance beam propelled her to victory in the most prestigious international gymnastics competition on U.S. soil. "It was my first senior event, so that's a big confidence-builder for me."

Olympian Jake Dalton won the men's competition in a field that also included the Olympic silver and bronze medalists. Dalton, the 2012 NCAA champion who was fifth in the floor exercise in London, had four scores of 15 or higher, including a 15.7 on the floor.

That and an illness that hindered Olympic bronze medalist Danell Leyva helped Dalton to victory.

"He had, obviously, a little rough day," Dalton said of Leyva, who needed intravenous fluids on Friday and nearly withdrew. "He fought through it. That's something positive not only to me but to the whole Team USA."

The first event of the World Cup season, the American Cup was supposed to be Kyla Ross' return to competition after the London Olympics. But the youngest member of the gold medal-winning Fierce Five dropped out with a bruised heel.

Instead, it turned into a coming out party for Ohashi and runner-up Simone Biles, who are among the top contenders in the next generation of American women trying to follow up London gold with a repeat in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

"I'm taking it year-by-year," Biles said. "But it is still in the back of my mind and I do think about it."

Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas were in attendance — doing the Harlem Shake, firing a T-shirt cannon and awarding prizes to members of the crowd of 4,577. Ross performed an exhibition on the balance beam before the awards ceremony.

Her withdrawal from the competition on Tuesday left two spots available.

Ohashi and Biles were picked, and they proved worthy of their selection.

Ohashi, the 2011 U.S. junior champion, scored a 15.333 on the balance beam and held onto the lead with a 14.4 on the floor exercise. Biles, who was third at juniors last year, had a 15.733 on the vault — the highest score in the competition — and was in position to win before falling off the beam during a tumbling series near the end of her routine.

Ohashi said she remembers watching last year's competition at Madison Square Garden and thinking, "Maybe next year I'll hopefully be there, too." Asked where she would have otherwise been this weekend, she said: "At home, probably watching TV shows and crying."

Leyva, the defending American Cup champion and winner of the bronze all-around in London, struggled to recover from a stomach bug and stumbled badly in the floor exercise and high bar and finished sixth in the field of eight. Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev was second on the men's side, followed by London silver medalist Marcel Nguyen of Germany.

Leyva walked through one tumbling pass in the floor exercise and posted the worst score, 12.8, on the rotation. But he responded with a 14.566 on the pommel horse, typically his worst discipline.

"I used that energy for the rest of the event," he said. "The pommel horse was one of the best routines I've ever done."

With his stomach "bubbling" through the high bar routine — one of his strengths — Leyva crashed to his stomach on a laid-out Tkatchev, a straddle-release move. He hit his knees on dismount and gave a half-hearted wave as he left the mat.

"It was an uncharacteristic feeling out there," he said. "I hate excuses. It's like a huge pet peeve of mine. But I wasn't really feeling like myself."