Chalk It Up: Notes from the Comeback Trail

It’s the year before Rio and the Olympic nostalgia is flooding back to fans and athletes alike. It’s officially comeback season. Now is the time when former Olympians have to start training seriously if they want to be considered for Rio.

Thankfully, we have the USA Gymnastics YouTube Channel to keep us fully updated. Over the past few weeks, USA Gymnastics has released videos of gymnasts at the January national team training camp. To keep us on the edge of our seats, they waited until just a few days ago to release videos of the returning Olympians that attended camp: Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and Gabby Douglas.

I absolutely love a good comeback. I’m a fairly nostalgic person (read: I still have 2011 World Championships on my TiVo) so I’m almost always happy when gymnasts make a comeback. However, comebacks can break your heart: many look very promising only to be ruined by injury or lack of endurance. Although every member of the 2008 Olympic team besides Sam Peszek made a comeback, none of them made the team in 2012. The US system has a strong Junior National Team and all sorts of development camps that ensure a new round of gymnasts is ready as soon as older ones retire. This makes coming back an incredibly difficult and competitive process.

One of the videos released featured interviews and training clips of Raisman and Ross.  Raisman looked great and sounded happy to be back and ready to work hard, but acknowledged how difficult this comeback would be, especially in a sea of young and talented gymnasts. Rasiman seemed surprised by how much had changed in just a few years. “They’re all so young,” she exclaimed, talking about how she didn’t know anybody besides Olympic teammate Gabby Douglas at her first training camp back. While this was a strange experience for her, she feels honored and excited to step into the leadership role: “[They] copy things that I do, it’s so cool, and it means so much to me because I was the exact same way.”

While Ross isn’t exactly making a comeback in the same way as Raisman since she didn’t take much time off after London, she joins Aly as one of the leaders of the national team. Kyla is one of the most consistent and clean gymnasts in the county, though her routines lack some difficulty. She suffered a hip injury last year and competed slightly watered down routines at World Championships, still earning a team gold and individual bronze in the all-around.

In 2012, one of Kyla’s biggest strengths was her bar routine. While she still has a great bar set, the US now has a few gymnasts who are strong on bars, so she is not as desperately needed. But I firmly believe in Kyla’s abilities to continue her elite success. Her comparative lack of difficulty allows for perfection in execution and always keeps her in the thick of things even when she’s not performing the most ‘exciting’ routine.

In the video, National Team Coordinator Martha Korolyi raves about Kyla’s abilities as a gymnast. “Her form and lines are so perfect that she was a fantastic component for the team…she just nicely gives the best example for all the girls and she is always a good role model.” It’s never bad to be clean, consistent, and dependable, and Kyla is just that. I think this puts her in a great position going into the pre-Olympic year.

Finally, USA Gymnastics released some training clips and an interview from Gabby Douglas. It looks like she’s taking this comeback seriously: “I want to make it big and better than last time.” She’s motivated by the fact that no American has ever repeated an Olympic All-Around title. While I am a sucker for a good comeback, I have to admit that I’m not a huge Gabby Douglas fan. Like Kyla, her bars were an asset to the team in 2012, but with the growing bars talent in the country her routine wouldn’t be as impressive. She doesn’t stand out too much for me on any events, and she’s not quite as dependable as Kyla or Aly. However, she has proven herself to be talented, so I wouldn’t count her out. Again, full routines require endurance, so we’ll have to wait and see how her skills look in competition.

The United States usually sends a team to compete in Italy at the end of March, and I’m hoping to see Kyla, Aly, and Gabby there. That will give us a better look at how the team is shaping up and if these returning gymnasts can hold their own among the up and coming stars.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.


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