Every year, the first weekend of March is always an exciting one. The American Cup, which is traditionally hosted this week, is a prestigious gymnastics competition that starts off the international season. The best gymnasts from around the world come together to show off their best gymnastics skills and compete for the American Cup title. This year, representing America, we had Ragan Smith and newcomer, Riley McCusker. Both capable of taking the title, it was set to be a tough competition. In the end, Ragan won the competition by over a point and McCusker finished in 5th, after uncharacteristic mistakes on the bars and beam.
The competition began on vault. Ragan competed a beautiful double twisting yurchenko with nice block off the table. Aside, from a slight leg separation, the vault was one of the best I’ve seen Ragan do. She scored a 14.433, keeping in mind that the code of points was adjusted so the start values were lowered overall, and the fact that judging seems to get more and more brutal every quadrennium.
Riley debuted her double twisting yurchenko aside from the fact that vault tends to be her weakest event. Although her form was clean, she seemed to lift her head from the twist too early, causing her to travel to the side and take multiple steps after her landing. Riley scored a 13.766.
The next rotation was bars. Riley tends to perform beautiful routines on bars. As a junior last year, she nearly snatched the national title on bars but was pulled away from it after a mistake. Considering the fact that this time last year, McCusker hadn’t even qualified elite yet, her bars seem to impress me even more. Anyway, she started off her routine beautifully with her immaculate toe point. However, took a fall on her Downie. She remounted and did a Ricna to a pak, where she hit her feet with bad form. In warmup, she was struggling on her Ricna and not her Downie, so I was a bit shocked to see her take a fall on the Downie. She finished her routine strong, nevertheless, looking disappointed at the end. She scored only a 13.1.
Ragan’s weakest routine is usually performed on bars. So, in this case, all she really needed to do was hit. Starting her routine off with all of her inbar work, and then moving on to her releases, Ragan floated through probably her best bar routine of all time. She definitely hit and did much more, and after a stuck dismount, she scored a 14.4. The second highest bars score of the day.
Next, we have the horrendous beam. Let me just start off by saying neither routines really went as planned…
Riley was hoping for a great comeback after bars. And it seemed as if she was bound to do that. Her routine was nearly flawless. Other than a slight wobble on one of her wolf turns, the rest of her routine was elegant. Front ariel, stick. Split jump, stick. Straddle jump, stick. Handspring layout step out, layout step out, stick. All was going as planned… or at least that is what we all thought. And then, there was her dismount. Her first back handspring seemed a little off, and her second was completely off as she missed an entire foot and seemed to roll off the beam onto her neck. Not one person didn’t feel bad for her. 12.6.
Ragan, who was up right after Riley, was clearly shook by the fall before her. However, with all her experience, nobody expected anything less of her. Although she was showing slight signs of nerves before mounting, as soon as she touched the beam her game face was on. Her wolf turn was magnificent, her series was perfect (as always), and her leaps were beautiful. Her hardest skill in her routine was up next… a full twisting pike. She set for the flip, went for it and landed with her hips completely un- aligned with the beam. This resulted in a fall which was not a help for the leading athlete. She finished her routine strong but scored only a 13.266.
Floor was the last event. Ragan, after struggling with her opening pass in training, started with a beautiful double layout. She still uses her Addams Family floor music which I am slowly starting to get tired of. Next, she did a 1 1/2 through to triple full which was stuck and the best I saw from her all weekend. After a crooked double arabian, that she still managed to land on her feet just took a step, she finished with a double pike and took a couple steps forward. It was a clean routine and she scored a 14 which was enough to clinch her title!
Riley needed to hit on floor for her own personal mental strength and that’s exactly what she did. She performed a beautiful MG ballerina routine to a new music and beautifully landing all of her passes, with only a lunge out of her last pass, a double tuck. I love this routine of hers so much better then her last year’s routine and she scored a 13.5, the second highest floor score of the day, behind Ragan. She ended in fifth, obviously not her best meet, but the experience and the comeback will help her in the near future.
To close things up, let me say that both gymnasts had different highs and lows to their meet but overall, it was a good start to their 2017 season. Congrats to Ragan on the big win!
*Cover Photo via Getty Images.