O'Keefe tops junior women's standings after first day of P&G Championships
posted on 06/24/2016

© John Cheng

By Nick McCarvel

ST. LOUIS – You know you’re having a good day in competition when you can pull out the Dab midway through it.

That’s what Maile O’Keefe did after sticking her vault, a 14.650 that helped her soar to a day one lead at 57.050 overall in the junior event of the P&G Gymnastics Championships.

Riley McCusker (56.450) and Gabby Perea (55.500) are sitting second and third, respectively, in a junior event that was rocked by injury before and during Friday’s competition.

Favorite Jordan Chiles withdrew from the event after an injury in podium training on vault Wednesday, while Emma Malabuyo, Chae Campbell and Alyssa Al-Ashari all suffered from mid-event injuries, not finishing all four rotations.

The six girls who will be selected for the junior national team will be named Sunday afternoon when the all around finals conclude.

“I’ve been trying to work on being a little more excited out there,” said the 14-year-old O’Keefe of her Dab. “Me and my coach came up with that. We were having a little bit of fun.”

It was a fun day for O’Keefe throughout, but particularly on beam, in her final rotation where she hit a 14.850 – the best of the day – with one solid element after another.

“She is so in her zone on beam,” said 2008 Olympic silver medalist Samantha Peszek of O’Keefe on the USA Gymnastics livestream. “She’s in it to win it.”

It was a valiant mental effort from O’Keefe, as well, having put up three strong routines before getting to the beam, her favorite.

“It’s hard knowing that you hit first three events, but you just have to stay relaxed and focused,” said the Las Vegas-based O’Keefe. “I’m here to do the best I can. I’m just focused on myself.”

Morgan Hurd was fourth (55.400), a 14.000 on floor her best effort, while Shilese Jones, Kalyany Steele and Shania Adams went five through seven.

McCusker, who sits in second, soared in her uneven bars (the day’s best with 14.600) after falling in the 30-second touch. She said it was a matter of shaking out her demons.

“I was just getting out my nerves,” said McCusker, 14. “I knew I could hit it, but I got that mistake out and wasn’t consumed with what could happen. It made me perform better.”

McCusker was second on both beam and floor, as well.

Perea, also 14, said it is a matter of all the girls getting their nerves out.

“Overall, I was a little shaky, but I’m just glad I got the nerves out,” she said. “The pressure can make you overthink things. The difference is knowing that you can do it, and my coach helps me with that.”

Campbell, 14, led the all-around after the first rotation with a 14.900 on vault. In her uneven bars routine, however, she missed on a transition and fell, landing on her upper back, providing a scary moment for those in Chaifetz Arena.

She was helped up by medical staff soon thereafter, however, but ultimately scratched from her remaining two events.

Malabuyo, just 13, opened her day with a 14.250 on floor. She performed an elegant and mature routine, sticking her landing on her final tumbling pass. But she landing awkwardly on the vault, limping towards her coach. She’d scratch her final two rotations, as well.

Hurd, 14, found her shining moment on the floor exercise, a 14.000 good enough for second behind Malabuyo.