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By John Powers
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team showed off its considerable skill and depth in Everett, Wash. on Saturday night, winning the Pacific Rim Championships presented by Herhsey’s title inside XFINITY Arena by more than two dozen points over Canada and sweeping the all-around with world champion Simone Biles and Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman.
"The whole team had a lot of confidence in each other so there was no pressure," said Laurie Hernandez, who placed third ahead of teammates Brenna Dowell and Ragan Smith, the alternate who’d replaced the injured Maggie Nichols after camp. "We did great on floor, vault, bars and beam. We were four-for-four. Our team is very strong."
As expected, there was little uncertainty about the outcome. The U.S. had won the previous eight team titles and gone 1-2 in the all-around in the last seven championships. This primarily was a chance for the Americans to gauge their progress along the road to Rio in their last international outing before the Olympics.
For Biles, who’ll be the decided favorite at the Games, it was her first competitive outing since she claimed her third consecutive title at last autumn’s World Championships in Glasgow. "This was the longest I’ve ever gone without a competition," she said. "It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was good for my body. I know I still have things to improve on but I’m in good spot."
Biles was in impressive form, outpointing Raisman by a margin of 62.450-59.900 while posting the top marks on floor exercise (16.050), vault (15.800) and balance beam (15.550). "Obviously with 62-something, she did a good job," observed national team coordinator Martha Karolyi. "Certainly, we can refine some stuff. Every time we can do a little more to come closer to perfection. I’m talking about minor things, so many miniature details — but those make the difference between a medal or no medal."
For Raisman, the London captain who returned to competition last year after a post-Olympic sabbatical, her solid performance was an encouraging step in returning to the form that earned her the floor gold and beam bronze at the 2012 Games.
"I literally felt like I was going to throw up before the meet," confessed Raisman. "I was so nervous, but when I heard the little kids cheering for me it calmed me down. Martha and my coach (Mihai Brestyan) weren’t looking for me to be perfect. They just wanted me to show that I was prepared and strong and powerful. I know I have improvements to make, but I feel good."
Raisman’s 15.600 on floor and 15.200 on vault were second only to Biles "After the World Championships where Aly looked too hyper and a little bit out of control, which wasn’t usual for her, our main goal was to calm her down, and I think we achieved the goal," said Karolyi. "She looked very composed and very much in control of what she’s doing. Now we have to work on a few things to perfect and we are in a good place. She is on absolutely the right track."
For Hernandez and Smith, the squad’s two newbies up from the junior ranks this season, their efforts were an encouraging affirmation of their showings at last month’s City of Jesolo event in Italy where they placed in the top three in the all-around behind Olympic champion Gabby Douglas.
"Laurie did an excellent job," said Karolyi. "She had very good execution scores and pretty precise gymnastics. Ragan did very good on two events and on two others her potential is bigger than she performed but we are working on it. Considering that they are totally newcomers, I think they did a good job."
The U.S. also won a pair of silver medals in the individual trampoline finals. Jeffrey Gluckstein finished second to Russia’s Dmitrii Ushakov while Shaylee Dunavin was runnerup to Canada’s Samantha Smith.