By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – Simone Biles did not make the trip to Lima but the U.S. women’s gymnastics juggernaut didn’t need the services of the world and Olympic champion as they steamrolled to the Pan Games team gold medal on Saturday.
Even without their leader, the U.S. squad had no problem defending their Pan Games crown by posting a winning total of 171 points, a massive 10 clear of second place Canada with Brazil taking bronze.
USA Gymnastics sent what it described as an “A Team” to Lima but Tokyo Olympics hopefuls Morgan Hurd, Kara Eaker, Riley McCusker, Aleah Finnegan and Leanne Wong all got top grades.
So dominant were the U.S. that they posted the top three scores on the beam, floor and uneven bars.
The only athlete to dent the U.S. hegemony was Canadian Ellie Black, the reigning Pan Am all-around champion who took top spot on the vault.
“It was perfect, we did 16 routines, our hope was to have 16 hits and we did,” Tom Forester, the USA Gymnastics team high performance coordinator, told Reuters.
“The main thing is that they held their composure and to be really excellent in gymnastics you have to manage all the other things.
“It is isn’t just the gymnastics part, it is the redundancy of every day, it’s the cold rooms or the hot rooms, or the equipment or the anxiety.
“You have to manage all of that and they have done it really well.
“No matter what we do we can’t duplicate this in the gym. You can’t, they have to be here and go through it.”
The diminutive and bespectacled Hurd, always a crowd favourite, had been expected to lead the U.S. squad but the 2017 all-around world champion seemed out of sorts.
The first onto the beam, Hurd turned in an unsteady effort with three bobbles and again appeared off her game on the floor with a couple of more wobbles that left her in eighth.
She hit back with two solid performances on the vault and uneven bars to move up to fourth in the all-around qualification.
The late push, however, was not enough to get her into Monday’s all-around finals with each country allowed only two entries and McCusker and Eaker qualifying first and second.
“Nerves are always there and I was definitely a little nervy,” Hurd told Reuters. “I do prefer to start first on beam but the first event is already shaky because you have a bunch of adrenalin going.
“The last two events I still wasn’t at my best, I knew I could do better and that is just something to work on.”
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)