by Anna Rose Johnson

With nearly a month until the 2018 American Cup, we’re previewing the exciting women’s competition and assessing the strong roster of athletes who will compete on March 3rd in Chicago. Let’s take a look at the contenders!

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The obvious favorites for the gold are 2017 World all-around champion Morgan Hurd of the USA and 2017 World floor champion Mai Murakami of Japan.  As in Montreal, this pair should provide a close battle, with Hurd emphasizing artistry and unique skills alongside Murakami, who capitalizes on her immense power and clean form. Murakami’s cumulative difficulty value of 22.3 edged Hurd’s difficulty by two tenths in the Montreal AA final, but a fall prevented her from contending for gold. Hurd has relied mainly clean execution in the past, so we’re looking to see higher D-scores in her 2018 debut.

Maile O’Keefe, who was selected for the U.S. wildcard slot, will be competing in her first meet as a senior. The two-time junior national champ will face an incredible field of talented athletes—especially the reigning World Champion!—but she should have a great chance at a medal, and might challenge for gold. O’Keefe’s remarkable blend of poise and power should serve her well on the senior stage, and she recently told us that she’s currently training upgrades for this season. With a perfect meet, O’Keefe could definitely secure the gold.

Germany’s Elisabeth Seitz is a longtime veteran of our sport. A two-time Olympian, Seitz also competed in the 2013 American Cup, but this is the first time she’s returned to AmCup since then. Fourth on uneven bars in Rio 2016, Seitz could challenge for a medal with clean performances across the board. Mao Yi of China has also been on the senior scene for several years now, competing at Glasgow 2015 and in Rio, and has the potential to medal if she hits all four events.

Great Britain’s Kelly Simm helped her team to a surprise bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships, but since Glasgow, she has rarely competed on all four apparatus. Sticking mainly to uneven bars in 2017, Simm could be preparing for a major comeback next month.

Rounding out the roster are Sanna Veerman of the Netherlands and Fabiane Brito of Brazil, both of whom are making their senior international debuts in Chicago. Veerman competed at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival, placing 16th in the all-around, while Brito won the 2016 Gymnasiade all-around with a score of 55.400.

It should be a fascinating meet, with World champions and other veterans competing alongside first-year seniors looking to prove themselves. Who do you think will come out on top?