By Patricia C. Duffy

The 2017 U.S. Classic was the final qualifying competition for elite gymnasts in the United States hoping for a berth to the P&G National Championships in mid-August. With a fresh crop of senior gymnasts headlining the meet, some known stars shined while new ones were born. As expected, much of the field was rusty to begin and settled in as the competition progressed.

Read on for inside Gymnastics full recap of the #USClassic.

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The U.S. Classic is a tune-up meet for many of the top elite gymnasts in the United States. The meet is also where lesser-known and/or newcomers have a chance to make a name for themselves.

The day started out with the junior competition in the afternoon, but since the junior national team members were all slated to compete among the seniors in the evening session, many of the top contenders for the title wouldn’t be seen until later.

The official rotation schedule was released yesterday evening, and the all-around competition was noticeably (but not surprisingly) missing a few gymnasts.

Leading into the meet, a few storylines stuck out:

Jade Carey’s potential on FX and VT, Marissa Oakley and Emily Gaskins return to elite, Riley McCusker’s recovery and former cheerleader Laney Madsen’s first chance to make a splash.

Despite only competing BB and UB at tonight’s competition, our followers on twitter voted inside Gym’s August 2017 cover star Ragan Smith as the one they were most excited to see compete.

And Georgia Gym Dog head coach Courtney Kupets-Carter shared the first photo of her latest family addition in a touching well-wishes post on social media.

With that, we were off to the races!

Rotation 1:

Abby Paulson started the competition on FX with a graceful performance and solid passes. The routine earned her a 13.250.

Meanwhile Elena Arenas, a promising first-year senior, struggled on beam and earned a 11.950.

Junior standout Maile O’Keefe began her night on the UB and put together a beautiful performance despite not being able to extend into her handstand at one point on the high bar.

Carey, the only VT event title contender, performed her two vaults, including an beautiful Amanar through the air, to start her meet.

McCusker, who has been dealing with an injury the past few months, was surrounded by a prayer circle before the meet began. She started her night on UB with a scratched release but still delivered a graceful and clean performance. Despite the error, McCusker still scored a 13.450.

Margzetta Frazier scored a solid 13.750 on UB in her only performance of the evening.

Other notes from rotation 1:

Gaskins struggled on beam with connections and balance checks but finished strong on her dismount (13.300). Jordan Chiles had a hard time hitting her handstands during her UB routine and left room to improve throughout (13.600).

The gymnasts’ various leos had us thinking about popsicles throughout the meet with their bright colors.

Rotation 2:

Trinity Thomas earned a 13.9 on the UB with her sky high releases and form.

The leader after one rotation, Alyona Shchennikova put together a strong UB performance in the second rotation to earn a 14.5 and keep her in first place.

McCusker seemingly redeemed herself on BB until the very end when she over-rotated on her double back dismount.

Smith followed Thomas and Shchennikova’s performances on UB and earned what would be the top score of the night with an upgraded routine (14.550).

Other notes from rotation 2:

Chiles and Morgan Hurd both struggled on BB. Chiles couldn’t stick her wolf turns before almost falling off the beam altogether (11.650). Hurd touched the beam on her standing full to begin the routine but had a solid routine beyond that. She finished with a double pike dismount (13.650).

Rotation 3:

McCusker finished her evening on FX where she put together a visually stunning and technically sound performance. Her ballet training is evident. It’s hard not to smile when McCusker is on the floor.

Elena Arenas redeemed herself on VT with a solid DTY to score a 14.500.

Back on beam, senior leader Shchennikova continued her evening with an elegant performance on beam before over-rotating her double back dismount.

Smith notched herself another top score of the night on BB with a routine that earned her a 15.35. BHS to two-footed layout. Standing tuck full. Front toss. All seemingly perfect. Stuck dismount to finish, and her night is over. Two titles in hand.

Other notes from rotation 3:

Hurd had a great performance on FX with an impressive tucked double double to start (13.850). Deanne Soza, who was in second place during rotation 3, had a stunning punch front to leap connection to begin her BB routine. She almost came off on her full L turn to illusion connection, but she saved it and finished strong with just a small step on her double back dismount (13.650).

Rotation 4:

Shchennikova started the rotation off with a good, graceful performance on floor, seemingly securing the title.

In what would be the top scoring FX of the evening, Carey earned a 13.950 during her routine: tuck double double to open. Full twisting double layout. Double L turn. Front double full. Full-in to finish but jumped forward out of it.

Junior Gabby Perea performed one of the best UB routines of the evening despite having to finish with a simple layout dismount due to injury.

Ashton Locklear, in her only performance of the night, debuted a new BB routine that featured great leaps, connections and a solid series, but she couldn’t finish the performance and landed with her chest low, putting her hands down in the process (13.600). It is still a new routine for Locklear, who should be able to improve between now and P&Gs.

Paulson made a comeback in the final rotation with her set on BB: double wolf turn, punch front with a slight step back, side aerial to layout layout series with only a little balance check, front aerial to split jump and a round off 2.5 twist with a small step to finish (13.500).

Other notes from rotation 4:

Laney Madsen wrapped her night with another tough performance on beam. She continued to challenge herself with difficult skills but came off the beam four times.

Alyona Shchennikova wins the AA U.S. Classic title while Malabuyo takes the junior title. Ragan Smith earns the UB and BB titles, and Jade Carey secures the VT and FX titles.

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