Kyla Ross gets ready to compete on the uneven bars at the 2013 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships at the Antwerp Sports Palace on Oct. 5, 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium.
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- The origin of the laughter coming from the mixed zone interview area was unmistakable.
Kyla Ross, a U.S. team gold medalist at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and 2016 Olympic hopeful Simone Biles, a two-time gold medalist at the 2013 World Championships, were seated next to each other following podium training Friday for the Secret U.S. Classic.
If there was any pressure for this last big meet prior to the 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships, it wasn’t noticeable on the faces of Ross and Biles. What pressure? They were simply enjoying the moment. A few giggles between close friends.
“I feel like the whole national team, we’re all super close,” Ross said. “We’ve known each other since we were like 11 or 12 years old.”
Saturday night at Sears Centre Arena in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, Ross and Biles will not only compete for individual medals among some of the nation’s best women’s elite gymnasts in the Secret U.S. Classic, but they also will be in the same rotation. It will make for an entertaining show.
“Oh my gosh, she’s my favorite,” Biles said of Ross. “I love having her in the group.”
|Simone Biles competes her floor routine at the 2013 World Championships in Oct. 6, 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium.|
Biles, Ross and their fellow 2013 world team member Brenna Dowell are among an elite group who will compete in senior and junior divisions at the U.S. Classic (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Universal Sports). While those three are already qualified for the national championships, the U.S. Classic is the final qualifying opportunity for most of the other gymnasts assembled for the competition.
The P&G Championships, which will determine the national team for the upcoming year, will be held Aug. 21-24 in Pittsburgh. The men’s field is already filled.
To qualify for nationals, a senior gymnast must score at least 54.000 in the all-around, have a three-event total of 41.250 or a two-event total of 28.000. Junior gymnasts need to have an all-around score of 52.000.
For Ross, a five-time medalist at the 2014 Pacific Rim Championships, the U.S. Classic will be a warm-up meet for the national championships. She has been working on an upgraded program in the floor exercise, but the rest of her routines will be similar to the ones she showed in 2013, when she won three silver medals at the world championships.
“I feel like every competition counts,” she said. “This is the opening of the season, so I know that (U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi) is looking at how everyone is going to do, how everyone is looking for the season.”
And with the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games just two years away, the Secret U.S. Classic and P&G Championships begin a countdown toward Rio as well as the world championships in October in Nanning, China.
“This year going into team worlds, it’s very important for Martha to start to see who’s going to be on the team and who’s going to be a contender for the next Olympics,” Ross said.
While Ross is the only member of the “Fierce Five” 2012 Olympic gold medal-winning team competing at the U.S. Classic, which she admits to being “sad” about, most of her Olympic teammates are already training for a potential run at another Olympic Games. McKayla Maroney, one of those teammates, will hold an autograph session prior to the U.S. Classic on Saturday.
Biles, who watched the 2012 Games from her training gym in Houston, Texas, is one of the rising stars who is clearly on target for Rio 2016. She won four medals at the 2013 World Championships, including gold in the all-around and floor exercise, and missed a fifth medal by just one place. She won the 2013 national all-around championship.
But the nerves can still hit the 17-year-old who is entering her senior year of high school.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but that comes with gymnastics,” Biles said. “Other than that, I’m really excited to compete.”
But once she arrived at the Sears Centre Arena for podium training Friday, the nerves disappeared and her smile surfaced. Especially when she was in the same rotation and the same interview session with Ross. Her Saturday plans were simple.
“I just plan to go out there, hit all four (routines),” Biles said. “Just get out there and compete, doing what I love doing.”
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.