I know, I know. NBC would have you think otherwise, but there actually were other successful American gymnasts before Mary Lou. Did you know that the classy Kathy Johnson won the second annual American Cup in 1977? True story. Now, granted the competition wasn't all that tough, but nevertheless it still happened. While she would valiantly attempt to recapture her title, the next few years belonged to those pesky Soviets.
1980 brought a changing of the guard. Tracee Talevera led the charge, and paved the way for a slew of Americans to win the prestigious (just imagine Tim Daggett saying it in your head) American Cup. The first half of the decade consisted of either present or soon-to-be Karolyi kids beating various Romanians, and the occasional Chinese or Hungarian. The Soviets returned around 1986, but sadly, Baraksanova and Strazheva were no match for the limber Kristie Phillips. Some might argue that this was when the meet started to get a little scammy.
Americans continued to eek wins out over the competition for the next ten years. Then, in 1997, a turn of events. Lifetime gym fans will remember this meet as the first time we got to see a young Vanessa Atler blow a meet what was guaranteed to be hers. Alas, in a show that was to be indicative of the rest of her career, Nessa suffered a shocking loss to the super-innovative Elvire Teza. A similar story repeated itself to allow Viktoria Karpenko to win the Cup the following year. While Jennie Thompson somehow managed to set the ship upright in 1999, the first Scam of the new millennium belonged to fan favorite Elena Produnova, who beat out young American upstarts such as Morgan White and the sassy Tasha Schwikert.
Americans didn't pick up steam again until 2002, when Tasha Schwikert, who stepped in last minute two years before, finally won her title. This was also the time when the American Cup format started to get a little iffy. In 02, the USA "only" had three participants. However, the following year, the powers that be figured such a number was unacceptable, and instead decided to up the number to four. Meaning HALF of the field would be Americans. So it was absolutely shocking when the Americans placed 1-4 in 2003.
The next five years were a huge qualification mess. Formatting was clearly a non-issue. You want event finals only? Go for it! You want four Americans to qualify? Sure thing! Oh wait, only two Americans? You got it! The only thing that remained consistent from year to year would be the winner.
The last two years have been no different. Jordyn Wieber and Rebecca Bross won their respective meets, solidifying the legend that is the American Cup.
But all that changes this year.
This year's field, being one of several World Cup meets, was dictated by the all-around results at the World Championships in Rotterdam. In theory, the top eight girls from worlds would have a rematch in Florida. While a fine idea in theory, the reality is that most of those girls rendered unable to compete this weekend. Lame. Bross is recovering from surgery, Jiang Yuyuan is being sent to Canada instead, and a host of other girls have either declined or have injured out.
But rest assured, the remaining line up is not too shabby. The meet still features the current world champion, Aliya Copterlegs Mustafina. Form issues aside, she is a favorite to win. My very own favorite headcase, Huang Qiushuang, also stands to impress. In her second American Cup, Aly Raisman has impressed even the most hardened AHHTISTRY buffs with her obvious effort to work on her flexibility and presentation. Ariella Kaeslin and Jessica Lopez are Scam veterans and longtime fan favorites. Australian Lauren Mitchell has had an absolute beast of a season, and Hannah Whelan shows that not all British gymnasts are horrifying on floor.
The game changer has been the addition of Jordyn Wieber to the field. Originally the alternate, Jordyn got the call to compete when Whelan's teammate Nicole Hibbert (she of the hair) injured out.
Now, some have already deigned this move proof that the SCAM will always be a part of the American Cup. As if Martha had her cohorts fly to GB, set Hibbert's board wrong ala Lauren Tanner, all in hopes that the USA would be able to field another gymnast who was capable of at least giving Mustafina a run for her money. Evil as Martha may be, this was not the case.
Regardless of how it came to be, Jordyn's addition to the group really makes this an interesting meet. It is absolutely fair to say that this is the most anticipated American Cup in YEARS, if not ever. Girls from three different countries have realistic shots of winning the thing. The remaining girls have outside chances as well, if others fall, which they always do. (HELLO, HQS.) The field, as Al Trautwig says, is wide open.
Speaking of Trautwig, won't someone PLEASE think of the fluffs! There is no excuse for NBC to ignore all of the amazing fluff potential this year. We have it all: comebacks, world champions, the underdog. Are you listening to me, NBC? NO. EXCUSE.
So there you have it. A not-so-brief history of our very own American Cup. And since we have a whole 50-some hours to go, I figure I'd entertain the masses with a preview of this weekend's meet.