In practice, the Secret U.S. Classic is one of two U.S. Championships qualifiying meets held each year, in which gymnasts who are not on the national team can attempt to earn a score that will advance them to the National Championships. Over the past few years, however, the Secret Classic (so named because deodorant-maker Secret is the big sponsor) has morphed into a meet almost as important as the national championship itself.
Secret is the official kickoff of the summer elite season, which slowly becomes the fall World Championships season. In between is the U.S. National Championships, where gymnasts actually vie for national titles and invitations to the World selection camp, where some could argue the real competition takes place. But never mind all that -- Secret is where it all begins, and where first impressions are made. And what first impressions we got! Here are five routines that should be watched at all costs.
1. Simone Biles, Floor (watch it here): This may go down as one of the great floor routines of the modern era of gymnastics. And the reason why is that as the most modern of gymnasts (read: routines packed with difficulty), Biles has done something perfectly old school: She has stuck every tumbling pass in her routine. And what passes! She has made the exercise look perfect.
As floor exercise has evolved, the sticking of one's tumbling, that complete control, has been lost in the evolutonary process. Sure, you can find more "artistic" routines than this (Simone Biles is not and has never claimed to be Svetlana Boguinskaya), gymnasts who engage a bit better with the music, or routines that tell more of a story in their choreography. But there's no question that this was dynamite as an exercise.
2. Jordan Chiles, Floor (watch it here): When did my home state get so good at gymnastics? In addition to Shilese Jones's 1.5 twisting double tuck on floor (which alone makes the routine worth watching), Chiles, who hails from southern Washington state, has a wonderful blend of power and grace in this exercise. She makes the tumbling look easy while the dance is engaging. Fantastic stuff that helped her win the Junior women's all around.
3. Lexy Ramler, Uneven Bars (watch it here): You are totally gymnast badass when you begin your bar routine by jumping up to the high bar without using a springboard. And when your routine contains a Bhardwaj and a Comaneci. And when you nail it all and stick the dismount. The most entertained I've been by bars this year.
4. Rachel Gowey, Balance Beam (watch it here): It would be easy to put the stately Gowey into the tall-and-long-limbed gymnast stereotype, which is a nice way of saying that she specializes in twists and doesn't do a hard enough vault. Turns out neither is true: Though she missed it in Chicago, Gowey vaults an Amanar, and though three of her four passes on floor are of the twisting variety, her double tuck at the end of her routine shows that there's no lack of endurance. But it's on balance beam that she impressed most in Chicago, showing a lovely front pike, a triple twist dismount and all kinds of elegance. If she continues like this, look out for Gowey as a darkhorse on this year's World Championships team.
5. Rachel Baumann, Beam (watch it here): This one's for the gym nerds. Unsurprisingly, the WOGA genes shine through in the beam set of the gym's latest ingenue. It's sort of like if Nastia Liukin and Rebecca Bross had a child and she did beam.
BONUS: Melissa Reinstatler, Floor (watch it here): OK, so Reinstadtler misses the mark on a couple of her landings here. But from that first arabesque, this was simply a beautiful exercise that oozed elegance. And there ought to be more of those in the world.