Chalk It Up: Bailie Key, 2016 Olympian?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

After the 2012 Olympics, one gymnastics blog decided to start a 2016 Olympic team prediction contest. I had to pick five members for the team and the all-around champion. I picked Bailie Key as the 2016 Olympic All-Around champion.

Arguably the most anticipated new senior of 2015, Bailie Key will compete in her first senior international meet this weekend in Jesolo, Italy. Key competed as a junior international elite for four years, scoring higher than senior competitors at many meets. Though Bailie missed National Championships last year due to injury, she’s back and ready to finally compete as a senior.

Key had incredible success as a junior. People often joked that Bailie was robotic, because she just always seemed to hit. Oftentimes such success as a junior doesn’t bode well because it indicates that the gymnast is upgrading too quickly. However, while Bailie’s routines always had impressive difficulty for a junior, it never seemed like she was doing skills that were beyond her reach. She’s grown a great deal since she started elite, but it seems like coach Kim Zmeskal has paced her well and she’s been able to adjust just fine.

At the National Team Training Camp in February, Bailie Key beat Simone Biles in the all around. Yes, that’s right, Simone Biles, the gymnast I’ve been heralding as the best of our generation, lost to Bailie Key. To be fair, Biles fell, but it’s still impressive that Key was close enough behind her to finish first, especially considering the fact that Biles finished over four points ahead of the next closest competitor at the American Cup earlier this March.

One of the things I really like about Bailie is that she excels everywhere. She’s a true all-arounder with great skill on all four events. Her vault, a double twisting yurchenko, has always been consistent, and I’m expecting her to add another half twist to that for 2016.

Her beam work is incredibly precise and she had unusually high difficulty as a junior, which made her very exciting to watch. Bailie’s always had strong tumbling on floor, but in the past her routines have been pretty cutesy. Last year, however, she unveiled a new floor routine that’s much more mature. I love this kind of dramatic music, and it’s great to finally see Bailie with dance and music that really match her high level of tumbling.

I’m excited to see how Bailie handles her first senior competition this weekend. From the training videos I’ve seen so far, she looks good but not great. Her vault wasn’t looking as good as it has in the past, but she is coming back from injury and getting back into competition, so I’m hoping it’s not an issue. Her beam and bars looked clean and solid, and her floor dance through was pretty good despite some form issues on her Double Arabian. Key’s a competitor, and I think she’ll come out strong this weekend.

So how does Bailie fit into an Olympic picture? While I won’t be so quick to confirm my prediction from 2012, I still think Bailie has a good shot at making the team in 2016. On a small five-person team, a solid all-arounder like Bailie is a huge asset. I can definitely see her fitting into a lineup on almost any event in a team final.

What remains to be seen is whether Bailie can avoid the typical peril of a popular junior: hyped up and successful as a junior only to fall flat as a senior. I’m optimistic about Bailie’s future, though. I see her a little bit as young Jordyn Wieber. While she had hard skills as a junior, she’s been able to keep them up with some room for upgrades. We’re nearing the final push into Olympic year and Bailie’s definitely one to watch.

Featured image courtesy of USA Gymnastics.

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