SAN JOSE, Calif. — Hamlet’s Ashton Locklear finished first on the uneven bars at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Friday night with the second highest score she’s ever earned: a 15.750.
And yet she may have lost ground in her quest to make the fifth spot on the five-woman team for next month’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics because her rival Madison Kocian of Dallas, Texas, is on the rise.
Kocian tied Locklear with another 15.750 — the highest she’s ever scored on the bars. If she can stay even with Locklear in Sunday night’s final competition session, she could make the team because she can compete in the sport’s other three events, vault, floor exercise and balance beam.
With a hint of a tear, Locklear said her nerves got her when she was introduced to the cheering crowd of 17,000 amid spotlights and smoke.
“But I fed off the nervous energy on bars and I think I performed very well,” she said. “I could have done better. There’s a couple of handstands that I missed. I think I did pretty good. I think I’m showing Marta my consistency on bars.”
Locklear, limited by her twice-broken back, does only beam in addition to bars, which makes Kocian more valuable in contributing points in the Olympic team competition. She needs to be clearly superior on the bars to go to Rio.
National team coordinator Marta Karolyi said as much afterward.
“Based on today’s performance, in my eyes, Madison’s ahead of Ashton because she can contribute on the other areas also,” Karolyi said. “Actually her execution bars was very good. In my opinion it could possibly be half a tenth or one tenth higher. I felt like it was improved from (the national) championships two weeks ago when Locklear edged Kocian for the title by 0.150 point.”
Still, this is a two-day competition when anyone can have a bad performance, fall — as Locklear did on the beam — or suffer an injury.
“I think the case for Locklear is on her execution,” said Qi Han, her coach at Everest Gymnastics in Huntersville. “Today she had a good shot. Right now she’s still not in her best routine yet. She can have more improvement. She can put everything together.”
Gymnastics scores are a sum of two components. The first is difficulty, the “D score,” which comes from a book like your auto mechanic looks at when he figures the amount of time to do a repair. In the repair book, a water pump replacement is a fixed number of hours regardless how long the job actually takes.
In gymnastics, every little move has a difficulty ranking and the D score is the sum of all the moves in your routine. Kocian typically has the higher D score of the two competitors.
Locklear’s D score Friday was 6.500 and she got a 9.250 for how well she executed each of those moves, the “E score, for her 15.750 total. Her highest bar scores ever were a 15.850 last spring at the Secret U.S. Classic and another 15.850 on the first day of the 2014 national championships.
Kocian’s D score was higher than Locklear’s at 6.700, but her execution rated only a 9.050, which was lower than Locklear. But it’s the total that counts, and both athletes’ scores added up to the same thing.
Locklear and Kocian tied on the second day of the national championships two weeks ago at 15.700 — with the same D and E score differences as Friday night — but because Locklear had a better first day, she won the title. Locklear has lost only one head-to-head bars competition with Kocian in the seven meetings of their rivalry.
That should count for something, Locklear said. “I think everybody has a record, and I think Marta knows that. Mine is pretty good.”
Yiwen Chen, Han’s wife and Locklear’s coach on the balance beam, attributed her fall to nerves. Locklear scored 13.200 there compared to Kocian’s 14.700 — a big difference in gymnastics. In their five previous beam competition dating back to 2014, Kocian leads 3-2.
“She was disappointed because everybody wants her to perform the best that she can,” Chen said. “Usually she handles the pressure pretty well and she has been training pretty consistently. She needs to put in her mind: ‘I can shake it off. I can do it again.’ It was a learning experience and she will do better in the future.”
Sunday night is the future.
Jody Meacham, a journalist for the Silicon Valley Business Journal in San Jose, California, will cover Ashton Locklear in this weekend’s Olympic trials.