Riley McCusker's 2019 season is set to begin the same way her 2017 season did: at a World Cup. About six months after competing at her first major international competition, McCusker is set to make her 2019 debut at the Birmingham World Cup. In 2017, she made her senior elite debut at the American Cup. Hopefully, that's as far as the parallels will go for McCusker's 2019 competition season.
Her performance at the 2017 American Cup was not how she wanted to begin her senior career. Besides a fall on bars and hitting her feet on the mat while swinging on the low bar, McCusker dangerously slipped off the beam during her dismount. Luckily, she bounced back from her first meet of 2017, winning all-around and beam at Jesolo and earning three medals at P&G Championships: all-around bronze, bars gold and beam silver. McCusker looked poised to make her first World Championship team. Unfortunately, an injury prevented her from even participating at the World Team Selection Camp, so she would have to wait to represent the U.S. on one of the biggest international stages in gymnastics.
The Birmingham World Cup marks McCusker's second World Cup, and she will be vying for the all-around crown. McCusker last competed in October at the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where she competed on all four events in qualifications and did bars and beam in the team final. While McCusker hasn't competed in an all-around competition in almost six months and has yet to compete in an all-around final in a major international meet, she is more than capable of hanging with the world's best.
At last year's World Championships qualifications, she earned a 54.765 in the all-around, good enough for eighth. However, the two-per-country rule prevented her from competing in all-around finals. Her strongest events are bars and beam where she has a good balance of execution and difficulty. On bars, she competed a Maloney to Tkachev and a Ricna to Pak salto to Chow 1/2 on bars and on beam, her routine included a Mitchell, followed by a double wolf turn and a triple series. Though not as difficult as an Amanar, McCusker's DTY is solid, and she had difficult tumbling on floor, including a tucked full-in, a piked full-in and a double layout.
Because it's the beginning of the season, her routines and skills may be slightly different and not as polished as they were last time she competed, so her scores may be different, but for McCusker, the Birmingham World Cup isn't necessarily about winning. With just three international assignments under her belt (the 2017 American Cup, the 2017 City of Jesolo Trophy and the 2018 World Championships), it will be beneficial for McCusker and the national team staff to see the MG Elite gymnast get more international experience, see how her routines score, see how she stacks up internationally and to prepare for the end-goal of the year: the 2019 World Championships.
A good performance at the Birmingham World Cup will be helpful in preparing McCusker for the rest of her season, including the U.S. Classic, U.S. Gymnastics Championships and ultimately World Championships, should she make the team.
And in the pre-Olympic year, making the World Championship team is important, though not required, for making the Olympic team. In 2012, four of the five members of the Fierce Five competed at the 2011 World Championships. In 2016, again, four of the five members of the Final Five competed at the 2015 World Championships.
Competing at World Championships provides an opportunity to prove what a gymnast is capable of on one of the biggest international stages, and the Birmingham World Cup offers a similar opportunity. McCusker will be competing on four events against some of the top gymnasts in the world to start her 2019 season and show the world what she's got.