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Turning Senior: U.S. Riley McCusker

Riley McCusker on beam at the 2017 Jesolo Trophy. Photograph: Ginnastica artistica italiana Riley McCusker is the new rising star o...

Riley McCusker on beam at the 2017 Jesolo Trophy. Photograph: Ginnastica artistica italiana

Riley McCusker is the new rising star of the talented U.S. senior women’s gymnastics team. She lives in Brielle, New Jersey and trains at MG Elite with Maggie Haney, coach of 2016 Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez. Once her elite career is over, McCusker plans to join the Florida Gators’ NCAA gymnastics team.

McCusker had an impressive breakthrough year in 2016, her last year as a junior and her first year as an elite gymnast. She won a silver medal in the all around at the P&G Championships, as well as silver also on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

McCusker turned senior in 2017 and was selected to represent the U.S. at the AT&T American Cup in March, along with teammate Ragan Smith. The American Cup was McCusker’s first ever international assignment, and she struggled to keep her nerves at bay, falling both on bars and scarily on beam, for a still impressive fifth-place finish.

The American Cup finish hurt her pride, but her disappointment boost her determination, and McCusker came back strong at the 2017 Jesolo Trophy, where she won gold medals with the team, in the all around and on balance beam, as well as silver on the uneven bars.

She is one of the top contenders for the U.S. National all around title next August.


McCusker performs a strong double-twisting Yurchenko. Her vault could be a bit tighter, a bit higher and with a bit more amplitude, but it is still one of the top DTYs in the U.S., and her landings are precise. The DTY is worth a 5.4 D-score in the current Code of Points.

Uneven bars

The uneven bars is McCusker’s best apparatus.

She performs a Stalder full pirouette + Maloney + Tkatchev (D + D + D, CV 0.3), a Stalder piked Tkatchev (Downie) (F), a Stalder Tkatchev (Ricna) + Pak salto (E + D, CV O.2), a Maloney with half turn (Van Leeuwen) (E), and a unique half-twist double tuck dismount (E). She has beautiful lines and execution throughout, and an uncanny ability to find her handstands. Her final D-score is a huge 6.2.

Balance beam

On balance beam McCusker has a lot of difficult elements, presented with grace and poise.

She performs a triple turn in tuckstand (E), a double turn in tuckstand (D), an aerial walkover + split jump + straddle jump (D + B + B, CV 0.2), BHS step-out + LOSO + LOSO (B + C +C, CV O.2), switch split leap + switch split leap half + back tuck (C + D + C, CV 0.3), aerial cartwheel (D), switch ring leap (E), BHS step-out + BHS + double tuck dismount (B + B + D, CV O.1). Her total D-score is an impressive 6.1.

Floor exercise

On floor, she performs a beautiful routine, where she impersonates what she calls a ‘sassy ballerina’. McCusker is indeed very graceful on this apparatus, but she also performs some big tumbling passes, including a full-twisting double tuck.

Her routine is formed of: a full-twisting double tuck (E), a Memmel turn (D), a double-twisting layout into front tuck (D + A, CV O.1), a double turn in tuckstand (D), a double pike (D), a switch ring leap + switch split leap 1/1 (C + D), and a double tuck (D). Her final score is a 5.3.

Bottom line

Riley McCusker could become one of the top U.S. gymnasts of this quad. She is powerful and precise, as well as elegant, poised and with an international look. Her beautiful lines, long and stretched arms and legs, pointed toes and elegant hand positions make her stand out especially on bars and beam. On bars in particular, her difficulty, precision, handstands, amplitude and overall beautiful execution make her a world-class athlete and a World championship-medal contender.

On floor, she still needs to work on consistency and landings, but her presentation, choreography and interpretation of the music are stunning for such a young gymnast.

Her lines and posture are reminiscent of Nastia Liukin’s. Nastia, like Riley, turned senior the year after the Olympics, and her journey to the 2008 Olympics was long and perilous – but it paid off. Can Riley repeat Nastia’s success? Watch out!

By Talitha Ilacqua

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