4AM alarm unfortunately but thankfully it was way more exciting to wake up to the realisation that my flight was actually finally leaving in a few hours than Christmas morning growing up ever was. Antwerp inexplicably does not have an airport, or if they do it's a Fisher Price effort, so had to go via Brussels. Because of this we had to go for the safe option of a morning flight, but it was great having the security of arriving very early (09:30). The two cities are just 40 minutes apart by train, so it was fine.
Here's how convenient the location was:
This is Koningin Astridplein, or Queen Astrid's square.
The beautiful building in the middle is the train station where we arrived from. To the left is the zoo, which has King penguins! Killed time nicely there. At the other end facing the station was our hotel, which was a huge behemoth of a thing and looked down on everything.
We were bumped from a 3 star to this 4 star, which was great :D To the right of the station as seen here were streets filled with great places to get lunch and dinner. The street to the left of the hotel in this photo was a Chinese district, where we had an unbelievable meal. Worth feeling left out for eating with forks and having Western dishes. RIGHT UNDERNEATH the hotel was the metro station for the subway to the arena. On the same street as the Chinese district we could have gotten trams to the arena either. Transport to the arena with event tickets is free, because why not.
Anyway, on with the show. Met up briefly with some people I know which was great and.......wait for it......Andreea Raducan crossed the street right behind us! I am in the green jumper, nicely in height order - how very Romanian of us. She was very gracious about being pounced on (nicely!) thankfully.
Our tickets for the all-around were slightly beyond the vault table, and for row 13...which ended up being row 5, presumably because rows were chopped out to make room for the podium. Amazing feeling to sit down in INCREDIBLE seats, though they should be as I booked them on day 2 of release :p I can see us in some footage already, and I haven't seen much. Here is the view straight ahead, floor and beam were perfect. Bars were far away but still fairly clear. Each seat had a shiny card on it, made to be folded into a fan. The noise of everyone using them for clapping was great, really added to the fun of the music they used between rotations and as marching in/out music. In fact, I basically loved all of the music they used.
Group 1 started on vault which was so exciting. The sheer noise in warmup of Simone Biles hitting the table and then the mat is awesomely loud, and she was doing her usual trick of throwing DTY's and amanars while the rest were just doing timers still. Having the perfect side view means things like leg separation go unnoticed, and foot crossing. It was such an experience to see Simone Biles launch towards the rafters just a few feet away. The others vaults I enjoyed the most were Giulia Steingruber's, Roxana Popa's, Kyla Ross' (legs looked perfect on the block from my angle..), Noel Van Klaveren (so so clean and beautiful) and Larisa Iordache. Almost immediately it was tough to know where to point my eyes. I wrote out the start lists as I wasn't going to be ripped off for roaming data prices and there was no wifi in the arena, and that definitely helped, but I had lots of pink underlining for routines I wanted to watch clashing with others throughout the competition which as expected, was tough to manage.
I found vault and floor quite calm to watch, beam was so nervewracking. Most gymnasts were held for at least a minute before competing, which I really hated to see. It's not an apparatus you want to be standing around waiting for, giving yourself time to freak out. There were moments of glory a-plenty, Simone Biles nailing the 2.5 wolf and planting the dismount, Kyla Ross' lines and being perfectly and gloriously in line with the beam on everything, Roxana Popa hitting a very solid routine for her weakest event, Anna Rodionova, Noemi Makra and Ilaria Kaeslin showing off their perfection, form and elegance, Aliya Mustafina staying on and Natsumi Sasada's insanely difficult mount, the layout full. But such heartbreak, and so many tense moments. Every time there's a big wobble everyone holds their breath and the atmosphere heightens completely, and such disappointment for someone when they fall. Ruby Harrold, Rebecca Tunney, Victoria Moors, Larisa Iordache, Shang Chunsong and Yao Jinnan...horribly long list of such fantastic gymnasts. Ruby's routine is quite exciting so it was such a downer when she fell, and of course Rebecca has had a very tough time with injury, recovery and growth so had she succeeded here at last it would have been such a boost for her. I found Victoria's routine one of the most upsetting as I had a clear view of her sitting apart from everyone else looking absolutely miserable afterwards. And of course, the 3 girls who had the difficulty to contend right at the top. Yao's fall was infuriating because the tucked full should have been dumped long ago. As soon as I saw her prep for it I was gutted, pretty sure I called out 'Noooooo!'. Shang's was another super disappointing one, she's usually very solid on beam, or at least not prone to actually falling. And of course, Larisa, who when you think about it aside from Euros 2012 has had a pretty bad time as a senior. It's funny, you think she's been around for ages and everyone knows her and her routines...but she hasn't accomplished much and has been so unlucky. The competitive fire seems to be lacking a bit too, sadly.
Not that floor didn't have its moments. Right before Victoria Moors went for her skill, there was total, terrified silence. And then BOOM an explosion of joy when she not only landed it but stuck it too! Simone Biles' much better landing (than quals) of HER own skill also got a great reaction. It's so different to hear floor music booming live. Shang Chunsong's gunshots seemed louder and weirder than ever, but the ending few seconds of her routine were absolutely endearing and totally worked. Elizabeth Seitz' routine was great even just for this reason, the beat magnified in the dance bits was infectious and really got the crowd involved. Happily I did not notice one single fall on floor and the number of out of bounds was very, very low - lower than would have been expected with such a bouncy and newly - launched floor, but of course that's what practice and podium training was for. One strange thing I noticed is the speed of gymnasts runs- for instance, Asuka Teramoto and Natsumi Sasada seemed to be taking their ease, compared to the power and attack of others. It instantly explained the difficulty they are apt to have with underrotating skills like the triple full. Ilaria Kaeslin and Anna Rodionova stood out a mile for their beautiful gymnastics here, and my eyes were out on stalks thanks to the perfection of Noemi Makra's piked full-in. I'm so glad I got to see that live. It's great to see stunning lines and form etc. amidst all of the scary and sloppier difficulty. Not that immense difficulty isn't exciting, it was awesome to watch, but noting the amount of crazy skills performed and the legions of injured gymnasts is still worrying.
Highlights and Favourite Routines
- Yao Jinnan's Mo Salto. It was breathtaking, and the entire routine besides was amazing to watch.
- Elizabeth Seitz' Def. It looked way cooler than I expected, seriously impressive skill.
- Natsumi Sasada's layout full beam mount, previously mentioned.
- Aliya Mustafina's PRESENCE. She radiates it even walking down the steps after saluting. She holds herself very regally and beautifully, and while it wasn't exactly a surprise, it was still great to witness her at her queen-liest.
- The Biles and the Moors.
- THAT shap full. Fabulous.
- Simone Biles' smile. Lit up the arena and while obviously her choreography is lacking, her routine was still electrifying and she expresses the hell out of it, particularly in the dance bits before the corners. For this reason, I see no issue with her seemingly not getting any artistry deductions. It was just a great routine.
- Aliya Mustafina's floor, especially the first pass. She left no doubt at all, the whips looked fantastic and she went for the stag and totally nailed it. Her determination blew me away completely.
- Roxana Popa, what a competitor she is. Highlight would have to be the whip-whip-full in. Because WOW, it's just jaw dropping.
- Again, Noemi Makra's piked full in. Love...
- Larisa Iordache's speed and fluidity. Seamless movement and it's especially great on floor, her floor works very nicely for her.
- Stuck landings, especially the really planted ones. It's just such a thrill.
- Ruby Harrold's bars. It's just so much more interesting and exciting when original moves are performed, and Ruby did two, and they were great. The Ooooo!! after the Zuchold..great moment.
- Vanessa Ferrari still being so strong. Veterans are great to see, no matter their motivation to continue!
'Podium' of favourite routines
UB 1. Yao Jinnan 2. Roxana Popa 3. Ruby Harrold
VT 1. Simone Biles 2. Giulia Steingruber 3 T Noemi Makra and Roxana Popa
BB 1. Ilaria Kaeslin 2. Noemi Makra 3. Simone Biles (tough, so many falls..)
FX 1. Victoria Moors 2. Elizabeth Seitz 3 T Simone Biles, Aliya Mustafina and Roxana Popa
Carlotta Ferlito's sparkly turquoise and black leotard, it looked so well in the arena. Victoria Moors' black with pink maple pattern. All of their new leotards are stunning but the contrast of this one is particularly amazing. Yao Jinnan, just stunning, and I really liked Rebecca Tunney's too. Least favourite...hmm. I'm not sure about Vasiliki Millousi's, I don't think it worked. Also, the top button at the back of her neck was undone, so noticeable.
Longines Prize for Elegance
I felt this was a bit of a letdown, since Kohei Uchimura has already won it and while Kyla Ross IS elegant, I felt they should have rewarded one of the unknown but stunningly beautifully elegant gymnasts. Ah well.
- Beam falls. Oh so many. 7 that I remember offhand, I'm sure that wasn't the grand total. It's such a fraught apparatus and the groan all around you just makes it affect you more and feel the gymnast's devastation more.
- Natsumi Sasada's bars. She had to come off three times, it was heartbreaking.
- Overscoring. Yes, Simone Biles' scores, notably vault and floor, were that little bit too high. It wouldn't have done anything to the standings however. I don't think she was the only one but I'd need to have a good think about it.
- The waits for beam. Let them on!
- Vault execution scoring in general. Too generous.
- The stupid switch ring rule. It appears quite a lot of beautiful ones got downgraded, sigh.
- The really hard twisting leaps on floor, like the Gogean. Ugly on screen, uglier in person.
- Aliya Mustafina's contouring/bronzer skills. What was that about? Looked like someone put it on like that out of spite. Same for Vanessa Ferrari's lipstick, which looked to have been done without the aid of a mirror.
This is hard, there were soooo many highlights compared to things that sucked!
Simone Biles has firmly shut the haters up. It has been obvious for so long that she was capable of this kind of domination, if she could just get her head and new skills together in time..and sure enough, she was untouchable. I was already a big fan but seeing her compete in person...just, wow. The scary thing is, it doesn't seem like she has peaked at all. Both vaults, her floor, bars...she's definitely not done. What a thrilling performance by a first year senior, and a well deserved gold. No arguing with the validity of that result, for once.
Kyla Ross had a great day, but all of the naysaying 'her best is not good enough' etc. came to pass, as predicted by basically everyone. I don't really hide the fact that I'm not a big fan of hers, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate her gymnastics, or aspects of it. Her lines were great, bars were smooth and so solid, floor choreography has much improved and I got a fabulous view of her super clean vault. I really would like to see her keep improving, adding sensible upgrades- beam and bars. So no, I am not converted but wow is she solid, strong and totally earned this.
Aliya Mustafina has depths of reserve like no other. When all looks bleak - knee pain, general tiredness and looking off-form, dodgy beam and/or floor, the stress of carrying her entire team on her back again...have no fear, because nothing like that seems to matter when hitting is the most important. Her fierceness and elegance everywhere was dazzling and I'm delighted she was able to get it together. It would probably be too much to ask that she gets a break now..
What were your favourite routines? Moments? Skills? Leotards? Worst? Can anyone step up the plate next year and beat Seamoney?
"Tune in" for part 2 (and 3 probably) soon which contain a picture I prize even more than the one included here and a thrilling story about who I met at breakfast on Sunday..(not very thrilling, but still a fantastic sighting)...