Despite the fact that several of the people who ended up on podium were not a surprise, the competitions were very tight and very tense with some surprises thrown in. First, to vault!
Simone Biles has spent most of the year since Mckayla Maroney's latest batch of injuries as the known favourite for the vault title, which continued until Asian Games. At that competition, Hong un Jong of North Korea vaulted an extremely floaty amanar and a much stronger Cheng. Her improvement, and 0.8 d-score advantage were suddenly big threats to Simone. Would Simone go for the Cheng that has been in the works for quite some time, or even a Mustafina hinted at earlier in the year on her ask.fm? The idea of an upgrade was shot down, and so her execution would be the decider.
Hong un Jong is the 2008 Olympic vault Champion. Remarkably, she survived the long banishment of her country for cheating and emerged after the London Olympics with the same vaults, the Amanar and Cheng. The difficulty on both has gone down, to 6.3 and 6.4, but still makes a gymnast with them formidable. Last year, she used the difficulty to push through and take bronze behind McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles. Neither vault was particularly inspiring, with her Cheng especially struggled around. Considering the fact that she is now 24, the fact that she has improved the form and landings on both vaults is just incredible. It came down to the wire, especially with Simone only having a small hop on her amanar and just a tiny shuffle in place after a perfect Lopez, with Hong edging her out by less than half a tenth.
I'm very pleased for Hong un Jong and her coaches reactions were very touching. 6 years on, and just as good as ever. The absolutely tiny margin of victory just goes to show just how strong a vaulter Simone Biles is, to almost beat her. I'd imagine the death knell has been sounded on her Lopez, and while I'm sure an upgrade will look great, it is a pity as it just such an exceptional vault, so textbook and so pretty. There is something inherently pleasing about her vaulting, and it's the certainty. She isn't going to mess up, we're not afraid she will twist into the ground, land off the podium, not get her twist around in time, block completely wrong etc. etc. She'll block dead-centre with straight arms, lift into the ceiling, and land securely. Refreshingly great. I really look forward to seeing her develop on this event. Our gold winner showed that anything's possible.
A lot has been said about Mykayla Skinner and her vaulting, especially of course the block on her Cheng. Certainly the technique is quite wrong, she's twisting off one hand too early and the other hand is not repulsing her. We know this. But she has doing her job really well at her first world championships, a team extremely few would have put her in at the start of this year, and today was no exception. Her Cheng was very clean in the air with a great landing. It's not the most dynamic but it's still worthy of a good score, which she certainly achieved. Her DTY has improved quite a bit, form was tight and clean. She was much more pleasant to watch than those whose landings are far from a sure thing. Great effort from her and a well deserved bronze.
Alla Sosnitskaya vaulted the exact same vaults as Mykayla. Her Cheng is very new for her and it's quite dynamic, she looks to me to get more airtime than our other Cheng vaulters. It's such a tough vault! But it was from perfect, or even great. Almost a perfectly stuck landing but she was completely out of bounds, and it had loose sloppy form throughout. The DTY was much cleaner, but with bent knees. She has had a great competition and 4th here is a triumph that she can build on. I know she has an amanar in the works and I don't doubt that she's capable, but I hope they focus just as strongly on her execution. She could be really good.
Giulia on the other hand has been struggling a bit these worlds. Most notably, she has developed a block about twisting which threw her DTY out the window and has been limiting her at just the wrong time of year. Her Rudi certainly showed deterioration, very messy in the air and really fought around, and while her FTY was so much nicer, it was just an FTY really. Alexa Moreno fought valiantly on her vaults and so too did Phan Thi Ha Thanh but both really showed how hard their vaults are, and it wasn't surprising that their difficulty, especially Alexa's, didn't place them higher. Claudia Fragapane shows much more ease in hers, but they are relatively easy. It's strange how it looks like she's doing a completely different vault to Simone's Lopez BUT she really sharpened up her form on her DTY which I am very happy with.
|Matchy matchy! Source- John Cheng/USAG|
All in all, a tense fight for gold and a very strong field. Vault finals seem to be getting stronger all the time, long may that trend continue! Next year we'll more than likely see an upgrade from super-vaulter Simone and maybe even another comeback from McKayla Maroney...?
No 'impossible' vaults like an amanar from Phan to rightly give everyone heart failure
Very strong field and difficulty
Good variety of vaults
Um..I suppose form loss on some vaults
Some vaults were a bit of a struggle to land
1. Simone Biles Vault 2 Lopez
2. Simone Biles Vault 1 Amanar
3. Hong un Jong Vault 1 Amanar
Niiice effort by the US, a little too shiny for my liking but simple and striking and of course, not pink. I like the simplicity of the North Korean leotard and the matching podium looked well, again! Not a big fan of Alla's leo, Alexa's was pretty, Claudia's was nice but needed more oomph, Giulia's was pretty also and I'm undecided about Phan...I think I like it?
Well, that was an extraordinarily deep and exciting final.
First up was Aliya Mustafina in her Pikachu leotard, the strong colouring of which highlights the fact that she's not well. All things considered, I didn't think she would upgrade as expected, and she didn't. Playing it safe when you're not at the top of your game is always wise, and it was very clean and nice to watch, albeit (and I feel mean) boring. It's not a routine I would have thrilled with had it medalled, despite how clean it was. I hope she can return and show us just a little bit more on this event.
Another super-clean gorgeous routine from Daria Spiridonova which unexpectedly propelled her in front of Aliya. What was a highlight of the whole competition was how delighted the latter was about that! Daria's lines are superb but her score was still a surprise, a nice one.
Having Ashton Locklear right after those two showed just how Russian her routine is in composition. Luckily we have some Brits to shake it up a bit. Anyway, Ashton showed no signs of her inexperience and delivered another great routine, hitting her massive combination with ease. It really build the tension with 5 elements! Her sickled feet (and Mustafina's and Lisa Hill's..certainly Ashton's not the only one) put me off a bit but a very enjoyable strong routine to round off her great worlds. The scoring and placement was right too. I know she ended up 4th, but in a field like that...amazing.
Rebecca Downie has been great all year, after a very disappointing 2013 in which she struggled to hit her fantastic routine the whole year, coming to grief yet again in Antwerp's bars final. But the Euros and Commonwealth 2014 bars champion has come on quite a lot since then, and this jam-packed routine was another hit for her. I love her variety of releases. That said, this wasn't her cleanest and she seemed to have to fight through it, but no major error and that rounds off an excellent year nicely.
Having a Bhardwaj AND a Zuchold means you belong in every bars final in my opinion. The former skill has been cleaner for her and the latter threw off a subsequent pirouette forcing her to count a fall...but it's just a treat to watch this routine. Ruby is so dynamic and daring, and she finished it off so well with a stuck dismount, declaring afterwards that she was just so thrilled to make the final at all.
It's great to see Lisa Katherina Hill in this final, and she certainly had the skills for it. It wasn't the cleanest and she had to save it a bit and fight, but she got through it nicely and I really loved her Bhardwaj, very clean.
Dun dun DUN arrival of the big hitters. Defending champion Huang Huidan was up first, and really went for it. Great Jaeger, dismount, smoother on her turns than she has been, really getting the handstands and minimising deductions. Just fantastic work and a well deserved huge score as a result.
And everything to play for Yao Jinnan, up last. The most nervewracking routine of worlds so far for me, as I really really wanted her to finally get a gold. It was thrilling to see her catch everything, nail her turns and the dismount. Her pirouettes are really stunning, just so precise. The Tkachev lets the whole routine down for me, it's flat, but the rest does make up for it. A very smartly constructed routine as it's so short..but 6.9 difficulty means she's far from messing about. And THAT SCORE! Finally a win for her! I understand that gold and silver could be argued for either way, but I was much more emotionally invested in Yao Jinnan winning so I'm very happy with the podium.
7 hit routines
Tense, down-to-the-wire scoring
Lots of variety, transition heavy routines, balanced routines, rare skills, pirouettes..
Ruby coming off bars
One or two routines sloppier than they have been prior to now
Russian routines were identical
Our podium exactly.
Ashton looked good in USA's patriotic flavour of the day. I really like the red GB leotard and Lisa's was nice also, if slightly low at the neck. The winner is Yao Jinnan in lovely regal purple.
|Source- Reuters/China Daily|
Of course, we have to have some drama. First, Yao's lack of number. This was addressed after the competition in which it was stated that it fell off right before, and that it was presented to the judges and accepted. (This is what happens if you do back spins...Claudia Fragapane has permission to do this on floor). Even if it wasn't, too bad if the judges didn't catch it. Seeing accusations such as 'cheating again' is enraging. How could they possibly benefit? Who would risk an 0.3 ND? Seriously?
And, the tears. Huang Huidan was moved after her dismount and it was touching to see. Hitting a great routine when it matters most, it's perfectly understandable to feel such relief. This got ugly after Yao Jinnan's score came in and she was still crying, miserably this time, and STILL CRYING in the press conference, right beside Yao Jinnan. I have no patience with that. To hit such a fabulous routine and lose has got to be hard, but it should not have been such a surprise...Yao consistently beats her when they both it. It is perfectly acceptable to feel upset, but she should have sucked it up, sincerely congratulated Yao who after all, has just cemented her place on the Champions wall after years of trying and working though injury to do so, and waited until she was alone to let our her frustration and disappointment. It was quite in contrast to Aliya Mustafina who looked absolutely thrilled to be beaten by teammate Daria.
Nothing wrong with emotion, but there is when it dampens things for not just your teammate, but your friend...they train together in the same group. It's just...awkward. How is Yao supposed to reflect on a job well done and her triumph at last when she has to console her friend and no doubt feel misplaced guilt? It it just...annoying and unnecessary. In discussion earlier it was rightly pointed out to me that we cannot expect these girls to have the full maturity of their age due to their lack of socialisation, they are after all in a very insular and intensive training environment. Nevertheless, I am disappointed in Huang Huidan's inability to mask her feelings in public for her friend.
Now that I've got that way, I do want to emphasise that I am DELIGHTED with today's competitions. Only one fall, nothing too dangerous, and above all, lots of tense competition and nervous waiting for scores. Just as it should be.
What were your favourite routines/vaults? Do you agree with how Biles/Hong and Huang/Yao placed? Can tomorrow live up to today's competition? The US leotard for tomorrow has been described as 'fun'- does this scare you also?