Bit of a delay on this, so let's pretend it just happened!
After the high of the first day of event finals, it was perhaps inevitable that the second day would be a letdown. Beam finals have been a bit desultory for a while now, and this one was no exception, in fact, it was worse than ever with only two gymnasts truly excelling. There was nothing wrong with floor, except for the debate over bronze. Beam went one better, with disputes over gold AND bronze.
Qualifying to this final were Yao Jinnan, Bai Yawen, Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Aliya Mustafina, Larisa Iordache, Ellie Black and Asuka Teramoto. The favourite was Larisa Iordache with her huge routine, with Simone Biles, Aliya Mustafina and Bai Yawen chasing her. Last year's silver medallist Kyla Ross had too low a d-score to really contend.
So, what happened?
Bai Yawen hit a glorious routine without even the suggestion of a hesitation or wobble. Showcasing why exactly people love to watch Chinese gymnasts on beam...the precision of the elements. This was particularly impressive given the fact that she is quite unknown and inexperienced, wasn't given the opportunity to compete on the event in team finals despite having qualified to event finals on it already, and was not just facing national pressure to do well, but local too. The fact that she scored under 9.0 in execution, even taking into account the low execution scores on beam anyway, was, I thought, hard to justify. Step on dismount, horizontal chest on dismount, and perhaps an argument that she could have had better rhythm and flow. Really exceptional routine otherwise.
Simone Biles, facing beam again after two less than satisfactory routines in team finals and AA, showed us what she's made of and delivered a much steadier routine. She nailed her flight series, hit her connections, threw yet another killer dismount and left the judges without much to deduct. There were three hints of wobbles though in the routine, but despite those, she really moves very well on beam with great flow and rhythm. Her difficulty score was higher than Bai's and she moved into first, with the difference in execution not making up for the d-score advantage.
And that was a bit of an issue for me. Simone unquestionably performed a great routine and deserved a medal. Bai, though, outperformed her. There should have been greater disparity in their execution scores, not because Simone's execution was lacking, but because Bai's is so exceptional. She has a precision and control over every single element that is not present in Simone's routine, nor indeed in most other beam routines. I am reluctant to bring into the question how much it would have meant to Bai Yawen to take gold in front of her hometown crowd in a country where gold is everything and rewarded highly...but, yeah, it would have been great for that reason too.
That wasn't going to be an issue though, because Larisa Iordache was the favourite and would surely hit after doing so well in the AA and TF and after falling in London and Antwerp beam finals, surely it was her time to get lucky. And...she fell, on the tuck full this time. Disappointing isn't the word. She has really improved her form on this event even in just the last couple of months, at Euros for instance I found her quite sloppy. Sigh.
Yao Jinnan falls. She wasn't a challenger and after winning bars gold I doubt it was really a big deal, her smile after coming off on the layout seemed proof of that.
Ellie Black falls. A super hard routine and her one chance in an event final to shine, and she comes undone on the full. Devastating, especially given how open bronze was.
Kyla Ross performs, well, very untypically. A huge wobble, two smaller ones, broken connections and quite a slow routine. It's a long, tough week and I'm never surprised when a gymnast who does the AA in prelims, team finals AND AA on top of making event finals, falters at the end of the week. It's a pity as she could have quite easily taken bronze had she exhibited her usual steady, clean routine.
Aliya Mustafina is anything but predictable on beam. The reigning world champion, but so inconsistent. It starts off well but then she breaks completely during her series, and without time to fully remedy it. Some really nice elements to it, but without an acro series her d-score is way down. But as the final pans out..it's not too surprising that she overtakes the routines with falls and weaker routines.
Asuka Teramoto is bouncing back from falls on her layout in both the AA and team finals. It's so satisfying when she hits it beautifully this time. Unfortunately, the routine is marred by a myriad of broken connections and with her medium difficulty and questionable dismount, it's not enough and she stays behind Mustafina.
The fact that a hit, clean, beautiful routine is beaten by one without an acro series has resulted in a lot of backlash, with accusations that Mustafina's name and reputation held her up. Had Asuka perfectly hit her routine, I think it would be a different story and actually a judging scandal. But she did herself no favours with all of the broken connections and not-fully-around dismount so I can see how this happened. The fact that a routine with no acro series ended up on the podium is not a testament to judging scandal or the power of reputation. It is a damning indictment of how weak beam is at the moment.
All in all, not the most exciting of finals. 3 falls and just not the highest standard when you compare it to the depth of the other events. To me, it was missing Andreea Munteanu, Maria Kharenkova and Shang Chunsong. The latter was rumoured to be replacing Bai Yawen and I'm so glad she didn't, but it would have been nice to see the two alongside each other in the final (legitimately, not at the expense of Yao Jinnan). I don't dispute the bronze, but I would have liked to see the order of gold and silver reversed.
The favourite this time, Simone Biles, was highly unlikely to be ousted or beaten because of a fall. Fresh from victory on beam, she was slated to compete second last, conveniently building the excitement of the final to a crescendo. Alongside her were Mykayla Skinner, Vanessa Ferrari, Erika Fasana, Larisa Iordache, Larissa Miller, Claudia Fragapane and Aliya Mustafina. The skill level was through the roof, with a laid-out double-double, 5 tucked versions and a full-twising double layout.
Mykayla Skinner has impressed me at these worlds, and continued to do so in her last final. Sharper form, better execution, really strong landings. Her signature skill looked straighter than ever. Leaps are still letting her down but she tried hard with her choreography I thought. A strong effort and a good chance for a medal.
Larissa Miller was a surprise qualifier, and she knocked out the popular Roxana Popa. This exercise was a joy to watch for just how beautiful her tumbling was, textbook double arabian, gorgeous combination tumbling. Very floaty.
Larisa Iordache had to bounce back from the crushing disappointment of yet another beam medal thrown away, and she did so in spectacular fashion. The big question was going to be, could she equal Simone's d-score again by throwing the pike full-in at the end? She pulled it around convincingly, and stayed in bounds on her second pass this time. It's just fantastic to watch her in motion, as the motion just never stops. The enjoyment of what she does shines through every movement, every bounce.
When her score came in I thought it should have been closer to 15, but the explanation that her Gomez hadn't been fully around countered for some of that, but not all. In my opinion, she loses tenths for the bounciness, not necessarily landings, but after leaps and turns, it's a sign of not having full control I suppose. It wasn't going to able to push Simone or properly challenge her, which was a bit disappointing.
Vanessa Ferrari's routine was a little sluggish, with one bad landing and she also missed her tuck back connection after the full-in. Although it wasn't her best, it was still great. It's wonderful to see a 24-year-old gymnast throwing such hard tumbles so many years later, and one of them, the double layout, a recent upgrade. It was unfortunately clear that she wasn't going to be a medal challenger in spite of the difficulty.
Erika Fasana's routine didn't make much of an impression on me, I found it was a bit lost amongst the other finalists. Nice tumbling, but it just didn't have the full package to make it stand out.
Claudia Fragapane's routine is always a highlight. She looked ready. HUGE air on the first pass, too much, as she rebounded spectacularly to prone position. In all the falls we have seen, I have never seen one quite like that. It's strange too, we've been hearing complaints that the floor is quite hard, yet the stronger athletes have been having no problem, with some sticking less than usual with the extra bounce they get on landing. It was a big moment for Claudia and so crushing to come to grief within the first few seconds. She performed the rest of the routine admirably, still selling her impassioned dance to the crowds. I can't wait to see her continue to improve and polish her performance but she really had a great worlds despite the fall.
Simone Biles was second last. Another explosively energetic routine, this time with bouncier landings than previously. I never get tired of this floor, it's quite artistic in its own way, because of the performer. Only she and Larisa displayed that magnetic connection. And straight into gold with a half-point lead.
Aliya Mustafina sat her first pass just two days previous, but this time she not only landed it, but added back the two whips preceding the double arabian. She's never one you can rule in or out really, and clearly decided that in her last final she had nothing to lose and should go for broke. Not having the triple full is so refreshing and I do like her choreography, though it feels a little empty and that she could do much more. Given her injuries, how much she has to carry her team and the long week, I'd imagine endurance is an issue and getting through the routine cleanly is more important than really emphasising the artistry.
When she had finished, I thought, well that will be 4th and well deserved. At least she has beam. But then she ousted Mykayla Skinner's position by a fraction of a tenth, 0.33. The delighted surprise on her face contrasted with Skinner dissolving into tears. But, in another display of how great the latter has been at these, her first worlds, she quickly controlled herself and accepted her placement.
I'm not sure how I feel about bronze. On the one hand, Mykayla Skinner's routine really was deserving. On the other, Aliya Mustafina showed more of the full package with exceptional dance elements. It's hard to say whether Mykayla was hard done by, but in this case, I do think Aliya was held up by her name. Had Larissa Miller performed that exact routine, I think we would have seen two Americans on the podium.
Far be it from me to deny what a truly great gymnast Aliya Mustafina is. I was very disappointed when she counted a fall in the all-around and was looking forward to seeing her bring home some individual hardware besides the team bronze. Bars I thought was her best chance, and although I expected her to place higher, I was thrilled with that podium and certainly bronze was her best hope there. Beam, well, the girls who fell and Asuka were quite unlucky, but I don't think anyone was 'wronged' for Aliya's bronze there. Floor though, being who she is DID I feel help.
Did you agree with the podiums? Was anyone helped by having a name, or wronged by not having one? How much worse can beam finals get? How much better can Simone Biles get? How weird are my tenses here?