Sunday, 6 October 2019

Worlds Qualifications

I knew it would be interesting but I'm still surprised at all of the twists and turns.

First up, Kara Eaker and the notorious beam inquiry which will live long in the collective gymternet memory for knocking her out of the beam final she was comfortably placed in. Her original placing, 5th, would have meant she would have competed last in the final and therefore stood an excellent chance of gold or silver with a hit routine. I understand the perspective of 'this score is too low, we need the d-score looked at' but share the common view of 'she was IN the final there was no point' and of course, that the creditability of her dodgy ring leaps should not have been brand new information to anyone. When you pay FIG to re-evaluate using the superior jury with the ability to use slow-motion replay then you run the risk of them spotting something, which of course they did, and I've no issue with what they did. Extremely cruel for Kara of course but they were doing their jobs. A great pity it wasn't spotted in real time in any of the other numerous competitions she competed in but it must be noted that the leaps are worse than they were last year at worlds. The beam judges were also on serious crack as noted in the extremely harsh execution scoring of the earliest subdivisions, the too-tight scoring range and not originally crediting Flavia Saraiva's ring leaps which are the best in the game.

US domestic judging does the athletes and coaches no favours by inflating scores and ignoring questionable skills and connections. They're not the only ones and of course USA has such a cushion that in terms of the team it doesn't really matter but it has crappy consequences individually as Jordyn Wieber (beam connections not creditable), McKayla Maroney (floor overtime penalty at Antwerp knocked her out of the final) and now Kara can attest. I'm sure there are more examples. The worst thing now is that it will be very difficult for Kara to remain relevant for Tokyo if she cannot rework her beam routine. Without a monster beam score and with Sunisa Lee becoming such a fantastic beamer, the gap is closing. We'll see what happens with the specialist spots.

I haven't been watching gymnastics long enough to be used to seeing China with a fantastic team. 2012 of course had amazing veterans but also injury and inconsistency issues. Watching them nail routine after routine was trul exhilarating. One highlight was Liu Tingting with so-close-to-perfect beam and bars routines and a really charismatic floor throwing her so far up to the top of the all-around standings when up until very recently it wasn't sure at all if she would do the all-around at all. She has a DTY but it's not great and I'm glad she played it safe with the FTY. Chen Yile also had a great meet which is wonderful to see after her recovery and so did Li Shijia. Chen Yile will be working her back to full all-around capability for Tokyo while Li Shijia had a great AA showing qualifying in 6th overall helped by her monster beam score which placed her second in that final. Tang Xijing had 2 falls on beam of course but had the all-important DTY, a really strong bars and recovered after beam to do fine on floor. Floor was as expected, not notably great but not awful by any means and better than many recent floor rotations. There are options there to upgrade such as Qi Qi's silivas and full credit for Li Shijia's triple full which WAS rotated. Great showing for finals, 5th and 6th AA so top group, Liu Tingting in 2 event finals - bars and beam, Qi Qi just taking the last vault spot in a seriously competitive final and Li Shijia second qualifier on beam.

Like Russia I hope they haven't used up their consistency in qualifiers. There was much discussion over this weak Russian team relying on largely untested gymnasts to fill in the gaps for qualifying and team finals but....they really knocked it out of the park. Really surreal to see 3 out of 4 hit beam routines. Rough day for Schekeldina but valued experience and she did have an absolutely beautiful vault. Lilia Akhaimova was a force to be reckoned with, I expected her strong vault and floor but was surprised with her bars and beam...bars were fierce and very different to what went before her, but efficient and got the job done and into the AA. I never am sure of Angelina Melnikova even though she has been very consistent for the last good while. Great to see her having such a good day. I will say I thought the e-scores were running too high on bars for them and slightly on floor considering how they were the previous day but climbing has been, is and will always be an issue.

USA obviously went out and lead the field by 5 points afterwards. Simone Biles is top AA qualifier and into all event finals as well as having 2 new skills in the code, the double double off beam (more on that later) with a super upright landing and the triple double which of course she had too much energy on and went out of bounds. A bouncy day for her, the 0.3 neutral deduction on the explosive Cheng which left her in danger of running out of mat made the difference in her qualifying second into vault finals behind Jade Carey but presumably she will use her own vault in the finals and excess energy won't be a problem and she'll get more used to the floor too during TF and AA. Jade Carey had exceptional vaults but ran into trouble with OOB on floor, tying with Sunisa Lee and subsequently losing the tiebreak and getting 2-per-countrie'd out of finals. I mean, it should probably have been less of a surprise that Sunisa's massive improvement puts specialists such as Jade and Kara at risk while Simone is still competing. The out of bounds is not really the culprit I don't think, but the artistry deductions Jade's routines incur. Nobody is expecting her to whip out a Soviet special but failure to engage with and express properly as well as poor choreography should be harshly deducted, it's only right. The bars and beam execution scores sure were interesting. Simone's beam was the best she's done in ages and the fact that the risky skills are removed means I don't see much issue with her execution score, she didn't leave them much to work with in terms of deductions. 13.4 for Sunisa with a fall though is a choice. She IS brilliant (LOOK AT THOSE RINGS ARMINE AND AL!!) and very clean but there's not really justification for that compared to the quality of routines that scored LESS than that with no fall or significant error. Similarly, Grace without a fall would have had the highest execution score of all and her form doesn't stand up to that. I also have no idea how her bars score went over a 14, they are not notable and have inbuilt errors in late skills and handstands. It's not in the same league as the actual bars specialists. Efficient with a great dismount but...that's it.

I've been watching individual routines of Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, the rest of team France, Netherlands, GB and others but not enough to give a proper team opinion. The team final is going to be incredible with not much between France, China and Russia. Great to see teams like France upping their game so much. Japan falling out of team final contention is to be expected after leaving Mai Murakami at home but it's devastating for Brazil to be knocked out. They've been crushed by injury. Thrilled for Spain and to see Roxana Popa so strong again and beautiful routines from Cintia Rodriguez. To me, this is the most exciting worlds in a few years.

Chen Yile is far from the only one competing through recovery, Ana Padurariu is far from her full difficulty but thankfully is in beam finals after the inquiry fiasco. Brooklyn Moors also got knocked from floor finals (although the day before) from an inquiry. Her artistry and devotion to expression is just gorgeous and hopefully she'll be back in floor final next year but the pre-rotation on the leap they took off for is quite clear in the screenshots and her twisting form isn't cute so there are areas of improvement other than loading difficulty.

Back to the double double beam dismount. There is no way the same skill should be a H on beam and floor clearly it is far harder on beam to execute. Countless gymnasts can compete the double double on floor while we are basically never going to see anyone else do it on beam. The 0.3 rise between a full twisting and double twisting double back on floor is very relevant. They should have given it an I rating on beam. The safety argument FIG countered with doesn't really wash because any salto imposes a risk for a gymnast if something goes wrong. How many times have we seen a foot slip on beam and a double tuck go wrong as a result? In this case it's just not a skill that someone can chuck out of the blue and the rating is an insult to the extreme skill required to do it and it is done excellently too it's not some horrorshow landed with her head almost at the ground.

BUT...there are some seriously outrageous arguments out there. The rating is NOT racist and it is NOT anti-American. How could FIG or the code possibly be anti-American when tumbling skills are still open-ended but all new leaps, turns and bars transitions are capped? How is that fair to the likes of the Dutch etc.? How is it fair that the one-armed bars skills were utterly lowballed? The code has many stupid parts and there are LOADS of skills that are far more difficult than the code implies. This is not a unique thing or in any way anti-Simone. I think the best thing I saw was that Kara's beam score dropping was a retaliation for the criticism of the H rating. Please. Get. Off. The. Internet.

Anyway, I'm excited! There's a lot of stacked finals here and new and old faces that have seriously impressed as well as those were expected to do well.

The TF podium I want is USA-China-France. Nothing against Russia but it would be incredible for France. I sort of want Simone, Liu Tingting, Sunisa, Melanie and Angelina on the AA podium so that's an issue. For the rest I can't really choose either so I'm really bad at dream podiums.

What do you want to see in finals? Do you agree the scoring was dodgy at best? Do you think Kara's coaches should be rounded up and shot?

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