2017 Worlds: The Excitement is Building Up!

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In gymnastics, the beginning of a new quad always seems slow.  And that is ok: for the gymnasts, after the large amount of resources used before and during the Olympics, a period of rest is necessary for the mind and the body.

The updated version of the code of points is also introduced in competitions for the first time in a post Olympic year. Change is not easy to embrace, especially with a hard tried body. Many routines appear less difficult, and their composition makes less sense.

But it is not all leisure: most federations start to prepare for the future team confrontations of the quad and even the next Olympics. And not all gymnasts allow themselves to rest for too long, especially the ones that saw their Olympic dream cut short or that did not feel that they achieved what they had wanted to in the previous year. And let’s not forget the new crop of seniors that are ready to challenge and make their mark in the international rankings.

But I am here to say that in Montreal, after a not so promising start of year, we will see an exciting competition that we will remember for years. And here is a list of things that I am ready for, the story lines that make me feel enthusiastic:

The story of redemption:  the Canadian team  had a tough Olympics last year with a  9th place in qualifications, remaining out the team final by a few tenths, which hurt a lot. Three of the 2016 Olympins are back and will compete here in front of their home crowd. Ellie Black will be looking to qualify for the all around, beam and floor finals, Sallon Olsen will be looking to make a nice impression on vault (maybe a medal) and Isabela Onysko will surely want to be in the all around and beam final at the very least. Brooklyn Moors will look to charm the audience with her superb floor routine and will be throwing one of the most spectacular elements on floor, a Podkopayeva.

Larisa Iordache travelled to Rio only as a reserve as Romania only had one spot at the Olympics and they elected to send Catalina Ponor. This will be Larisa’s 4th Worlds, after back to back medals in 2013 (bronze of floor), 2014 (silver in the AA and on floor) and 2015 (bronze in the all around). It’s a big come back with new routines, big skills, and a burning desire to prove. She is one of the favorites for medals in the all around; with one of the highest difficulty scores in the world right now is one of the favorites for a beam medal. Larisa has the difficulty to aim for qualifications into the floor and uneven bars finals too, but on these two event it will not be enough to stay on the apparatus, her execution has to be much improved. Iordache comes to Montreal looking fresh, hugry for medals and almost like a new kid that wants to take the world by storm. This could be her biggest asset and her downfall. Being new gives you energy but experience is the one that protects you from falling into old traps. Larisa is going trough a favorable phase so she is definitely one to watch.

The US Olympic reserves, Ragan Smith and Ashton Locklear are also in Montreal and have great chances to qualify for finals. Ragan Smith will be a high caliber competitor for the all around title. The way in which she has competed so far in 2017, at the American Cup, in Jesolo and at the summer US championships showed that she is a very consistent gymnast, a favorite to win the all around title. She will make at least 2-3 event finals (my money is on beam and bars but a floor final is not out of question either). Ashton was the target of many baffled comments after being selected for the team despite a difficulty score well below her potential. But her bars set is very dependable and clean. I am rooting for her to shock everyone  with an E score in the 9s  and win a medal.

The return of the successful Olympians seeking a World title/medal: Only one 2016 gold medalist will be competing here. Sanne Wevers,  beam Olympic champion at 25, continued  her gymnastics career inspired by unexpected (but hard earned) success. She will compete here on 2 events, beam and bars but it’s clear that her medal expectations are tied to the balance beam. She has not proven enough consistency with her routine this year so far in order to be a favorite for the gold medal. Her scores, even with hit routines and maximum difficulty, rarely broke into the 14s. But she is a smart gymnast that can focus when it counts and she remains a possible finalist and someone that can medal on beam.

The talked about elements with the two branches:

Will she throw it, will she land it, will she get it, will she survive A storyline that is valid for most major events where you get to witness open training sessions, podium training and days of prelims, is the one of the controversial skills. It’s impossible otherwise. Some skills will catch the eye, provoke the imagination. Others will be source of controversy and of memes. I am not sure whether Maria Paseka’s vaults need any extra attention and debate but they are becoming a trenting topic on twitter for the second time this year. The Russian looks safest when she does the easier combo of Yurchenko double full and Lopez. But these will not be sufficient for a medal so she is  upgrading or (“upgrading)” to an Amanar and a Cheng. Her technique looks subpar. The danger is real. All eyes are on her.

**But there is also the much more pleasant cool/shocking skill (**whether it’s the uniqueness, the gymnast that does it or that it is being done for the first time).  Some will be short lived. I remember in 2013 when Yao Jinnan came with a Mo salto on bars (she made finals despite the risk and messy composition it led to, with the inherent dead hang). Jinnan became an UB world champion the following year without the Mo salto. 2013 was also the year of the Moors and of the Biles. Two floor elements that were introduced in the COP in 2013. The gymnasts they were named after would go on and have a very different experience for the remaining of the respective quad: Moors retired the next year while Simone went on to win back to back floor and all around titles for every major competition including Rio.  We will have to wait for podium training to conclude to spot our new favorite moves: enjoy their magic and do not take them for granted.

There is also a trend this year that has the potential of generating lots of drama: the beam connections (or lack thereof) and the beam and floor leaps. Last time the Code of Points was altered drastically, back in 2013, I remember how the deductions for standing in a corner on both feet. And everyone had to practice doing slo-mo choreo and slowly turning into the corner to start the pass right away. Everyone ended up sitting in a corner like a stork.  Apparently the judges didn’t like it and tenths were lost on execution. But I digress.

The code of points has changed once again and new connection values were introduced while plenty of the beam and floor leaps changed their value. This was to encourage variety and artistry.

But the change will also generate new trends in speculating the code, or find the best minimum effort – maximum reward routine composition. Expect crazy balance beam connections that will not get recognized. Ring jumps and half of full turn jumps from the side of the beam that will be devalued. This is the beginning of the quad when the judges are usually extra vigilant to demonstrate what are the expected standards. “Planned” difficulty scores will be crushed.

The coming of age of the 2nd year (or sometimes 3rd year) seniors: They did not compete at the last Worlds because they were too young (although they had the skills), they were thrown in the hectic atmosphere of the Olympics without a safety net  but went under the radar for most of 2016. But they come back this year stronger, more experienced and ready to take advantage of the re-shuffling of rankings: Shallon Olsen from Canada comes here with many surprises on vault (her Amanar has to be better than Paseka’s), Rebecca Andrade from Brazil also has a superb Amanar, and plenty of difficulty on the other three events, if she hits she can be on the all around podium. Nina Derwael of Belgium confirmed already partly the expectations related to her by winning the European bars title. A World title is not out of question. Also confirmed at an European level but yet to make a name for herself at Worlds will be European All around medalist Zsofia Kovacs (Hungary). Tabea Alt had a very promising start of 2017 with back to back all around titles in the World Cup series, Then she got injured at Euros and disappeared from the limelight for a little while only to re-emerge looking her best at the German selection meet. She has one of the coolest uneven bars routines done anywhere at the moment.

The talks about the less than fortunate selection strategy. There is sufficient drama in the years when full teams compete- who is left out, who is reserve, who gets the all around assignment. But if the team gets a medal or a good result it is all forgotten at the end of the Championships. But this year, when 4 gymnasts per country are selected and only a maximum of 3 for each apparatus, things get a little extra tense. Of course nothing will come close to Marta’s decision from 2013 to allow 3 US gymnasts to compete all around (Biles, Ross, Maloney) and relegate Brenna Dowel, the 4th travelling gymnast to sit out all 4 events (surely she could have been given a chance at least on bars). This year, with the US decision pretty much set in stone (baring injury) – Hurd and Smith for the all around, Carey for vault and floor, Locklear for bars and beam. The drama is coming from Russia: Paseka was selected despite showing less than promising form on her vaults and she does not have another event. Angelina Melnikova is said to be slightly injured (although it was reported by neutral sources that she is training normally), Iliankova has an injured back and will only compete on bars. Only Eremina is not involved in any drama for the time being. So Russia has potentially 2 all arounders and 2 gymnasts that are injured (or on their way to an injury), each of them competing one event, while Maria Kharenkova and other healthy gymnasts with plenty of potential were left home. More things will be unveiled after the podium training when each federation has to announce the gymnasts and the competition order so watch this space (I am looking at you, China).

All or nothing, the curse of competing only one event. Remember when Sandra Izbasa competed on floor at the 2013 Worlds? If you do, you are one of the few because unfortunately she competed 1 event and missed in the final.  In a similar all or nothing situation will be many of our favorites this year. Liu Tingting from China is apparently injured and she is said to be competing only on beam. It’s a gorgeous set and here’s hoping we at least get to see it in the finals as well.  Lieke Wevers from the Netherlands is also said to be doing one event, beam, and with a D score of around 5.5 it is highly unlikely that she will make the final. The mentioned above Anastasia Iliankova will also get one chance to prove herself, on the uneven bars. Bars specialists with very high chance to either make the final or see their dream crash and burn in a matter of seconds are Jonna Adlerteg from Sweden, Georgia-Mae Fenton (GB).

The uneven bars finals: With only 8 spots, I feel like whoever makes this final  has a chance to become a World Champion: Fan Yilin feels ready to win her second World title after upgrading to a 6.5 difficulty score. But Elena Eremnina from Russia and her massive Nabieva release will surely have a say. The specialists mentioned above (Iliankova, Adlerteg and Fenton) want that final badly, while Nina Derwael will not be happy just to compete here in Montreal. But we haven’t even mentioned the two Germans (Alt and Seitz surely, but what if Bui pulls a surprise and outscores one of them). We have the super-consistent US girls: Lockear and Smith, they are clean and they HIT. And then there are our underdogs: Varinska from Ukraine, Rebecca Andrade, Evangelina Plyta, gorgeous to watch but maybe not so consistent.

Podium training started yesterday, The Couch Gymnast is in Montreal with lots of updates on the blog but also via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Let’s enjoy the show together. It will be at times too quick, at times rewarding, at times heartbreaking and unjust. But we will have fun!

Article & Photo: Bea Gheorghisor

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