Another big story at the World Cup in Ghent is that this competition represents the last chance for Chinese world team contenders Yang Yilin and Wu Liufang to make their cases for competing in Rotterdam. Both are likely battling for the last spot on the team, as Deng Linlin, Sui Lu, Jiang Yuyuan, He Kexin, and Huang Qiushuang seem like sure bets. In 2008 Yang matched Zhang Nan’s 2004 Olympic all-around bronze medal as the best ever Olympic all-around finish for a Chinese woman, and also won bronze on the uneven bars. Though it’s hard to imagine her being left off the world team, the truth is she very well could be. She has struggled with a growth spurt over the last two years, and although her bars is still quite spectacular and her vault is as strong as ever, her floor has been quite weak and her beam low in difficulty. Yang did look significantly better here in Ghent than she has in quite a while, topping the bars standing with a strong 15.225 (6.5, 8.725) and placing 4th on beam with a 14.1 (5.2, 8.9).
If I had to guess, though, Wu Liufang brings more to the team than Yang does with her extremely consistent and well-executed beam routine. Like Porgas, Wu seemed underscored for her beautiful wobble-free exercise (2nd overall with a 14.7 – 6.1, 8.6), but regardless, her D-score is still a full 0.9 higher than Yang’s. Although China has an incredible history of world class beam workers, they aren’t overloaded with them at the moment. They’ll likely use Sui Lu and world beam champion Deng Linlin in the team finals, but they will not likely want to use Jiang Yuyuan, He Kexin, or even Huang Qiushuang on beam (as she is inconsistent). They need a strong third beam worker, and Wu seems to be the best fit for that role at this point. Yang did outscore Wu on bars here, as Wu got off line on a pirouette and left out a Tcatchev (still placed 2nd with a 14.775 – 6.3, 8.475), but bars isn’t quite as critical as beam is for the Chinese, as they already have He, Jiang, and Huang to use on that event.
But given Yang’s experience and reputation, if she hits solidly again in the finals, she may throw a bit of wrench into the Chinese selection process. Perhaps it won’t be Wu Liufang she’ll be battling with for a spot in Rotterdam after all; it may be Huang Qiushuang. Huang, despite being one of the best all-arounders in the world, has never competed in a world championships and has had some concerning mistakes under international pressure. Huang and Yang bring similar strengths to the team, as both would probably be used on vault and bars. As of right now, though, I’d say Huang has been consistent enough on at least these two events to warrant a spot on the team, and Yang is the one with the uphill battle.
One thing is for sure, though – Yang must hit in the finals here in Ghent to keep her world team chances alive.