Danell Leyva’s Golden Moment. U.S. National Champion Danell Leyva hasn’t quite had the world championships he had dreamed of. Although he did stand with his teammates on the world team medal podium for the first time, mistakes on high bar in qualifications and on vault and high bar in the all-around had already dashed a couple of his opportunities for medals. But after cleaning up the details of his world class parallel bars routine over the last year, Leyva gave himself one more opportunity to salvage some individual success in Tokyo by making his first ever world final on this event. Against a stacked field, Leyva delivered the performance of his life and will now carry the title of “world champion” into the Olympic year.
Afanasyeva’s First Individual World Title. Ksenia Afanasyeva has been an important team player for the Russians over the last three years but has never had her moment in the spotlight. One of the few gymnasts in the world who is truly able to blend dynamic tumbling, lovely choreography, and sophisticated dance elements into one floor routine, Ksenia has been a sentimental favorite on this event in particular – though she’s often unlucky when medals are on the line. As a last minute replacement for teammate Viktoria Komova, Ksenia finally seized the moment and delivered the floor routine of her life to win her first ever individual world gold. It was a perfect ending to the women’s competition here in Tokyo.
China’s 1-2 Punch. I’m not talking about Zou Kai and Zhang Chenglong, who somehow topped the world high bar standings here in some very controversial judging decisions…I’m talking about Sui Lu and Yao Jinnan, the two stars of the 2011 Chinese women’s team. Yao, the all-around bronze medalist who has established herself as a legitimate medal contender in London, corrected her fall off beam in the all-around to win the silver medal on this event. And after a couple of top beam contenders had made errors, Sui stepped up as the final gymnast with confidence and aggressiveness and delivered the world-champion worthy routine she’s shown all year. Both Chinese gymnasts also delivered full-package floor routines with magnificent tumbling and delightful artistry, reminding us all that China is not out of the race for team gold in London.
Near Perfect Dragulescu’s. It’s unfortunate that floor and vaulting legend Marian Dragulescu had to withdraw from the event finals and thus couldn’t give his typical “clinic” on the vault that carries his name, but there were plenty of adequate substitutes who threw his signature vault in his honor. It’s amazing to see just how high the bar has been raised on this event over the last few years, as more and more gymnasts are not only able to land this vault, but stick it cold. First up Thomas Bouhail nailed the vault perfectly for the second time at these worlds, and Anton Golotsutskov’s and Dimitry Kasperovich’s attempts were all but stuck as well.
The Never-Ending High Bar Drama. “Wild,” “crazy,” and “out-of-control” have been used to describe the high-flying release skills on men’s high bar for decades, but these same terms have become appropriate to describe the judging on this event as well. In yet another controversial high bar final, some very curious execution scores resulted in Chinese gymnasts Zou Kai and Zhang Chenglong outscoring three-time world champion Kohei Uchimura and former world high bar champion Fabian Hambuchen. Uchimura did increase his difficulty in the final, adding a perfectly executed “Cassina” and Takamoto-half to laid-out Tcatchev. But he was still given just a 9.033 execution score – less than three tenths higher than both Chinese gymnasts, who demonstrate multiple faults that everyone seems to recognize but the judges (flexed feet, multiple missed handstands, weak transition skills, deep squat on landing from Zou Kai, multiple short handstands and shoulder angles from Chenglong). Epke Zonderland threw perhaps the most gutsy release sequence ever done on high bar, and maybe on any event in fact – a Cassina to immediate Kolmann – which he caught perfectly before faltering on his Yamawaki release and dropping out of medal contention.