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New World All-Around Contender?

I only say “new” because it’s been so long since Jiang Yuyuan has been at the top of her game.  Prior to the 2008 Olympics she was widely considered the biggest threat to Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, but unfortunately a lackluster performance in the all-around – including a major fall on vault and some uncharacteristic problems on floor – left her in 6th place.  Jiang still had plenty of gymnastics left in her though, and she went on to compete all over the world in the months that followed, looking about as good as ever.  After looking brilliant at the 2009 world university games en route to an easy victory, it appeared Jiang was ready to take over the reigns as the best gymnast in the world.  But by the time the 2009 Chinese nationals arrived, Jiang’s spark was suddenly gone.  A scary fall on beam and disastrous performance in the all-around kept her from winning the all-around, and at the world championships in London, she was conspicuously absent.  Jiang has popped up at a few international competitions since then, but with significantly watered down difficulty and an uncertain future at best.  Even Chinese head coach Lu Shanzhen recently referred to Jiang’s status as a “slump.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Her re-emergence in the last few weeks has been incredibly encouraging.  International Gymnast put out an article just three weeks ago reporting that Jiang won an internal Chinese test event with a 59.35, although considering the often questionable Chinese scoring and Jiang’s up and down pattern over the last two years, videos were going to have to emerge before fans put faith back into this gymnast.  Now we have just that.

The 2010 Chinese Nationals are underway, and Jiang is the all-around leader after the qualifying competition.  It’s not her score of 57.1 that impresses me most – it’s her performances.  There’s a spark and a sense of “newness” about her gymnastics that suggests she is not only out of her slump – she’s on her way to being better than ever.  If she continues this trajectory, I expect she’ll contend with two of the Russians and two of the Americans for the world all-around title in less than two months.

Jiang Yuyuan Vault 2010 Chinese Nationals

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her do even a decent DTY.  This one is not just decent – it’s really good.  After she strangely seemed to lose her Amanar at the 2008 Olympics, Jiang has often competed just a simple yurchenko full – and usually not a very good one.  She’s starting to look like her old self on this event again.

Jiang Yuyuan Bars 2010 Chinese Nationals

Whoah!  What a cool brand new sequence – and something we’ve NEVER seen Chinese gymnasts do before.  That stalder-full to Ricna (stalder Tcatchev) to Pak salto is awesome, and such a refreshing change from the typical invert-overloaded work we usually get from the Chinese.  I don’t care much about the big break in the handstand toward the end of the routine – this is great stuff and a strong indicator she is well out of that slump.

Jiang Yuyuan Beam 2010 Chinese Nationals

This is one of the best beam routines I’ve ever seen her do.  Beam has always been her weakness – both in terms of difficulty and in consistency.  Her beam routines during her slump were particularly unpredictable, but she looked steady and confident here – exactly what she’ll need to be in Rotterdam.

Jiang Yuyuan Floor 2010 Chinese Nationals

FINALLY a new routine!!!  Her 2008-2009 routine, though very memorable, had definitely become a bit stale.  Sometimes I think a brand new floor routine does a whole lot to “wake a gymnast up” and give her entire gymnastics a fresh feel, and I think that’s happened with Jiang.  It’s an interesting Spanish mix that somehow seems to work very well.  And it’s fantastic to see her tumbling ability is back – in fact the 2 ½ to front layout addition makes this routine more difficult than the one she did in Beijing.