Thoughts on Afanasyeva and Hambuchen withdrawing from worlds…

Well I hope I didn’t curse Afanasyeva, since it was almost immediately after I posted my blog when I learned of her back injury! That must have been some serious back injury for her to pull out of a world championships she had an excellent chance of winning. Could they not try giving her a steroid injection or something? I don’t mean to sound harsh, but back injuries that happen that acutely tend to be muscular strains, and they usually don’t keep gymnasts out of world championships. But maybe this is something more serious. I wish her the best of luck in her recovery, because I was REALLY looking forward to seeing this gymnast go for the all-around title. She reminds me of a more artistic Elena Produnova. Unfortunately this happens far too often in women’s gymnastics, but I really hate to see it happen to one of the top contenders. That always takes a little wind out of my sails, but we have to look on the bright side…there are always other contenders who will benefit from a withdrawal like this one. I guess it could have been worse…at least it wasn’t one of the Americans. Their chances at an all-around gold just got even more realistic.
Ironically, Hambuchen was probably the identical equivalent to Afanasyeva on the men’s side. Both were two of the frontrunners for not only a medal, but possibly the gold. The unfortunate part about his withdrawal is that, unlike the women’s side, I believed the top three men’s contenders – Uchimura, Hambuchen, and Horton – were head and shoulders above the rest of the field. While the women’s side lost one of six gold-medal threats, the men just lost one of three. As with the U.S. women, this definitely boosts Horton’s chances for a silver or gold significantly, but I never like to see a potential world all-around champion suffer such a fluke injury like that at the very last minute – especially in a field that is already highlighted far more by event specialists than all-arounders. Although the men’s international field has been getting deeper and deeper overall in the last couple of years, the all-around mix is unfortunately probably as shallow as ever. At least there will be one very surprised man going home with a medal after this week’s all-around final – we can now count on that!
I wanted to highlight a couple of gymnasts who will likely benefit from the withdrawal of Afanasyeva. Although I still wouldn’t quite consider these two medal favorites, they will certainly be on the brink of making a run for it, especially if there are some mistakes from the now top five contenders. These two are Australia’s Lauren Mitchell and Japan’s Koko Tsurumi. I really like both of these gymnasts, and they’re similar in the fact that vault is the weak link for both of them. Mitchell has been known over the last couple of years as an incredible beam worker (5th at the 2007 worlds but failed to make the finals in Beijing), but has never really made her mark as an all-arounder. Will this be her chance? Similarly, Tsurumi was a surprise beam finalist in Beijing (finished 8th), but has quietly become a very complete all-around gymnast as well – not to mention a refreshing addition to the international all-around field that typically is restricted to the Chinese, Americans, Russians, and Romanians. Let’s take a look at what these two bring to the mix:
Lauren Mitchell Vault 2009 Japan Cup AA
Lauren Mitchell Bars 2008
Lauren Mitchell Beam 2008 Olympics Team Finals
Lauren Mitchell Beam 2009 Australian Nationals
Lauren Mitchell Floor 2009 Japan Cup Team Finals
Koko Tsurumi Vault 2009 Japan Cup
Koko Tsurumi Bars 2008 Olympics Qualifications
Koko Tsurumi Beam 2009 Japan Cup
Koko Tsurumi Floor 2009 Japan Cup AA
Pretty impressive stuff from both of them! Lauren Mitchell is capable of winning world gold on beam, although she has been far from consistent since first making her mark in 2007. Her incredibly original combinations are so refreshing to see, and this event will be an important part of her all-around effort as well. Her floor is not bad at all, and on bars she has some strong in-bar work and clean form (although I don’t like the bent arms on the stalder skills). Her vault isn’t the strongest but it’s a decent Yurchenko 1 ½. Tsurumi has a very clean and solid beam routine, and her floor is improved from last year. Bars is particularly strong as well, so it’s really vault for her. She could easily do at least a 1 ½ out of the vault, so I’m hoping she is upgrading that for worlds this week. It will be interesting to see how these two stack up in this somewhat unpredictable all-around field!