American Rookies Come Through! The USA faced quite the challenge at these world championships. This team has suffered numerous recent major injuries to several veterans who would have provided experience, inspiration, and big scores on the world stage: Rebecca Bross, Chellsie Memmel, Mackenzie Caquatto, and Alicia Sacramone…and Shawn Johnson and Bridget Sloan weren’t quite physically ready. This left Team USA with just one gymnast with any worlds experience – Aly Raisman – and four young rookies who would suddenly all be competing every event at the biggest world championships of the quadrennium. These five gymnasts performed inspirationally in the qualifications here, hitting 20 for 20 routines and posting the top team score in the world by over three full points ahead of Russia. Remarkably, all five girls were among the top 12 in the all-around, with Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman qualifying to the final. This team also placed seven gymnasts into the event finals, giving Team USA exactly TEN medal opportunities at these world championships. Way to go girls!
Russia Redeems Its Training Disasters. Defending world champions Russia has been all over the place in training all week. Perhaps lacking some leadership in the absence of current world all-around champion Aliya Mustafina, this talented team has looked sluggish, frustrated, uninspired, and inconsistent…ANYTHING but ready to attempt to defend their first ever world team title from 2010. But as we’ve seen time and time again from this team, the competition was quite a different story than practice. The spark they lacked in training reemerged on the competition floor, and though it wasn’t a flawless day, all in all this team was quite brilliant. Current Russian Cup and European all-around champion Anna Dementieva, expected to vie for an all-around medal here, was unfortunately the weak link, finishing a devastating 31st all-around and failing to qualify for the all-around or any event finals. In her absence, though, fans will be delighted to see Ksenia Afanasyeva’s first ever world all-around appearance, as she was rock solid and finished 6th overall. And Viktoria Komova was so good you have to wonder if she was simply “hustling” the competition with her disastrous practices…she not only sits in first place in the all-around with a stunning 60.157 (ahead of favorite Jordyn Wieber’s 60.032), but leads the bars and beam qualifications as well. Although Russia finished over three points behind the USA, it’s important to remember that the competition will naturally become closer with only three scores counting on each event, and that Russia becomes an even stronger team under this format. Russia’s not out of the race for this team gold medal.
China Shows Its Potential. The big story with the Chinese was as much about what they could have done as it was about what they did. Yao Jinnan was an absolute star, nailing all four events, qualifying in third in the all-around (59.031), and landing spots in the beam and floor finals. Sui Lu was magnificent as well, tying Komova for the top beam score and posting the second highest floor score. And Huang Qiushuang, a last minute substitute for Wu Liufang, recovered wonderfully from a fall on her piked full-in on floor to hit fantastic routines on the other three events. She’ll join Yao Jinnan in the all-around finals. But China did suffer major errors on every event except vault. In addition to Huang’s fall on floor, world and Olympic bars champion He Kexin suffered two disastrous falls on her specialty, scoring a 12.733. Jiang Yuyuan took an extra swing and made a major error on a pirouetting sequence (12.866), and Tan Sixin made an error on the low bar (13.866). Tan Sixin also fell off beam, though this didn’t hurt the team too much as the other four gymnasts were very strong. Although they finished nearly four points behind the USA, this difference could shrink very quickly in a team finals format – particularly if China were to hit 12 for 12. So China’s not out of it, but it will be interesting to see what lineup China uses in the team final…will they risk putting up He Kexin on bars and Tan Sixin on beam?