I did catch the women’s vault final this morning, so I wanted to post a few comments.  I’ll have more on some of the other finals later on.

This women’s vault final was great.  What an incredible surprise to see that Afanasyeva has suddenly become a world medal threat on vault!  Her Amanar was fantastic, and the laid out Podkopayeva was impressive as well – high, clean, and well landed.  I just can’t get over how fit and how good she looks right now.  Had she had this vault in London, Russia would have had three Amanars just like the Americans – it may not have changed the Olympic result last year, but it sure would have made things a little more interesting.  Much like Sandra Izbasa of Romania, Afanaseyva has morphed from primarily a floor specialist into a floor and vault specialist – and don’t forget she’s a two-time Olympic beam finalist as well.  It will be exciting to see what she can bring home from Antwerp in a few months – right now she is in the most exciting place in her career.

It was so awesome to see Paseka hit her vaults as well – that Amanar was a little improved over what we saw last year.  By landing those two vaults, she may have placed herself on the Russian world team for this fall, but we’ll have to see.  Their four-woman squad will depend, in part, on the status of Viktoria Komova.  Nonetheless, it’s awesome to see the Russians doing so well on this event right now, and refreshing to see so many smiles from this often stoic team.

I didn’t even realize we were going to see the 2008 Olympic champion on vault here!  That was a nice surprise, and cool to see she’s still capable of the vaults she performed in Beijing.  It wasn’t surprising that her difficulty ended up giving her a share of the gold, but personally I do prefer that the vault champion have the best landings in the field (Afanasyeva).  But today’s rules are more complex than this, and we’ve seen before that difficulty can often overshadow execution, particularly on vault where there is just one skill involved (think Cheng Fei winning bronze with a fall in 2008).

Overall, this was one of the best international vault finals we’ve had in a long time…at least in terms of difficulty.  We had three Amanars, two Chengs (one not landed), some laid out Podkopayevas, handspring rudis, and Tsuk double fulls.  That Tsuk double full from Ellie Black was particularly good – much better than her handspring rudi.  It’s important to note, though, that the landings on vault in women’s gymnastics are not there.  We didn’t see a single stuck landing in this vault final, and that’s pretty typical of women’s vault finals these days.  Right now the emphasis is still on simply landing the most difficult vaults possible, which is not only potentially dangerous but also leads to large steps and awkward landings – a bit anticlimactic in a sport where stuck landings are supposed to equal gold medals.

We’ve seen a similar trend on the men’s side over the past ten years – when many of the superhumanan vaults we see today were first introduced 5-10 years ago, landings were an afterthought.  Often times world and Olympic vault champions simply landed the two hardest vaults on their feet.  Today, however, things have changed, and stuck landings on these same vaults are becoming more and more common – we had lots of stuck landings in the Olympic vault finals last year.  Let’s hope we see a similar trend on the women’s side over the next few years.

As exciting as it is to see all of the difficult vaults, I do miss the days when the contest centered around who could do the most perfect Yurchenko full – with toes pointed, feet together, beautiful body position, exceptional height, and a flawless landing.  Food for thought…should vault finals include one “difficult” vault and one “technical vault” – perhaps with the technical vault judged from a 10 so that only execution is emphasized?

Finally, it feels so much more right to award two medals when there is a tie.  The arbitrary tie-breakers that plagued the Olympics in London did nothing but taint Olympic medals with asterisks and turn pure Olympic moments into somewhat artificial ones.  They caused far too much controversy and frustration, and seeing Hong Un Jong and Ksenia Afanasyeva share this gold medal at the World University Games confirmed to me that I am all in favor of handing out shared medals when the scores fall that way.

More to come from the World University Games!