In the story My Montreal Gymnastics Worlds in 10 pictures I promised to put together my first-hand collection of facts, opinions, hopes, photos and memorable moments from Montreal Gymnastics Worlds 2017.
FIRST, THE MOMENTS
The Most Exciting Moment
The most exciting moment of the Worlds must have been the women’s all-around win by 16-year old Morgan Hurd of the U.S. who was not on the list of favorites to win. In fact, Morgan finished only sixth at national championships back in August and many fans found her selection to the Worlds team controversial. Morgan not only proved that she belonged at these Worlds, she did it under the utmost pressure following her teammate and team USA leader Ragan Smith’s injury in the warm-up just minutes prior to the all-around final.
The Most Disappointing Moment
The most disappointing moment for his many fans was Russia’s David Belyavskiy’s fourth place finish in the men’s all-around final. In a lead going into sixth and final rotation (high bar) where he had the highest score of all the leading group’s finalists in the qualification round, he fell in a release move and to the fourth place finish (following Ruoteng Xiao and Chaopan Lin of China and Kenzo Shirai of Japan). David finished 4th in Rio Olympics as well but then the drama of the last competition moments belonged to Japan’s Kohei Uchimura and Ukraine’s Oleg Vernyaev (also on high bar) who ultimately finished first and second respectively.
The Most Entertaining Moment was by far Epke Zonderland’s one-hand high bar catch (and save!) after a release move (everyone thought he would fall off!) He continued flawlessly into the next move and to finish the exersise which earned him the second place in the apparatus final. I had my 8-year old daughter and her friends in the audience, and I can tell you that this impressed them the most out of the four days of the all-around and event finals!
Simply the Worst Moments belong to the many athletes’ injuries at these Worlds. Every time someone went down – Kohei Uchimura during the qualifications, Larissa Jordache – just minutes before the qualifications, Ragan Smith in the warm-up before the all-around final or Vanessa Ferrari during her floor exercise in the final (to name just a few) – there was a heartbreak not only for these athletes but for the whole gymnastics community.
Paul Ziert, publisher of “International Gymnast” magazine (and my neighbor at the Worlds’ press table) believes that the number and type of injuries (in the Achilles or ankle area) are not coincidental. “(The FIG) jumped the D requirements but did not keep enough pressure on equipment companies to bring the equipment level up as well, so that equipment could handle athletes,” said Ziert. “We have to bring everyone to the same table – the FIG, the coaches, the athletes and equipment companies…we should be dealing with orthopedic specialists that should be saying what impact does that landing put on athletes…”
“THE BEST” AWARDS
The Best Team belongs to Women’s Team USA who won the most medals (4) among the women’s teams after losing their leader to injury just minutes before the first final. It has not been an easy year to select the U.S.’s Worlds team in the absence of Rio’s champions (and most notably, Simone Biles!). I already told you about Morgan’s pre-Worlds problems, but another team member – 17-year Jade Carey who is coached by her Dad – was discovered by the national stuff and invited to join the elite ranks – less than a year ago. The four USA women’s medals of these Worlds belong to Morgan (gold in the all-around and silver on beam) and Jade (silver on floor and vault).
Best Media Personality belongs to Morgan Hurd. She was enjoying every moment of her Worlds experience, soaking in all the energy and happy to share it with the press in the mixed zone.
What about the worst media personality? Let’s just say “what happens in the mixed zone, stays in the mixed zone” and leave it at that. For now!
Best New (National) Coach title belongs to Valeri Liukin of women’s team USA.
It was his first Worlds Championships after taking over the national team coordinator position a year ago following a 17-year legendary run of famous Martha Karolyi (who led the team to their worlds and Olympic dominance). Valeri did not hide the fact that he was nervous going into the meet after a difficult selection process, but “as a coach there is not much you can do during the meet.” As it happened, he had plenty of mentoring to do following Ragan’s injury right before the all-around final. “The future is even brighter for the team next year, as we have a lot of juniors coming to the senior’s level” he said. I can only imagine what it will mean in the team’s competition at Worlds 2018 (there was no team competition this year in the first post-Olympic Worlds).
The Most Likely to Improve in my opinion is a 16-year old Elena Eremina of Russia. Eremina, who earned bronze in the all-around with one of the weakest difficulty (D) components among the top contenders in all events (except on the bars where she is one of the world’s best and has a silver medal in the event final to prove it). Elena’s execution was one of the best on floor and beam in the all-around final and once she adds difficulty to her programs as she plans to- she will be the one to beat!
In the event finals 5 world title holders managed to defend their titles: Maria Paseka of Russia stayed on her feet for the women’s Vault title, Kenzo Shirai of Japan took the men’s floor, Max Whitlock of Great Britain remained triumphant on pommel horse (in his first competition since Rio), China’s Yilin Fan was golden again on uneven bars, although this time all by herself (there was a 4-way tie at the last Worlds 2015), and Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece was once again the lord of the “rings”.
The new event leaders emerged on beam (Germany’s Pauline Schaefer), women’s floor (Japan’s Mai Murakami), parallel bars (China’s Zou Jingyuan), and Horizontal Bar (Croatia’s Tin Srbic). Kenzo Shirai also added a new Vault World Title to his “old” World title on floor.
The controversial Two per Country rule affected two gymnasts at these Worlds: Russia’s Angelina Melnikova and U.S.’ Eddie Penev. Melnikova (who did not have a great meet finishing 16-th in the all-around) was fourth following the bars’ qualification but Russia’s Elena Eremina and Anastasia Ilyankova, first and second place finishers respectively, went on to the final without her (they placed second and fourth in the final). Eddie Penev finished sixth in men’s floor qualification but second and third finishers Donnell Whittenburg and Yul Moldauer represented team USA in the final where Yul won the bronze.
Two New Countries added their names to the list of gymnastics Worlds medalists: Croatia (Tin Srbic won Horizontal Bar final) and Belgia (Nina Derwael won bronze on uneven bars). Canada’s Ellie Black wowed the home crowd by her second place performance in women’s all-around, the first all-around medal for Canada at the Worlds.
On the Way To Tokyo
Team Japan presented two strong leaders for the Tokyo Olympics cycle (despite Kohei Uchimura’s injury) in Kenzo Shirai (who earned three medals at these Worlds- bronze in the all-around and gold on floor and vault apparatus finals) and Mai Murakami (gold on floor).
Execution vs Difficulty
With gymnastics score being the sum of D (difficulty) and E (execution), gymnasts are rewarded for including the high difficulty elements into their routine. But some experts, such as, for example, Paul Ziert of “International Gymnast Magazine”, believe that the execution “should be evaluated better…” “And that is what Russians are great for”. Russian fans can only hope what could be achieved when Russian leading ladies add the difficulty to match their beautiful execution.
Speaking of difficulty, I noted that Yul Moldauer managed to earn the bronze in the floor exercise final with the lowest D score among all the finalists (his D was 5.8 to Shirai’s 7.2). This proved an exception rather than the “norm” at the Worlds as other events’ medalists seemed to have the higher difficulty among the finalists. (Good example being Yiling Fan of China upgrading her uneven bars routine in the apparatus final to D 6.5 (from 6.3) to win gold over Russia’s Elena Eremina who was leading the qualification with 6.3 – her maximum difficulty at this time).
Show Must Go On
The Worlds Organizers tried to recreate the atmosphere of the “rock concert” first introduced at the Glascow Worlds 2015 and may have gone a bit too far in their attempts. While the audience greatly enjoyed the lights, the noise, the exciting live commentary, and even the tongues of fire during the athlete introduction, many athletes and coaches were not as happy with the lights being too bright, especially in comparison with the warm-up hall lights. Lets’ hope that the organizers of the next Worlds will find the ways to improve the performance conditions without sacrificing the audience experience.
Montreal Worlds spokesperson, the famous Romanian Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, believes that Romanian women’s team can earn their place on the podium again but it will take time. “In gymnastics, – she said to me at the press conference opening the Worlds, – nothing happens overnight…I am here for them and will support them in any way they need”. Andrea Raducan took over the country’s gymnastics federation and Nadia thinks that “she is on the right way”. “There was big mass of kids doing gymnastics [in the old days]…we need to go back to educating parents to have kids play in the gym.”
As a mom of a teenager, I would be the first to tell you about the potentially harmful effects of social media. Yet, its role is also brilliant in maintaining relationships (and even friendships) among the athletes. They give each other virtual likes and comment with support at the time of injuries. And then they hug each other “live” after each performance in the worlds finals when you would think that all they should be concerned with is their own performance. It was exciting to watch women’s all-around final drama unfold on floor for the leading group. It was beautiful to see the young ladies from three continents supporting each other as they were finishing their performances and awaiting their final scores. And this is the hope I leave you with after these amazing Montreal Worlds.