Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Azerbaijan: A Force To Be Reckoned With

Friday, November 29th, 2013



Good news: Anna Pavlova has a new country, and it’s Azerbaijan!!!

When I think of gymnastics in Azerbaijan, only Valeri Belenki comes to mind (as well as a few rhythmic gymnasts that I don’t know anything about!). Belenki was a member of the CIS Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that totally dominated the gymnastics scene, earning the bronze medal in the All Around. Here’s his routine on parallel bars when he was forced to compete as an “Unattached” gymnast the following year since the newly formed Azerbaijan was not yet a member of the FIG.

Valeri Belenki, 1993 World Championships, Parallel Bars Finals

Anyway, from now on Pavlova will represent her adopted country internationally, which means we should see her at the World Championships once again. Woohoo! In the past few years, the powers that be in Russia weren’t even considering her for a spot on World and Olympic teams, which was a real tragedy for gymnastics purists everywhere. Now we’ll get to see her in major competitions as she displays her elegant floor routines and aims for a medal on the balance beam. Here are some of her recent routines that were only seen in minor competition:

Anna Pavlova, 2011 Vault

Anna Pavlova, 2013 Uneven Bars

Anna Pavlova, 2012 Balance Beam

Anna Pavlova, 2013 Floor Exercise

Azerbaijan also picked up a couple of other top Russians, Konstantin Pluzhnikov and Yulia Inshina. Pluzhnikov was replaced as Russia’s rings specialist by Alexander Balandin at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds, so hopefully he will be able to contend for medals under a new flag. Inshina won a silver medal with her Russian team at the 2011 World Championships, but now that she represents Azerbaijan, she will have no trouble qualifying to Worlds and other major events.

Konstantin Pluzhnikov, 2011 European Championships, Still Rings Finals

Yulia Inshina, 2011 World Championships, Balance Beam Finals

Go Azerbaijan!

UPDATE: December 4, 2013.

Anna Pavlova represented Azerbaijan for the first time at the 2013 Voronin Cup in Moscow this week, placing 2nd in the All Around behind Ukrainian Alyona Vasilyeva. Pavlova’s teammate, Marina Nekrasova, finished 3rd AA.

UPDATE: March 7, 2014.

Azerbaijan has recruited 15 more gymnasts, headlined by 2012 Olympian Oleg Stepko of Ukraine. Stepko won the gold medal on parallel bars at the 2013 European Championships and two golds and two silvers at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. This blow to Ukraine comes on the heels of Nikolai (Mykola) Kuksenkov’s move to Russia.

Apparatus Finals, Day 2 – 2013 World Championships

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Men’s Vault

1. Yang Hak Seon (KOR) claimed the world title with a booming handspring triple-twisting front now named the Yang, and a Tsukahara triple-twist. I don’t know how he manages to twist so quickly!

2. Steven Legendre (USA) vaulted a superb Dragulescu with just a bit of a low landing that required a small hop to the side. He looked happy with his second vault, a high Tsukahara double pike with a step back.

3. Kristian Thomas (GBR) stuck his first vault, a Yurchenko double pike, and showed the fantastic form he is known for on this event (E=9.500, the highest of the final). Next he vaulted a tucked double front with just a hop backward.

Rounding out the Top 8: Kenzo Shirai (JPN), Sergio Sasaki Junior (BRA), Diego Hypolito (BRA), Marius Berbecar (ROU) and Oleg Verniaiev (UKR).

Balance Beam

1. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) pulled it all together when it counted most, earning the gold medal on beam with a beautiful routine that included a switch split half to immediate Onodi. It was nice to see her supporting her younger teammate, Anna Rodionova, who is so elegant on the beam but unfortunately fell on her ff, Arabian.

2. Kyla Ross (USA) was spot on, and displayed beautiful lines on all elements. I enjoyed seeing her aerial front-sheep jump combination. After filing an inquiry, her score was raised to 14.833, just short of Mustafina.

3. Simone Biles (USA) also filed an inquiry following her beam routine and saw her score increase just enough to surpass Vanessa Ferrari (ITA). Love her full-in dismount. It reminds me of the old days. This is her routine from podium training:

Rounding out the Top 8: Vanessa Ferrari (ITA), Carlotta Ferlito (ITA), Shang Chunsong (CHN), Larisa Iordache (ROU) and Rodionova. Unfortunately many of the best beam workers ended up at the bottom of the pile, but that’s often the way the cookie crumbles on beam.

Parallel Bars

1. Lin Chaopan (CHN) & Kohei Uchimura (JPN) competed early on in the 9-man final, and boy did they impress! Lin was first up, and he and teammate You scrambled to chalk the rails after presenting themselves to the judges. His routine included the exciting Bhavsar and a nailed double pike dismount. Uchimura, not to be outdone, swung a nice giant to double pike and also stuck the same dismount (with a little arm swing!). The two gymnasts ended up atop the medal podium, each with 15.666 (D=6.700, E=8.966).

3. John Orozco (USA), returning from a knee injury, did a great set complete with tucked and piked double backs and a large Tippelt for the bronze medal. A door opened for Orozco, as his performance came on the heels of some disappointing routines by Vasileios Tsolakidis (GRE), Anton Fokin (UZB) and Brandon Wynn (USA).

Rounding out the Top 9: You Hao (CHN) with his smooth movements and fabulous double front-half out dismount, Epke Zonderland (NED), Marius Berbecar (ROU), Wynn, Tsolakidis and Fokin.

Women’s Floor Exercise

1. Simone Biles (USA) shone on floor as she executed her energetic choreography and trademark tumbling: tucked double-double followed by the Biles. Despite some hops on landings, she won in convincing fashion: 0.367 over the nearest competitor!

2. Vanessa Ferrari (ITA) flipped her way to silver with a tucked double double, a full-in to back tuck, a double tuck and a double pike. All landings were stuck except for a little hop forward on the first pass.

3. Larisa Iordache (ROU) commanded everyone’s attention and delivered such a spunky routine with tricky elements. I think everyone in the arena was disappointed when a 14.600 was flashed on the scoreboard. It did hold up, however, and Iordache found herself wearing the bronze medal around her neck. I was hoping she would win, because we haven’t seen this kind of artistry and enthusiasm in a long time. She is quickly becoming one of my favourites!

Rounding out the Top 8: Mai Murakami (JPN), Giulia Steingruber (SUI), Kyla Ross (USA), Sandra Izbasa (ROU), Ellie Black (CAN). I hardly recognized Izbasa with all that makeup(!), but I’ll really miss her once she retires. It’s too bad she fell at the end of her routine, but she got up with a smile. Her attitude is second to none, and she always shows such great sportsmanship. Murakami (quadruple turn) and Black (2.5-twist through to triple twist!) showed amazing tumbling and will hopefully finish on the podium in the near future.

High Bar

1. Epke Zonderland (NED) repeated his Olympic win in Antwerp with his usual amazing combinations. His 7.7 D score had him starting 1.3 ahead of Ryohei Kato (JPN), who of course had the misfortune of having to perform directly after the Flying Dutchman. While I do love seeing his extraordinary release moves, I do think his E score is a tad too high compared to gymnasts like Jossimar Calvo Moreno (COL) and Andreas Bretschneider (GER), who each scored lower.

2. Fabian Hambüchen (GER) seems like such a nice guy. I always see him in the background congratulating Uchimura on his All Around wins, and at the London Olympics and today in Antwerp he took the time to congratulate Zonderland on his win. Hambüchen looked thrilled after nailing his laidout double double dismount.

3. Kohei Uchimura (JPN) was flawless except for a hesitation in handstand following his Takamoto full. Through his 15 routines of these Championships he made nary a mistake and he came away with 4 medals, just like Simone Biles.

Rounding out the Top 8: Sam Mikulak (USA), Calvo Moreno, Bretschneider, Kato, Lin Chaopan (CHN). What a way to end High Holy Week!

(***High Bar videos to come soon!***)

Apparatus Finals, Day 1 – 2013 World Championships

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Men’s Floor Exercise

1. Kenzo Shirai (JPN) won the qualifying round by such a margin that the gold medal was his to lose. The best was saved for last, and Shirai performed 18.25 twists with fantastic landings before nailing his QUADRUPLE twist at the end of the routine. He looked elated at the end, and even King Kohei was on his feet for this one. Score: 16.000.

2. Jake Dalton (USA) won the silver medal with great form and some high-flying tumbling including a layout Arabian double front and a whip immediate piked Arabian double front.

3. Kohei Uchimura (JPN) earned the bronze medal thanks in large part to his exemplary technique and his extraordinary landings. Interestingly, he had the lowest D score and the highest E score (9.100) in the 8-man field. I was wondering if he would pull out the triple twisting double tuck in the finals, but that tricky skill turned out to be a gamble not worth taking.

Rounding out the Top 8: Daniel Purvis (GBR), Digeo Hypolito (BRA), Steven Legendre (USA), Fabian Hambüchen (GER) and Scott Morgan (CAN). Poor Legendre had to compete with a butterfly fluttering around the floor mat!

Women’s Vault

1. McKayla Maroney (USA) was on a mission after her Olympic disappointment. It’s such a cliché to say she makes it look easy…but she does! Maroney threw down two excellent vaults (Amanar, Mustafina) to edge out her teammate.

2. Simone Biles (USA) came really close to Maroney’s vaulting average (15.724 to 15.595) and she too performed a superb Amanar as a first vault. Biles’s layout Podkopayeva second vault earned a 9.658 E score, but the D score just wasn’t high enough to beat the defending World Champion.

3. Hong Un Jong (PRK) performed a fantastic Amanar with a large step forward on the landing, and a RO-half-on layout Rudi with a large step back. Her high start values were enough to capture the bronze medal.

Rounding out the Top 8: Giulia Steingruber (SUI), Oksana Chusovitina (UZB), Phan Thi Ha Thanh (VIE), Yamilet Pena Abreu (DOM) and Chantysha Netteb (NED). Pena fell on both of her vaults, and poor Netteb hurt her knee on her first vault, a Yurchenko double twist.

Pommel Horse

1. Kohei Kameyama (JPN) proved there’s more than one Kohei on the block, and now they both have the same number of World apparatus gold medals: one! Kameyama displayed some really nice scissor to handstand combinations and one-pommel work at the beginning of his routine.

2. Daniel Corral Barron (MEX) and Max Whitlock (GBR) tied for the silver medal on this event. Corral Barron is the first male gymnast from his country to qualify to a World final (he also placed 5th on parallel bars at last year’s Olympic Games), and therefore the first to win a medal for Mexico. He swung high above the horse. Whitlock, who won pommel horse bronze medals at the Olympics and at the Europeans earlier this year, lost rhythm as he came down from a handstand, but managed to stay on and finish up well. His D score of 7.200 certainly helped him stay in the medals.

Rounding out the Top 8: 2009 champion Zhang Hongtao (CHN), Alberto Busnari (ITA), Robert Seligman (CRO) with the highest E score, Matvei Petrov (RUS) and Prashanth Sellathurai (AUS).

Uneven Bars

1. Huang Huidan (CHN) displayed gorgeous pirouettes, difficult transitions and a nice piked Jaeger topped off with a stuck full-twisting double back. It would have been a Chinese 1-2 with Huang in the silver medal position if Yao Jinnan had caught her Mo salto.

2. Kyla Ross (USA) had the highest E score of the competition despite some loose leg form in the first half of the routine. Nevertheless, she showed lovely lines and solid handstand positions and a stuck double layout dismount.

3. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) has added a Stalder-full toe-on full-twisting Shaposhnikova (Seitz) combinations to her routine since the Olympic Games and she nailed it here. She did the same 1.5-twisting double back dismount that helped her win Olympic Gold, but unfortunately this time she had to shuffle her feet upon landing.

Rounding out the Top 8: Simone Biles (USA), Sophie Scheder (GER), Yao Jinnan (CHN), Ruby Harrold (GBR), Beckie Downie (GBR).

Rings

1. Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti (BRA) showed some tremendous strength holds and he did a fabulous full-twisting double layout, but it seemed the rings were swaying back and forth ever so slightly throughout much of his routine.

2. Aleksandr Balandin (RUS) made a press to planche from a still hang look easy! He used his long lines to his advantage in his swing elements, and took a slight hop back after the same dismount as Zanetti.

3. Brandon Wynn (USA) made the most of his 6.700 D score, the lowest of the 8 finalists, and clinched the bronze with a good effort and a stuck full-twisting double layout of his own.

Rounding out the Top 8: Liu Yang (CHN) was fantastic on the apparatus but landed a bit too low to grab a medal, Lambertus “Yuri” van Gelder (NED), Samir Aït Saïd (FRA), Koji Yamamuro (JPN) and Danny Pinheiro Rodrigues (FRA). Pinheiro Rodrigues had a great routine going, complete with two of his signature Victorians, but unfortunately got caught up in the air on his full-twisting double layout and ended up falling. I felt so sad for Yamamuro, last to go, watching him pray for a medal while waiting for his score to come up. He did an amazing job, complete with a decent landing on a very difficult double-twisting double layout dismount, only to end up in 7th. This just goes to show the quality of the field.

Simone Biles Wins Worlds

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Simone Biles and Kyla Ross teamed up for an American 1-2 in much the same fashion as Kohei Uchimura and Ryohei Kato did for Japan. Ross lead after the third rotation by the slimmest of margins, but Biles proved unbeatable with her amazing floaty tumbling: tucked double-double, double layout half-out (the Biles!), 2.5-twist punch layout front, tucked full-in. Ross demonstrated her trademark consistency and good form on her way to silver.

Simone Biles (USA), AA Balance Beam, 2013 World Championships

Kyla Ross (USA), AA Uneven Bars, 2013 World Championships

Aliya Mustafina (RUS) managed to pull herself together for the bronze medal after a dismal qualifying round. She has an uncanny ability to capture a crowd’s attention, and her gymnastics really looks fabulous with the exception of her form on the triple twist on floor. Iordache would have been in a tight race for bronze if not for the unfortunate fall from beam, arguably her best event. I’m sure she’ll be seeking revenge in beam finals on the weekend.

Aliya Mustafina (RUS), AA Floor Exercise, 2013 World Championships

It’s a pity Jessica Lopez (VEN) withdrew from the All Around, allowing Vasiliki Millousi (GRE) in, because she qualified in 11th spot and would have been even higher if not for a fall from one of her best events, the uneven bars. Here’s her routine from preliminaries.

Jessica Lopez (VEN), Qualifying Round Uneven Bars, 2013 World Championships

Victoria Moors (CAN) will have her layout double-double named after her, having successfully completed it in the All Around. The 14.633 awarded for her stylish floor routine was the third highest of all gymnasts today, behind Biles and Larisa Iordache  (ROU). She did well to finish in 10th place, but could have placed much higher if it weren’t for the 12.300 beam score. Teammate Ellie Black (CAN) had a great beam routine for 14.133 (5th highest score) but just couldn’t put it together on her signature events, vault and floor, for 13th place all around.

Victoria Moors (CAN), AA Floor Exercise, 2013 World Championships

Larisa Iordache (ROU), AA Floor Exercise, 2013 World Championships

And the 2013 Longines Prizes for Elegance are awarded to…drum roll, please…Kohei Uchimura and Kyla Ross!

Longines Prizes for Elegance, 2013 World Championships

2013 Worlds – Qualifying Rounds

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

It’s that time of year again! The World Championships have begun, and the best gymnastics from around the world is on display in Antwerp, Belgium. After watching the qualifying rounds, it is evident that the competitive field is so much stronger for the men than for the women in this post-Olympic year, and it’s just not the same without top contenders Viktoria Komova (RUS), Ksenia Afanasyeva (RUS) and Diana Bulimar (ROU). But the show must go on!

As usual, one of the highlights was the All Around domination of Kohei Uchimura (JPN), 2.392 ahead of American Sam Mikulak. Uchimura managed to qualify to the finals on floor, parallel bars and high bar as well, the most of any male gymnast. He is looking to win his fourth consecutive World Championship, a record he surely deserves. I love rooting for the underdog, but I just can’t this time. With his exceptional technique, form and level of difficulty across all six events, King Kohei deserves to go down in the books as the undisputed best gymnast ever. On the women’s side, Simone Biles (USA) led the field by 0.935 and made it to all four apparatus finals! I am most impressed by her double double followed by a double layout half-out on floor.

Here are some of the most exciting and upsetting moments of prelims:

I really wanted Victoria Moors (CAN) to make it to the floor finals. She has great music, great dance, and a laid out double double! It’s a bummer she put her hands down. Fortunately she has another chance to have this tremendously difficult skill named after her during the All Around finals on Friday.

Zeng Siqi (CHN) was a breath of fresh air on the balance beam. Her routine began with an effortless press to handstand, and she was so solid on everything until a simple aerial cartwheel left her standing next to the apparatus. Add a point to her score, and she would have qualified in second place behind Larisa Iordache (ROU).

Wow! Kenzo Shirai (JPN) can really twist! Not only does he perform a Yurchenko triple twist on vault, but he finishes his floor routine with a quadruple twist…STUCK, for a 0.633 lead on this event.

I’m so disappointed that Japanese native Naoya Tsukahara just missed out on qualifying to the All Around. The son of legend Mitsuo Tsukahara is quickly becoming a legend himself, having won medals in the 1990s and 2000s including the 1999 World All Around Silver and the 2004 Olympic Team Gold. Now at age 36, he represents Australia.

Darn it! Too bad Sanne Wevers (NED) fell off the beam on her full-twisting backhandspring mount and later put her hands on the beam after an intricate pirouette sequence. She has completely mastered the pirouetting skills on this event, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that she would make the beam final. How about we have a look at her routine in Osijek a few weeks ago instead?!

Mai Murakami (JPN) will finally have the chance to showcase her exciting floor routine in the event finals this weekend. She begins with a double layout and a double double, performs a controlled quadruple turn, and ends with a triple twist. Check out her reaction at the end!

Oh no! I was really looking forward to a Korean North vs South showdown on vault, but that will have to wait for next year. Poor Ri Se Gwang (PRK) had to miss the 2012 Olympics when his federation was banned, and he just barely missed the final after falling on his piked Dragulescu first vault (D=6.4). He did a great job on his half-on, full-in back out (Tsukahara-Tsukahara?!) second vault (D=6.4), though, and ended up only 0.479 from first place. If only he had held back a bit on the difficulty in order to ensure a spot in the final….

At age 29, Vasiliki Millousi (GRE) is still going strong. Her stylish beam routine seemed a little underscored at 13.833 (D=5.9, E=7.933), and she just missed out on qualifying to the All Around by 0.098. Hmm….

Perhaps the worst time was had by Igor Radivilov (UKR), as he was injured on his Tsukahara piked double back vault after sticking a Dragulescu. He will be missed in the vault finals.

McKayla Maroney (USA) proved once again that she is the one to beat on vault. Both her Amanar and Mustafina vaults were fantastic in the air and she qualified in first place despite the large steps forward. Look for her atop the medal podium in finals.

Stay tuned for the All Around and Apparatus Finals!