2019

Preview: Big talents in Baku for Gymnastics World Cup

The National Gymnastics Arena in Baku. Photo: Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation.

The National Gymnastics Arena in Baku. Photo: Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation.

Buckle up, Baku -- things are about to get interesting.

The Azerbaijani capital has hosted world cups in artistic gymnastics for the past several years, but it’s never seen one like this. As the individual apparatus Olympic qualification race heats up, an enormously talented group of specialists (and a few solid all-arounders) are descending en masse for the AGF Trophy (otherwise known as the Baku World Cup), which begins tomorrow and promises to be the most competitive meet Azerbaijan has ever seen. The level is so high that there’s a delicious unpredictability in it all, which is not always the case at world cup meets. That said, here’s a breakdown some of the likeliest possible scenarios for gold and those all-important World Cup ranking points.

Women’s Vault: A colossus of talent

Vault is normally the most neglected event at individual apparatus World Cups, but not this time. Here you get the reigning Olympic silver medalist Maria Paseka, fresh off winning vault at the Russian Championships last week in Penza, where her Amanar second vault was the biggest “ta-da!” moment of the meet. There’s also reigning World bronze medalist Alexa Moreno and her ever trusty Rudi, 2017 European vault champion Coline Devillard and her ever trusty Rudi, Oksana Chusovitina and her arsenal of power, and Jade Carey, who may be the only finalist to actually throw a double twisting Yurchenko. Carey is in some circles regarded as a shoo-in for the World Cup title on vault, but in this field she’ll need to be near her best to win. Barring falls, all should make finals.

Indian sensation Dipa Karmarkar will be making her 2019 “no pressure” debut at this meet after a less-than-spectacular return last year following an ACL tear in 2017. Karmakar has abandoned her Produnova and now relies on a less risky Tsuk double full to get her into finals. She’s a wildcard category because her form often hinders her, and without the D-score power of the Produnova she’s less likely to challenge for the podium. On the home front, Azerbaijan’s best hope of a final lies with Marina Nekrasova, a former World Cup medalist on this event.

Uneven Bars: A mini-Euros, with China too

Bars is never an event you can count on a gymnast to hit, especially at a World Cup, but this field is too stacked not to produce some memorable routines. Between 2013 European bars medalist Jonna Adlerteg, Ukraine’s Diana Varinska, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sophie Scheder and Russian specialist Anastasiya Ilyankova, we’re really spoiled for style. Lyu Jiaqi, whom China has been sending to do bars at world cups likely in the hope of getting her an Olympic spot, should be a medal contender here as well.

Balance Beam: Narrow margins

China has sent two extremely talented competitors in Li Qi and 2018 World team member Chen Yile, but both could have stiff competition from Russia’s Varvara Zubova and Youth Olympian Anastasiya Bachynska, who will be making her senior international debut in Baku. As a junior, Bachynaska proved to be a quintessential Ukrainian competitor -- elegant, poised and completely unpredictable. She does have a wonderful front handspring, front tuck combination at the top of her routine, however.

After a successful comeback on floor at the Melbourne World Cup at the end of February, Vanessa Ferrari is back on the beam here too. France’s Marine Boyer, a solid all-arounder who is quite good on beam, might have an opportunity here too.

Floor Exercise: It’s anyone’s game

Ferrari won floor in Melbourne in an extremely shallow field, and Baku is likely to be a little (but just a little) more indicative of where she stands internationally. Floor still feels like the most up-for-grabs title in the women’s competition. Carey will have far and away the hardest tumbling of the bunch, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee her anything. She had the hardest tumbling in Cottbus last November as well, but multiple passes landed out of bounds and some form mistakes left her in fifth place.

Bachynska, meanwhile, has wonderful form, excellent precision, and was quite overlooked in 2018 as a potential floor contender. Boyer could make noise here too, as might Australian floor specialist Alex Eade.

Eaker, Allaire-Bourgie light up L'International Gymnix

U.S. star Kara Eaker won three gold medals as American teams dominated the International Gymnix Tournament this past weekend in Montreal.

Long known as a meet that hosts greats before their star turns on the world or Olympic stage, the highly anticipated Gymnix welcomed teams from five countries for its senior team cup and seven for Saturday’s junior team cup.

Eaker and U.S. teammates Alyona Shchennkiova, Sloane Blakely and Aleah Finnegan easily won the senior team competition, topping a Canadian team consisting of 2016 Olympian Isabela Onyshko, 2018 Youth Olympian Emma Spence, World team alternate Laurie Denommee and standout Haley de Jong by a ten point margin. A poised and promising Australian team (2014 World team member Emma Nedov, 2018 Youth Olympian Kate Sayer, Elena Chipizubov and Romi Brown) took bronze.

Eaker, a beam finalist at last fall’s World Championships in Doha, began the day by sticking her Yurchenko 1.5 vault and nailed her impressive set (side aerial, layout, layout, roundoff, back handspring, 2.5 twist dismount) for a meet-high 14.666 to move into first in the all-around after three events. She held onto it even after a fall on her double pike final tumbling pass on floor to edge Shchennikova, who opened the meet with a terrific double-twisting Yurchenko vault and carried the top score of the day on bars, by a mere tenth of a point, 55.298-55.198. She won the beam title during Sunday’s event finals as well, her third gold of the meet.

Tiny Azuki Kokofugata of Japan, one of several new faces the Japanese are sending to competitions around the world this year, impressed in her senior international debut, throwing a triple full beam dismount and turning in the best score of the day on floor exercise (13.8) for third overall, then added gold on floor in event finals. The U.S.’s Sloane Blakely finished with the third highest all-around score, but was bumped due to the two-per-country rule.

Fresh from winning last month’s Elite Canada, world beam silver medalist Ana Padurariu had a rough outing in the team/all-around competition, recording multiple falls on balance beam and coming off the uneven bars, but the 16-year-old came back to win bars in event finals.

Canada’s Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, already considered an Olympic team contender although she does not become a senior until next year, won the junior all-around competition ahead of Americans Olivia Greaves and Skye Blakely. Magnificent on uneven bars (Wyler to Maloney, Pak, toe Khorkina II, pike Jaeger, full-twisting double tuck) and balance beam (bhs, layout, layout series), Allaire-Bourgie added three medals in event finals, taking gold on floor and silvers on bars and beam.

“I’m truly proud of my performance!” Allaire-Bourgie, who competes for Club Gymnix, exclaimed. “I took things one step at a time, and everything went well. I couldn’t ask for more.”

U.S. junior Skye Blakely, the only junior in the competition to show a double-twisting Yurchenko vault, won that event as well as uneven bars. The entertaining Noemie Louon of Belgium won balance beam and took bronzes on bars and floor.

The U.S. team of Blakely, Greaves, Lilly Lippeatt and Kaylen Morgan won the junior team title by five points over the Belgians (Louon, Stacy Bertrandt, Charlotte Beydts and Jutta Verkest), while Bourgie, along with Clara Raposo, Rebeka Groulx and Rachael Riley, powered Canada to bronze.

UCLA commit Emily Lee was the top all-arounder in the Gymnix Challenge All-around, a separate all-around competition, tallying 51.35 ahead of Canadian standouts Laurie-Lou Vezina (51.166) and 2015 Canadian world team member Audrey Rousseau (51.049).

Gymnix Senior Team Final

1 - USA, 165.261
2 - Canada 2, 155.296
3 - Australia, 154.963

Gymnix Senior All-around Final

1 - Kara Eaker, USA, 55.288
2 - Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 55.198
3 - Azuki Kokofugata, JPN, 52.4

Gymnix Senior Vault Final

1 - Aleah Finnegan, USA, 14.0
2 - Haley de Jong, CAN, 13.467

Gymnix Senior Bars Final

1 - Ana Padurariu, CAN, 14.466
2 - Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 14.4
3 - Emma Nedov, AUS, 13.33

Gymnix Senior Beam Final

1 - Kara Eaker, USA, 14.466
2 - Sloane Blakely, USA, 13.766
3 - Elena Chipizubov, AUS, 13.2

Gymnix Senior Floor Final

1 - Azuki Kokofugata, JPN, 13.5
2 - Haley de Jong, CAN, 12.9
3 - Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 12.766

Gymnix Junior Team Final

1 - USA, 159.463
2 - Belgium, 154.530
3 - Canada, 154.463

Gymnix Junior All-around Final

1 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 54.532
2 - Olivia Greaves, USA, 53.666
3 - Skye Blakely, USA, 53.332

Gymnix Junior Vault Final

1 - Skye Blakely, USA, 14.083
2 - Olivia Greaves, USA, 13.383
3 - Rachael Riley, CAN, 13.433

Gymnix Junior Uneven Bars Final

1 - Skye Blakely, USA, 14.133
2 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 14.066
3 - Noemie Louon, BEL, 13.466

Gymnix Junior Beam Final

1 - Noemie Louon, BEL, 13.2
2 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 13.1
3 - Lilly Lippeatt, USA, 13.066

Gymnix Junior Floor Final

1 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 13.233
2 - Olivia Greaves, USA, 13.133
3 - Noemie Louon, BEL, 12.966

Quick hits: 2019 International Gymnix, Senior Team/AA final

Rotation 1:

Kate Sayer (AUS), floor: Double tuck, bounces OOB. Looking more mature and elegant since last summer's Youth Olympic Games, where she was eighth AA. More landing troubles on double pike, but no falls. 11.5.

Aleah Finnegan (USA), vault: Yurchenko 1.5 with a big step/bounce forward, some leg form. 14.1.

Emma Spence (CAN), beam: Bhs, layout. Switch to switch half (leg form). Front aerial. Double twist. 12.3.

Romi Brown (AUS), floor: Double tuck. Good high double pike. 1.5 to front layout. Polished work from AUS so far on floor. Double full to end. 12.7.

Laurie Denommee (CAN), beam: Bhs, layout. Side aerial, wobble. Side somie, solid. Layout dismount. 12.4.

Alyona Shchennikova (USA), vault: Very nice DTY, nearly stuck. 14.433.

Emma Nedov (AUS), floor: Full twisting double tuck, well done. High double tuck. Punch front through to double full. Sits the double pike to end. Too bad! Very nice otherwise. 12.066.

Elena Chipizubov (AUS), floor: Double pike, lovely light landing. Easy double tuck. A soft, pretty exercise, practically something out of rhythmic. Double full. Full twist to end. 12.8.

Imogen Paterson (CAN), vault: Tucked FTY. 13.266.

Victoria Woo (CAN), beam: Bhs, layout. Side aerial. Switch (small wobble), wolf, scissone. 2.5 twist with a step forward. 12.433.

Jade Chrobok (CAN), beam: Switch to switch half, half not quite at 180. Off on bhs, layout. Double turn. Front aerial. Side somie. Roundoff, double pike from a single step. 11.733.

Rose Woo (CAN), beam: Off on first element, a double turn. Punch front to straddle jump, aggressive. Off agin on bhs, layout to two feet. Switch ring. Side somie. Front aerial, split jump. Switch half, big wobble. Double full dismount. 10.666.

Ana Padurariu (CAN), beam: Off on wolf double turn, just like Rose Woo! A pity. Pretty switch ring. Off again on side aerial, layout, layout. Switch half. Front aerial, split jump, bhs. Switch to sheep. Hands down on double pike dismount too. Not a good day for CAN on beam. 11.0.

Rotation 2:

Haley de Jong (CAN), floor: Nice high Arabian double front to begin. Triple full. Double tuck. 13.2.

Sloane Blakely (USA), bars: Pak. Toe shoot to high. Stalder blind, pike Jaeger. Toe blind and good high double front with a hop forward. 13.5.

Romi Brown (AUS), vault: Pretty Yurchenko full. Kate Sayer (AUS), vault: Another Y-full with a little bit of form. 13.166.

Isabela Onyshko (CAN), floor: Double tuck. Pretty, avant-garde music with an Asian feel. Punch front to double full. Double turn with leg at head to illusion turn. Switch ring to switch full. Double pike. 13.166.

Azuki Kokofugata (JPN), beam: Front aerial to double stag. Switch, sheep. Quick movements from this tiny young gymnast! Bhs, layout, big wobble but stays on. Triple full dismount. Impressive! 12.7.

Emma Spence (CAN), floor: 1.5 to double tuck, bounces out of it but stays on her feet. 2.5 to punch front that goes forward but not upward and still somehow puts it to her feet. Save of the day so far! Leg form on her leaps. Double pike to end. 12.7.

Laurie Denommee (CAN), floor: Nice double layout! Punch front to layout full, looks like she's capable of well m1ore than that. Great choice of music for her, allowing her to show off her power and finesse. Big double pike to end. Nice routine. 13.1.

Imogen Paterson (CAN), bars: Has a nice routine going but misses toe on entry into Khorkina II transition twice, then falls on the actual element. 10.5.

Fien Enghels (BEL), beam: Back dive mount. One of the nicer wolf double turns in existence. Side aerial. Bhs, layout, step back. Front aerial. Ring jump, head not far enough back. Roundoff, full dismount. Very nice set, extremely calm. 13.033.

Victoria Woo (CAN), floor: Stumbles out of triple turn. Lovely dramatic choreo. Punch front through to 2.5. Double pike, hops back but good height. 12.833.

Rotation 3:

Romi Brown (AUS), bars: Maloney to Pak. Blind to Deltchev. Open double tuck, small hop. Getting Hollie Dykes vibes with this one. 12.8.

Mikako Serita (JPN), floor: Double tuck. Triple turn, a tad off. Double wolf turn. 1.5 to front layout full, step/bounce out of it. Rudi. She's a little rough around the edges choreo-wise, but a nice start for someone so young. Double full to end. 12.433.

Sloane Blakely (USA), beam: Double wolf turn. Wonderful high standing Arabian. Switch to switch half to layout stepout, huge. Front handspring to sky-high front tuck but comes off. Front aerial. Side somie. Big easy looking double tuck dismount. Such.high.tumbling. 13.333 (5.9 D!)

Kara Eaker (USA), beam: Full turn with leg at head. Front aerial to ring jump, small wobble. Side aerial, layout, layout, beautiful. Scissone to side somie. Switch to bhs to Korbut. Switch, switch side, excellence everywhere. Roundoff, bhs, 2.5 twist, hop forward. Bravo Kara! 14.666.

Fien Enghels (BEL), floor: Italian opera music. Double tuck, bounces out of it and OOB. Punch front to full twist. Lovely form and presentation -- and performing her dance with a smile! Double full. Delightful routine from Belgium's junior national champion. 12.166.

Maellyse Brassart (BEL), floor: Full in pike. Punch front to double tuck, hop back. As with all the Belgians, unusual music choice and very thoughtful choreo. Double pike. 12.9.

Jade Vansteenkiste (BEL), floor: Tourjete full. Good high triple twist to open. 1.5 to front layout full. Switch to switch half. She's quite an actress out there! Some very raw "animal" choreo in this routine. Overcooks her double tuck and sits down -- too bad! 12.233.

Rotation 4:

Laurie Denommee (CAN), bars: Toe Shaposh to bail, toe Wyler, toe Khorkina II to high, Gienger, pirouette out of handstand, toe front half dismount. Some form here and there but nothing too serious. 12.866.

Emma Spence (CAN), bars: Pike Jaeger. Nabieva, nice! Pak. Toe full. Khorkina II. Clear hip to giants to double pike, a little low. 12.466.

Yuki Murakami (JPN), vault: FTY, very nice! 13.266.

Kate Sayer (AUS), beam: Tourjete, tentative, lacking in amplitude. Two bhs to double full. 12.433.

Haley de Jong (CAN), bars: Toe Shaposh, very nice! Pak. Maloney to bail. Toe shoot to high. Blind, half turn (feet apart), giants, pretty double layout. 13.033.

Elena Chipizubov (AUS), beam: Bhs, bhs, layout to two feet, VERY pretty. Front aerial, jump, back tuck. Punch front, very nice as well. Ring jump. A little careful with some of her leaps/jumps, but perhaps the most precise gymnast in the field. Bhs, bhs, double full. 13.0.

Emma Nedov (AUS), beam: The eponymous back dive mount. Bhs, bhs, layout to two feet, wobble. Front aerial to jumps. Switch, wolf. Switch ring, won't be credited but no wobble. Punch front, solid. Double pike with a small hop back. Well done Australia! 13.8.

Sloane Blakely (USA), floor, Nice high full in tuck, great. Arabian double front that seems to drop from the sky. Double pike, shuffle back. Double tuck, hop back. Entertaining routine, capped with excellent tumbling. 13.566.

Kara Eaker (USA), floor: Triple full, too much energy and bouces out with both feet glued together nonetheless. 2.5 to front layout full, small hop to the side. Terrific turn combo. Ladylike music and choreo. Front layout to front 2/1. Hands down on double pike! Aie. 12.466.

Jade Vansteenkiste (BEL), vault: FTY, very well done. Great height and distance. 13.666.

Three falls off the uneven bars for Rose Woo (CAN), who nonetheless nearly sticks her double front dismount. She was trying some new skills here, and is clearly still adjusting. 8.633.

Ana Padurariu (CAN), bars: Inbar blind to pike Jaeger. Misses inbar Tkatchev pike. Repeats the skill and makes it, successfully connects it to Pak. Bail to Ray, full twisting double tuck with a hop. 13.433.

#IntlGymnix 2019 Senior Women's AA -
🥇Kara Eaker, USA, 55.298
🥈Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 55.198
🥉Azuki Kokufugata, JPN, 52.4*

#IntlGymnix 2019 Senior Women's Team final -
🥇USA (Aleah Finnegan, Alyona Shchennikova, Kara Eaker, Sloane Blakely), 165.261
🥈Canada 2 (Emma Spence, Haley de Jong, Isabela Onyshko, Laurie Denommee), 155.196 
🥉Australia (Elena Chipizubov, Emma Nedov, Kate Sayer, Romi Brown), 154.963

*This was not the result that the livescoring showed -- it showed Sloane Blakely third, followed by Belgium's Fien Enghels, and even Kokufugata looked confused when called to the podium, but this is how the medal ceremony played out.

Thorsdottir, Mairosser take titles at 10th Austrian Team Open

The competitors at the 2019 Austrian Team Open take a group photo in Linz. All photos © ÖFT / Robert Labner

The competitors at the 2019 Austrian Team Open take a group photo in Linz. All photos © ÖFT / Robert Labner

After sitting out of October’s World Championships on account of a broken hand, Dutch star Eythora Thorsdottir celebrated a return to form by winning the Austrian Team Open this weekend in Linz.

The 20-year-old Thorsdottir, known for her exquisite choreography on floor exercise, posted the top scores on floor, beam and vault to tally 52.85 points for the all-around title, well ahead of Norway’s Nora Irgens (47.05) and Austria’s Bianca Frysak (46.6).

“First competition of the year,” Thorsdottir posted on Instagram, adding a check mark. “It’s a good first step on my way to the European Championships.”

Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza, the poster girl for next month’s Europeans in her hometown of Szczecin, was also warming up for Euros in Linz’s Tips-Arena. Fourth all-around with 46.2, Pihan-Kulesza would have been a viable podium contender had she not had to swallow a 7.15 on uneven bars.

Marta Pihan-Kulesza (POL) on beam.

Marta Pihan-Kulesza (POL) on beam.

2012 Austrian Olympian Elisa Haemmerle, who had suffering from the flu, opted to compete on uneven bars and balance beam only, but still managed the second best score of the day on bars (12.4).

Spain (Claudia Villalba, Berta Pujadas, Clara Navarro, Aina Puig and Etna Abella) won the women’s team title ahead of Austria and Norway, while Slovakia’s Sara Surmanova, born in 2005, was the top junior.

Austria’s own Johannes Mairosser took the men’s title despite a 9.15 on pommel horse. Norway’s Fredrik Bjornevik Aas, a tenth behind for second overall, suffered the exact same fate on pommel. The pipe was good to nobody at this competition except former Russian team member Matvei Petrov, a pommel specialist who was representing Albania at this meet. There, the former World and European finalist scored 15.45, the best score of the day on any event, and also contributed an event-high 13.8 on parallel bars.

Austria’s Vinzenz Hoeck, a former European junior champion on rings, was the class of the field on his best event, scoring 14.2 with a new routine that he hopes to use to make waves in Szczecin. Austrian veteran Matthias Schwab contributed the highest scores on vault (14.0) and high bar (13.3), while Leonard Gross was the best on floor (13.3).

Norway won the men’s team title ahead of two Austrian teams, while Didrik Gundersen led an all-Norwegian sweep of the junior men’s competition.

Full results from the Austrian Open can be found here.

Austrian rings star Vincenz Hoeck.

Austrian rings star Vincenz Hoeck.

Americans, Russian juniors impress at Jesolo Trophy

U.S. >seniors Gabby Perea, Emma Malabuyo, Sunisa Lee and Shilese Jones took the team title at the annual Jesolo Trophy Saturday in Italy, while Russia edged the Americans in the junior category.

U.S. >seniors Gabby Perea, Emma Malabuyo, Sunisa Lee and Shilese Jones took the team title at the annual Jesolo Trophy Saturday in Italy, while Russia edged the Americans in the junior category.

Rising U.S. talents Sunisa Lee and Konnor McClain led the Americans to 16 medals at the annual Jesolo Trophy this past weekend in Jesolo, Italy.

Lee, who turns 16 on March 9, teamed with Shilese Jones, Emma Mulabayo and Gabby Perea in compiling 166.798 points, helping the Americans take the team title over China (Liu Jingxing, Liu Tingting, Qi Qi and Tang Xijing, 165.201). Bolstered by a double-twisting Yurchenko vault and high-difficulty routines on all apparatus, Lee overcame a fall on a Humphrey turn on balance beam to take the all-around title over 2018 world beam champion Liu Tingting, 56.466 and 55.901.

A sharp Italian senior team featuring Olympic hopefuls Asia D’Amato, Alice D’Amato, Desiree Carofiglio and Elisa Iorio finished third. Italy was without the services of 2018 Youth Olympic all-around champion Giorgia Villa, who withdrew after injuring a finger during the warmup and was replaced by Alice D’Amato.

Lee’s sunny senior debut continued in event finals, where she won uneven bars with a sizzling set (calm stalder blind to pike Jaeger, Nabieva to Pak to Maloney to Gienger, toe stalder full to full-twisting double tuck, 14.45) and floor exercise (double double tuck, double layout, 1.5 to front layout full, double tuck, 14.2) and added bronze on balance beam (two back handsprings to layout and side aerial to two layout stepouts and double tuck dismount, 14.15).

Liu, crowned world champion on beam last fall, showed her trademark consistency and polish in winning the team title. Malabuyo, who missed the second half of the 2018 season with a back injury, showed polish and resolve in her first international of the year, taking bronze in the all-around and silvers on beam (Humphrey turn to wolf double turn, back handspring, layout, punch front, standing Arabian, double pike, 14.4) and floor (double layout, Arabian double front to single stag, full twisting double tuck, double pike, 14.1).

China, long a nation of uneven bars/balance beam gymnasts, arrived in Italy looking stronger on floor than in previous years. They broke into the medals on every event, with Liu golden on beam (front handspring to front tuck, split leap to side aerial to split jump, double twist dismount, 14.8), Tang winning silver on bars (Maloney to Pak, pike Jaeger, double layout, 14.35) and Qi Qi in bronze on floor (13.55).

A superb Russian team composed of Olga Astafyeva, Elena Gerasimova, Viktoriia Listunova and Vladislava Urazova upset the U.S. (Ciena Alipio, Sophia Butler, Konnor McClain and Kayla Di Cello) for the junior team title, drawing praise from every quarter for their difficulty, originality and the pureness of their technique.

But there was no stopping the talented McClain, who scored 56.167 to take the all-around title, a score that would have put the 14-year-old second among the seniors. Among the highlights: an excellent double-twisting Yurchenko vault, two back handsprings to layout on balance beam and beautiful double layout on floor. Born February 1, 2005, McClain is too young to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games, but her Jesolo performance marks her out as a potential 2024 hopeful.

Urazova and Gerasimova, the silver and bronze medalists in the all-around, continued their success in event finals, each adding two medals. Listunova, whose long lines and precise landings are reminiscent of a young Viktoria Komova’s, avenged her fourth place all-around finish with the titles on beam and floor.

Trofeo di Jesolo - Seniors

Team:

1. USA, 166.798
2. China, 165.201
3. Italy, 161.33

All-around

1. Sunisa Lee, USA, 56.466
2. Liu Tingting, CHN, 55.901
3. Emma Malabuyo, USA, 55.899

Vault

1. Asia D’Amato, ITA, 14.2
2. Desiree Carofiglio, ITA, 13.25

Uneven Bars

1. Sunisa Lee, USA, 14.45
2. Tang Xijing, CHN, 14.35
3. Elisa Iorio, ITA, 14.3

Balance Beam

1. Liu Tingting, CHN, 14.8
2. Emma Malabuyo, USA, 14.4
3. Sunisa Lee, USA, 14.15

Floor Exercise

1. Sunisa Lee, USA, 14.2
2. Emma Malabuyo, USA, 14.1
3. Qi Qi, CHN, 13.55

Trofeo di Jesolo - Juniors

Team

1. Russia, 165.234
2. USA, 163.899
3. Belgium, 152.734

All-around

1. Konnor McClain, USA, 56.167
2. Vladislava Urazova, RUS, 55.2
3. Elena Gerasimova, RUS, 55.0

Vault

1. Konnor McClain, USA, 14.425
2. Viktoriia Listunova, RUS, 14.1
3. Ciena Alipio, USA, 14.05

Uneven Bars

1. Vladislava Urazova, RUS, 14.3
2. Elena Gerasimova, RUS, 13.75
3. Konnor McClain, USA, 13.7

Balance Beam

1. Viktoriia Listunova, RUS, 13.85
2. Ciena Alipio, USA, 13.7
3. Elena Gerasimova, RUS, 13.7

Floor Exercise

1. Viktoriia Listunova, RUS, 14.3
2. Vladislava Urazova, RUS, 13.9
3. Konnor McClain, USA, 13.35

Leanne Wong tumbles off with the American Cup, and a star is born

Leanne Wong didn’t have to do it, but of course she did.

Leading the American Cup by a margin of 0.233 heading into her final event, floor exercise, 15-year-old probably could have played it safe with the routine she used to seal her junior national title six months ago. But Wong and her coaches had had some surprises in store, and Wong felt that now was the time to unleash them.

Talking upgrades two weeks before the meet, Wong declined to say exactly what she was working on, better to preserve the secret. “If they’re ready I’ll put them in, but if they’re not then I’ll just keep them out,” she said at the time.

Turns out they were ready. As the women’s competition reached its crescendo Saturday, Wong stepped up with two rare and difficult new tumbling passes, a final fireworks display in a competition where she had already flashed plenty of brilliance.

Despite the presence of World silver medalists Mai Murakami of Japan and Ellie Black of Canada, Wong and 2018 World team champion Grace McCallum were always the headliners of the meet, and one or the other was expected to carry on the long tradition of American domination at the event.

From her first vault, Wong established herself as the champion-in-waiting. Her 14.066 for her double-twisting Yurchenko was the best in the field, and though her 14.1 for her intricate bar routine was only the fourth best in the field, she hit it well enough to keep herself close to the lead. Add in the highest score on beam for the toughest routine of all competitors and by the time floor came around she was poised to be the breakout story of the night. The two new tumbling passes clinched it. Never mind if the judges may not have credited her 3.5 twist. She can do it, and it will only get better from here.

For her part, McCallum showed a steady poise and refused to be ruffled by small errors. In a way, the pressure on her was greater than it was on Wong, because after a highly successful Worlds debut last fall, McCallum was a known quantity with a reputation to nourish. Nobody would have blamed Wong had she shown senior debut nerves; for the world team champion, expectations were higher. Never mind her ranking -- the victory for this Minnesotan was competing without fault. Mission accomplished.

By tying for third, Black and Murakami, each the best female gymnast their nation has ever produced, showed that the American Cup is not just a showcase for talented U.S. gymnasts. Black, who hurt her knee in training, came out with four solid routines all the same, while Murakami’s bid to become the first foreigner to win the cup since Elena Zamolodchikova in 2001 was spoiled when she dropped off the balance beam. The two tied for third, causing the gymternet to give a collective “awwww!”

Germany’s Kim Bui, fifth, posted the highest score on uneven bars. Thirty years old last month, she competes like someone ten years younger, the result of quality training combined with a genuine love for the sport. Though she prefers to steer clear of the balance beam these days, she put up respectable scores on every event.

Overall though, the night belonged to Wong. “It was really exciting competing at my first senior meet, and I thought it went pretty well,” she said afterward. Us too, Leanne. Us too.

American Cup 2019: Women's competition breakdown

Mai Murakami of Japan.

Mai Murakami of Japan.

The American Cup stands as a particular point of pride for the U.S. women, where the last non-American to win the title was Elena Zamolodchikova in 2001. The list of champions after Zamo’s name reads like a roll call of American greats: Schwikert, Patterson, Liukin, Johnson, Wieber, Bross, Ohashi, Price, Biles, Douglas, Smith, Hurd. Among them you find ten Olympic gold medals and two appearances on Dancing with the Stars (with Ohashi’s candidature still pending.)

To resume: The American Cup is always the first all-around event on the international calendar and (almost always) the one in which an American walks off with first place. The rest of the world tends to see this meet as an extended world cup podium training or a water-testing of new seniors, but Americans take it very seriously indeed.

Except this year, the headliners are heading elsewhere. Simone Biles is preparing for the Stuttgart World Cup, and 2018 American Cup champion Morgan Hurd is going to the Tokyo edition later this spring. Fortunately, American depth has become as renowned as American difficulty, so while Biles prepares to bulldoze the competition in Germany and Hurd practices her Japanese greetings, we’ll be treated to a most interesting matchup between junior national champion Leanne Wong and 2018 world team gold medalist Grace McCallum, the breakout star among the new seniors last year.

Both have terrific qualities: like so many gymnasts who train at GAGE in Missouri, Wong is impeccably polished, but she also possesses a zen, Kyla Ross-like calmness on the podium. Thrust onto the world stage last October, McCallum didn’t flinch either: she nailed every routine and comes to Greensboro with a dramatic new floor routine and the confidence boost of having won the latest national team camp.

McCallum and Wong are similarly balanced in D-score capability (according to last season’s numbers) which is prone to make the battle close. Both competed double-twisting Yurchenkos (5.4 D) and had bars sets around 5.7. At the close of 2018, McCallum had a edge of a couple of tenths on both beam and floor, but they are close. McCallum’s difficulty, calculated based on what she did in 2018, is 22.2, the highest in the field, but Murakami is just behind with 22.1.

The biggest threat to American domination in Greensboro is likely to come from world all-around silver medalist Mai Murakami, who looked sharp and ready in Thursday’s podium training, and Ellie Black, who struggled here and there but whose potential difficulty, if well played, could land her on the podium. If she does everything she’s capable of, Black’s total difficulty is around 21.8, same as Wong’s.

Among the international field, the experienced Kim Bui, 30 and stronger than ever, has potential fantastic difficulty on bars but is unlikely to challenge for the podium due to a weak vault and beam, which she doesn’t compete too often these days.

Celia Serber, the French junior national champion last year, impressed with big skills and excellent form and should prove an exciting addition to the field. The Netherlands’s Sanna Veerman is a bright young competitor for a country that has made remarkable strides in the past few years. Veerman has the skills but lacks some of the polish, and this competition should be excellent experience for her.

2018 Youth Olympian Lee Yunseo of Korea is making her senior international debut at the American Cup and has some excellent skills up her sleeve. Of the eight women in the field, we saw the least in podium training from China’s Lu Yufei, who remains a question mark.

Zhao impresses, Ferrari makes golden return as Melbourne World Cup concludes

Chinese newcomer Zhao Shiting had a breakout moment as the only multi-medalist on the final day of competition at the Melbourne World Cup in Australia.

In her World Cup debut, Zhao, 15, showed star power in winning the balance beam title (beautiful roundoff layout; front aerial, split jump, Korbut; switch to split ring jump, double full dismount) and on floor exercise, where she tumbled a triple full, 2.5 to front pike, double tuck and double full for bronze despite a fall on the double tuck. Zhao did it all with a little help from friend and teammate Fan Yilin, winner of the bars title in Melbourne, who stepped in to act as coach in the absence of Zhao’s own personal coach, who was not sent to Australia.

Sixteen months after rupturing her Achilles tendon during the floor final at the 2017 World Championships, Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari took gold for a dance-infused new floor set that also included double layout, full in and front full tumbling passes. Puerto Rico’s Paula Mejias showed a 2.5 to punch front, Arabian double tuck and whip to double back for silver.

Like Georgia-Rose Brown on Saturday, Australia’s Emma Nedov gave the host country something to cheer about with silver on balance beam, her first ever world cup medal (two back handsprings to layout; front aerial, split, scissone; switch ring: punch front; double pike dismount.) Japan’s Mana Oguchi, one of a slate of emerging Japanese women set to compete at world cup events this year, won bronze (punch front mount; switch ring; bhs layout; front aerial; ring jump; front layout full dismount.)

Results

Balance Beam

1. Zhao Shiting, China, 13.566
2. Emma Nedov, Australia, 13.500
3. Mana Oguchi, Japan, 13.066
4. Elena Chipizubov, Australia, 13.033
5. Lai Pin-Ju, Chinese Taipei, 12.433
6. Eom Do-hyun, South Korea, 12.400
7. Valeriia Osipova, Ukraine, 11.233
8. Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan, 10.533

Women’s Floor Exercise

1. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy, 13.600
2. Paula Mejias, Puerto Rico, 12.533
3. Zhao Shiting, China, 12.266
4. Emma Nedov, Australia, 11.833
5. Lai Pin-Ju, Chinese Taipei, 11.733
6. Valeriia Osipova, Ukraine, 11.633
7. Aida Bauyrzhanova, Kazakhstan, 11.000
8. Ting Hua-Tien, Chinese Taipei, 10.566