What happened in gymnastics this weekend? A lot — let’s recap, shall we?
Biles blazes to Stuttgart World Cup win
Simone Biles may be wondering if it’s time to panic because we’re less than 500 days to Tokyo, but she didn’t show it on the competition floor Sunday at the Stuttgart World Cup. On the second leg of her European business trip, Biles totaled a 58.8 to cruise ahead of dancing queen Ana Padurariu and German veteran Elisabeth Seitz, who brought her double-twisting Yurchenko out of storage to thrill the Stuttgart crowd. It was Biles’s first world cup start since 2015 and her first ever outside the United States, and she killed it despite downgrading slightly on all four events. Here are Quick Hits of the Event, from start to finish.
The matchup was also notable for Aliya Mustafina’s presence, though Mustafina finished fifth due to an unfortunate 11.6 on beam. “Burn it,” Mustafina wrote on Instagram afterward, but Russia’s goddess of the gym was extremely impressive on the other three events, proving yet again that podium training has nothing to do with what you can expect from her in competition. Of that great-looking double-twisting Yurchenko vault that came out of nowhere: “I didn’t believe I could,” she wrote. But she did.
‘King Arthur’ reigns supreme in Germany
There were questions about the state of world all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan since he finished 17th in prelims at the Russian Championships last week and promptly withdrew from the all-around final, but he answered them all on the floor in Stuttgart, where he was nothing short of brilliant through five events to win the men’s crown. Not even two falls off high bar in the last rotation could spoil his victory parade. Quick Hits of the Men’s All-around.
Dalaloyan controlled the meet from start to finish, though China’s Sun Wei rebounded from a poor beginning to earn the silver medal. Nobody in the arena was happier than Ukraine’s Petro Pakhniuk, however, who had a career day to finish third, pushing German star Marcel Nguyen off the podium.
Brazilian women, Russian men take DTB Pokal Team Challenge
It was clear last October in Doha that the Brazilian women’s team was on the make, and Stuttgart confirmed it. Rebeca Andrade, Flavia Saraiva, Carolyne Pedro, Jade Barbosa and Thais Fidelis (with Valeri Liukin in the background) appeared stronger than ever. Saraiva debuted a new whip to double layout on floor, and Andrade was brilliant everywhere as Russia ran away with the title by almost five points (five points!).
Russia, led by Angelina Melnikova and new national champion Angelina Simakova, had plenty of bright moments, but couldn’t match the Brazilians without their big guns. Melnikova had a nice day, but Simakova, who has been tapped for the upcoming European Championships, was less convincing in her all-around turn than Aliya Mustafina was in hers (balance beam aside). Eythora Thorsdottir and the Dutch women were third, followed by an undisputedly talented French team that, apart from Melanie de Jesus dos Santos, is still getting its bearings in senior competition. Play-by-Play from the Women’s Team Final.
Russia is still deciding on its men’s team for the upcoming European Championships, and this weekend’s DTB Pokal Team Challenge, a companion meet to the World Cup, likely played a deciding role. One routine stood out above the rest: Dmitry Lankin on floor, whose routine included a triple back, 3.5 to front half and quad twist. Here it is at the Russian Championships ten days ago. Quick Hits from the Men’s Team Final.
A strong German team (Nick Klessing, Niels Dunkel, Felix Remuta, Andreas Toba and Lukas Dauser) finished second, 2.833 points back. Dauser as usual was brilliant on parallel bars, and has potential to challenge for the European title on the event in Poland next month. Japan’s B-team, including Kenta Chiba, Shogo Nonomura and Kakeru Tanegawa, looked good but had mistakes here and there and were forced to settle for third. Brazil, strong on vault and floor as always, a wonderfully artistic Italian team and Spain rounded out the field. Here’s a photo that sums up how the Germans felt about it all:
The Best of Baku
It was a good weekend for Jade Carey: In her second Olympic qualifying World Cup appearance, she won vault with a hot new Cheng, and took floor for good measure, gaining valuable ranking points on both apparatus. Carey only needs to win vault to seal her place at the Games, and after finishing second to Rebeca Andrade in Cottbus (who will likely compete for Brazil’s world team in the fall and thus be ineligible for an individual Olympic spot), Carey has set herself in good stead.
Similar results in Doha this weekend will make it all but official for Carey, who would be the first gymnast in history to officially cement an Olympic spot more than a year before the Games. Assuming she wins in Baku, the only thing that could potentially spoil things for her is if someone like Oksana Chusovitina pulls out three first place finishes on vault at other world cup events. And even then Carey could still qualify via floor.
Around the gym, China’s Lyu Jiaqi was victorious on uneven bars, strengthening her case as China’s potential Olympic specialist on the event, and Australia’s Emma Nedov, fresh from Gymnix, topped the field on beam for the first world cup victory of her career at age 24. Nedov, who was always an elegant competitor, seems to be finally coming into her own and may be one of the surprises of the year. Who said gymnasts peak before age 16 again?
The men’s competition in Baku was a celebration of international diversity, with six gymnasts from six different nations winning the titles. Israel’s Artem Dolgopyat, who has won floor in the last three world cups he’s entered (that’s significant, since one of them was Cottbus), continued the streak in Baku, while newcomer Vladyslav Polyashov, second all-around at the Russian Championships, took the title on parallel bars. Britain’s Courtney Tulloch, the 2018 Commonwealth Games champion on rings, got his first world cup win on the event.
Other champions included Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Epke Zonderland on high bar, 2013 world pommel horse titlist Kohei Kameyama of Japan. 2012 Olympic vault champion Yang Hak-seon of Korea, whose torn Achilles kept him out of Rio, made a big “I’m back” statement by winning vault with his signature handspring front triple twist. All results from Baku are here.
Ellie Downie, James Hall best in Britain
Ellie Downie proved her mettle in 2017, becoming the first ever British woman to walk off with the European all-around title, but since then, the 19-year-old has struggled with one injury after another. Finally healthy, she claimed the British Championships in Liverpool, compiling a healthy 56.0 all-around score with room for improvement, which should make her very competitive in Poland.
Kelly Simm, the 2018 British champ, finished second with 55.05, followed by first year senior sensation Amelie Morgan at 54.8. Sadly we won’t see Simm in Poland -- the 23-year-old withdrew from the British team this morning due to a fracture in her foot and will be replaced by Claudia Fragapane. The injury seems to have come during beam warmup in the all-around final — Simm did not compete in event finals as a precaution.
Downie (vault, floor) and Georgia Mae-Fenton (bars, beam) split the individual apparatus titles in finals. Among the juniors, Ondine Achampong took the all-around title with 52.9 and added bars and beam titles in event finals.
Workhorse James Hall took the senior men’s title with 84.45, a solid score that should see him up there in the European all-around final as well. 2014 Youth Olympic champion Giarnni Regini-Moran, who like Downie has struggled with one injury after another, competed all-around for the first time since 2016 and took silver with 81.65, ahead of first year senior Jamie Lewis, third with 80.95.
2016 Olympian Brinn Bevan was fourth, followed by Pavel Karnejenko and Joe Fraser. 2012 Olympian Sam Oldham finished eighth. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Max Whitlock came out of paternity leave for the day to win pommel horse.
Nikolchenko, Salos, Ukraine big winners at the Deriugina Cup in Kiev
Here’s a picture of the new generation Ukrainian star Vlada Nikolchenko looking fierce during her gala performance after her Grand Prix season debut at home in Kiev. Nikolchenko was pretty fierce on the carpet during the actual competition as well, winning the title for the home country with 77.95, ahead of Bulgaria’s Katrin Taseva (76.65) and Ekaterina Selezneva of Russia (75.8). Every one of the big guns came away with something from event finals, where winners included Nikolchenko (Hoop), Selezneva (Ball), Salome Pazhava (Clubs) and Taseva (Ribbon). Ukraine’s group came up golden as well.
The amazing scores of the weekend came not from the Grand Prix event, but the accompanying Deriugina Cup, and not from a Ukrainian but from Belarus’s quickly rising star Anastastia Salos, who tallied a very impressive 79.5, including a 21.8 with the Clubs. Ukaine’s Olena Diachenko, a 2017 Worlds competitor, finished a distant second with 74.65 (including 21.1 with the Hoop). Russia’s Maria Sergeeva was third with 73.7. Full results from everything here.
The Deriugina Cup, named after 1970s great Irina Deriugina and her 87-year-old mom Albina, both of whom coach the Ukrainian team, is as much rhythmic gymnastics show as it is a competition. (Have a look at Ulrich Fassbender’s photos from the competition gala and you’ll get an idea...)
Gymnastics’s “Miss Val” says goodbye to UCLA
Finally, in Los Angeles, after more than three decades as the heart and soul of the UCLA program, a gymnastics legend of a different kind took her final bow in Pauley Pavilion.