The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, May 15, 2021

What we learned at Chinese Nationals — British Trials extended — Must-click links

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Chinese nationals

The Chinese national championships concluded this week. And while we were all hoping that the competition would help us narrow down the many Olympic prospects to the four-plus-one which China is allotted, it did nothing more than to throw everything further into confusion. For real, I’m no closer to naming a full team than I am to becoming an elite gymnast myself (Paris 2024 here I come).

One thing is for sure: Lu Yufei. The once-overlooked Olympic prospect had a great performance on day one, scoring a 56.932 all-around to qualify in second, but did even better in the final — she hit her FTT with a big step back, had some leg separation on bars (but that was the only real issue there), stuck her beam dismount cold after a near-flawless routine, and her floor was clean for a 14.133. She topped the podium with a 56.765 day two score.

Lu also qualified for the bars, beam, and floor finals, where she earned two more medals. She killed it on bars in quals — including her beautiful tkatchev geinger combo and pirouette series to piked jaeger to pak — to qualify in second with a 14.8, but unfortunately her hand slipped during a pirouette in finals and she had a scary fall, putting her in eighth. Moving on to beam, she was a bit tentative in quals but hit in the final for second with a 14.766. Finally, floor. Lu took the title here, with a routine featuring a beautiful quad turn, a bit of a stumble on her full-in, and a lovely triple twist with a step for a 13.966.

We’ll talk about how her floor music is an instrumental version of “I’m in love with your body” at a later date.

But seriously, Lu should be very proud of what she accomplished here, and based on this performance alone I’d say there’s no way she should be left home. Aside from her bar final, she showed off her ability to be consistent over a long competition, hitting four-for-four over two days to beat some stiff competition.

Speaking of consistency, Zhang Jin qualified in third and took silver in the all-around with a solid performance on both days. Her DTT was hit, with her chest down and a hop forward; her bars were clean — her swing is not as smooth as some of her compatriots, but she stuck her full-in; her beam wasn’t as strong as in quals (she put a leg up on her layout to two feet, for one), but was otherwise hit; and on floor she fell out of her triple turn but hit her whip to triple twist to split jump. Zhang looks like one of those athletes that isn’t a phenomenon on any one event but is dependable as an all-arounder, and this keeps her in the running for the final four.

Li Shijia’s 57.698 qualification score is nothing to scoff at, either. After earning the highest all-around score of the competition in qualifications, itlooked like Li was going to run away with the title, but errors unfortunately put her in third after the final. She landed short on her DTY, putting her hands down, but then went on to hit bars. Beam is where she really had issues, though — she barely got her feet down and fell on her front handspring front tuck, and on floor, she stumbled back and out of bounds on her full-in. She stuck the rest of her passes cold and still finished the day with a 54.866 and a bronze medal.

But what Li really has going for her is her beam routine. She dominated on that event in both quals and event finals, nailing her front handspring front tuck and hitting all her leaps for a 15.400 in quals, then being a little more hesitant in event finals for a redemption score of 15.033. Still, both were Olympic medal-worthy routines, and despite her problems there in the all-around, I’d say she deserves an Olympic berth for that event alone.

Tang Xijing went from fifth in quals to fourth in the all-around thanks to improvements on all four events. She stuck her FTY with great form, hit a beautiful bar routine for a 14.566 there, was rock solid on beam, and on floor, landed low on her full-in but hit the rest of her passes, including a triple twist to punch front, to finish the day with a 56.598 — the second-best score of the final. In event finals, she placed fifth on bars and was able to capitalize on errors from others in the beam final to come in third with a few wobbles. Like Zhang, Tang looks like one of those all-arounders who can step in on any event, and that keeps her solidly in the mix. All-around results

Moving on to event finals, Deng Yalan performed a DTT that had messy leg form in quals but a stuck landing, and a watered down handspring with half twist to qualify in third. But she upped the ante in finals, competing the DTT with a hop on the landing and a Rudi with some leg form and a small step on the landing, easily giving her the win with a 14.599 average.

Liu Jinru competed the same vaults as Deng with noticeable form issues, including a DTT with straight legs until just before the landing, when they got messy and she landed with her chest down, and a Rudi with similar issues, putting her in second with a 14.349. Yu Linmin came in third with slightly lower difficulty; she competed a slightly piked lopez with a hop back and a clean DTT with a little hop back, averaging a 14.250. Vault results.

The bars title went to — wait for it —Fan Yilin. If you don’t remember, Fan has already qualified to the Olympics via the apparatus world cup, and was just there for practice (“Must be nice,” said everyone else). In quals she had a little leg sep on her pirouettes but otherwise had a great routine, sticking her landing; and in event finals, she lost her balance a bit on a pirouette and hopped to the side on her dismount, but still scored higher — a 15.066 gave her the title.

Luo Rui’s routine was super clean in both quals and finals, tying for second with a 14.766. Wei Xiaoyuan tied for second with a hit routine with just a step on her full-twisting double layout dismount. Otherwise, the results here were super tight, with a plethora of bars talent at the top of the Chinese team (including many, many, pirouettes to piked jaegers). Bars results. Beam results.

On floor, Zuo Tong improved from quals to come in second with a 13.8, and Shang Chunsong came away with bronze with a clean routine that scored a 13.8. Songsong fans, rejoice! Shang casually opened with a 1.5 to triple twist to punch front, then fell out of her quad turn and had a few watered down passes, but overall it was a hit. Ou Yushan was the top qualifier here, with the only routine to top 14, and she hit her whip whip to triple in finals, but unfortunately she couldn’t get enough momentum out of her 2.5 twist to connect to the punch front, falling on her side, and came in last. Floor results.

According to Yen from Light Year Gymnastics (check out my interview with her below!), the WAG Olympic training squad includes Liu Tingting, Fan Yilin, Tang Xijing, Li Shijia, Chen Yile, Qi Qi, Zhang Jin, Lu Yufei, Ou Yushan, Luo Rui, Guan Chenchen, Wei Xiaoyuan, He Licheng, and Sun Xinyi. Fourteen gymnasts to whittle down to four. So easy.

For a four-person team, three-up, three-count team finals, I’m thinking based on this competition alone that Lu Yufei and Li Shijia are locks, but it’s too early to tell who will fill those other two spots. I don’t think any of the vault specialists have big enough scores in other places to warrant taking them (hence why none of them made the cut to the training squad), but Zhang Jin, Tang Xijing, Ou Yushan, and Guan Chenchen are all on my list of finalists.

Most importantly though, it turns out Team China’s hilarious???

British Olympic Trials

The Brits held their final Olympic trials this weekend, a thoroughly bad choice considering the Olympics are still over two months away. The good news is we got scores from all five of the trials that have been held this year, plus exactly 13 routines on YouTube, which we get for being so good all year.

Before we dive in, though — noticeably absent from these latest two trials were the Downie sisters, as Becky and Ellie both withdrew from the two-day competition due to their brother’s recent passing. And while Becky plans to continue in her quest for an Olympic berth, competing at a separate trial at a later date, Ellie has decided to take a break from the sport. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Downie family during this difficult time.

Of the remaining Olympic prospects, a total of eight gymnasts competed at the trials, with all eight competing on both days except for Emily Thomas.

From the YouTube playlist, we just got a glimpse of Jessica Gadirova, who only competed bars and beam here. That makes sense, as Gadirova, at least in my mind, made herself a lock for this team with her recent Euros performance. On bars, she hit but had some trouble hitting her handstands and had leg and foot form issues, but she otherwise looked solid, hitting all her combinations and sticking her dismount. She hit both events on both days, but again, she didn’t need to do the all-around here for us to know that she’s in the running.

Speaking of the all-around, Georgia-Mae Fenton won that title on day one, though only five gymnasts competed on all four events each day. Still, a 54.250 is an impressive score, and she’s making a great case for herself in her comeback to trials after scratching the previous competition. She hit her DTY on both days, earning a 14.375 on day two, and her beam routine was nearly flawless on day two, featuring a lovely Y turn and a double tuck with just a hop back for a 13.540. On floor, her front handspring front double tuck was a bit cowboyed, and she hit her 2.5 twist with some helicopter feet, earning a 13.175 on day two to come in second there.

Ondine Achampong won the all-around on day two, but again, I think this doesn’t mean as much considering the dearth of all-around competition here. That said, her DTY on day two was a statement, earning her that title with a 14.450. She came in third on day two on bars, where she had some leg form issues, and on beam, where she had just a couple of form errors but finished with a very nice 2.5 twist dismount. After not really making a splash in previous trials, Achampong did a great job to make the best case for herself here.

Jennifer Gadirova, meanwhile, had some catching up to do after missing out on a trip to Euros. She competed a Lopez that was so powerful she took two huge steps back, earning a 13.950. We also saw her on beam, where she had some form issues on her switch ring leap, but her bhs loso loso was beautiful and she won that event on day two with a 13.875. She competed in the all-around on day two, earning a 52.000 with errors on bars and floor. Sadly, I don’t think she’s recovering fast enough to be a big contender for the team, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

Alice Kinsella won floor on both days, hitting her 1.5 to triple twist to earn a 13.4 on day one and a 13.275 on day two. She had a beam fall on day two, but like Jessica Gadirova, I’m wondering to what extent she felt she had to prove herself here, as she’s been pretty consistently great all year, at least at these trials.

Kelly Simm won bars on day two with a 13.95, but unfortunately it looks like she struggled nearly everywhere else this weekend. Meanwhile, Amelie Morgan hit floor on both days, with a double tuck and a 2.5 to punch front to earn a 12.950 for second place on day two.

As per usual, putting this team together is going to be tough, but Alice Kinsella has for the most part placed in the top three on all four events at these trials, so she’s on my team along with Jessica Gadirova. Meanwhile, Becky Downie’s bar routine can’t not make it to the Olympic finals, and she would also compete on beam in my fantasy lineup. That leaves a spot for floor and vault, and Georgia-Mae Fenton is (usually) outscoring her competitors there, plus hitting over 54 in trials is impressive. So I guess that’s my personal final four, and if it goes any other way it’ll be absolute rubbish. Full results.

Gymnastics links

  • The GK U.S. Classic roster is out. Guys, this roster is stacked. Jade Carey, Mykayla Skinner, Morgan Hurd, Leanne Wong, Kayla DiCello, Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum, Kara Eaker, Laurie Hernandez, Riley McCusker, Shilese Jones, Simone Biles, Skye Blakely, Jordan Chiles, Konnor McClain, and CHELLSIE friggin’ MEMMEL will all be there. So, yeah. ALL of the Olympic contenders.

    The Classic is usually a competition where athletes choose to compete on one or two events. However, I could see more athletes choosing to go for all four in hopes of making a four-person team. The seniors will compete on May 22nd in two sessions, which are strangely split up between NBC Peacock in the afternoon and NBCSN in the evening :shrugs:

  • Speaking of Team USA, the Olympic Trials venue has been changed, but it will still be held in St. Louis.

  • The WAG Code of Points for 2022-24 has been released! You can download it here to keep under your pillow, or, if you’re like me and there’s NO TIME to read it, I highly recommend Pamchenkova’s thread going over the revisions compared to last quad.

  • In athlete safety news, a letter that Peggy Liddick, the former Australian national women’s gymnastics coach, wrote to a young gymnast in 2002 is circulating in light of the ongoing abuse scandal there. This letter, originally published in The Age, is bonkers — in it, Liddick tells the gymnast, who has made the decision to retire from elite, that she doesn’t know what hard work is and that the decision to retire isn’t only hers to make. Gymcastic reported that Liddick was originally listed as a judge at an upcoming Australian competition, but after the letter circulated, not so much. Liddick declined to comment to The Age.

  • Konnor McClain was profiled by local media (WCHS), Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos interviewed with International Gymnast, Eythora Thorsdottir talked to the Olympic Channel, and Mykayla Skinner was featured at LDS Living.

  • New York Times guest writer Jules Boykoff is calling for the Olympics to be canceled, and he’s not wrong. Meanwhile, the IOC is like “full steam ahead” (The OC Register) toward this iceberg, even though there’s still opposition including in the form of a man posing as a journalist (USA Today).

  • Alexa Moreno is on a cereal box!

    Tweets of the week

    Five at The IX: Wang Yen

    This week, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and interview a fellow gymnerd for Five at The IX. And since I learned so much from her these past two weeks, it was a no-brainer to interview Wang Yen. Yen runs the Twitter account 体操光年 (Light Year Gymnastics), where she shares scores, clips, and news about Chinese gymnastics. Yen is from China but currently lives in Australia, and she kindly spoke to me about the recent Chinese nationals.

    Who is on *your* Team China and why? This can be based on science or just your own emotions.

    At this point it’s very hard to predict, because the selection process won’t be apolitical. I would love to see Lu Yufei on the Olympic team though. She has been very consistent at the Nationals and at a few internal tests earlier this year.

    Do you think the pieces of this team are going to fall into place at upcoming trials, or is it going to be impossibly difficult to narrow it down to four? Or somewhere in between?

    Some top-tier gymnasts didn’t deliver at this year’s Nationals, partly because they were competing with chronic injuries. I would say how the team will fare in Tokyo depends on how many on the Olympic training squad stay healthy.

    What do you mean when you say the selection won’t be apolitical?

    So basically every gymnast on the national team is a paid employee. They receive monthly salaries from the sports department in their home province. When it comes to the Olympics, officials from different provinces will try to influence the selection process. That makes the outcome a bit hard to predict. (The IX has reached out to the Chinese Olympic Committee for comment).

    How is the payment different from national team members in the U.S. getting stipends? 

    I don’t know much about the stipends in the States. In China they start to get their salary packages when selected onto the provincial team, which could be as early as 10 years old. And if they get selected onto the NT, their pay level gets upgraded as well. For NT members it can be about 3,000 US dollars per month. And that doesn’t include meals, accommodation. These are all covered by the government as well.

    Do you know if this has affected team selection in the past? There probably is no country with an apolitical selection, but it’s interesting to hear the factors that go into it in China.

    Yes, it’s always a lobby game. Different provinces try to send their own athletes to the Olympics. But the competition between different training groups needs to be factored in as well. It’s quite complicated. Like, Luo Huan was ranked first AA in the Asian Games selection trials back in 2018. But she was not originally selected for the Asian Games team. I would say it’s purely political, not that she’s not good enough. (The IX has reached out to the Chinese Olympic Committee for comment).

    Can we talk about some of the stereotypes of Chinese gym? An article came out recently portraying the program as regimental, and then I saw that you shared the video of some of the Chinese gymnasts joking about Wei Xiaoyuan’s bars fall, which seems to contradict that stereotype. What do you think about how gymnastics in China is portrayed by western media?

    I am aware of the dehumanizing way of presenting Asian/Chinese gymnasts in western mainstream media. Unfortunately it’s a manifestation of the deeply embedded anti-Asian racism in their culture. I post stuff [on Twitter] mainly to spread China gym love with gym fans who might not speak the language. I’m not interested in debunking any myths or response to what western media says, because the world doesn’t revolve around them.

    What made you decide to create a gym Twitter account recapping Chinese gym?

    I’m a member of a gym fan group who have been running our Chinese socials for six years. I created this Twitter account mainly to make our content more accessible for Chinese gym stans who don’t speak Chinese.

    Why do you think it’s important to make content accessible to gym stans who don’t speak Chinese? 

    Because they have limited access to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in China, and also the language barriers, Chinese gymnasts rarely interact with overseas fans. I guess by sharing and translating stuff on Chinese gymternet we can help chn gym fans here get to know more about their personalities.

    Where did the name “Light Year Gymnastics” come from?

    We got this name because as gym fans our jobs or studies don’t have anything to do with gymnastics; gymnastics is really far away from our “real life,” like light year away, but it’s very close to our hearts, only one micrometer away:)

    What were your favorite moments at nationals aside from the actual gymnastics?

    My favorite non-gym moment was, when Shang Chunsong hit her floor routine gym fans in the audience got so excited for her. They shouted “bu lao song” from the grand stand; it means “everlasting/evergreen pine tree.” Because Song in SCS’s name means pine tree, and she’s still amazing at gymnastics despite her age.

    Mondays: Soccer
    By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
    Tuesdays: Tennis
    By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
    Wednesdays: Basketball
    By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
    Thursdays: Golf
    By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam,
    Fridays: Hockey
    By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
    Saturdays: Gymnastics
    By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by The IX Team