In her first three years of senior competition, Yao Jinnan of China has never managed to earn much individual success at the World Championships despite typically being one of the favorites going in.
She did bring home all-around bronze and beam silver in 2011, her first year, but since then has been known for being very unlucky, especially on bars. She placed fourth – just 0.15 behind Beth Tweddle – at the Olympic Games in 2012 after hitting a near-perfect routine, and then in 2013, she came in with the extremely difficult Mo salto on bars, but fell during the finals and did not medal.
This year, she changed her name from Yao Jinnan to Yao Ziyi, as her coach stated that in Chinese, “Jinnan” sounded too much like “too difficult to catch the gold.” They hoped the name change (which they did not change in her FIG registration) would bring good luck, and if you’re superstitious, it seems like it worked, as she finally became a World Champion with her gold medal on the uneven bars in Nanning.
She wasn’t fully pleased, however, stating that she thinks she only did “about 80 percent” of what she’s capable of. “I was doing a 7.0 start value when I was training, but in this competition I did less difficulty, and I think my performance had several tiny flaws.”
Yao was surprised at her win, and thinks her teammate Huang Huidan had the stronger routine. “When I saw her crying, I really thought that she did better than me, and I told her she performed quite well and to not cry, because she is the best.” But at the same time, Yao acknowledged being “very happy” about the win, and stated that she was conflicted in her feelings.
“I want to thank my two coaches,” she began, quick to acknowledge everyone who played a part in her experience in Nanning, “as they have been teaching me for over four years. I feel very sorry for my naughty behavior during my daily training, but my coaches are very gentle and always forgive me. I was also so grateful for the Nanning citizens here. They supported me and encouraged me from the very beginning of the competition.”
In the future, she hopes to “continue working hard, making up for [her] poor events and continuing to do well in [her] skilled events.”
Yao’s teammate, Huang, is the reigning 2013 uneven bars champion. Though she was unable to defend her title, she added the silver medal to her collection this year.
“I had a strong wish to win the gold medal again this time,” she said, “but my start value is a tenth behind my teammate. I do want to sincerely congratulate her, though…[because] after all, it is her first time to win the gold medal on bars.”
Huang, who burst into tears at the end of the final, says she cried because “I was so excited to finish my routine smoothly that tears just burst out, as did Yao Jinnan’s. I was excited because both of us succeeded in the final.”
However, she seems to be very hard on herself, adding that despite her success, she “still felt [her] performance was not good enough,” and that she wished she could have had a stronger routine in the final.
Daria Spiridonova of Russia was “very happy” to win the bronze medal at her very first World Championships. “I did my very best and it all worked out,” she said, adding: “I could not even dream I would get bronze. I felt very calm and feared nothing. I felt there was no stopping me and like I could do it all.”
As the first to go up in the bars rotation, she said that “on the one hand it is more difficult to go first before your main competitors have shown their skill, but at the same time, it is easier – you are done with it and feel free. It takes off the pressure of waiting.”
She noted that she “will need to add more difficult elements to compete for gold” in the future, as champion Yao’s routine is much more difficult.
Fourth place Ashton Locklear of the United States was just 0.017 behind the bronze medalist, but didn’t seem upset to have not landed on the podium. “I will work on quality and difficulty,” she said about her future goals.
For now, just being at her first Championships in her first year of elite competition was enough. “It was amazing,” she said. “I am so overwhelmed. All of this has been so cool, and I had so much fun [in] the team final.”
Becky Downie, who placed fifth at this World Championships after becoming the uneven bars champion at the Commonwealth Games over the summer, says that her routine in the finals “was the best routine I put out these championships. I was a little disappointed with the score,” she continued, “but then at the same time, I can only do what I can do. Overall, I’m pleased and am moving in the right direction.”
“I know that the section at the end of my routine is where I lose the most makrs and I need to up the start value a little bit more,” she said, adding that she was hoping to debut a new skill in her routine for this competition, but unfortunately “didn’t quite have enough time” to prepare it.
She knows the Chinese are her biggest competition, as they “have the top start values going in” as well as the country advantage, with the Championships being in China. “But they performed at high levels today,” she acknowledged. “Their routines were, to me, the best routines out there.”
Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, who won the bronze medal on the uneven bars last year, placed sixth this year though was very gracious when speaking to the press, noting that she knows she needs to increase her difficulty if she wants to be on the podium. “I have to add new elements to my routine,” she admitted. “It is just very hard to learn new ‘tricks’ at my age.”
She is “very happy” for her young teammate Spiridonova, who won the bronze. “I do not begrudge her the medal,” she said. “In fact, I am more pleased for Daria than I would have been pleased for myself.”
Eighth place Ruby Harrold of Great Britain fell in her bars final performance, but said she was “just happy to be part of that final.”
“I qualified in eighth, so to be there was just fantastic,” Harrold continued. “The routine didn’t go as well as I wanted, but just to be there and get that experience was brilliant. It was a little bit of nerves and yes, I was a little bit tired, but I could only do what I can do at the end of the day.”
Article by Lauren Hopkins