Ellie Downie of Great Britain had a fantastic weekend at the World Challenge Cup in Osijek, Croatia this weekend, becoming the first woman in 41 years to win a gold medal on each of the four events.
Downie qualified in first on both vault and floor and didn’t seem likely to have any challengers on either of these events, though a lower-difficulty bars routine and a rough beam had her in fifth and sixth on these events, respectively, with the Russians looking especially good to take the titles on both.
In the vault final on Saturday, Downie competed a DTY with a small hop to the side followed by an equally clean Lopez with a hop back, looking clean and powerful on both to average a 14.85, setting her miles apart from the rest of her competition. She then made a huge impression on bars, upping her difficulty by nearly a point from qualifications and looking great while doing it, earning a 14.675 to get in a couple of tenths ahead of both Russians in the final. The event that gave her trouble at worlds looks to be no problem for her now, as she hit her awesome forward toe-on half to Maloney to Tkachev sequence followed by a toe full to piked Tkachev to pak, toe-on to van Leeuwen, and double layout dismount expertly for a solid and confident finish. There were some noticeable form issues like short handstands, but it was a great effort for the most part and would be a team finals-worthy routine at the Games this summer.
It was beam where Downie had her greatest performance of the weekend and possibly even of her entire career. Beam is notoriously a touchy subject for the British gymnasts, who have all worked incredibly hard this quad to now have some depth on the event, but this routine is a step apart from anything else I’ve seen from them and should make Downie a veritable lock for Rio this summer. Downie had nary a wobble in this routine, and showed clean form and fluid connections on nearly everything, with a slight over-rotation and check on her double spin really her only issue. She was solid, tidy, and almost perfect from start to finish, showing excellent control for her difficult exercise, which she capped off with a stuck 2.5 dismount. Her efforts earned her a massive 14.95, complete with a well-deserved 8.85 execution score, one of the highest at an FIG event this quad, and she was able to finish just a quarter of a tenth over Maria Kharenkova for yet another gold.
Downie finished her domination on floor, posting a 14.525 for a routine that included a 1.5 through to double arabian (with a small step forward), a huge and awesomely-controlled Dos Santos, a 2.5 to punch front, and a solid double pike to finish, easily nabbing her fourth gold medal of the weekend.
Her success this weekend comes after beginning the year with injuries that forced her to withdraw from a couple of meets, with her debut not until British Championships in early April, a late start compared to her teammates, some of whom got their first competitive experiences in February. With mistakes on bars and floor, she still managed a third-place spot at nationals, but her only consistent and solid event looked like vault. But it only took getting that one rough meet out of the way, because two weeks later, Downie looks better than anyone else in the country and could fill a vital spot in the beam line-up for the Olympic Games. If you add up all of her scores from the event finals, she has a 59.125 total, one of the best all-around scores in the world thus far in 2016, and she’s still hoping on adding an Amanar. Most importantly, her success in Osijek should help with the confidence she’ll need throughout the remainder of the season, which is clearly a vital component to success at the Olympic Games.
On vault, Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia was second with an average of 14.2 while Rose-Kaying Woo of Canada was third with a 13.638. Kysselef has attended every challenge cup series meet so far in 2016 and now boasts an impressive five medals, showing immense consistency from meet to meet. In Osijek, she hit her handspring front tuck full well, showing only slightly messy leg form, and then had a solid FTY to finish things off, looking strong there as well. Woo’s difficulty was a bit low, showing a clean FTY with a tiny hop followed by a handspring front pike with a step, but it was a decent showing for the new senior who hopes to make her country’s Olympic team this summer.
Rounding out the vault field was Kirsten Beckett of South Africa with a 13.538, Ema Kajic of Croatia with a 13.463, Sofie Braaten of Norway with a 13.05, Helody Cyrenne of Canada with a 13.0, Dora Szekely of Hungary with a 12.888, and Jelena Stamenkovic of Serbia with a 12.813.
On bars, the Russians Seda Tutkhalyan and Natalia Kapitonova picked up the silver and bronze medals with scores of 14.525 and 14.45, respectively. Tutkhalyan was a bit of a surprise on this event, as it’s not one of her strengths, making her easily overshadowed in a country known for its bar work. But in Osijek, Tutkhalyan showed twice that she is capable of great numbers here when she hits, with especially good work on her Maloney to Bhardwaj. It’s not a traditional Russian set, but it plays nicely to her strengths and she’s getting much more consistent as she goes along.
Kapitonova does have one of the typical Russian sets and has superb form on this event in general. She was shooting for the gold here, and had a great set to start, but she unfortunately over-arched her toe full, a skill she performs right into her full-out dismount. She got the mistake under control quickly, but it led to a further mistake on her dismount, as she came off a little early and got distance with the full-out, but not enough height to rotate it fully, causing her to land in a tucked position before taking a large step forward to finish. Because she got off to such a great start, it meant she was still quite far ahead of the fourth-place finisher Woo with a 13.725, but it left her two tenths shy of the gold she was hoping for.
Ruby Harrold of Great Britain is one of three all-arounders with a bars specialty hoping to earn a spot on her team this summer, so a medal here could have helped her stand out over Rebecca Tunney and Gabby Jupp, her biggest competition. She had a decent showing in qualifications, but went for a super risky Maloney to Tkachev to Bhardwaj combination in finals that just didn’t end up working out for her, as she got a bit too much of a release from the high bar and basically caught the Bhardwaj with her ribs and armpits before falling. She recovered nicely, hitting everything including her Zuchold and double front dismount, but the damage was done and she only managed a 13.425 here.
Rounding out the field were Carolyne Pedro of Brazil with an 11.8, Dorina Boczogo of Hungary with a 10.775, and Tzuf Feldon of Israel, who had her best bars routine ever in qualifications but unfortunately fell apart in finals, letting a handful of mental mistakes lead to her hopping off on her opening sequence, first halfway through her giant full and then a second time on her Endo half, though she regrouped after that, finishing with a 10.375.
The Russians were again behind Downie on beam, with Kharenkova earning the silver with a 14.925 and Tutkhalyan picking up the bronze with a 14.65. Kharenkova was truly excellent in her work, looking solid throughout most of her difficult elements, with only a slight wobble after her ring leap and a small step on her double pike. Her form wasn’t quite as clean as it could have been, but overall she did great work and has been somewhat remarkably consistent on that event thus far in 2016.
Tutkhalyan has also improved in her consistency there a great deal with a hit set of her own. The two both fell on this event at worlds last year, but have done great work to get their nerves under control, especially as Tutkhalyan fell on half of her routines in 2015 while this year, having competed six times on the event already, she’s only missed one. In Osijek, she did struggle with a few wobbles on her roundoff layout full, but did a great job fighting to stay on and still managed a big score even with the mistake. She’s gone back to her double pike dismount after attempting a full-in earlier this year, and stumbled back a bit there, but again, overall it was great work and good to see her focusing on getting more control.
Woo was fourth with a 14.15 after showing some strong work of her own, Adela Sajn of Slovenia deserves a special mention in this random but awesome comeback of hers for doing super solid work for a 13.925, Harrold was sixth with a 13.275 after several wobbles and missed connections (and a near-fall on her illusion turn, though she saved it), Pedro was seventh with a 12.95, and Yana Horokhova of Ukraine was eighth with an 11.975 after an early fall on her roundoff layout and a second fall on her side aerial, though I was generally quite impressed with how the first-year senior looked overall, especially in terms of her skill level. She should be a big deal in the coming quad.
Horokhova actually went on to win the bronze on floor with a 13.85, just behind Kapitonova with the silver after her 14.1. Kapitonova gets better and better with this routine each time, and did a great job to hit her piked full-in, 2.5 to front layout, whip whip through to double tuck, and a clean double pike to finish, all nicely done alongside lovely dance elements. She has upgraded quite a bit in the past year and while she doesn’t necessarily have big enough routines to make an impact for Rio, I think she could be a late-bloomer and challenge for 2020.
In her own medal-winning set, the tiny Horokhova – who changed leos after beam – showed a solid tucked full-in, a 2.5 with a hop, a double tuck, and a double pike. Overall the routine had a nice level of energy and showed tons of potential.
The remainder of this final was actually pretty great, with no falls or major mistakes from any of the competitors (the lowest e-score was an 8.025!). Harrold tied Paula Mejias of Puerto Rico for fourth place with a 13.675, Pedro was sixth with a 13.625, Boczogo was seventh with a 13.5, and Beckett was eighth with a 13.325.
Full results from Osijek are available here. The challenge cup series continues with the sixth edition in Varna, Bulgaria beginning May 13.
Article by Lauren Hopkins