It’s been a slow year for Team China so far in 2016. Some of the team’s young and inexperienced kids have attended a few challenge cups here and there, but last year’s team silver medalists have been quietly training with very few details as to how they’ve been looking.
At this week’s Chinese Championships, anyone with a shot at the Olympic Games is in Hefei battling it out over four days of competition with team finals and individual qualifications today followed by the all-around final tomorrow and event finals over the weekend.
Shang Chunsong, notable for her fourth-place finish at worlds in Glasgow last fall, stole the show today with her 60.2 all-around performance, and yes…that’s still with her FTY on vault! Shang had tremendous routines on bars, beam, and floor, putting her at 15+ on all three events to make up for her weak vault, and while there are minuscule little domestic bonuses here and there, overall she looks fantastic and could absolutely threaten for the all-around podium in Rio.
On bars, Shang showed great control on her Shang to pak salto, shaposh to Gienger, Ono to Healy to straddle Jaeger, and stuck full-in, topping the field there with a 15.6. She moved on to an equally skilled performance on beam, where her event finals-worthy routine included a fluid bhs + bhs + layout + split jump + straddle jump in addition to a huge switch half, perfect double spin, and a triple full dismount with a small hop for a 15.4, again the best of the day. Her highlights on floor included a 3.5 to punch front, 1.5 through to triple full to punch front, and gorgeous quad turn to illusion turn, earning a 15.15 for the second-best score of the day there. It was probably her best competition to date, with a level of confidence I’ve never seen from her before.
The first-year senior Liu Tingting, still only 15, was right behind Shang with a 59.0. Last year’s three-time Chinese Youth Games champion stood out with her beautiful work on bars and beam especially, her all-around score boosted by a solid DTY landed slightly off-center. On bars, she had the second-best score of 15.35 for her excellent opening Maloney to pak to stalder to Chow to Gienger combination in addition to showing great front giant work and a double layout dismount.
Liu’s beam was third-best for a 14.65, featuring awesome connections like her front handspring to front tuck to split jump to wolf jump and front aerial to split jump to back tuck in addition to a stuck double tuck. On floor, her tumbling was mostly easy aside from the triple full to punch front, but she had a ton of sass in this routine and seemed to really enjoy being out in front of the crowd, rare for someone that young.
Wang Yan is currently in third place with a 58.7. The powerful young gymnast had a few issues today, including a crashed Rudi on vault and a big wobble on her punch front pike on beam, and her bars definitely leave a lot to be desired. However, her first vault attempt, the tsuk double full, looked pretty strong with only a small hop for a 15.35, her beam aside from the wobble was nearly perfect with a barani, roundoff to layout, and solid triple full for a 14.5, and she had strong work on floor with her double double and 1.5 to triple full to punch front for a third-best 15.05. She definitely has some work cut out for her before August in terms of clean-up but overall she has the potential to add a great deal to the team.
Her biggest rival on floor, Mao Yi, qualified in fourth place with a 58.35. Mao had the stronger routine there today with a 15.25, and it was honestly the best I’ve ever seen her hit. Her tumbling passes included a lovely 3.5 to punch front pike to start. I have to say, most of the Chinese are doing some variation of triple full to punch front, but tend to have zero body awareness going into the punch; Mao, however, both landed the 3.5 very well and then got great height punching out making it look clearly rebounded and not just thrown on a hope and a prayer. She continued with a 1.5 through to triple to front tuck, a low 2.5 into a nice barani, and a stuck double tuck to finish.
Mao had a decent DTY on vault, though was a bit piked and crossed her ankles, and like Wang, her bars are also a weakness. She had a few good skills on beam, but unfortunately stumbled her roundoff layout and the remainder of her difficulty wasn’t strong enough to help her qualify into the final, though she did finish with a solid triple full. I think of the two, Wang is probably the better overall competitor, but Mao still absolutely has a shot at Rio as well.
In fifth was Zhu Xiaofang with a 56.25. Last year’s worlds alternate had very clean work on bars, showcasing an efficient routine with a toe-on to van Leeuwen, Ono to Healy to Jaeger, and a full-out with a small hop for a 15.05. Her work on beam had some slow connections and wobbles, and her tumbling on floor looked a little wild and uncontrolled given that it was relatively easy.
Fan Yilin, one of the four who tied for gold on bars last year, had an unfortunate fall on that event today, though still managed a 14.8 thanks to her sky-high difficulty (she’s pushing 7.0!). Fan began with an inbar full to Komova II to pak, and then as she attempted to stalder up into her Chow, she came off and had to regroup. She got back on to continue with the Chow to Gienger, had nice pirouette work on her Ono to Healy to front giant 1.5, and then showed a clean double layout to finish. She recovered well to nail beam for a 15.3, hitting a gorgeous roundoff to layout, wolf to sissone to front aerial to scale, and a triple full dismount with a small step.
Another without a full all-around program was Tan Jiaxin. Tan was expected to compete her Amanar here, but opted not to, which was probably a good idea as her DTY was a little weak and low. Her bars weren’t her best, but she managed a 14.9 after hitting her Shang, pak, Maloney to Gienger, and Ono to front giant 1.5 to Tkachev before nailing her full-twisting double layout dismount. There was a giant gap between the top three floor finishers and the rest of the gang, but Tan ended up in fourth with a 14.15 after a few stumbles, though she did a great job on her 1.5 through to triple full to punch front tuck.
These are the clear front-runners for Rio based on today’s competition. There were a few other standouts, like Yuan Xiaoyang and Liu Jinru with their powerful vaults, Huang Huidan with her mostly clean bars and lovely performance ability on floor, and Bai Yawen with her beautiful but tentative beam. None of these has a full package to bring to the table, however, and would need vast improvement should they want to be considered.
Today also marked the return to competition for Yao Jinnan, who planned on performing routines everywhere but bars. Yao looked nervous, however, and made crucial mistakes on all three of her events, not qualifying into a single final after landing her Yurchenko 1.5 on her back and falling twice on beam, on her layout and then sitting her double pike. She looked okay on floor, but her tumbling was far too weak to make her a contender even for a qualifications spot there. It was sad to see her crumble after spending the past year and a half away from the sport due to shoulder surgery, but as of right now, she just doesn’t have a routine that will make her a legitimate contender for the team. Given that we’re at the two month mark for team decisions, I’m not sure if she’ll be able to make it happen by that point.
Based on today’s competition, I’d say China is looking better than they have since 2008, and would go as far as saying if the United States didn’t have Simone Biles on hand, the two teams would likely be going head-to-head at the Olympic Games this summer. The country has several options for the Games, and if the girls hit in team finals, they could potentially put up at least two 15+ scores on each event. They’ve been working to close the gap with the United States all quad, and while they still aren’t quite on that level, they have done an excellent job building on difficulty, execution, and confidence to assert themselves as one of the “ones to beat” for the team podium in August.
The Chinese Championships continue tomorrow at 7:30 pm local time (7:30 am ET) with the women’s all-around final. A live stream will be available via CCTV for those with Chinese IP addresses.
Article by Lauren Hopkins