The Chinese gymnasts easily handled the competition at this year’s Asian Junior Championships in Bangkok, winning the gold medal as a team by nearly eight points in addition to taking the all-around and all four event titles to sweep the golds.
The stars of this team were undoubtedly Chen Yile and Li Qi, both of whom become seniors next year. These two also had great success at Chinese Championships earlier in the month, and have been known on the national scene for the past couple of years, but this is the first time we got to see them in a big international setting, and the pair didn’t disappoint.
Chen won the all-around with a massive 55.000 after a completely hit performance, and she went on to get the gold medal on bars with a 14.15 in addition to the silver on floor with a 13.2 and the bronze on beam with a 12.925, where her routine was mostly lovely, including on a beautiful triple full dismount, though she had a fall on her roundoff layout at the start of the set and a few missed connections that kept her from challenging for gold. Overall, though, this was a fantastic international debut for Chen, whose talents as a true all-arounder could make her incredibly valuable this quad.
Li competed all events but bars to earn the highest three-event total in prelims, with beam and floor her standouts, as always. She went on to win the gold medals on both in finals, earning a 14.025 for her brilliant beam and a 13.425 for a solid performance on floor.
Her beam included a stumble on her switch leap to sheep jump at the beginning, but she fought back to nail her other tricky connections, including a front aerial to split jump to Onodi to stag ring jump, though she missed a connection in her side aerial to straddle jump to back handspring. On floor, where she’s known for her unintentionally hilarious NCAA-style routine, she nailed her triple full to punch front and 2½ to front layout, showing tons of promise but also room for improvement.
Capturing the vault gold was Liu Jieyu, who competes a DTY and a tsuk full. I didn’t see either of her vaults, though judging by her 13.675 for the DTY, we can guess she had a fall in finals, which also happened at Chinese nationals. She’s generally pretty short on that vault with her tsuk full the better of the two, though she only got a 12.975 there which looks like another fall, and yet she still won the gold averaging 13.325. Considering the rest of the field was a solid point behind her in difficulty, she kind of lucked out, but hopefully in the future China figures out a vault situation that won’t kill her.
Liu placed eighth all-around with a 50.100, and as for the remainder of this team, we also saw Zhou Ruiyu in sixth with a 50.850 as well as Guo Fangting competing only on bars, where she earned a 12.75 in prelims. Zhou also made it into the bars final, where she had some mistakes, but ended up earning silver with a 13.2.
In second place was the team from Japan, which struggled on bars and beam as a whole, but saw some solid individual performances over the week in Bangkok. 12-year-old Chiaki Hatakeda and Mana Oguchi both finished on the all-around podium, with Hatakeda earning a 51.900 for silver and Oguchi earning a 51.700 for bronze.
Hatakeda also ended up performing well on beam in the final to get silver with a 13.375, where she competed a massive layout full, though this was the team’s only event finals medal. Hatakeda had a fall on bars to place sixth, and she also placed sixth on floor, Oguchi hit her vaults to place fourth with a 13.263 average while also placing fourth on beam and seventh on floor, and Yuki Murakami placed fourth on bars with a 12.175. The other gymnasts on the Japanese team included Kaoruko Takezawa on all events but vault, though her difficulty was low as were her total scores, and the recent U.S. transplant Emma Otsu on vault and floor, earning a 13.1 and 12.05, respectively.
With the NHK Trophy held the same weekend, I think Japan opted to keep some higher-level juniors, like Soyoka Hanawa, at home. The team in Bangkok was pretty young and inexperienced with the exception of Oguchi, so I don’t think how they looked here is a reflection of their junior program as a whole.
As much as the South Korean women’s program is struggling at the senior level, the juniors killed it at this meet, winning the bronze medal just a few tenths behind Japan. Lee Yun Seo placed fourth all-around with a 51.200 and won the floor bronze with a 12.975, while teammate Ryu Jim In was fifth with a 50.950 and Shin Sol Yi was seventh with a 50.350 in addition to winning a vault silver medal with a 13.3 average.
Uzbekistan ranked fourth, Kazakhstan fifth, Chinese Taipei sixth, Malaysia seventh, Sri Lanka eighth, Thailand ninth, Indoneisa tenth, and India eleventh. Darya Yassinskaya of Kazakhstan won a vault silver medal with a 13.3 average, and Sim Hae Won of North Korea, which sent only a couple of individuals rather than a full team, won the bronze on bars with a 13.05 for a solid routine.
I had a couple of standout favorites from this meet, including the adorable 12-year-olds from Uzbekistan, who are my new obsessions. Dildora Aripova is beautiful on beam and floor, and made the finals on both with great scores in prelims — where she placed ninth all-around with a 49.650, huge for a gymnast from this country! — while Anastasiya Miroshnichenko also has quite a lovely style on both events, though struggled a bit on beam in prelims to place tenth with a 49.200 and miss that final. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more from the Central Asian countries, because at every competition where they do appear, we end up getting some real treats in their dance elements and choreography especially. I don’t want to get attached, because we probably won’t see them again until world cups when they’re seniors, but they’re fabulous.
My other shoutout goes to Milka Gehani of Sri Lanka, who placed 17th with a 45.150. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that most Sri Lankan gymnasts at the senior level are barely reaching the 40s, that should show you how special this kid is.
I first got a glimpse of Gehani at last year’s Junior Commonwealth Games, where she placed 10th all-around and made all four finals. Earlier this month, the 2003-born gymnast pretty easily became the national champion of Sri Lanka, and she has tons of potential on beam and floor especially. It’s a pity she won’t be age-eligible for next year’s Commonwealth Games, but I’m sure once she turns senior in 2019, her national program will send her out as much as possible as she’s their first shot at getting close to Olympic qualification probably ever.
Full results from the Asian Junior Championships are available here, and we’ll have a full recap from the senior competition coming soon!
Article by Lauren Hopkins