Despite not competing on all four events since last summer, Larisa Iordache showed up at Universiade in Taipei this week to win the all-around gold medal while also qualifying in the top three on every event but vault.
The Romanian Olympian, now 21, earned a 55.700 in the qualifying round with a somewhat shaky beam set, where she also had a fall on her tuck full. She repeated that fall in the all-around final, but with a routine that was mostly solid otherwise (and that carried a 6.5 D score, matching Luo Huan for the highest we’ve seen in 2017), Iordache was still able to pull in a 14.0 on the event, helping her to a massive 56.750.
I was most excited to see Iordache back on floor, where her 14.05 in the all-around final puts her in contention for a worlds medal this fall, in addition to the medals she’ll be fighting for on beam and in the all-around. With a tucked full-in, 2½ to punch front, triple full, and double pike, it wasn’t the most difficult tumbling we’ve seen from her, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can get back bigger skills — like her double double — going further into the season as we inch closer to October.
She’s not the cleanest I’ve seen her, not on this or any of her other events, so she will need to do quite a bit of work with her leg form especially. But it’s the post-Olympic year and no one’s looking super put-together just yet. Iordache will be a major contender for several medals in Montreal even with some form troubles because she’s just that good. I do hope she can figure out that tuck full, though. In Taipei, she was still quite easily able to capture the gold with the fall, but it won’t be so at worlds.
Japan’s Asuka Teramoto, who had a fall on bars in qualifications, managed to show off four hit routines in finals to win the silver with a 55.650, her best score of the season. The 21-year-old two-time Olympian was named to Japan’s worlds team in June after winning two medals at her country’s event championships, and she proved here that despite missing out on an all-around medal in Japan, she’ll likely go into Montreal as a top contender for one of her country’s all-around spots.
Ellie Black of Canada led all-around qualifications with a 56.050 with her best competition of the year, hands down, but a missed catch at the end of her Maloney to Hindorff combo on bars and a muscled hop change into her piked Jaeger led to just a 12.9 on bars and a 54.950 in the all-around.
Otherwise, Black — who, like Iordache and Teramoto, has already been named to her country’s worlds team — had a pretty excellent day, nailing her handspring front full vault while also getting a 14.0 on beam, where her opening switch leap mount straight into her split leap to switch side got a ton of love from fans. The bars fall aside, Black showed on both days that she is absolutely ready to challenge for a medal when Canada hosts worlds this fall, which would be the first world all-around medal in Canada’s history.
It was always going to be those three on the podium barring major mistakes, but the remainder of the 18-woman all-around field had some great moments. Rounding out the top eight were Evgeniya Shelgunova of Russia in fourth with a 54.200, Natsumi Sasada of Japan in fifth with a 53.250, Filipa Martins of Portugal in sixth with a 52.400, Gabriela Janik of Poland in seventh with a 52.050, and Daria Spiridonova of Russia in eighth with a 51.700.
Of these, I was most impressed by Sasada, who has struggled over the past year or so, missing out on a spot on Japan’s Olympic team last year despite leading the team for much of the quad, and then also missing out on worlds this year, all due to inconsistencies on her events. In Taipei, however, she had two really solid days, managing to score very well despite some lower difficulty. Her highlight was a 13.85 on beam, the third-best beam score in the all-around final for her controlled and lovely work.
Shelgunova also had her best meet in a very long time, with especially strong performances on bars — where she has generally cleaned up quite a bit — and on beam, typically one of her strongest events. Her teammate Spiridonova came in ahead of her going into the final after a 53.500 in qualifications, but while she showed better work on bars in the final, mistakes on beam and floor kept her from having a better day here.
Spiridonova was not named as a top choice for this year’s worlds team, with Anastasia Iliankova currently Valentina Rodionenko’s bars hopeful. This competition was a kind of test for her, and while she improved her bars score to a decent 14.45 between qualifications and the all-around final, she’s still not showing routines that would rival the world’s best at the moment, with her form leaving something to be desired. We’ll have to see how Iliankova fares at the Russian Cup this week, but if she looks as she did earlier this season, I think the spot will safely stay hers.
As always, Martins was a picture of consistency, looking thrilled with her sixth-place finish in such an accomplished field, with floor a standout event for her. I was also thrilled with Janik, who has been in the shadows of Marta Pihan-Kulesza and Katarzyna Jurkowska for so long but is really beginning to shine this year. She had a fabulous day across all four events, showing her best international all-around work probably ever, which was so great to see after all of the hard work she’s put in this year.
Other standouts in the all-around final included Leah Griesser of Germany’s beautiful floor routine, Penn State rising senior Briannah Tsang working her NCAA routines for an 11th-place finish, and a tremendous floor routine from hometown girl Mai Liu Hsiang-Han, who has overcome so many injuries and illnesses in the past year to really shine here at the competition she has called “the most important of [her] life.”
In addition to finishing 17th in the all-around, Mai Liu helped her team to a best-ever sixth-place finish in front of a super excited home crowd. Hosting the Summer Universiade has led to an increase in resources for Taipei’s gymnastics program, and the team has been working hard to get in fighting shape since the city was selected to host back in 2011.
Mai Liu was the heart of this team, showcasing beautiful work on beam and floor, nearly making the final on the latter of the two, though putting her hand down after her double tuck in qualifications kept her out. Still, the all-around finals berth and placing ahead of several more well-known gymnasts, including a handful of Olympians, was a big deal for Mai Liu and for the Chinese Taipei team, and I’m hoping they’re able to continue this quick rise in the sport going forward.
The first day of competition saw the Russian women defend the team title in a closer-than-expected race over Canada, earning a 163.000 to the Canadian team’s 161.100. Russia, featuring Lilia Akhaimova, Daria Elizarova, and Maria Paseka in addition to all-around finalists Shelgunova and Spiridonova, won the competition thanks to overall stellar work, despite some little bumps on beam.
Paseka had a killer Amanar to earn a 15.0, Akhaimova showed incredible improvement on vault to bring a solid DTY to the table for a 14.45 in addition to posting a 13.6 on floor, and 26-year-old Elizarova absolutely killed it on floor, earning a 13.85 to qualify first into the final.
Team Canada, led by two-time Olympians Black and Brittany Rogers, was somewhat surprisingly the best beam team of the day and also brought in great numbers on vault thanks to the two Olympians, though they were held back a bit on bars after Rogers whacked her feet on the low bar, as well as on floor, where their level of difficulty wasn’t quite strong enough to match the Russians.
Still, it was a good day for the team, which also featured elite Jessica Dowling and current NCAA students Tsang and Denelle Pedrick, all of whom made contributions to the team. I was surprised to see Pedrick — who unveiled an incredible surprise DTY in competition for Central Michigan this spring — not going up on vault, which could’ve gotten them closer to the Russians, but even so the women were thrilled with their silver-medal finish.
Coming in for the bronze medal was the Japanese team, which finished with a 159.900, a little over a point back from the Canadians. Teramoto and Sasada led the charge, with 2016 Olympian Yuki Uchiyama contributing a big score on bars while Yumika Nakamura and Ayana Tone also put up some solid scores for the program, with Nakamura making the bars final.
Also competing in the team final were Germany in fourth with a 153.750 (featuring current UIC gymnast Antonia Alicke in addition to two-time Olympian Kim Bui and 2016 Olympic alternates Griesser and UCLA commit Pauline Tratz), the Netherlands in fifth with a 148.950 (headed by 2016 Olympian Vera van Pol in her first competition back since Rio), Chinese Taipei in sixth with a 142.725, Portugal in seventh with a 140.050, South Korea in eighth with a 139.200, Finland in ninth with a 138.725, Norway in 10th with a 137.200, South Africa in 11th with a 136.550, and Slovenia in 12th with a 134.125.
A special shoutout goes to 2008 Olympian Adela Sajn of Slovenia, who competed a stellar beam routine in the combined team final and individual qualification, earning a spot in today’s beam final up against a very solid field. Sajn is the only gymnast not from a major international program to earn a spot in the bars, beam, or floor finals, where nearly all openings were filled by gymnasts from the top-performing teams at the competition, with the exception of Iordache, who is the sole Romanian competing in Taipei.
Full results from the competition are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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