With this year’s Southeast Asian Games held in Kuala Lumpur, it was pretty clear that the reigning team champions from Malaysia would be a favorite for tons of medals, but it was actually 17-year-old Rifda Irfanaluthfi of Indonesia who stole the show.
Irfanaluthfi, who we profiled in a Meet the Elite article last year, first jumped into prominence when she won the silver medal on floor at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore. Her low difficulty kept her from reaching an Olympic qualifying spot at worlds later that year, but fans loved her incredible presence in her performances. She spent the past couple of years working on increasing her skill level, and came back strong in May to win the bronze all-around and vault medals at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Azerbaijan.
At the SEA Games, she was even better, helping Indonesia to the bronze team medal with scores that qualified her into every event final, and though there was no official all-around competition at this year’s Games, her total score of 51.350 was the highest of the day, even with mistakes on floor.
During the event finals, Irfanaluthfi ended up medaling on every event, taking home a gold, a silver, and two bronze medals in addition to the bronze she earned in the team final. Her gold came on beam, where her score of 13.125 came thanks to a routine with a couple of wobbles, but great difficulty and some really solid skills, like her full Y turn to full pirouette, a solid side aerial, and a great punch front layout full dismount.
But the real treasure in her beam is how she performs it. I’m impressed when a gymnast is able to express herself on floor, but Irfanaluthfi can also do that on beam, and her choreo is SO unique and fun and nothing like you see from most gymnasts. This kid has a ton of personality, and if you follow her on Instagram, she’s always posting fun stories where she’s dyeing her hair pink or blue, or training incredible dance elements. She has a huge personality and knows how to make a competition fun.
Irfanaluthfi’s silver medal came on vault, where she showed two excellent runs, including a handspring front tuck half with the tiniest bounce followed by a clean FTY with a small step back to average a 13.288. She got her first bronze on bars, usually a weak event for her, but thanks to falls from a couple of the other competitors, she was able to pull off a podium finish with a 12.075 after hitting her Jaeger and sticking her double tuck, though she had lots of small ankle form breaks throughout her set.
She also got a bronze on floor, where her performance was as incredible as it was on beam, with fabulous choreography and lots of amazing dramatic moments. I was actually surprised to see her E score end up so low, especially compared to some of the other routines, but it was still a great set no matter what the judges thought, including a tucked full-in, 2½ to punch front tuck, and double tuck stuck cold, though she did struggle to get her Memmel around into her full pirouette, which is probably where the largest deduction came in.
With so much improvement over the past couple of years, it’ll be great to see Irfanaluthfi continue her huge strides at worlds this year and beyond as she forges on through another quad with the hopes of becoming Indonesia’s first female artistic gymnast to make it to the Olympic Games. I just hope her program is able to send her to world cup meets in the future so she can get more experience, which is the one thing she’s lacking right now, and that can be all the difference when trying to reach Tokyo 2020.
The Malaysian team easily won the gold in front of a ridiculously excited home crowd (they had choreographed cheers!), finishing ten points ahead of the silver medalists from Singapore, which struggled without one of its top gymnasts, Sze En Tan, who broke her ankle on her double full beam dismount while training for the Games.
Thanks to stars Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, Tan Ing Yueh, and Ang Tracie, all of whom also headlined the team in 2015, Malaysia also brought home five individual medals. Though Abdul Hadi is probably the most recognizable Malaysian gymnast both at home and among gym fans, Tan Ing and Ang both had stronger performances here, with Abdul Hadi missing out on the beam final and then falling on her Tkachev on bars in finals, ending up fifth on an event she should’ve easily won.
But Abdul Hadi, 23, did get her own golden moment with her performance on floor earning a 13.45, causing her to burst into the most hilarious over-the-top Miss America sobs when she saw it come up on the board. I can’t imagine how emotional it must have been for her to finally make this happen in front of a crowd like this, though, and it was so much fun to see a more intense reaction than the usual smile and wave.
It wasn’t actually a great routine, and I actually saw the judging breakdown and was shocked to see that the judge who gave Irfanaluthfi a 7.7 E score while every other judge went 8.1 or higher ended up giving Abdul Hadi an 8.8 E score despite some incredibly weak form, including helicopter legs on her 2½ into a punch front tuck with a hop, a low double tuck with a step, a stumbled Memmel turn, and a couple of short leaps, though she did leave the judges with a stuck double pike final pass, so perhaps that’s what gave them the inspiration to score her so well.
24-year-old Ang had the strongest full performance among the Malaysian gymnasts in the team final, earning a 51.300 after especially great work on beam. She made every event final but floor, and ended up with the silver on bars and the bronze on vault, though missed a beam medal after two falls, on her flight series and then again on her double spin. Her bars earned a 12.55 for her Jaeger and solid double layout, and on vault she stepped out-of-bounds on her handspring front tuck and hit a solid tsuk tuck full to average a 12.725.
Tan Ing, 21, won the vault gold and beam silver in addition to placing fourth on floor. Her tsuk layout full on vault was pretty solid, just landing a bit off-center, and she followed that up with a beautiful handspring front pike half, just bouncing slightly to average a 13.4. Her beam was beautiful, earning a 13.1 with a nice tour jeté half, side aerial to layout stepout, double spin, full Y turn, and stuck gainer layout, and on floor, lower difficulty kept her off the podium, but she still hit a strong routine despite a couple stumbles out of her turns.
Another gymnast with huge success at these Games was former U.S. elite Kaitlin De Guzman, who trains at Metroplex and is verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma but now represents the Philippines internationally. DeGuzman won the gold medal on bars with a 12.875 for her gorgeous routine, a moment made extra special because her mom, Cintamoni De Guzman, was also a SEA Games bars champion back in 1995.
De Guzman, 17, had beautiful handstands and solid skills, including a huge Jaeger, a clean bail to toe on to toe shoot, and a stuck double pike, and she also went on to win the silver on floor and the bronze on beam, with her floor especially fun to watch. There, De Guzman opened with a double pike that came down from the heavens and planted perfectly onto the mat before hitting a huge front double full, a 1½ to front layout, and a double full with a small hop. I think her routine was actually superior to Abdul Hadi’s, but her difficulty was quite a bit lower, so that at least makes sense.
Beam wasn’t her best, but she had a solid wolf turn, lovely low beam choreo, a bhs loso with a little slide back, and a double full dismount that she basically stuck, earning a 12.3 for a set that was a little easier than some of the other routines in that final, though she managed to reach the podium thanks to her mostly clean set.
The Philippines apparently has ‘big plans’ for De Guzman, which for now includes sending her to worlds this year and then the Asian Games in 2018, though I’m sure their ultimate goal is to see her qualify an Olympic spot in 2020. If she makes that happen, she’ll be the first gymnast from the country to reach the Olympic Games in 56 years.
Zeng Qiyan and Nadine Joy Nathan were standouts for the silver-medal Singapore team, though they fell short of the podium in each final. Zeng’s best finish was fourth place on bars, where she earned an 11.95 for a slightly messy set, and she went on to place fifth on beam for some slow and steady work, though she had a couple of form errors throughout. On floor, she fell twice, putting her hands down on her double pike and again on her double full, ending up in last place, though again her difficulty wouldn’t have been strong enough to get a medal anyway.
As for Nathan, she ended up fourth on beam and seventh on floor, showing some decent work on both. Her 11.85 on beam came with a big wobble on her bhs loso and smaller bobbles on skills throughout, though she fought back to hit a punch front tuck, full L turn, and a double full dismount with a small hop. On floor, she stumbled on her double pike and 1½ to front full, and then also had an iffy landing on her 2½ to finish up, but her leaps looked nice as did her double full.
Other gymnasts of note? I actually loved watching the team from Thailand, as they were having an absolute blast, dancing for the cameras whenever they noticed they were on the big screen, and cheering for Malaysia, the other team in their subdivision, as enthusiastically and supportively as if they were cheering for their own teammates.
Thailand, which placed last as a team, doesn’t really have the difficulty to contend at the moment, though it’s pretty clear they’ve put in a TON of work compared to last quad, and they now have a couple of really solid competitors who could definitely help them out in the future. We saw some very steady skills from them, with Thidaporn Khanthara making the floor final, placing sixth, and Kanyanat Boontoeng coming less than half a tenth away from earning the bronze medal on vault.
Boontoeng was a great performer throughout the meet, and was very clearly a leader for this team, but vault was incredible for her, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to know that she would’ve ended up on the podium had she stayed inbounds on her FTY. It was otherwise a good vault, though, with just that large step back going over the line, and then she also competed a clean tsuk layout with a small hop, averaging a 12.688.
Her teammate Khanthara showed surprisingly strong work on floor, performing to the same music Simone Biles used in 2015, and while she’s not quite the firecracker Biles was, she still has some great moments in her choreo, and she had a solid routine with a double pike, double tuck, front layout, and 1½ to finish.
I was also incredibly impressed with Truong Khanh Van of Vietnam on beam. She looks like she could maybe follow in the footsteps of two-time Olympian Phan Thi Ha Thanh someday, showing a front aerial (which she meant to connect into a back tuck but was a little slow), bhs loso, side aerial, and Rudi dismount, all of which looked great. But despite hitting all of these skills, poor Truong — who just turned 16 last month — stepped back near the end of the beam to prepare for her switch side, but she miscalculated that step and ended up falling off, which was both hilarious and so, so, SO sad, as she would’ve easily earned the bronze medal had she stayed on.
Another hilarious fall came from the veteran Cristina Onofre of the Philippines, who vaulted an FTY in the final, but ended up bouncing forward out of her landing and then stumbling over to the side, so unable to control herself that she eventually fell onto the judges’ table, knocking over water and iPads in her destructive path. She was super apologetic, and later laughed about the fall, but it rattled her going into her second vault and she ended up sitting her handspring front pike on top of the first mistake, finishing last despite having the difficulty and potential to get on the podium.
Full results from the Southeast Asian Games are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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