Over the next five days I’m excited to bring you a preview for every individual event final at next week’s world championships in Montreal.
We’re starting things off with vault, which over the past few years has generally been a battle for those with that super difficult combination of the Amanar and Cheng, but now it’s kind of an open book.
Our reigning world champion, Maria Paseka, is hoping to defend her title and will possibly be at her full Amanar and Cheng difficulty, but she’s had kind of a disastrous international season, missing what should’ve been easy golds at both European Championships and the Summer Universiade.
It’s kind of hard to say what she can or will do in Montreal. One day she’s hitting Amanars no problem, and literally the next, she’s crashing them. Her highest vault average of 14.625, which she got at Universiade qualifications, is totally medal-worthy, but her lowest average of 13.916 from Universiade finals wouldn’t even get her into the final.
Where she finishes will all depend on the level of difficulty she competes and how she ends up looking on the day that it counts. With an Amanar and a Cheng done well, she’s in the mix for gold, and if she downgrades the Cheng to the Lopez, as she’s done a couple of times this year, she’s in the mix for the podium. Even with her generally weak form, her difficulty has always been able to carry her through when she hits, but it’s whether she hits or not that’s up in the air.
I am all about Rebeca Andrade of Brazil winning the gold. I’m really into this thing called execution, and if that’s the only thing that mattered, Andrade wins it hands down. The 2016 Olympian earned two challenge cup titles on the event this year, one with a DTY and Lopez, and then in Varna a few weeks ago, she upgraded to an Amanar, with her 15.15 for that vault getting the highest single vault score of the year.
Andrade also boasts the highest international vault average with a 14.8 in Varna’s event finals, and her E scores are consistently above a 9, with at least five of this year’s vaults earning a 9.3 or better. Andrade has spent much of her senior career dealing with injuries that have kept her from being at her best on leg events, but she’s showing this year just how good she can be, and I physically need her to win this title.
While Andrade has the highest international vault average this season, the highest average overall belongs to Sae Miyakawa of Japan, who gets just a half tenth ahead of Andrade with her 14.85 from this summer’s All-Japan Event Championships. Miyakawa has a super difficult Rudi and DTY combination, and she’s capable of reaching a 15 with her Rudi.
She’s not necessarily the cleanest vaulter, but I think Andrade aside, this isn’t currently an event with a million Simone Biles clones. Everyone has some “form stuff” going on, whether that’s loose knees or landing short or a rough pre-flight. Miyakawa does look better than most, and so I think she will end up being someone who can really challenge here this year.
Then you have Jade Carey of the United States, whose highest vault average is barely in the top eight, and yet her difficulty is tied for the top in the world with her combination of Amanar and tsuk double. She struggled a bit at nationals with both of these, but looked much-improved at last week’s camp and I think when the judges at worlds see her directly next to her competition, she’ll end up being one of the podium contenders.
Wang Yan of China is the only gymnast at worlds who matches Carey’s difficulty combo of 11.4 with her tsuk double and Rudi combo, and like Carey, form issues sometimes hold her back. Wang has also been dealing with an injury that kept her out of the Doha and Chinese national finals, but she looked much-improved and in good health at the recent National Games, and she made a huge impression with her fifth-place finish at the Olympics last summer, so I think she’s definitely another who could sneak onto the podium.
Another favorite for a medal could be Shallon Olsen of the host country Canada. Olsen, who placed eighth on vault in Rio, could have the second-highest difficulty combination if she upgrades her DTY to an Amanar, but even without the upgrade she’s still boasting a 10.8 for her DTY and Khorkina. Her problem with or without an Amanar, however, is her execution. While her domestic averages are consistently around a 14.3 to 14.5, her international averages range from 14.15 to 14.225, which just won’t be competitive in this field. Unless her form is magically stronger, she won’t factor in without the Amanar, and even with the Amanar her form could again be what holds her back.
Olsen’s teammate Ellie Black will be another local favorite, and she’s worth a mention here even though I’m not sure how realistic a medal will be. She has a combined 10.6 difficulty thanks to her handspring front layout full and a tsuk 1½, but like Olsen, she struggles a bit with doing these vaults as well as some of the other top vaulters are hitting, and she missed out on the podium at Universiade with big mistakes on both. If she hits, she could definitely make it into the final, but with so much depth, it’s not going to be easy.
Seven-time Olympian and legend Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan is in a similar situation as Black in that she could be borderline for making this final due to a lack of attention to her form in a pretty deep field. If she looks like she did in the spring, competing the same handspring front layout full and a tsuk 1½, she could be in the mix, but in recent weeks she’s been downgraded on both, to a handspring layout half and a tsuk full (and the judges downgrade her handspring layout half even further due to her form, crediting only a pike). I wouldn’t ever count her out, though. She always upgrades when she needs to, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her Rudi magically reappear in Montreal, putting her right back in contention.
We also can’t ignore the European champion Coline Devillard of France, who has a Rudi and DTY for a combined D score of 11.2. Her form leaves much to be desired, and at Euros it actually looked like one of the cleaner ‘DTY and Lopez’ vaulters might beat her, but in the end, she had a solid day and got the win. But again, there is so much difficulty and depth in this final, and with other gymnasts able to match her on the difficulty level, she’ll have to do just a little bit more to challenge here.
Okay, that’s nine gymnasts who all have what it takes to make the vault final, and that’s before we even get to all of the DTY and Lopez combo vaulters. This group includes European bronze medalist Boglarka Devai of Hungary, Angelina Melnikova of Russia, Tisha Volleman of the Netherlands, and Tabea Alt of Germany, who just recently added a Lopez to her arsenal to earn a spot in this squad.
Unfortunately, the best of the DTY and Lopez vaulters, Ellie Downie, will miss worlds due to a recent surgery, but among the rest I think we could definitely see one or two of the cleaner vaulters get in ahead over someone with greater difficulty. They’re all on the outskirts right now, but it’s not always about difficulty. Alt looked especially clean at Germany’s world trials, and Melnikova also showed great improvement at the Russian Cup, so I wouldn’t count them out just because they’re not doing insane difficulty.
I also have two kind of wildcard favorites for this final. It’s hard to ignore any Amanar, and Mai Murakami of Japan just might whip hers out this year after giving it a shot at a domestic meet this summer. She hit the vault in training, but sat it in competition, though when paired with a tsuk full she has a combination that makes her an outside contender for the final, so it would be cool to see her sneak in when not really being expected to do so.
Finally, there’s world cup star Teja Belak of Slovenia, who picked up the bronze medals on vault in Baku, Doha, Koper, and Varna this year, though unfortunately, falls in Szombathely and Paris kept her from making the final. Belak’s difficulty isn’t the greatest, but when she hits her handspring layout full and Yurchenko 1½ well, she’s capable of great scores. Average-wise, she maxes out in the low 14s, with a 14.183 in finals at European Championships her best this year, but I’m a big fan of the old “anything can happen” law in gymnastics, and am crossing my fingers for Belak to make the first world championships final of her career.
The only other gymnast who has so far come nowhere close to this field but is in a category of her own as someone who last year boasted a DTY and a Rudi is Olympic bronze medalist Giulia Steingruber, who had surgery and took an extended break this year with the goal of returning for next year’s Euros, though she made a surprise appearance at nationals and was named to the worlds team shortly after. At nationals, Steingruber cut down her difficulty considerably, but if she can magically bring back some of her stronger vaults for worlds, she could absolutely be a surprise.
Oh, and I need to throw Marcia Vidiaux of Cuba into this pool as well. A fall in qualifications at the Olympic Games kept her from making the final, but if she’s at full strength, she’s right up there both in terms of her difficulty and execution. Unfortunately, we don’t see the Cuban gymnasts all that often so we have very little to go on with her, but keep her in your noggin just in case.
From 2016, we’re sadly missing Olympic champion Simone Biles, who plans on returning to gymnastics in the near future, Hong Un Jong of North Korea (which is abstaining from competing at worlds this year), history-making Dipa Karmakar of India (she’s dealing with knee injury rehab and hopes to be back for the Commonwealth Games next year), Canada’s Brittany Rogers (who did not make this year’s worlds team), Seda Tutkhalyan of Russia (who has been injured and not at full strength this year), and Alexa Moreno of Mexico (who hasn’t yet returned to competition, though plans on it).
No preview of ours is complete without stone-cold data, so check us out below for a “by the numbers” look at everyone who will contend for the vault final (note that we’re only including those who are confirmed to compete at worlds, so while gymnasts like Liu Jinru of China may be at the top of some of these lists, because they won’t be in Montreal, they’re not included here).
By the Numbers | Best Combined Vault Averages
|1||Sae Miyakawa||Japan||All-Japan Event Championships EF||14.850|
|2||Rebeca Andrade||Brazil||Varna EF||14.800|
|3||Maria Paseka||Russia||Universiade QF||14.625|
|4||Wang Yan||China||Doha QF||14.566|
|5||Angelina Melnikova||Russia||Russian Cup QF||14.525|
|Ellie Black||Canada||Universiade QF||14.525|
|7||Shallon Olsen||Canada||City of Jesolo Trophy EF||14.500|
|8||Jade Carey||United States||U.S. Classic||14.475|
|Oksana Chusovitina||Uzbekistan||Gymnix EF||14.475|
|10||Coline Devillard||France||European Championships EF||14.466|
|11||Tabea Alt||Germany||German Worlds Trials||14.325|
|12||Boglarka Devai||Hungary||European Championships EF||14.316|
|13||Tisha Volleman||Netherlands||European Championships EF||14.250|
|14||Teja Belak||Slovenia||European Championships QF||14.216|
|15||Mai Murakami||Japan||All-Japan Event Championships QF||14.200|
By the Numbers | Best Two-Vault Difficulty Combination
|1||Wang Yan||China||Chinese National Games EF||11.4|
|Jade Carey||United States||U.S. Championships AA||11.4|
|3||Coline Devillard||France||Paris Challenge Cup EF||11.2|
|Sae Miyakawa||Japan||All-Japan Event Championships EF||11.2|
|5||Rebeca Andrade||Brazil||Varna Challenge Cup EF||11.0|
|Maria Paseka||Russia||Universiade QF||11.0|
|7||Shallon Olsen||Canada||Canadian Championships AA||10.8|
|8||Angelina Melnikova||Russia||Russian Cup EF||10.6|
|Boglarka Devai||Hungary||Paris Challenge Cup EF||10.6|
|Ellie Black||Canada||Universiade QF||10.6|
|Oksana Chusovitina||Uzbekistan||Doha World Cup EF||10.6|
|Tabea Alt||Germany||German World Trials||10.6|
|Tisha Volleman||Netherlands||European Championships EF||10.6|
|Mai Murakami||Japan||All-Japan Championships EF||10.6|
|15||Teja Belak||Slovenia||Szombathely Challenge Cup QF||10.4|
By the Numbers | Average Score in 2017
|3||Jade Carey||United States||14.383|
*Note that on vault where gymnasts are often upgrading or downgrading depending on the competition, averages are going to differ greatly from top scoring potential, though this nevertheless paints a pretty clear picture of who has been hitting most consistently.
Look out for our bars preview coming tomorrow, beam on Thursday, floor on Friday, and the all-around on Saturday, and we’ll also have profiles coming up to give you a glimpse into every gymnast who will compete next week. Additionally, we’ll be reporting live from Montreal beginning at podium training on Saturday, so be sure to keep your eyes open for live blogs galore!
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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