Moving right along after yesterday’s vault preview, I’m excited to dive into my absolute favorite event, the uneven bars.
There is a ton of depth in the bars final this year, especially at the very top, but there’s also kind of a large separation between those who are capable of medaling and those who will just be fighting for spots in the final. I’ll get into both, and will also talk about those who could be the biggest borderline threats should anyone at the top not make it.
I think the three best bar workers in the world right now are Anastasia Iliankova, Fan Yilin, and Nina Derwael, and in a perfect world, these three will get on the podium. They have it all — difficulty, solid form, consistency, insane skills and connections — and I think if everything goes according to plan, it will be some combination of these three who end up medaling.
I think I love this especially because back at the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2015, Derwael won the silver on bars a tenth over Iliankova with the bronze, so the fact that they went from among the best junior bar workers in Europe to now leading the field alongside Fan, one of the 2015 world champions, is my favorite thing ever. It’s not always certain that gymnasts who do well at smaller continental meets as juniors will continue that standard going into senior careers at the international level, but both of them have continuously gotten better in the past two years, and now here they are at the top of the game.
Both Derwael and Iliankova had 6.2 start values as juniors, and now as seniors under a new code, they’re matched once again at 6.3, about the equivalent of a 6.8 last quad, showing that both have continuously been working hard to grow as competitors on this event. Their routines are both exciting and jam-packed with huge, unexpected connections, like Derwael with her Ricna half to Ezhova and Iliankova with her epic Hindorff to Pak to Maloney to clear hip half to Ezhova series.
I love that Iliankova leaves no stone unturned with her bars set. Every skill has a purpose and a reason for existing, getting one huge skill — a Shang — out of the way at the beginning, with every subsequent skill leading to something else in a way that efficiently maximizes her difficulty potential.
My one question with her is how favorably she’ll be scored next week. Her big scores — including a 15.275 in Russian Cup event finals, the best score for any gymnast on bars this year — all come from domestic meets, and she’s only competed internationally once this year, at the challenge cup in Osijek, where her scores were a full point lower than her highest at home. It’s hard to use Osijek as a benchmark because her difficulty was lower there and in May, she looked nothing like she does now. But even if her Russian Cup execution scores were a half point higher than her routines would be internationally, she’s still among the top three.
Derwael, meanwhile, has been killing it internationally. After winning the European bars title in April, she got back to work right away, and over the past few weeks she’s earned scores of 14.7, 14.8, and 14.9 at meets in the Netherlands and in France. Derwael is ready for this, and if she medals, she’ll be the first Belgian woman to win a world medal in history, which is incredible.
At one point not too long ago, it looked like Fan — who struggled at nationals in May and didn’t get a spot on the Asian Championships team — might not do an international meet again. She moved from the national team training center back to her provincial gym, and seemed like she was going to end her career at the National Games like so many of her teammates. But then, in Tianjin, she showed an incredible effort on her strongest event in both qualifications and event finals, earning a 14.933 both times with a D score of 6.3.
Fan’s work in Tianjin was fabulous, with a Komova II to Pak to Chow to Gienger, and then her intricate front pirouette series done directly into her dismount. She told the press that she should be able to get back up to a 6.5 D score by next week — likely by adding an inbar full back in before her Komova II — which would give her the highest D score in the world this year. Fan, who is the only returning 2015 bars champion, hopes to defend her title in Montreal, which she’s absolutely able to do if she can just push through her own nerves.
Not too far behind these top three we have Elena Eremina, who has a 6.4 D score when she hits every connection and gets every skill credited, though she’s only made the 6.4 happen once this year, and in her eight most recent routines, her D score average is just a 6.1. Both her Nabieva and her layout Jaeger tend to be a bit piked, so if the judges want to be picky, this is where she’ll take her biggest hits, and she also struggles to connect everything at times, kipping between skills to knock off a tenth or two depending on what she misses.
On a fully hit day, Eremina could be competitive with the top three. Like Iliankova, even though her Russian Cup scores are a bit unrealistic, they’re not so far off that they’d be impossible. She’s more than capable of a high 14 with a clean routine, and she could definitely upset one of the other girls I’ve discussed if her stars end up aligning.
My biggest outside medal hopeful is Elisabeth Seitz of Germany, who is long overdue for recognition at worlds. Her form can sometimes be hit-or-miss, but with a 6.1 D score and a 100% hit rate for her six routines from Euros to this month’s German world trials, she’s one you can’t count out. After narrowly missing a medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, Seitz is undoubtedly ready to make this happen, and I can’t wait to see her fight.
Germany is taking another two fabulous bar workers with them to Montreal, including Universiade silver medalist Kim Bui and the inventive little Tabea Alt, who has two new skills she’s hoping to get named — a Zuchold half and a stalder to front tuck half dismount. Neither Bui nor Alt will come in as a medal hopeful, but both have the potential to make the final and should score well enough to get there, so their main objective is beating one another for that second spot behind Seitz. (It’s also necessary to note that Bui has competed bars 12 times this year and has hit every single routine, which is kind of amazing. No one else comes close to a record like hers.)
There are quite a few gymnasts who have D scores in the 5.8 to 6.2 range who could factor in, but Ashton Locklear of the United States, aka Little Miss Controversial, can outscore most of them with a 5.5 if she shows one of her stronger routines. Difficulty isn’t everything, and Locklear makes her routine look so freaking easy, she’ll absolutely be one of the top bar workers there even without sky-high difficulty.
It’s actually so funny to me that people are complaining about this, because generally in the wide world of the gymternet, all we see is people complaining about gymnasts who chuck skills that look ugly. Now, here’s someone with a routine that probably won’t medal if the top gymnasts hit, but is so well-executed, so beautifully-done, and so effortlessly fluid, and everyone hates her for not having enough difficulty. Yeah, I’m here for routines with a solid balance of both strong difficulty and top-notch execution, which is what some of the best bar workers in this field have, but on bars especially, give me simple and pretty over difficult and sloppy any day of the week.
In 2013, five of the gymnasts who made the bars final had difficulty scores in the 6.1-6.3 range, which in this quad would be around a 5.6-5.8. Locklear is right at the border of that, and so of course her 5.5 with an E score close to a 9.0 will challenge gymnasts with a 6.3 who can barely scrape together an 8.0 in execution. Difficulty isn’t everything, and while Locklear won’t be a frontrunner in a field like this without at least a few more impressive skills, she also won’t be fully left behind and absolutely has a chance to challenge if one of the top bar workers doesn’t hit when it counts.
As a side note, Locklear shockingly has the second-highest average on bars in 2017, just half a tenth behind Iliankova. Obviously when everyone’s hitting, she won’t be second-best, but this is a testament to her execution and consistency, both of which matter. In a final with lots of pressure and nerves, Locklear will be able to handle it and others might not have that ability.
Some of the gymnasts with super high difficulty that won’t necessarily score through the roof in execution on this event include Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, Jonna Adlerteg of Sweden, Luo Huan and Liu Tingting of China, Rianna Mizzen of Australia, Larisa Iordache of Romania, Diana Varinska of Ukraine, Georgia-Mae Fenton of Great Britain, and Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary. All of these gymnasts could make the final happen should they have an exemplary day in qualifications, but it’s hard to say how they’ll look because they all have impressive skills, but either fall into the category of generally strong bar work but lack the consistency to hit regularly, or weaker bar work with form not quite near the top gymnasts.
My favorites in this group are definitely Varinska, Adlerteg, and Andrade. I am continuously impressed with Varinska’s insane Tkachev half to Jaeger and think she’s generally quite overlooked by judges who pick her routines apart in ways they don’t generally do with some of the other more well-known gymnasts, and Adlerteg’s routines are phenomenal, though it’s hard to say where she’ll fit in right now as she’s only been back in competition for about three weeks after taking nearly 18 months off due to an ACL injury.
I love that Andrade could make it into both the vault and bars finals, a rare combination of talents that some of my favorite gymnasts have possessed. Her bars aren’t the tightest or most polished, but she has a super difficult routine with a 6.1 start value, and she’s definitely capable of a mid-14 on a good day; not a top score, but under the right circumstances, it puts her in contention for the final. My one concern with Andrade is that she’s spectacularly inconsistent with what she can do on bars, but both of her routines in Varna earlier this month looked fabulous, the best she’s been all year. Let’s hope that’s the Andrade who shows up next week!
As for the rest, I think they all have great qualities, but it’ll be a toss up as to what they’ll be able to make happen in Montreal. I also think that some of these have scored incredibly well in fields in which they’ve been clear standouts, but when compared back to back with the more polished in this field, they’ll (hopefully?) be judged accordingly.
A generally clean routine from Iordache, for example, looks incredible relative to a weak Romanian field, and so an 8.5 E score is legitimate compared to gymnasts who shouldn’t get more than a 7.5 for a hit routine. But up against sharper bars gymnasts, little weaknesses like her lack of extension, fluidity, and tight leg form will really stand out, and an 8.5 for her would translate to a 9.0 or better for someone who is hitting her mark in those areas.
I do need to give a crap ton of credit to Luo, though. She’s competed 13 uneven bar routines this year and hasn’t fallen once. Of those routines, 11 have been at a 14.15 or better, with her top score a 14.533, so she’s definitely the sneaky one of this bunch, the one who maybe doesn’t look like she’s going to bust in with a killer set, but who ends up absolutely destroying the competition like “what, like it’s hard?” She’s a bars robot, and so is Bui for that matter (Bui also has a hit record of 100% having competed 12 routines this year), and sometimes it’s these consistent under-the-radar gymnasts who end up stepping up.
I also need to bring up U.S. gymnasts Ragan Smith and Morgan Hurd, both of whom are also on the short list for the bars final depending on how things go for them relative to everyone else. Smith, who hasn’t always been solid on bars, has been killing it this season, and while she falls into that category of gymnasts who have weaker form than some of the top girls, she does have a 6.0 D score and is capable of scoring high enough to fit in directly with the rest of those on the border of getting in. No one considered Simone Biles much of a bars gymnast back in 2013 (or ever), and yet she got into the final as a surprise thanks to high difficulty and a hit routine, which Smith could also make happen.
That’s if Smith can outscore Hurd, however. Hurd has been limited on bars due to an elbow injury, so while her potential this past spring showed that she could possibly do big things here, she physically wasn’t able to accomplish what she hoped. Hurd’s difficulty has been a bit low, at around a 5.6, but at camp she added a Fabrichnova dismount to bring her to a 5.8, which combined with a generally lovely set puts her directly in line with nearly all of the final hopefuls here. We’ll see how she looks in training this weekend, but I have a sneaking suspicion we’re going to be wowed by the changes she’s made over the past month.
In the same vein, we also have Angelina Melnikova of Russia hoping to be in the mix should Iliankova or Eremina run into trouble. Her form still sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s much better than it was earlier in the year, and she’s another one with high difficulty (she’s at a 6.1 when she hits everything) who can surprise. Again, she’ll have to beat her own teammates before she can worry about beating an international field, but she’s definitely capable of around a mid-14 on a good day, which is right where she needs to be if she wants to take advantage of any mistakes her teammates make.
Now for some personal favorites…all I want in life is for Evangelia Plyta to make it through one damn routine and my life will be complete. The Greek gymnast has some incredible skills, though you’d never know it from looking at her scores (she averages an 11.183 in 2017) because she always falls. She’s a heartbreaker, but God, I love watching her on this event.
The top Canadians here, Ellie Black and Isabela Onyshko, could also have outside shots at the final depending on the circumstances, especially Black with her aggressive swing and big skills, Melanie de Jesus Dos Santos of France often looks flawless on bars, Asuka Teramoto of Japan is capable of impressive scores, and you have to keep an eye out for Cintia Rodriguez of Spain, who is hoping to get her toe shoot full named for her, finally, after training it for years.
By the Numbers | Best Bars Score
|1||Anastasia Iliankova||Russia||Russian Cup EF||15.275|
|2||Elena Eremina||Russia||Russian Cup QF||15.175|
|3||Fan Yilin||China||Chinese National Games EF||14.933|
|4||Nina Derwael||Belgium||Paris Challenge Cup EF||14.900|
|5||Angelina Melnikova||Russia||Russian Cup AA||14.825|
|6||Ashton Locklear||United States||City of Jesolo Trophy AA||14.750|
|7||Elisabeth Seitz||Germany||1st Bundesliga||14.750|
|8||Zsofia Kovacs||Hungary||Elek Matolay Memorial AA||14.734|
|9||Georgia-Mae Fenton||Great Britain||British Championships AA||14.600|
|10||Ragan Smith||United States||U.S. Classic||14.550|
|11||Kim Bui||Germany||American Cup||14.533|
|Larisa Iordache||Romania||Romanian Championships EF||14.533|
|Luo Huan||China||Chinese Championships EF||14.533|
|14||Rianna Mizzen||Australia||Australian Championships EF||14.500|
|15||Rebeca Andrade||Brazil||Varna Challenge Cup QF||14.450|
|Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos||France||City of Jesolo Trophy AA||14.450|
|17||Liu Tingting||China||Doha World Cup QF||14.366|
|18||Tabea Alt||Germany||German National Team Cup||14.350|
|19||Morgan Hurd||United States||Stuttgart World Cup||14.200|
|Jonna Adlerteg||Sweden||Szombathely Challenge Cup EF||14.200|
|21||Diana Varinska||Ukraine||Paris Challenge Cup EF||14.050|
|22||Asuka Teramoto||Japan||All-Japan Student Championships AA||14.000|
|23||Ellie Black||Canada||Universiade AA||13.966|
|24||Ana Perez||Spain||London World Cup||13.833|
|25||Lorette Charpy||France||City of Jesolo Trophy AA||13.800|
By the Numbers | Best Bars Difficulty
|1||Elena Eremina||Russia||Russian Cup QF||6.4|
|2||Fan Yilin||China||Chinese National Games EF||6.3|
|Nina Derwael||Belgium||Paris Challenge Cup EF||6.3|
|4||Anastasia Iliankova||Russia||Russian Cup EF||6.2|
|Jonna Adlerteg||Sweden||Szombathely Challenge Cup QF||6.2|
|Larisa Iordache||Romania||Paris Challenge Cup QF||6.2|
|7||Rebeca Andrade||Brazil||Varna Challenge Cup EF||6.1|
|Angelina Melnikova||Russia||Russian Cup EF||6.1|
|Elisabeth Seitz||Germany||German Worlds Trials||6.1|
|10||Zsofia Kovacs||Hungary||European Championships QF||6.0|
|Kim Bui||Germany||European Championships EF||6.0|
|Liu Tingting||China||Doha World Cup QF||6.0|
|Luo Huan||China||Chinese National Games EF||6.0|
|Ragan Smith||United States||U.S. Championships D1||6.0|
|Rianna Mizzen||Australia||Australian Championships EF||6.0|
|16||Tabea Alt||Germany||German Worlds Trials||5.9|
|Diana Varinska||Ukraine||Paris Challenge Cup EF||5.9|
|Ellie Black||Canada||Koper Challenge Cup EF||5.9|
|19||Georgia-Mae Fenton||Great Britain||British Championships AA||5.8|
|Morgan Hurd||United States||Worlds Selection Camp||5.8|
|Ana Perez||Spain||European Championships AA||5.8|
|Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos||France||Paris Challenge Cup EF||5.8|
|23||Evangelia Plyta||Greece||Greek Championships AA||5.7|
|24||Lorette Charpy||France||Paris Challenge Cup EF||5.6|
|25||Ashton Locklear||United States||U.S. Championships D2||5.5|
By the Numbers | Average Score in 2017
|2||Ashton Locklear||United States||14.513|
|4||Ragan Smith||United States||14.338|
|12||Morgan Hurd||United States||13.813|
|21||Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos||France||13.420|
|24||Georgia-Mae Fenton||Great Britain||13.239|
Tomorrow you’ll get a peek at the ridiculous beam field in our preview for that event, with the floor preview coming Friday, and the all-around preview on Saturday, and of course, over the weekend we’ll have our podium training live blogs straight from Montreal!
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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