The all-around final at worlds this year was always going to be a good one. In the weeks leading up to Montreal, we had so much international depth, it looked like close to ten gymnasts had the ability to get onto the podium, something we haven’t seen at this level of competition for years.
Even with all of this depth, however, it looked like Ragan Smith of the United States and Larisa Iordache of Romania were going to be nearly impossible to beat. The two came in loaded with difficulty and confidence, with Smith having won the all-around title in the United States this summer and Iordache a standout at several international competitions, winning a medal on beam at Euros before coming back to dominate at Universiade in August.
But in a horrible series of events, both Smith and Iordache got injured literally moments before competing. In the touch warm-up prior to her subdivision, Iordache was running through a timer on floor when her Achilles gave out and she crashed to her back in tremendous pain.
The Romanian, who first made a name for herself as the youngest member of her country’s 2012 Olympic team and went on to win several world medals before missing out on Rio last year, burst into tears upon getting injured, though the look of devastation on her face as she was examined and carried off seemed more one of disappointment than pain. Iordache has come so close so many times, but has never actually realized the level of success she deserves, and for her, Montreal is yet another bitter memory in her collection of near-misses.
Smith, an alternate for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, actually made it through qualifications and came into the all-around in second place just one one-thousandth behind leader Mai Murakami of Japan — even with a fall on beam. With four hit routines, she would be the heavy favorite for gold, but then in the training gym behind the competition floor just minutes before the gymnasts were expected to begin the competition, a bad landing on a vault led to an ankle sprain that forced her to withdraw.
Any injury is incredibly heartbreaking, but for these two, with the way they were positioned coming into the competition, it felt especially tough to take. After years of watching Simone Biles dominate, always looking her strongest exactly when she needed to, we got kind of spoiled. Of course Biles was going to show up and win gold. There was no way she’d get injured and have to withdraw. We trusted in her gymnastics and in her training, and she always did her job.
Coming into Montreal, I assumed the same would be true for Smith and Iordache and everyone else who has looked strong all season and seemed ready to claim a medal. Injuries happen, but to the best? At worlds? Never. When it happened to Iordache, it seemed so impossible, I almost expected her to jump back up like, “Sorry, just a scare, guys! I’m fine!” But when it happened to Smith — whose injury came near the end of a long line of at least 17 meet-ending injuries — I wasn’t shocked or surprised, but rather just numb to the fact that this had become so commonplace, so typical, that I had zero ability to even question it.
In addition to the injuries to Iordache and Smith, several other potential top all-arounders were also forced to withdraw from the field prior to qualifications, including 2016 Olympian and medal favorite Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, who walked into podium training looking ready to train but then felt pain in her knee that turned out to be yet another ACL injury.
The all-around field also lost Eythora Thorsdottir of the Netherlands, who injured her ribs while trying to catch her Bhardwaj on the uneven bars in training, and China’s top all-arounder, Liu Tingting, who is having a terrible streak of bad luck, having been forced to withdraw from her country’s Olympic team last summer due to a hand injury before also having to miss out on fighting for the all-around in Montreal. Both Thorsdottir and Liu did get to compete on their best events, so it wasn’t a total loss for either, but it was still heartbreaking to see a total of five potential medalists end up unable to compete either their full programs or at all.
I want to talk about the injuries and the reasons for so many injuries, but I also don’t want to keep distracting from all of the good that happened at this year’s worlds. Because even though so many moments felt devastating and horrible, the gymnasts who did make it through injury-free are so deserving of feeling good and happy about their accomplishments, of which there were many. The sad moments were felt so deeply, but the happy moments far outweighed everything that went wrong, and in the end, these are the reasons we can’t call Montreal a complete wash.
One of the happiest of these moments was 16-year-old Morgan Hurd of the United States winning the all-around gold medal, a completely unexpected victory that put smiles on the faces of every single person in that arena, including the hardcore Canadians who wanted the gold so badly to go to Ellie Black.
In a sport as subjective and therefore divisive as gymnastics, it’s hard to find things a majority of people would agree on, but Hurd’s win was one of the few in the sport’s history, even in what ended up being the closest battle for all-around gold since 2011. This is partly because she’s a phenomenal kid with a fantastic attitude, completely unrelated to what she can do in the sport, but it’s also because on the one night it mattered, Hurd happened to have the strongest meet.
With some of her strongest work on vault, bars, and floor all season, Hurd did get a little tentative on beam during this final, playing it safe and fighting through what must have been tremendous nerves, especially after seeing Smith go down prior to the meet, so there’s this contradictory feeling of being devastated for your teammate while also thinking “oh crap, now this is all on me!”
For the most part, that pressure seemed to work wonders for Hurd, who has struggled all year in mostly low or no-pressure meets, and yet truly showed what she’s made of on that one night in Montreal. Beam may have been nervous and shaky, but she pushed through and hit, getting the job done to become the seventh consecutive world or Olympic all-around champion from the United States.
It wasn’t easy, though. Black was right there the whole way through, tied with Hurd after the second rotation and leading by a couple of tenths after the third, though that lead wasn’t enough to hold her up with her downgraded floor up against Hurd’s. With a better performance on beam — Black grabbed the apparatus after her punch front tuck, saving it with a wild series of wobbles in addition to other mistakes throughout the set — she would’ve been the undisputed champion, hands down, but even a silver medal was historic for the two-time Olympian, who broke her own record to put up Canada’s best world all-around finish of all-time.
Less than half a point back from these two with the bronze was Elena Eremina, the first-year senior from Russia who made it through every single one of her routines at this competition without a fall. In fact, her one major mistake came on her best event — bars — during this competition, putting her nearly a point back from what she’s typically capable of scoring. While trying to connect her Pak salto to van Leeuwen, she wasn’t quite in rhythm, bending her knees as she went for the toe-on, which forced her to swing through and kip back up to handstand before attempting the van Leeuwen again.
That was it, though. The rest of her performance was comparatively strong, and even that bars mistake was impressive, as she showed an incredible fight to stay on the bar and make it through the rest of the routine without much more than a slight hiccup. I think she’s the first Russian gymnast to hit every single routine at a major international meet in the history of gymnastics, so while she maybe didn’t burst onto the scene in that superhuman way Aliya Mustafina and Viktoria Komova did two quads ago, she made history in her own way, by being super reliable and mentally strong.
Before the meet started, another reporter on press row asked me who would be on my podium, and I responded that we would see Hurd, Black, and Mai Murakami — the order didn’t matter, but those would be the three. Leading after qualifications, just one one-thousandth ahead of Smith, Murakami looked the most likely to take the title, and she probably would have if only she’d stayed on the beam. Her one mistake of the competition came in the most crucial moment, as she put her hands down following her double spin and then fell.
The mistake kept her just one-tenth away from the podium and just half a point from the gold, with such a narrow gap likely making Murakami feel worse than she already did. An all-around medal would’ve been Japan’s first since 2009, and silver or gold would’ve been a record, so knowing she came so close and yet saw the opportunity slip just so slightly out of reach with her fall was clearly devastating. The 2016 Olympian was noticeably distressed after the competition, sobbing through her interviews as she blamed herself for her mistake.
It wasn’t the competition we wanted for Murakami, or the competition she wanted from herself, but at the end of the day I felt the ranking among those in the top four was absolutely correct, putting the athletes in order from “fewest mistakes” to “most detrimental mistake.” No one had a perfect day, but with all four at such a remarkably similar level, the gold could’ve been anyone’s game, and so it had to come down to this division based on severity of mistakes, and I was impressed with how well this ended up working in the end.
Also close to the podium was Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France, who qualified fourth into the final, showing that she truly does not have a single bad event, looking incredibly balanced across all four. But she also showed that she doesn’t really have a standout event, with her start values nearly identical across the board at a low-ish 5.3-5.4, making it hard for her to get an edge on some of the stronger gymnasts even on her best day.
This wasn’t a “best day” performance from De Jesus Dos Santos, but it was pretty damn close, though in the end some mistakes on beam and floor held her back even further from being able to challenge. The lack of difficulty is okay for now, as this year was all about making an impression on the world, first with a rather unexpected all-around bronze at European Championships and in Montreal, proving that she can hang with the big dogs, but going forward she really needs a serious difficulty overhaul on her better events.
I think it’s pretty notable that for such a strong competitor, she didn’t make a single event final, coming within one spot on beam, three spots on bars, and seven spots on floor, showing that she’s almost ready to be a major contender, but isn’t quite there just yet. But her execution is some of the strongest across the board, and she’s such a beautiful athlete, all it’ll take going forward is just minor changes here and there, and she’ll be right up there in the mix with the top gymnasts in the world. Pretty impressive, and her fifth-place finish tied three of her compatriots for France’s best all-around finish at worlds.
Outside the top five, there wasn’t anyone who was really expected to challenge, though I do have to say how happily surprised I was with many of the performances of those on the outskirts. As a little recap, Aiko Sugihara of Japan finished sixth with a 53.965, Giulia Steingruber was seventh with a 53.666, Nina Derwael was eighth with a 53.498, and the Germans Elisabeth Seitz and Tabea Alt were ninth and tenth with scores of 53.465 and 53.399, respectively.
I was thrilled to see Sugihara put everything together for a great competition, including getting her double Y turn around on beam, which should now get named for her in the code of points! It was a really strong day for her after some struggles in the leadup to worlds, and to see two Japanese women finish in the top six was kind of remarkable, a huge testament to the strength they’re hoping to embody as they reach for a team medal in Tokyo 2020.
Steingruber came into this competition with literally zero expectations in my book, especially after she didn’t really have most of her big skills back in her return to the sport at Swiss nationals a month earlier. She’s still not at full strength, but the defending Olympic bronze medalist on vault had both her Rudi and Yurchenko double back on that event, boosting her considerably on the all-around with her floor also coming along very nicely, which I was surprised to see after she took such an extended break following Rio. Steingruber originally had 2018 Euros as her goal for returning, so to make it back nearly a year earlier than scheduled was impressive, and so she far exceeded what I expected her to be able to do.
I was so happy to see Derwael end up in eighth in this final, even with a fall! Known for her tremendous work on bars, Derwael doesn’t have the difficulty on her other events to make her a major contender, but her extension on beam and floor are both so gorgeous, she’s able to make up for that with much of her execution, and her Yurchenko full in the all-around final was simply excellent. She did have a fall on her bhs loso, which was too bad, as she was looking like she might actually finish in the top five, but even eighth was a huge finish for her, as Belgium’s best finish in the all-around before that was 17th in 2015.
Her teammate Rune Hermans also broke that 2015 record with her own 11th-place finish, hitting all four events with a big smile on her face the whole time, which is all I wanted to see from her. She’s had a few great moments this year after her return from injury, becoming the Belgian all-around champion, making a couple of finals at the challenge cup in Paris, and then getting into the all-around final in Montreal, but she always seemed a little disappointed in herself so I was glad to see her enjoying the experience while making history for Belgium with her super impressive finish.
For Germany, Seitz performed a bit better than I thought she would given her limited time back on all four events. Although she doesn’t have very strong routines on beam or floor and she vaults just a Yurchenko full, she was fabulous on all three, with her bars an obvious standout. The fact that she scored fewer than two points from gold was such a cool achievement for her, and she just has so much fun performing, I don’t think she’ll ever retire.
Her younger teammate Alt wasn’t at full strength, and looked a bit rough on vault and floor, but her bars were solid and she got through beam without any major mistakes. It wasn’t as good as we got used to seeing her earlier in the year when she was winning titles left and right, but it’s great to see her becoming one of “the Hambüchens,” Ulla Koch’s nickname for her senior stars who kill it every time they compete.
Beyond this top group, we had Lara Mori of Italy in 12th with a 52.165, Georgia Godwin of Australia in 13th with a 52.032, Diana Varinska of Ukraine in 14th with a 51.999, Brooklyn Moors of Canada in 15th with a 51.965, Angelina Melnikova of Russia in 16th with a 51.341, Amy Tinkler of Great Britain in 17th with a 50.899, Filipa Martins of Portugal in 18th with a 50.865, Wang Yan of China in 19th with a 50.432, Ana Perez of Spain in 20th with a 49.266, Marine Boyer of France in 21st with a 49.231, Lee Eun Ju of South Korea in 22nd with a 49.199, Ioana Crisan of Romania in 23rd with a 48.965, and Thais Fidelis of Brazil in 24th with a 48.765.
I think Mori had a really solid but understated competition, hitting her events but none at a level that made her stand out a ton in a really packed group, and the same kind of goes for Godwin, who finally got her shot to compete at worlds and ended up having a really fantastic week, going four-for-four in this final with especially nice performances on bars and floor.
The rest in this group had mistakes, with some expected to finish in the top eight, but ultimately just not able to do what they’re fully capable of. Varinska was fabulous aside from splitting the beam and falling on her switch ring, Melnikova sat her double arabian and put her hands down after her double pike on floor in addition to making a mistake on a toe full on bars and downgrading her vault to just a Yurchenko full, Tinkler had a really rough bars routine, and Wang fell on her punch front mount on beam and then again on her layout series.
I would say these were the biggest disappointments, especially with Melnikova after she looked so great at the Russian Cup. I was definitely happy to see her getting through her beam routine both times she did it at worlds, but the rest…so depressing, especially as she had a legitimate shot at reaching the podium if she could just hit her routines. And for her mistakes to come on bars and floor, where she’s generally at her strongest? It was depressing and I hate seeing her compete so poorly, if only because you can really see it in her face how much it kills her.
She’s reportedly not getting a rest going forward, which is probably punitive, but I don’t know if this even matters anymore. We said after Euros that she needed a rest, but then she got a rest for several months over the summer and…she put up a weaker all-around performance here than she did in Cluj. So I don’t know what the answer is anymore, but I just wish we could see her reach a place where she’s happy and confident and hitting her routines.
Moors wasn’t expected to do the all-around until just a couple of weeks before the competition, getting the spot when teammate Isabela Onyshko ended up straining a muscle, limiting her to just bars and beam. She made the final despite a fall on beam in qualifications, but then came out and hit a gorgeous set, and also had a really smart save on floor, performing just a barani out of her front double full instead of a front full to stag when she realized she wouldn’t be able to get the intended pass around.
Unfortunately, she did fall on her handspring front layout full, a new vault for her and quite a big upgrade complete with a blind landing, but she came back to hit a solid bars set, not a big points-grabber for her, but also not bad for the girl who only a couple of years ago couldn’t do giants and got a 7.1 in her elite debut. Her bars scores at worlds were actually the best bars scores of her career, and so kudos to her for killing it and making huge strides in this pressure-filled meet.
Martins, who is generally the most consistent gymnast on the face of the earth, had some stumbles on floor and wasn’t quite as strong on vault as she usually is, Perez — who qualified 14th all-around and nearly made the beam final! — crashed her Yurchenko double and fell on her switch to back tuck on beam, and Boyer had a really rough meet with two falls on beam and one on bars in addition to a messy floor set, but her Yurchenko full was incredible, an NCAA 10.
Lee, the first reserve, and Crisan, the second reserve, both ended up getting spots in the final, with Lee stepping in for Alice Kinsella after Kinsella withdrew early in the day due to a knee injury and Crisan coming in literally minutes prior to competing, finding out in the warmup gym following Smith’s injury that she was getting a spot. Lee just looked thrilled to be there, and she actually had a pretty solid meet from what I saw, with one especially funny moment on floor where she nearly fell after stumbling the landing on a leap, but she went on to stick a couple of her passes in what is a really adorable routine, and Crisan actually hit everything but bars, where she had a solid routine in qualifications, taking several muscled swings and breaks throughout that really tore her score apart.
Finally, Fidelis, the heartbreaker who just couldn’t get through this day…I think I assumed she would finish closer to the top ten because she’s generally so good on beam and floor, but I forgot how weak her bars are in comparison, and with multiple mistakes there, just a Yurchenko full on vault, and two falls on beam, she was unable to save herself even with her excellent work on floor. It could’ve been better, but everyone needs a super rough meet, so why not make it happen as a first-year senior? Hopefully she’ll get it over with and come back even stronger next year with improvements on both her strong and weak events.
Aside from those actually in the all-around final, there are a few others who need a mention after not making it in.
Marina Nekrasova of Azerbaijan gets a humongous shoutout for finishing 28th in prelims, posting a 49.973 to reach her country’s best all-around finish by over 40 spots. Prior to her, Anna Pavlova’s 70th-place finish in 2014 was the strongest, but Nekrasova looked fabulous here in everything I saw her do, from random training sessions in the back gyms to all of her routines during the meet. She was one spot away from getting to Rio, and ended up being one spot away from making the all-around final in Montreal, so hopefully next year is the charm for her because she’s such a great talent.
It was shocking to see Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary not get into the final after winning the silver all-around medal at Euros in the spring. Kovacs fell multiple times throughout her meet, which was a shame as she’s generally so consistent, but aside from her bars, she just couldn’t pull this one off and ended up in 29th.
Finally, Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia also got super close to the final, but her mistakes on beam — including a fall — kept her from qualifying after an otherwise really strong day, including a solid Yurchenko full on vault and a super strong bars set. Mokosova, a supremely hard worker who competes roughly one million times a year, is someone I want to see succeed at the highest levels in the future.
So these are a lot of thoughts and opinions, and thanks for sticking with me through all 4000 words after my extended decompressing period following world championships. I’m trying to wrap my mind around lots of things that happened in Montreal, but I think this is everything that needs to be said for this particular competition! Look out for my vault, bars, beam, floor, and men’s thoughts coming over the next week or so, and I hope you’ve been enjoying all of the photos we’ve been pushing out from every session!
Article by Lauren Hopkins
This post was made possible thanks to our amazing patrons who help us fund things like travel and video production as we work to grow the site. This month’s patrons: April, Daniel Bertolina, Emily Bischoff, Dodi Blumstein, Wendy Bruce, Katie Burrows, Kelly Byrd, Melissa Carwin, Jillian Cohen, Brittany Cook, Kat Cornetta, Kristyn Cozier, Anita Gjerde Davidsen, Holly Glymour, Hydrick Harden, Lauren Haslett, Inaya, Lauren Jade, Alexis Johnston, Katrina, Sarah Keegan, Ishita Kent, Alyssa King, Jenny Kreiss, Maria Layton, Rae Lemke Sprung, Leigh Linden, Annabelle McCombe, Stephanie McNemar, Bridget McNulty, Cindy McWilliams, M. Melcher, Alison Melko, Emily Minehart, Eyleen Mund, Rachel Myers, Melanie Oechsner, Jessica Olaiya, David F. Pendrys, Lauren Pickens, Cordelia Price, Abbey Richards, Christine Robins, Kaitlyn Schaefer, Lisa Schmidt, Brian Schwegman, Sam Smart, Stephanie, Karen Steward, Lucia Tang, Tipse_ee, Rachel Walsh, Laura Williams, and Jenny Zaidi. THANK YOU!
Want to help out and qualify for super fun rewards for as little as $1/month? Check us out on Patreon!