The uneven bars final in Montreal is the one, while watching and seeing results live, where I was like “NO WAY DID FAN YILIN WIN.”
It’s so funny how one little moment of a routine will stand out so much that it makes me think every other little moment of a routine is completely negated. I’ve since gone back and both watched Fan Yilin‘s routine again as well as combed through still photos of her performance and…she should win every bars title ever in the world.
Fan was SO EXTRA with her attention to detail in this routine. She is the uneven bars equivalent of not having a hair out of place. So while she had the more noticeable mistakes among the others on this podium — a slightly muscled handstand out of her inbar half and a step forward on her new Fan dismount, an L grip to half-in double back — her E score reflected these mistakes. It also reflected how good she was literally everywhere else.
She also had the highest difficulty in the bunch by two tenths, a major lifeline when you realize two tenths was the entire E score gap between the top six in the final, which is insane. Her last-minute upgrade — adding an inbar full at the start of her routine — is exactly what she needed to bring her from third in qualifications to the gold medal in the final, which she won with a 15.166, the highest international score of the year.
Personally, I was thrilled to see her take the gold, defending her title from 2015, when she was one of four gymnasts to stand on top of the podium. After she and her teammates were so underappreciated by the judges in Rio last summer — practically a personal attack, as former FIG president Bruno Grandi admitted to singling out the team for being too “robotic” and calling their training “a form of slavery” — I thought even if she was overscored, it wasn’t like this is the norm for China. Who cares if they get gifted this one time?
But no. Fan wasn’t gifted. She was tremendously good, aside from having two errors that stood out in my eyes more than any of the multitude of smaller mistakes and form errors made by the others in this final. It was a fair score, and it was a fair final.
Elena Eremina was who I initially thought should win, and while she did have the cleanest, most seamless routine of the meet to earn a 15.1 for the silver, she ultimately lost the gold on difficulty, which happens.
Though she’s actually capable of a tenth higher in difficulty if she goes for her layout Jaeger, I’m glad she stuck to her “easier” routine, as if there’s any way you can call a routine with a Nabieva to Pak salto to Chow half “easy.” This series on its own was such a dangerous one for her. It seems that they made this her focus rather than cleaning up her somewhat sketchy layout Jaeger, and it was the best of both worlds — big difficulty for that opening bombshell, and then a super clean piked Jaeger that wouldn’t get half the deductions the layout would.
Aside from the small mistakes — leg separations in her Nabieva and Chow half, a few handstands just a hair short, bent elbows on her Jaeger catch — this was an exceptional routine, and I’d say it was the best she’s done it all year, but she performed it pretty much equally as well in qualifications. For her to be competing this level of difficulty not only so consistently and almost effortlessly but also when it matters most? It’s a nod to the incredible gymnast she’s becoming right before our eyes.
With a 6.3 D score matching Eremina’s, Nina Derwael of Belgium came less than a tenth away from the Russian to win the bronze, making history as the first Belgian woman to compete in an event final at worlds and then simultaneously becoming the first Belgian woman to win a medal at worlds…and all of this a day after reaching Belgium’s top all-around ranking in history. What a weekend!
I think the ranking between Eremina and Derwael was correct; Derwael has worked super hard to fix some form issues that have limited her in the past, and these little changes took her from the girl who was overlooked for the final in Rio to one of the best bar workers in the world. She still has a few elements where her feet end up flexed or slightly apart (most noticeably on her Bhardwaj), but Eremina also has those little issues on occasion so I think they’re generally pretty even there.
The one thing that seemed to separate the two was the landing. It was practically a stick for Eremina, but Derwael landed her toe full to full-in a little far forward, causing her to hop out into her salute. It’s a good way to cheat, but ultimately it was still about a one-tenth hop at least, and so with both routines as good and as similar as they were, I think that’s what became the decision-maker when deciding who comes out on top.
Coming into this competition, I thought the bars podium would definitely include Fan and Derwael, but I was torn on who would medal between Eremina and Anastasia Iliankova. I normally ended up going with Iliankova, if only because her routine is so cool and so unique, but in the end she ended up missing the podium due to a close call on her Shang.
Some say she hit her feet before catching. I don’t see it. But hit or not, she did catch so freaking close, she absolutely got a bulk of her deductions there and it’s honestly a miracle she was able to keep going like nothing happened. Normally a catch that close will fully disrupt the momentum of your routine, and yet after casting out of that handstand, she moved on into a Hindorff to Pak salto (with knock-knee form, a deduction if your knees aren’t actually forcing your lower legs apart) to Maloney to clear hip half to Ezhova, a killer combination that gets me every time.
She’s a tad bit labored and crooked on some of her elements, she’s not quite as aesthetically-pleasing as others with cleaner lines, and her elbows are definitely an issue at multiple points, but this routine otherwise is a thing of physics-defying beauty. A little more work on some of the details, and this is going to absolutely get her medals in the future.
Elisabeth Seitz finally got her name in the record books, tying the post-Berlin Wall Germany’s bars record by placing fifth with a score of 14.766. In her seventh consecutive year at the sport’s highest level, Seitz — who turns 24 next week — was able to hang out in a field of new kids, finishing just a few tenths away from the podium with D and E scores just a tiny bit behind the leaders.
Her only mistakes in this final were things like leg separations and handstands, but overall this is a fabulous routine and actually looks a bit too easy for her. Though she said she probably won’t bring back her Def or her eponymous skill, I think there are bits and pieces of this set that can absolutely be upgraded.
One of the new kids in this final was Ukraine’s Diana Varinska, who single-handedly has what it takes to change the face of her program. She’s not at her full difficulty right now, downgrading her inbars to toe-ons due to back pain, and with all of her handstands several degrees short and her pirouettes finishing a bit too late, her E scores are going to suffer. But otherwise, she’s gorgeous, clean, and fabulous, with her insane Maloney to clear hip full to Tkachev half to Jaeger combo always a crowd favorite.
The happiest girl in this final was Luo Huan, an alternate for China’s 2016 Olympic team who wasn’t a frontrunner coming into this final, but was able to outscore several bar workers who made mistakes in qualifications, finishing seventh in the final with a 14.566. Her routine was actually excellent, though with several little issues adding up (mostly along the lines of bent elbows and leg separations) on top of a hop on her dismount, her E score wasn’t quite in line with those who finished a bit higher. Still, for her first major international meet, she was fantastic at every stage of the game and I hope this gave her the confidence to go forward as a top option for China next year.
I can’t help but sigh when getting to Ashton Locklear, who had just about the most depressing competition you could imagine. Locklear didn’t come into this final as someone who could medal unless at least five girls made mistakes. With a start value of just 5.5, Locklear was at a major disadvantage, and as clean as she is when performing this routine that’s super easy for her, she would’ve needed around a 9.6 in execution if she wanted to contend for the podium. It just wasn’t going to happen.
But the U.S. didn’t really have any other bar workers who could do better, and so they bet her top eight finish over someone who could struggle to make the final, and that’s why she was on the team. Unfortunately, Locklear was dealing with a shoulder injury coming in, and I think she showed with her finals routine why someone who’s nursing an injury probably shouldn’t be sent to major international competitions. When an athlete is struggling physically, it changes how she’s able to handle things mentally, and that’s what Locklear’s literal meltdown looked like here.
In her finals set, Locklear’s legs came apart in her opening toe full, mentally rattling her while also physically hurting her. After casting through, she continued on with her Chow to Pak to Maloney to bail to Ray series, hit a great handstand before her toe half, but then she had to muscle that skill around and this time, she wasn’t able to recover.
When she came off the apparatus at this moment, Locklear was sobbing. She spent the entire thirty seconds before she had to remount crying at the chalk bowl, and as she got back on, she still had tears in her eyes. She fought through a second muscled toe half the second time around, but hit it, caught her Jaeger, and landed her full-out with a step.
It was seriously one of the biggest bummers in this entire competition. I defended Locklear a lot when she made the worlds team, and yes, defended her, as if she named herself to the team and didn’t earn the spot in the eyes of national team coordinator Valeri Liukin. I saw many of the terrible comments people sent to her for weeks across her multiple social media accounts, and I heard the frustration in her voice when she told reporter after reporter about her lack of inbars.
At the end of the day, love her or hate her, Locklear was a 19-year-old girl with an injury under the tremendous pressure of having to take over as team leader with all of last quad’s top gymnasts not competing at the moment. She knew she wasn’t likely to medal here, and just wanted to do her best, talking more excitedly about her leadership responsibilities and helping her teammates — all first-timers at worlds — through the process. She’s a smart and insightful person with a good heart, and people tore her to shreds.
That’s how she came into this competition — knowing everyone hated that she was on the team and was waiting for her to fail. And though her bars meltdown started as a physical lapse, it quickly became mental as well, and as this teenage girl finished her routine, she had to think not only about how she had failed her team, but also about how people — the same people who had so much compassion for Larisa Iordache and her injury, Mai Murakami and her missed all-around medal, Angelina Melnikova and her multiple falls — would tell her she failed her team.
I hope that for her sake, Locklear was able to ignore social media for a bit, and I hope she realizes that this final was not representative of who she is as an athlete. I’ve never been a huge fan of Locklear’s, but now all I want in the world is for her to come back at the top of her game, with upgrades and inbars galore. She was a class act through all of the drama in the lead-up to worlds, she was an incredible leader and mentor the whole way through, and she’s been super strong in the aftermath of it all, so I hope she’s able to let this day slide so she can prove everyone wrong in the years to come.
Now, there were quite a few strong bar workers who didn’t end up in this final, and the first one I have to call out is Angelina Melnikova, who was at her best all year on this event in qualifications, earning a 14.966 to qualify in fourth but missing out due to the horrendous two-per-country rule. Melnikova was just a tenth away from reaching Iliankova with a routine that could’ve put her in medal contention, and yet this dumb arbitrary rule that has hurt so many gymnasts in the past kept her away from the one event final she had the scores to reach. It’s always a shame to see this happen, but kudos to Melnikova either way, for fixing so many bits and pieces of this routine to get it to this level after struggling for much of the year.
The other major disgrace was the lack of Georgia-Mae Fenton, who got a 14.533 in the first subdivision, looking like she might actually push through to the final until several girls in the final subdivision knocked her out, putting her in the first reserve role. Fenton’s difficulty was a bit behind the other girls who got in, and she was the best I’ve seen her all year, especially as she had a really rough time throughout the few meets she competed in September, but the consolation here is that both she and Derwael will get the Ricna half to mixed grip named for them, a huge accomplishment even if the final was just 0.033 out of her grasp.
Among these near-misses were also a few mistakes from top contenders, like Jonna Adlerteg of Sweden, who missed her Church and crashed her double layout to earn a 12.266, and Rianna Mizzen of Australia, whose super difficult set included a dead Pak, missed van Leeuwen, and multiple form errors to earn an 11.866.
I didn’t see Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France, Ellie Black of Canada, Morgan Hurd and Ragan Smith of the United States, or Kim Bui of Germany as being finals threats without girls at the top making mistakes, but all five placed solidly just outside the circle, finishing 11th through 15th, all within half a point of the final. All five in this group have great difficulty, but just aren’t as polished bar workers, though they nearly all had their season-best performances here, aside from Smith who got a little lost between her Jaeger and her Downie, though she made up for it with quick thinking under pressure.
I thought for a moment Ana Perez of Spain would get close to the final, as her routine was one of the best I’ve seen her do…but then she crashed her full-twisting double layout dismount at the end, finishing in 38th with a 12.733. I was also impressed with the superb execution from all three of the Japanese girls who competed, especially Mai Murakami and Aiko Sugihara, and we also saw top-notch routines from Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands and Rune Hermans of Belgium, though neither had the difficulty to really challenge.
My other callouts go to Lucija Hribar of Slovenia and Helmi Murto of Finland. The difficulty from these two is a solid two points lower than the girls winning medals, but Hribar looked like an NCAA gymnast in her set and Murto had an excellent Jaeger and Pak. Both gymnasts compete for countries where the standout gymnasts tend to peak a bit older, with the current top competitors for both in their early-to-mid 20s, so to see Hribar making a name for herself at 15 and Murto at 17 is awesome, especially as this was only the second international competition for Murto as a senior, who debuted at Szombathely a month earlier, and yet her bars score was her personal best. Great job to both and I’m excited to see more from them in the future.
The full results from worlds are available here, and be sure to also check out the photo gallery from this event final! We’ll be back in the coming days with our thoughts on beam, floor, and of course, all things MAG!
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!