The Montreal Balance Beam Final

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Even though the judges at worlds this year were determined to destroy the hopes and dreams of everyone who is genuinely good at beam by giving clean and hit routines execution scores in the 6-7 range, this ended up being one of the strongest world championship finals in quite some time because almost everyone hit!

I figure I’ll address the judging now because it was legitimately crazy town. I get that judges want to be super picky, especially now that the language in the code isn’t as vague as it relates to the flow of routines. This year, it was all about putting an end to the little nervous tics and adjustments that exist more as security blankets than anything else — tapping your toe at the end of the beam, looking down at your feet before a leap series, taking a slight shuffle back before your acro because the skill prior to it left you slightly short of where you need to be.

All of these things were major beam don’ts at worlds this year. And that’s cool! But also like…can we let every judge know the rules? Because all year long, judges — including some who also judged beam at worlds — have been like “la la la” handing out E scores a full point (or more) higher than gymnasts could come to expect at worlds.

Even at European Championships and the world cup meets, gymnasts were scoring nowhere near what their worlds scores looked like. I’ll use Claudia Fragapane as an example, because her work on beam is a little loose at times, not capable of a particularly strong E score even with a hit routine. Her qualifications routines at Euros and worlds were of similar quality, and yet her routine at Euros got an E score of 8.1 while her E score at worlds was just a 6.833. That’s nearly 1.3 points in difference for similar routines, and the only routines that got E scores close to Fragapane’s worlds E score at Euros were those with falls.

Additionally, at Euros, only two routines among the 91 routines in qualifications got E scores below a 5, and there were some super rough routines in that mix, some far weaker than what we saw in Montreal. And yet at worlds, 21 of the 119 routines got sub-5 E scores, nearly 20% compared to the 2% at Euros.

I’m fine with judges wanting to be crazy picky. But I’m confused as to why this standard wasn’t applied to all major international meets. Worlds was the first time all season judges were this particular with their scoring, and in a sport that gets enough flack from mainstream sports fans due to a lack of transparency related to scoring, putting different standards into play from one competition to the next doesn’t really help anyone. There’s always going to be inflated scoring at domestic meets and at smaller-scale international friendly meets, but if we can’t have some sort of consistency at the sport’s highest levels of competition, how do we expect it to grow?

I will say I’m impressed with the judges staying consistent from the first routine in qualifications to the last routine in the beam final. They do get some credit there. But really, it’s frustrating as a fan and as someone who is pretty knowledgable about the sport, and I’m sure it’s even more frustrating for the gymnasts who train and compete expecting a certain level of recognition and then not even getting close. It’s also disheartening to see a lovely hit routine from a lower level gymnast not even crack a 12 just because she happened to have a few pauses here and there in an effort to not make larger mistakes. Call me crazy, but I’d rather see a gymnast take a moment to center herself before a clean and lovely acro series than someone who rips out her coffee IV before bolting from one messy skill to the next.

But I digress. Just…figure your lives out next year, judges. It’s great that you’re just now discovering that there are ten full points from which to take deductions. I was just talking about this in my vault recap when I discussed how ridiculous it is that the hit vaults in that final were all within a half-point margin from one another when the differences in quality were far greater. But maybe have a little judge meeting early in 2018, decide what the standard for judging beam execution is going to be, and then stick to it. All year long. And train lower-category judges and national judges as well. There’s no reason, even in a subjective sport, that figuring out results should be this much of a disaster.

Despite the deceptively low scores compared to other events, there were some fantastic beam routines in Montreal, and like I said at the start of this rant, the final itself was excellent compared to previous years where many top contenders failed to hit.

I mostly sat by bars for the majority of worlds, but for the beam final, I moved to the opposite end of the arena. This was partly to get away from the members of the Germany press who made fart noises with their mouths and yelled obscenities whenever gymnasts who weren’t Elisabeth Seitz got high scores in the bars final, but also because the other section for the media just happened to be about 20 feet away from the beam with a dead-on center angle. Heaven.

I’ve watched many videos of Pauline Schäfer on beam and have seen her from afar at quite a few meets. I’ve always thought she was a lovely gymnast on this event. But from this positioning so close up in Montreal, it was like getting Lasik. Schäfer is doing beam the way it should be done. I don’t even know how to explain it. Yes, she had a few tiny bobbles and adjustments throughout, but there’s a reason she’s the only gymnast to surpass an 8 in execution at worlds — twice.

Her routine itself included two mixed series, both performed beautifully but with little bobbles at the end, as well as solid acro, especially on her effortless eponymous skill, the side somi half. I found her dance elements, a lovely switch ring and a double spin, especially gorgeous, and she capped it off with a lovely gainer layout dismount, finishing with a 13.533 as the first gymnast in the final, and holding onto that score through all seven routines that followed to get the gold.

I was super surprised to see Morgan Hurd make this final, mostly because she struggled so much on the event throughout the year, falling several times in competition and fighting through nerves even when she didn’t fall. But she nailed her set in qualifications and then came back to post a 13.4 in the final, going overtime as she worked slowly and steadily throughout the routine but mostly showing a ton of confidence even when she had a few small mistakes.

Seeing Hurd, who won the world all-around title just two days earlier, get through this set like it was nothing after making fans question her spot on the team due to her consistency issues was such a fabulous moment. Her standing full, once a problem skill, is now one of her best assets as a gymnast, and she practically stuck her super difficult tucked full-in, an awesome upgrade that has worked so well for her. She did miss a couple of connections, and there was one moment where she was just standing at the end of the beam and it looked like she kind of wobbled, but for the most part this was a superb set and like many of the gymnasts on the U.S. team this year, there’s still so much room for improvement both in terms of difficulty and execution.

But I loved seeing her win silver to become the most decorated gymnast of the meet (a gold and a silver outranks Jade Carey‘s two silvers and Elena Eremina‘s one silver and one bronze, in case you were wondering!). Such a phenomenal competition for her, especially considering she wasn’t expected to do much.

Tabea Alt getting the bronze to become the second German on the podium was phenomenal. I remember that in 2015 when Germany was trying to put together a team for worlds that could qualify into the top eight and make it to Rio, beam was the biggest problem. They had Schäfer, who at the time could be hit or miss, but that was about it, and it took the Germans until the test event before they could get an Olympic spot.

Going from a troublesome event to having two gymnasts on the podium at worlds in just two years is unprecedented, especially as the German women so rarely make the podium at all. Beyond Alt and Schäfer, they’re still kind of at a loss, but these two plus the generally reliable routines from Elisabeth Seitz make for a fantastic rotation. Now they just have to worry about floor. 😉

I personally loved seeing Alt’s success here because I was expecting her to do big things at Euros, but then she got sick, missing the all-around final and falling apart completely in the beam final. Alt took a break after Euros, skipping nationals so she could focus on her exams, and then returning in September for worlds trials, which she won. She didn’t have a perfect world championships, but beam was what mattered for her after she made the final, and beam is where she made big things happen.

Her opening layout mount was fabulous, as was her side aerial to layout stepout. She sometimes will perform a second layout stepout, but as with a few other “play it safe” moments in this final, I’m glad she went for solid over scary. Sometimes there’s just too much on the line to be a badass, and it truly paid off for her here. She did have some wobbles and she most likely wasn’t paid for her switch ring, but it was for the most part a superb set with great difficulty and good enough execution to get her onto the podium at her first worlds.

Seeing Mai Murakami in the dreaded fourth place again after she also placed fourth in the all-around killed my soul at first, but Murakami literally wasn’t even expected to make this final, let alone get that close to the podium. The fact that she made it and performed so well is a testament to how strong and generally consistent she is on every event, not just the events she’s great on.

Murakami’s finals routine had some bobbles and adjustments, but nothing really rough or super nervous. It wasn’t a top medal-contending routine, but it was a strong set that got her close to the podium, and I think it was exactly what she needed as a final motivation going into the floor final.

In fifth, Elena Eremina had another solid routine, her tenth and final routine of the meet, all of them hit, and hit well. She gets pretty slammed for some of her form, especially on her triple full dismount, but overall she has improved so much in her ability on this event, one that held her back from taking the Russian national title this year or from getting an all-around medal at Euros. Like Murakami, she was another big suprise in this final, and though she wasn’t a real contender for the final, she did the best she could and got damn close.

I was hoping Asuka Teramoto would end up on the podium after she lost a medal ever so slightly back in 2014, and she seemed likely to fight for a medal of any color here, but then she opened her routine by putting her hands down after wobbling through her double spin. The rest of her routine was excellent, aside from a missed connection from her leap series into her side somi, and she had a fantastic save after landing her Onodi on one foot, continuing on like she was meant to do it. Unfortunately, though, that early mistake was costly, and she finished within just a few tenths of the podium.

China’s Liu Tingting had a routine that when looking good seemed likely to win in difficulty and execution, but with a foot injury that forced her to withdraw from her other events, Liu wasn’t super sharp at any point during either training or the competition in Montreal, which was a bummer. In the final, due to several missed connections and a whole bunch of nerves, she ended up missing out on a full point of difficulty that she’s usually capable of hitting, which is the risk you run when performing a routine made up almost entirely of connections.

Her skills on their own aren’t super difficult, and so missing the connections truly hurt her. With awkward shapes on her ring jump, ring leap, and switch ring — the rings are another huge risk for any gymnast in this current judging regime — she missed out quite a bit there as well, and though she has two occasions where she could potentially get a series bonus, she missed both, and I could see her front handspring sometimes also getting credited as a front walkover.

Unfortunately, in addition to everything that went wrong with her difficulty, there were also a ton of nervous adjustments and pauses, and so her E score was also pretty attacked. She earned just a 12.766 for this routine, much lower than she expected and was capable of, but I think having seen her perform this set at a near-perfect level at times, it was clear the foot injury limited her from being at her strongest. As she also missed out on the Olympics last summer due to a last-minute injury, timing just doesn’t seem to be on Liu’s side, but hopefully next year she’ll be healthy and fit and ready to perform.

Despite coming in as a major threat to take the title, Ellie Black, one of the darlings of Montreal both as a host country gymnast and as the all-around silver medalist, ended up putting her hands down and then falling on her punch front tuck right at the end of her routine. It was such a bummer, because prior to that she was on the attack with a wobble on her mount leap series really her only noticeable mistake. I think without the fall, the judges definitely would’ve given her the win, and Canada’s first ever women’s gold medal along with it, so it was truly a hearbreaker to see her fall.

Black ended up having a solid double spin to full spin, punch front pike, layout series, and double pike, and the combination of her skills brought her to a 5.7 D score, the highest in the final along with Hurd and Alt. It seemed like she was in the perfect position to take home the gold, but all it took was that one moment of nerves to take her off track. Again, super bummer, but after making history twice that week, she was still able to walk away with a smile on her face.

As for those who didn’t make the final, reigning Olympic champion Sanne Wevers was the biggest name coming into this meet and with a potential 6.5 D score, she also seemed likely to win another medal. Wevers struggled a bit this season, including missing a medal at Euros, but she seemed ready coming into training and her qualifications routine was actually really lovely.

Unlike many others, execution wasn’t fully where Wevers struggled. With a fully hit routine, I think she would’ve been setting the curve, actually, but because she was a little shaky, it cost her on the difficulty side of things. Wevers lost over a point in her intended difficulty, and when she put in an inquiry following the routine, she found that she actually lost a routine requirement with a missed acro series when she didn’t perform a back handspring out of one of her acro skills, and with everything else that went wrong, had she not made that one mistake, she still likely would’ve made the final.

Her teammate Eythora Thorsdottir, the silver medalist on this event at Euros this year, also wasn’t successful in her bid, despite a mostly strong routine. She had an absolutely gorgeous full L turn to split leap to full Y turn to full spin series, but the adjustments there and a couple of missed connections elsewhere held her back, as did a big stumble on her underrotated dismount, putting her just a few tenths away from making the final.

The judges seemed to really enjoy Ragan Smith, because aside from the fall on her opening layout series, she was really strong, confident, and aggressive in all of her skills, which is exactly what they wanted to see. Without the fall, Smith would’ve scored quite a bit higher than everyone else, but in the end I suppose it doesn’t even matter, because her injury prior to the all-around final would’ve kept her from the final either way.

A shame to see girls with chances at gold end up not able to compete at all, which is also where Larisa Iordache came in. I’m actually really curious to see how judges would’ve embraced her routine, as she does move quite quickly and aggressively throughout her skills, but she’s also very weak in her form and tends to make lots of little adjustments along the way. Again, just your daily reminder that life is terrible and unfair, and that Iordache should’ve been in this final.

I also assumed her teammate Catalina Ponor would have a strong shot at the final here, especially after winning the beam title at Euros this year. But in the first moment of her routine, the layout stepout mount, Ponor had a fall, taking her instantly out of contention. The rest of her set had several wobbles throughout, so it just wasn’t very strong in general, and as her floor routine also wasn’t one of the top, she ended up making no finals. Afterwards, Ponor told the press this would be it for her in terms of her career. She has a few obligations to fulfill during the rest of this year, but she plans on retiring at the end of it (which means she’ll be back at the start of 2020).

Marine Boyer, who placed fourth in the beam final in Rio, ended up having a rough performance in qualifications like the other top contenders who missed out. With a fall on her layout series and a missed connection in a mixed series, she ended up getting a 12.466, which is a shame as there were many stellar moments in this set showing that she could’ve been a true medal contender. I especially loved her double wolf turn, huge switch to switch half, and front aerial to split jump to tuck jump half. Oh well. There’s always next year.

Thais Fidelis was definitely one of my biggest hopes for the final, coming in as a first-year senior with no major international experience and yet some of the greatest beam difficulty in the field. It was gutting to see her fall twice, knowing that like many others who ended up missing out, she could’ve been a true contender for the gold. But for her, she’s so young and at the start of her career. I think she needed to fail early on to succeed in the future, and know she’ll give us big things in the coming years.

As for the major contenders, these were the ones with the biggest shots at medals, with Luo Huan and Isabela Onyshko also two of my “maybe” hopefuls who missed the final due to errors, but there were a couple of others who didn’t make it in for whatever reason though still deserve a bit of a shoutout.

Two in particular both had falls, but without falls, they somewhat shockingly would’ve been in the mix for a strong finish. One of those was Nina Derwael, who ended up winning the bronze on bars, the event she’s known for, but in Montreal I think she showed just how incredible she could really be on this event. Her extension on everything is insane, and she has some remarkable control overall, though I hope she’s one day able to take care of her consistency issues because this truly could become a finals-worthy routine, especially given the way judging is going at the moment. She’s basically what the judges are looking for, and so staying on the beam is really the one thing she needs to focus on going forward.

I was also impressed with Ashton Locklear, whom people rudely call a “one-trick pony” as she’s known for her bars and not much else, but I think her beam in qualifications was actually quite promising, and much stronger than she had previously been on this event (with the exception of her bent knees in her acro series, of course). She did have a fall, but without the fall, her execution would have been quite strong in comparison to many of the other gymnasts here, and again, I think it has a lot to do with her general presence and air of confidence. She lacks the high difficulty of a true beam worker, but in an overall weak field, all she needed was to hit, and the final very well could have been a possibility.

As for those who performed well but didn’t make it, Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos was in the dreaded ninth place, getting the first reserve spot for her mostly solid routine, Diana Varinska and Ana Perez both had rather surprisingly great routines to finish ninth and tenth, respectively (Perez’s hit set was probably one of my favorite moments of this competition!), and France’s first-year senior Lorette Charpy performed much better than I thought she would to finish 15th.

Full results from this event can be found here, and don’t forget to also give the photo album a look!

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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18 thoughts on “The Montreal Balance Beam Final

  1. “She has a few obligations to fulfill during the rest of this year, but she plans on retiring at the end of it (which means she’ll be back at the start of 2020).” Best comment ever! I also was really happy to see Pauline getting the gold, one of the most deserving medals of this meet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Her routine is truly brilliant, I’ve always appreciated her gymnastics, but it wasn’t until I got up close and saw it in detail where I was like OH. MY. GOD. She is legit.

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      • Oh yes! Pauline has “this certain something” and of course, as a german, I support her a lot! In my opinion she’s the most elegant beam worker in the world, she deserved it sooo much! Every tiny movement is so elegant and perfect (even the wobbles sometimes…) and I love her shoulder flexibility and her “hand style”. It’s not this typical ballett style, it’s just so “smooth” and not exaggerated at all (like Riley McCusker…)! And also her bodytype is not that typical… she’s neither a “ballett-russian style” nor an “american-muscle” type of a gymnast, she just gets all in one, the elegance and the power! It’s hard to describe, I hope you know what I mean… she’s really unique! ❤

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  2. In response to your idea, “Call me crazy, but I’d rather see a gymnast take a moment to center herself before a clean and lovely acro series than someone who rips out her coffee IV before bolting from one messy skill to the next.”: My preference is a third choice. I dislike the pauses and adjustments. I even dislike all the stationary standing with waving arms. I also don’t want them to “bolt from one messy skill to the next.” The third alternative I prefer is a flowing routine where the acrobatic skills are well within the gymnast’s capability, and can be done without lots of stops to prepare.

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    • I agree, I think that is everyone’s preference, including the judges, but most gymnasts are either going to be one or the other. If a gymnast needs that extra second to hit a more perfected skill, I’d rather she take that extra second than just chuck the skill and have it be fugly, scary, dangerous, bad, yucky, etc. In a perfect world everyone would be fluid and clean and lovely but so few gymnasts are capable of this and so when it comes down to a choice, the whole “rush through and slow sloppy elements” thing is terrible, and yet for some reason it’s what the code prefers.

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      • Yes! The pause also tells you something exciting is going to happen. I hate the flailing limb “choreography”. It makes them look like they’re trying to signal to passing aircraft and track down their car keys at the same time

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        • Yup. This is why I can’t stand Larisa Iordache’s beam. She’s fantastic and has many big skills, but her form is so messy and she moves so wildly I’m just like…calm down for one second!!! “Rushing” and fluidity aren’t the same thing, and yet the code considers rushing as fluidity which is silly.

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    • No she wasn’t. If she stuck her dismount I would agree with you, but she lost a minimum three tenths on the dismount alone; under rotated, a teeny bit to the side on the landing, and the two extra steps almost off the mat.

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  3. I was lucky enough to see the beam final live, and I was so happy that it was a basically hit completion (with the exception of Ellie’s fall, and maybe Asuka grabbing the beam). I was really worried, actually, because when I saw the gymnasts training before the meet, Morgan fell on every single one of her back with a fulls (like, fully five falls) until the last one. And Tabea fell on every one of her mounts, and I was like… oh boy. Here we go. This is going to be 2015 worlds all over again.

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    • Re Germany, any idea what’s going on with Kim Bui? She didn’t do floor in quals (even though she made the floor final at Euros and is generally much stronger than Seitz here, who did do floor in quals), just bars, and then she wasn’t really her usual self. She seemed super down when I met her too. Is she injured?

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  4. Don´t you think Asuka should train that Onodi to one foot? Would be SUCH a cool element and would score high if finished in a elegant position 🙂

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      • I guess it would not have been named as it was not appointed previously, but has that ever happened? like an error transforming into a move that end up in the code?

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        • It reminds me of how Biles accidentally did a Weiler full in Nanning podium training and then submitted it at worlds and the olympics just in case it happened again during competition.

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  5. In my impression Ponor’s layout mount fall is her one and only beam fall in any major international competitions (WCs and OGs) since her debut in 2003… Are there any more that I missed? If this is true it is such a sad way to “end” a career.

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  6. Lauren, i love your text style. You are so good pointing out things. I feel better after your commenting about those crazy judging on beam. Thats weird at least to see how they were picky on beam event, i just imagine how all girls couldn’t understant this harshly low scores after several months of meets and other standards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yeah, a lot of girls were confused by their scores. I talked to a Czech gymnast and Barbora Mokosova and they were both like ummmm we don’t generally score well on beam but this is really awful?? Barbora was like normally with just one fall I can still get a 50 AA and yet here because of beam I got a 49 with one fall??? It really kind of plays with their heads and takes them out of their comfort zone a bit to see things so different.

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