The floor final in Montreal was quite possibly one of my favorite finals in recent memory. Why? Because Mai Murakami, certified goddess, finally won a medal.
Murakami’s career is one of close calls and near misses, and that wasn’t any less true for her this year when she placed fourth in the all-around final despite leading the field coming in. But in the floor final, the gold was hers to lose. She had the highest score this year, the highest average, the top hit rate, one of the highest potential start values…this final was all about Murakami, and it was such an incredible moment to see her pull off this epic win, becoming Japan’s second world champion in history, with the country’s last gold medal coming 63 years ago when Keiko Tanaka won the beam title in 1954.
I’ve said before that Murakami’s routine isn’t necessarily my favorite, but love it or not, she is a total package gymnast on this event. In this final particularly, there was a clear difference between gymnasts who could do one thing well on floor but were lacking in other aspects, and Murakami, who had it all — powerful and clean tumbling, strong dance elements, and fun choreography that fit the music and her personality well.
She was pretty much objectively the best floor worker this year, but that’s not a guarantee for a medal, let alone the gold. Murakami qualified second into the final, after Ragan Smith, whose ankle injury prior to the all-around final kept her from competing. The absence of Smith lessened the competition at the top, but Murakami still had to contend with Jade Carey, an incredible tumbler whose skill there overshadowed the areas in which she was lacking.
Things ended up getting super close between Murakami, who went up in the unfavorable first spot in the lineup, and Carey. Murakami’s routine was phenomenal on this day, with a stuck double double, small bounce on her double layout, perfect 2½ to front full, and a hop back on her double pike for a 14.233. But when Carey went up a few spots later showcasing the best tumbling she has ever done — including an open double double, full-twisting double layout, front double full to stag, and tucked full-in — I worried for Murakami.
Carey’s routine, as weak as it may be in terms of the choreography and performance value, was incredible. It’s insane that this kid made the turnaround from J.O. to elite so freaking fast, becoming a world-class gymnast on two events in only a matter of months, with the potential to do far more than what she’s already capable of. I wouldn’t have loved seeing her get the gold, just because the lack of artistry is such an issue at the moment, but I would’ve been happy for her had she won it, because the routine was truly that good.
But in the end, Murakami’s 14.233 held up ahead of both Carey, who got super close with a 14.2, and the rest of the field. It was Murakami’s time to shine, finally, after five full seasons of not making teams, not making finals, or not getting medals. Newcomer Carey, going two-for-two with medals in the first international meet (and third elite meet ever) of her career, will have time to perfect what she currently lacks.
She reminds me of Aly Raisman in 2010, back when no one expected her to make the floor final, getting last-minute artistry help from Martha Karolyi because her recycled routine was a mess. But then Raisman eventually came into her own on the event, and though her stylistic choices weren’t everyone’s cup of tea, she nonetheless made herself a better overall performer on floor, winning Olympic gold less than two years after her surprise first worlds final.
I can fully picture Valeri Liukin walking off the plane in Texas after worlds and immediately dialing every choreographer and artistry coach he knows. And because Carey is so coachable, the second she starts working with someone, we’re absolutely going to see her go from good to great. It’s coming.
In the past, I’ve never been fully behind Claudia Fragapane on floor, but then she went and got a Thoroughly Modern Millie routine, performing a sassy 1920s-inspired routine to the song “Nuttycracker Suite.” This is one of my favorite musicals ever, and Fragapane does the song justice, bringing in tons of her own personality. And on top of all that? She also fixed her tumbling. Tremendously. It’s like watching a totally different gymnast.
She was absolutely at her best in this final, and without the mistake on her opening full-twisting double layout pass, she would have presented a challenge for the silver or even the gold. But even with that weird stumble and missed jump connection, Fragapane pulled off the bronze because everything else was so freaking good. I was sitting there just blown away by how sharp and fine-tuned everything was. She wins my “most improved” prize on top of her medal, and in what has been a weak floor year overall, she and the other two at the very top made this final one of the best.
A pair of first-year seniors also helped to elevate this final with their brilliant performances, as Thais Fidelis and Brooklyn Moors finished fourth and fifth, respectively. With Fidelis, I was so impressed by her calm reserve after a frankly disastrous all-around performance, placing dead last in a field where she could’ve been top ten. But she simply showed up two days later for the floor final, performed a super clean and solid routine, and finished only a couple of tenths away from the podium.
Moors, meanwhile, had a star-making worlds performance. When she was announced for the team over two-time Olympian Brittany Rogers, fans of the Canadian team flipped out. I predicted and defended the choice of Moors over Rogers, frankly because Rogers simply did not make sense for this team at all, but many fans refused to believe that Moors would be able to pull off a strong enough floor routine to make the final, and because of this, they called her selection “pointless.”
It was anything but. From the moment she was introduced on floor in qualifications to the moment she sealed up her fifth-place spot in finals — Canada’s best worlds finish of all time on the event — it was clear Moors was quickly on her way to becoming a superstar. With fierce front tumbling — including a Podkopayeva and a front double full to front full to stag — and brilliant, effortless artistry, Moors is absolutely a star on this event, and as a gymnast.
Since the start of the year, Moors has improved by leaps and bounds in every aspect of the sport, and I have a sneaking suspicion that her confidence-building worlds performance — where the thousands of people in the crowd cheered for her with the same enthusiasm as they did for her three Olympic teammates — will be the awakening she needed to bring her from great to phenomenal. Moors is the future of Canadian gymnastics, and she’s only just beginning.
Lara Mori of Italy quietly and confidently came into this final not really as a frontrunner, and in a field full of stars on the event, it was hard for her to stand out as much, but don’t let that take away from what a fantastic job she ended up doing. The alternate for Rio last year, Mori was the only senior gymnast on the Italian team this year who really warranted spots on international teams, and she delivered both here and in the Euros floor final while also winning four domestic floor titles this season.
I don’t think Mori’s routine itself really speaks to her level of talent, as the music is kind of forgettable and that’s not something you can get away with, especially going up right after Moors as she did here. Her routine itself had some issues, like a stumble on her opening double layout and a messy, slightly under-rotated triple full, but it was a good enough routine even if she ended up being a little nervous or held back in many of her elements. I hope going forward, she can continue making small adjustments that will let her improve and maintain her status as one of Italy’s best.
At the end of an historic competition for two-time Olympian Ellie Black, she seemed super exhausted, especially as between competition days, she was writing school exams in her spare time. #JustEllieThings It showed with her fall on beam, and it also showed with her mistakes on floor, including a stumble at the tail end of her routine, a final she wasn’t even supposed to be in until Smith got injured and withdrew.
By this point, she just seemed ready to be done, and so while this wasn’t the best she could do, let’s just remember that Black ended up competing in four different finals, more than anyone else at this meet…and she nearly made the bars final as well. Black plans on continuing through to 2020, and hooray for that, because she looks better than she ever has, and I think she still has the ability to fix a few things looking forward to Tokyo.
Ending on a devastating note, Vanessa Ferrari, who never should have been in Montreal in the first place, decided to come into the final with her balls-to-the-wall difficulty, opening with a low double double before rupturing her Achilles as she punched from her whip into her tucked full-in. With a fully torn Achilles as she flipped through the full-in element, she had not a prayer in hell of landing the skill, finishing it on her hands and knees before calling for the medical staff to come over.
Ferrari, who has a history of issues with her tendon and had surgery to repair it following Rio, returned to competition just two weeks prior to worlds. At the final Serie A meet of the season, Ferrari performed lower-difficulty routines on beam and floor, and national team coach Enrico Casella immediately gave her a worlds team spot, leaving behind the healthy, albeit slightly inconsistent, Elisa Meneghini as well as several other viable healthy options in favor of the now 26-year-old Ferrari, who with her promised full difficulty would be a finals contender.
Who cares if your ankles are held together by strings if you can get into a final?! Totally worth it, right? It’s not as if the millions of Italian gym fans and bloggers (including myself) predicted disaster when hearing Casella’s choice to prematurely push Ferrari into major international competition for the first time in over a year. And when I saw Ferrari fall and not get up, I was heartbroken — but not surprised in the least.
Because she’s the kind of gymnast who in her mid 20s can remain competitive against gymnasts a decade younger, the Italian federation should consider themselves super lucky that they get to keep Ferrari around for her fourth quad after she played around with the idea of retirement during the Rio Games. But they’re not going to get her for Tokyo — and the qualification process leading up to Tokyo — if they destroy her already broken body by dumbly pushing her into competitions she’s not ready for and has no business being at.
My biggest emotion during Ferrari’s injury was “pissed off” because with every injury that happened at worlds this year, this one was entirely preventable and should not have happened. I’m gutted for Ferrari, but so incredibly mad at the people in charge who valued a finals spot over Ferrari’s health and well-being.
Can we also talk really quickly about Ferrari’s floor music being “O Fortuna” from the opera Carmina Burana? “O Fortuna,” the opening phrase of which translates to “Oh fortune, like the moon, you are changeable, ever waxing and waning, hateful life, first oppresses and then soothes, as fancy takes it” before continuing with “I bring my bare back to your villainy,” “Fate is against me in health,” and “Fate strikes down the strong man, everyone weep with me.” Vanessa, GIRL. Maybe go with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” or something next year.
The two biggest misses on floor for me were probably Sae Miyakawa, who had the greatest level of difficulty but struggled with actually hitting her passes and finished 17th, and Wang Yan, who actually had a pretty great routine and could’ve challenged for a medal, but multiple out-of-bounds deductions pushed her into 11th.
Reigning Olympic bronze medalist Amy Tinkler also missed out by just about a tenth, placing 12th with a mostly great routine, and Giulia Steingruber, Catalina Ponor, Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, Shallon Olsen, and Eythora Thorsdottir all got pretty close as well, coming into the meet as potential finalists, though not really frontrunners, so it wasn’t much of a shock to see them miss out. From this group, Olsen was probably the most impressive, if only because she normally is pretty messy and yet her qualifications routine was the sharpest I’ve ever seen her look. She still got pretty heavily deducted for some of her form, specifically on dance elements, but overall it was a great set for her.
We also got some lovely routines from the Germans, Tabea Alt and Pauline Schäfer, though neither had the difficulty to contend, Ana Derek and Cintia Rodriguez were gorgeous as always, the Belgians as always had super inventive and fun routines (Maellyse Brassart gets a special shoutout for her fantastic “come with me into the forest” bird routine), everyone loved Ioana Crisan‘s whip full in her opening pass, I lost my mind at the beauty of all of the Ukrainians here (Diana Varinska is clearly the standout for this team, but both Valeriia Osipova and Valeriia Iarmolenko were beautiful on this event in particular!), and Yoana Yankova of Bulgaria stood out with a tremendous performance, despite the rough spots in her tumbling.
Morgan Hurd showed in the all-around final that her floor could’ve been a contender, and while she would’ve been two-per-country’ed out of the final with Smith and Carey ahead of her, with Smith’s injury, Hurd could’ve taken over her spot had she hit, so it was a bummer that the floor mistake — her one mistake all competition long — kept her from making yet another final.
Others who had falls and missed out despite having potential to make the final and even medal included Yesenia Ferrera and European champion Angelina Melnikova. I think with Ferrera, she just needs more experience. She competed exactly twice in a three-year period, so is it all that shocking that she can’t pull off strong sets at major international competitions? Come on, Cuba. Get it together. With Melnikova, a foot injury was apparently the cause for her poor floor performance both in qualifications and in the final, which is a shame as she has the kind of routine that could’ve done very well here.
That wraps up our recaps and thoughts on the women’s events at worlds! You can get the full results here, and also be sure to check out the photo gallery. Coming up, we still have many thoughts about the men, and we also have our breakout stars recap of the gymnasts who made a name for themselves in Montreal.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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