Zhang Jin, Chen Yile, Liu Tingting, and Liu Jinru
After a successful day in Jakarta that saw the Chinese men lead the team qualification while 2017 world all-around silver medalist Lin Chaopan won the all-around by nearly a point ahead of his competition, the Chinese women are hoping for an equally great start to their meet when they hit the floor tomorrow afternoon.
Led by two-time national all-around champion and 2016 Olympic alternate Luo Huan, the team is the first major international squad fronted by new national team coordinator Liang Chow, and it’s likely the team he’s hoping to bring to Doha two months from now, where he’ll want to see them continue their team medal streak.
Also including 2017 world beam finalist Liu Tingting, 2017 Asian Junior all-around champion and first-year senior Chen Yile, 2018 Stuttgart world cup champion Zhang Jin, and 2017 Asian Championships vault gold medalist Liu Jinru, this is quite possibly the strongest team China could’ve dreamed of at this moment, with potential to qualify gymnasts into all four apparatus finals while also looking likely to win the team and all-around gold.
Floor is probably the weakest for this group, though Liu Jinru can put together a great set if needed, so hopefully her consistency is in a good place this week. Chen is most likely to lead the all-around, but Luo has always stepped up in that role as well, while Liu Tingting should bring solid scores on bars and beam with Zhang, who won silver in the all-around at nationals this year, capable of scoring big on vault in addition to contributing solid sets on beam and floor.
The biggest competition for China is definitely Japan, and even though they brought a B team to Jakarta, there are still a number of individual standouts and solid competitors to be ready to snag the gold should China falter. Led by 2016 Olympian Yuki Uchiyama, who was in the mix for the worlds team this year but had falls the final qualifying meet, the team also features lovely first-year senior Soyoka Hanawa, the solid all-arounder Shiho Nakaji, and the veterans Yumika Nakamura and Yurika Yumoto.
While this team doesn’t have the standout power of the Japanese A team and won’t be able to match China, especially as China should be able to get a pretty huge edge over them on vault and bars, Uchiyama should deliver some great work on bars and beam if she hits, and her teammates are all capable of clean and confident performances to get through with a strong result.
The rest of the team field is kind of a crapshoot because we don’t see a lot of international competition from them outside of a few individual meets each year, but I’m really excited about the young team from South Korea. Led by 2016 Olympian Lee Eun-ju, who improved dramatically since her time in Rio to put up a huge fight at worlds last year where she snuck into the all-around final and finished 22nd, the team also includes the vault phenom Yeo Seo-jeong, a first-year senior and the daughter of Yeo Hong-chul, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist on vault.
Yeo has huge shoes to fill and the pressure coming from her country is immense, but she’s looking forward to impressing in her own right. “I want to be more than just Yeo Hong-chul’s daughter,” she said during media day for the South Korean national team. “I’d like to be called by my own name.”
At the Guimaraes Challenge Cup in Portugal, Yeo won the vault title with a Yurchenko double and an attempt at a handspring front double full, which she crashed, though she still managed the gold medal with a margin of just under a tenth. While the vault was downgraded to a Rudi in the final, Yeo got the full credit for the double in prelims — at a 6.2, it’s the most difficult vault achieved yet this quad — though she crashed that one as well and wasn’t eligible to get it named for her.
Yeo will play it safe in Jakarta, meaning she’ll probably stick with her Rudi, and she hopes to medal both there and on floor, but she’s most excited to help contribute to the team competition, where she is crossing her fingers for a podium finish.
“When I tell people I’m a gymnast, they immediately think of rhythmic gymnastics,” Yeo said. “Women’s gymnastics is not at all as popular as men’s, but I can tell you we’ve all put in so much work for the Asian Games. We want to show people that we can get the job done and put the women’s team back on the map.”
North Korea is a bit of a mystery, but they have several gymnasts who are strong at individual events and should be frontrunners in a few of the apparatus finals, especially on vault. Additionally, Kim Su Jong is a wonderful all-arounder, making her senior debut last year with a phenomenal performance at the Asian Games. Kim is beautiful to watch and has high difficulty on all four events, so I’d include her in my all-around predictions, and think she’ll be able to help the team also do well.
Other nations sending full teams to the Asian Games are Chinese Taipei, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Chinese Taipei has looked solid from time to time over the past few years, truly growing in their ability as a nation with a lot of young up-and-comers performing well at meets like Pac Rims, and the Malaysians should have lovely performances from the girls they’ve sent, though Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, Tan Ing Yueh, and Ang Tracie will all have to be on their game with only three of them competing, meaning all scores must count in their team total.
Without a truly strong team competition here, the real fun will come in the vault final. In addition to Yeo and Liu Jinru bringing big difficulty and hoping for gold, we’ll also get performances from India’s Dipa Karmakar and Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina, both of whom were finalists on this apparatus at the 2016 Olympics, as well as newcomer Pyon Rye Yong of North Korea, who is hoping to take over as the DPRK’s top vaulter now that Hong Un Jong has retired.
I think if Liu hits, she could be the most likely to take the gold, but Pyon looked excellent at the Doha World Cup, where she won the silver medal behind the seven-time Olympian Chusovitina, Karmakar won the gold at the Mersin Challenge Cup with a score that could be competitive with both of theirs, and if Yeo hits, she’s absolutely in that mix as well.
Individually, I’m mostly looking forward to Rifda Irfanaluthfi, an Indonesian gymnast looking to make her home country proud on her two best events, beam and floor. A finalist on all three events at the Koper World Cup and the bronze medalist on floor in Mersin, Irfanaluthfi has been pushing to be at her best for this competition, and while her team overall won’t have quite enough strength to contend for a medal, she’s going to be a star in this field, letting her big personality shine through in her gymnastics.
I’m also really excited to see first-year senior Arailym Meiram of Kazakhstan, who showed a ton of potential as a junior and began her senior career with the gold medal in the all-around at this year’s national championships, and for Sze En Tan of Singapore, who has been fighting through injuries over the past couple of years, but a stint training at Legacy Elite in the United States has helped her greatly, improving on her all-around potential a great deal this season.
Speaking of the U.S., three gymnasts who were once competing at the elite level with their club gyms in the United States are now representing teams in Asia, with Corinne Bunagan of ENA Paramus and Kaitlin DeGuzman of Metroplex competing for the Philippines while Tienna Nguyen of Zenith Elite will represent Vietnam.
Bunagan qualified to U.S. classic meets as a junior last year, but an injury took her out of contention and she was a couple of points shy from a bid at the senior level this year. This will be her debut with the Filipino team, but she’s sure to get some great guidance from DeGuzman, who competed at U.S. nationals in 2016 before representing the Philippines at the Asian Championships and then the Southeast Asian Games last year, where she placed seventh all-around before winning the gold on bars, silver on floor, and bronze on beam.
As for Nguyen, she qualified as a junior elite in the U.S. back in 2015, reaching the U.S. Classic both that year and again in 2017. After missing out on nationals, she began looking into representing Vietnam, and she made her debut with the team at the Olympic Hopes Cup as a junior, where she finished 14th all-around and made three event finals, with fifth place on vault her top event. At her senior debut at the Houston National Invitational this year, she put up the second-highest total on floor before competing at the Koper Challenge Cup in May.
All three of these gymnasts will bring talent and experience to their new teams, and it’ll be great to see if they can help their countries end up challenging for the team podium in Jakarta.
The women begin competing at 2:00 pm local time tomorrow, which is 3:00 am ET. The three subdivisions on Tuesday will determine the all-around winner while also serving as the team and apparatus final qualifiers. The team finals for the men and women will be held on Wednesday, while event finals will be held Thursday and Friday.
A full list of competitors is below.