In the women’s all-around final at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires last night, Giorgia Villa of Italy captured the all-around gold with a score of 54.066.
The 15-year-old who has been competitive against her country’s seniors since the age of 12 put up a set of solid routines, showing nerves of steel as many of the other juniors in this high-pressure meet ended up collapsing.
Villa, who also won the European all-around title this summer, was hands-down the strongest gymnast in Buenos Aires and this title was hers to lose, but with her nerves showing on beam and a downgraded element on floor in qualifications, she ended up a tenth behind Ukraine’s Anastasiia Bachynska, who had a fantastic performance. The nerves were still there in the final, but she fought through any precarious wobbles to fight for a hit routine, and once she made that happen, the gold was all but secured.
Vault and bars were Villa’s best events, with her huge and gorgeous DTY just bouncing back on the landing for a 14.566 and then she made it through a beautiful bars set for a 14.0, capping off the difficult connections and big releases with a flared and stuck full-in. On beam, Villa got a 12.3 with mostly solid acro and a few wobbles on some dance elements, and she finished in a big way on floor, earning a 13.2 after nailing her tucked full-in and a fantastic triple full.
Villa did exactly what she needed to do to get this gold, and she will wrap up her junior career having earned two of the biggest all-around titles at this level. She still has four event finals left to continue to prove herself as one of Italy’s best gymnasts in history, and she should be a frontrunner in both the vault and bars finals this afternoon with potential to end up on both the beam and floor podiums as well.
The steadiest, most rock-solid competitor of the day was Amelie Morgan of Great Britain, whose nerves of steel got her the silver medal with a 53.432, more than a point ahead of what she managed in qualifications, where she finished fourth.
Compared to the other top gymnasts in this final, Morgan isn’t very flashy and doesn’t boast a ton of jaw-dropping difficulty, but she did here exactly what she always does when it counts – hit.
Morgan, who also earned the silver medal just behind Villa at European Championships this summer, began her day with a huge and gorgeous FTY for a 13.8, and then followed it up with a solid and confident bars set to earn a 13.366, with her Maloney to Bhardwaj a highlight. On beam, Morgan earned a 13.2, the top score of the day on the event with barely the slightest of checks in her acro and dance, and she put up the second-highest floor score of 13.066 thanks to clean tumbling and solid landings, especially on her 1½ to double full.
Without upgrades, Morgan won’t have the scoring potential to fit into the mix as one of Great Britain’s top seniors, but her consistency and ability to crush it every single time under the most intense pressure is why she is everything the British program has been dreaming about for years. Considering beam has been especially troublesome for the British team in major international competition, taking them out of the running for a medal at Euros this summer, Morgan will have a lot to offer even without through-the-roof difficulty, and I’m sure as she gets a bit older, the upgrades will also start appearing to make her even more of a threat.
The battle for bronze ended up being unexpectedly intense after China’s Tang Xijing fell twice on beam and then Bachynska sat her opening double arabian on floor. In the end, Bachynska edged out Tang by half a tenth, getting a 52.332 to Tang’s 52.264, and while overall I think Tang had the better day (aside from what happened on beam, of course), in the end, the ranking made sense with her two falls losing to Bachynska’s one.
Bachynska looked a bit weak on every event compared to her qualifications performance. She ended up tucking her knees on her Yurchenko 1½, her beam looked a bit rushed and not as precise as she’s capable of, and then she had the fall on floor, though I was happy to see her look more or less excellent on bars, which is where her nerves usually kick in. Thankfully for her, she was still clean enough in her other elements on floor to pull in a 12.1, exactly what she needed to get the bronze, even though her landings were a bit off.
As for Tang, she had a fantastic day on every event but the one that’s usually her best. Whereas Bachynska regressed a bit in her performance between qualifications and the final, Tang was exactly the opposite, throwing a clean FTY with a fantastic landing, looking tidy on bars with a lovely Maloney to Pak and stuck double layout helping to cover up a slight arch in one of her front pirouettes, and what to me in the moment looked like the cleanest floor set of the bunch, especially with her beautiful 2½ to punch front tuck and stuck double full to finish. She played it safe there, scrapping her triple – which got downgraded in qualifications – for a double pike, and it paid off, with her 13.066 there the second-highest of the day.
But beam, where Tang is capable of a mid-14 on a good day, completely took her out of the running for a medal. The skills she hit were beautiful, but in addition to wobbling through many of her landings, she fell on her otherwise lovely layout stepout mount, and while her layout looked perfect in the air, she landed it awkwardly for another fall.
I didn’t consider Tang a real contender for gold until I saw her vault and bars, and knew if she hit beam and floor she would become a huge threat to Villa. Simply adding the two points for the falls back into her all-around score would’ve put her a few tenths ahead of Villa, which I didn’t think was possible, but she was truly fantastic yesterday making those falls all the more painful knowing what could have been.
Yesterday’s meet was also pretty painful for Russia’s Ksenia Klimenko, who came into the meet as someone hoping to continue Russia’s all-around dominance at the Youth Olympic Games, but she wound up in fifth place after falling in both her bars and beam routines, earning a 51.199 in the all-around.
Though Klimenko’s vault wasn’t great – she tucked the FTY considerably throughout and was short on the landing – she at least didn’t fall, which was an improvement compared to qualifications. But like qualifications, she fell on her Maloney to Gienger on bars, and while she had a chance to fight back from that with good performances on her final two events, she then missed her back foot on her side aerial to layout stepout on beam, which took her completely out of the running.
Klimenko ended up finishing strong on floor, sticking her 2½ to front tuck and ending the routine with a clean double full, but ultimately it was too little too late, though hopefully she’ll get some redemption with hit routines in event finals.
Everyone’s new favorite young star Emma Slevin of Ireland finished an incredible sixth place, something beyond her wildest dreams when coming into this meet, simply making the all-around final would have been a huge accomplishment. She is so far behind in difficulty compared to the girls at the top of this field, but she made not a single mistake all week and it was incredible to see her just tenths behind a country like Russia while also placing ahead of tons of traditionally stronger countries.
Slevin had an excellent FTY to start out her day, taking just a tiny step to the side, and then she showed some beautiful work on bars, with her stalders especially lovely and her unique layout double full dismount looking superb in the air and on the landing. On beam, Slevin was one of the few who hit well, nailing her full turn, flight series, and tucked 1½ dismount to earn a 12.233, the fourth-best score of the meet here, and she made it through some tidy work in her dramatic and well-choreographed floor routine to finish another incredible day with a 50.499.
I was also thrilled to see Sweden’s Tonya Paulsson go four-for-four here, finishing seventh with a 49.399. I remember watching Paulsson compete a bars routine with a D score of around a 2.5 when she was 12, and though her skills were simple, I was in awe of how perfect everything was, so to see her upgrade a bit and become more competitive in the latter half of her junior career is incredible.
With a Yurchenko layout on vault, a nice Maloney to Pak and clean double tuck dismount on bars, a solid layout series and only minor bobbles on beam, and some fantastic work in all aspects of her set on floor, Paulsson gave her all here and it paid off with a top-eight finish.
Kate Sayer of Australia finished eighth with a 49.299 after falling on her side somi on beam, though the rest of her day was great, especially with her solid floor set to finish out the meet, and in ninth was Ada Hautala of Finland with a 49.148, who hit all four events and made me a fan for life with her absolutely adorable beam choreo (and equally fun performance on floor).
Sadly, while Emma Spence started out with a strong meet on vault and bars, improving on her bars score by half a point with a super solid set, she struggled through a nervous beam set before falling on her final pass on floor, putting her tenth with a 49.132. Spence ended up grabbing the beam in the middle of her wolf turn, and then fought through wobbles on a few other series as well, and then her floor looked great until that last pass, with just a little stumble on her 1½ to double tuck and a solid landing on her front tuck through to 2½, but she seemed to lose steam at the end, tumbling forward her double pike before somersaulting out of it.
What I’ll say about Spence that impressed me more than anyone’s gymnastics, however, is that she was an absolute ray of light throughout the entire meet, and though the end result wasn’t what she wanted, it was refreshing to see her constantly smiling, going out of her way to hug and cheer up her competitors, and truly having fun out there in what was a super serious and high-pressure environment for the majority of the gymnasts. It was a bummer that she didn’t reach the top six or upset any of the girls in the top group, but I was just as happy to see her enjoying herself and if there was a Longines Prize for Elegance at this meet, it would absolutely belong to Spence.
Rounding out the field were Alba Petisco of Spain in 11th with a 49.132, Lisa Zimmermann of Germany in 12th with a 48.948, Lee Yun-seo of South Korea in 13th with a 48.899, Csenge Bacskay of Hungary in 14th with a 48.766, Ana Maria Puiu of Romania in 15th with a 48.366, Egle Stalinkeviciute of Lithuania in 16th with a 48.099, Camila Montoya of Costa Rica in 17th with a 46.298, and Zeina Ibrahim of Egypt in 18th with a 42.983.
Of these, I was most excited about Stalinkeviciute, who actually had a pretty excellent day aside from a fall on her punch front on beam. She looked remarkably controlled in all of her skills across every event, with beam an especially nice standout. The fall aside, she looked fantastic on her double wolf turn, flight series, switch leap to split leap to back handspring, front aerial, and a solid 1½ dismount, and she’s going to make quite the beam worker with a little more fine tuning.
I also loved Lee, who had a few mistakes in this meet, but has beautiful technique and showed little glimpses into the kind of gymnast she could someday be as a senior, especially with some of her super fluid connections on beam (the front aerial to split jump to stag ring jump and full L turn to switch leap to wolf jump were excellent!), her fabulous inbar work on bars, and her insanely clean triple full on floor.
The competition continues this afternoon with the vault and bars finals, and it will conclude on Monday with the finals for beam and floor.
Full results are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins