The Doha Uneven Bars Preview

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Nina Derwael

I’m always excited for a good bars final, and last year’s absolutely did not disappoint.

Even though several of the top bars gymnasts from Montreal won’t compete this year – including world champion Fan Yilin – the competition in Doha is shaping up to be equally fantastic.

Returning in 2018 with one of the biggest chances at the gold is Nina Derwael of Belgium, the back-to-back European champion on the event who also picked up the bronze in Montreal last year. Derwael is coming in with the highest potential difficulty earned internationally, upping her usual 6.4 to a 6.5 once she added the Nabieva.

Not only is Derwael working with the biggest skills, but she’s also consistent as hell, and hasn’t missed a routine in a year and a half. With nearly twenty routines competed during this time, it’s one of the most impressive facts I can give you about any athlete coming into this meet, and it’s why my money’s on her for the gold if all goes according to plan.

Though she hasn’t had the chance to put her routine to the test internationally, Becky Downie was awarded a 6.6 D score at the British Team Championships. She’s unfortunately not had the best year, fighting to come back from injury for Euros only to get injured again, and in the routines we have seen her compete, there have been several mistakes.

Downie knows how to bring it when she needs to, though. She has looked strong in training, and if she hits in qualifications, she will be the one to give Derwael the biggest run for her money. These two went head-to-head at Euros last year, and I’m excited to see them battle it out once again. They’re such different uneven bars workers, and both exemplify the best things about the apparatus so while there can only be one winner (unless it’s 2015 all over again), I hope they both do their best and make it to the podium.

You probably wouldn’t have expected me to put Simone Biles so high up on the bars list but guess what? I legitimately think this gal is going to medal on bars. Difficulty-wise, she’s right up there with the best of them, and her execution is so strong right now and her consistency so great, she has one of the best chances at pulling it off.

I know a lot of people don’t love Biles on bars, even with the improvements that have come to her routine courtesy of Laurent Landi. It’s true that her swing isn’t naturally elegant in the way you’d see it from girls who were made to do bars, but now that she looks a bit taller and leaner, and because she’s so technically strong on most of her skills, she looks more and more like a natural bars worker every time I see her and I am continuously impressed with what she has been churning out in competitions and in training.

Of course, she’ll have competition. One of the biggest medal contenders is Biles’ teammate Riley McCusker, who counts this as her best event. She has had some hit-or-miss routines this season, but as she pushed forward toward worlds, she kept improving and now she is brilliant on the event.

Though McCusker doesn’t have the most difficult set out there, she’s still good enough at about a 6.0 and she’s also technically perfect at almost everything she does. She blows my mind at how flawless her execution is, and I hate when people bring up “the international look” because I don’t want to believe there is a “look” that judges consciously reward over others, but in reality, it happens, and McCusker has what they’re looking for. I think she’ll do incredibly well here, and I’m thrilled to finally get to see her at this level.

Somewhat shockingly, the Chinese and Russian bars fields aren’t all that impressive this year with their top gymnasts over the past two seasons all out at the moment. Russia has a group of solid bar workers, but no one capable of high 14s unless they’re truly hiding something from us all…which, let’s face it, Aliya Mustafina probably is.

Mustafina hasn’t had the easiest time returning after giving birth in that she injured her knee shortly after her return and has only competed once since Rio. For someone who delivered a human being out of her body a year ago, she looks amazing, but she still has most of her skills back and she always shows up looking like she’s not going to be ready only to prove everyone wrong during the competition. I honestly don’t know what to expect from her, but because surprising us is her game, I’m going to expect to be happily surprised.

As for the others, Angelina Melnikova and Irina Alexeeva are the strongest, but I don’t know if either will make the final. Melnikova got close last year, which was kind of shocking giving how much she struggled earlier in the season, but while she has looked incredible as an all-arounder this year, her bars are sometimes fab but other times not so much. She did end up with the bronze medal at Euros, but in this deeper field, I think the final is a maybe for her, and a medal would be a reach.

Alexeeva has respectable difficulty here, and I love her swing and overall presence on the event. I’d love to see her make it in, but she tends to get docked a bit in execution so we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes. Can I just say how happy I am that she’s here on a worlds team for Russia after living in nationality limbo for years? I’m overjoyed seeing her having such a blast with the Russian team, and I’m sure she’ll do big things for them both on bars and also potentially as an all-arounder, where she has another big chance to make an impression.

For China, Du Siyu is the one to watch here if she’s in (she was originally on the team but might now be the alternate), with a fantastic and high-difficulty set, though I’m not sure I trust her consistency. I can see a mid-14 routine from her on a good day, and hope she does well to help improve the team’s performance, but I think a medal could be a stretch unless she’s really gotten her life together.

All-around queen Chen Yile is also really great here, and we can’t forget about Luo Huan either…and if Liu Tingting is in, even though she hasn’t been at full strength lately, she should be more than capable of a strong set for the Chinese.

It’ll be interesting to see if Diana Varinska will make it. The Ukrainian was excellent last year, but she hasn’t been performing at the best of her ability this year, either making mistakes throughout her routine that bring her E score down a little at a time, or she’ll hit a beautiful routine only to fall on something. I’d love to see her make it back, but she’ll have to be at the top of her game in a field this deep to make it happen.

Jonna Adlerteg of Sweden at her top difficulty should at the very least look likely to make the final, and we can never count out the Germans, with Elisabeth Seitz, Kim Bui, and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sophie Scheder all hoping to make it happen. Scheder isn’t back at 100% just yet, and this will be her first big meet since Rio, but both Seitz and Kim have been looking hot this year and will definitely factor into the picture.

Two of my favorites on this event are Juliette Bossu of France and Georgia-Mae Fenton of Great Britain, both of whom have intricate routines that look lovely when hit. Bossu’s teammate Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos has been getting better and better on the event and could also end up making the final here, as could Morgan Hurd of the United States, though I think she’d have to rely on mistakes from either Biles or McCusker.

The field isn’t as cut-and-dry as it was last year or in Rio, when pretty much everyone we expected to make it did their jobs in qualifications and got through. I think this year we’ll definitely see a couple of long shots end up pulling off the final, and I’m excited to see who can do it.

If Downie and/or Fenton make mistakes, Kelly Simm will be right there to pick up the slack for Great Britain, as will Ellie Downie, who isn’t at a hundred percent right now but is still churning out high-difficulty routines with no problems. Ellie Black of Canada isn’t the best technical bars gymnast, but she has super strong difficulty and always ends up surprising with what she can make happen.

Jon Jang Mi of North Korea has been known to do some fabulous work on this event, as has Hitomi Hatakeda of Japan, who is generally super solid here. Rebeca Andrade of Brazil has done a lot of great work on this event while coming back from injury, Ana Padurariu of Canada is always a treat, and Ana Perez of Spain can put together a great routine if she hits.

The women’s qualifications at world championships will be held October 27-28, followed by the team final on October 30, the all-around final on November 1, and event finals held November 2-3. We’ll come back to you soon with previews for the apparatus and team competitions, as well as what you can expect from the men, who begin on October 25.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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16 thoughts on “The Doha Uneven Bars Preview

  1. This might be simone best chance for a bars medal…. but that means poor riley has to mess up… sigh… i don’t want that to happen….. probably a bit too much to ask for both riley and simone on podium…. i think gold is nina to lose.

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    • I think Becky worries me and could see both Americans getting on the podium. The top of the field isn’t as deep as it has been in the past couple of years, so I do think we’ll see some surprises unlike last year where the top four were undoubtedly the top four there…but I don’t necessarily think it has to be Simone OR Riley. Though I am hoping Becky does really well too! She just has struggled so much in competition lately, I’m worried she won’t do it.

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      • well, if the russian and chinese bars aren’t that good this year, i am wondering if the us team will have a chance to win all 4 events in TF like they did in rio. that was very impressive that they won all 4 events outright, including bars….(even after you add back points for china’s falls, etc)

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think the U.S. will definitely win bars in the team event…Russia could still surprise, I trust that Mustafina is going to somehow pull off something amazing lol, but based on what we saw at Euros and in training compared to how the U.S. girls are looking, I think the U.S. has the edge as a team. We’ll see!

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  2. I would love to see Nina/Aliya, then Du, then Jonna. Originally I wanted Riley to be up there instead of Jonna, but after watching Jonnas bars in training, it was like the cleanest bars routine you could possibly hope to see, with none of the form breaks we saw in Glasgow. And it would also be Sweden’s first medal since at least the 60s if not 50s. Honestly, Aliya always pulls random upgrades out of nowhere, and after giving birth to twins (Alisa and Acro series), and still being here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get a medal.

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    • What a username. I think she probably won’t. I think she could surprise, and IF she did win gold, we can’t be too surprised because it’s Mustafina, but I think if she has a good enough routine a bronze would be seriously impressive all things considered.

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  3. Reading this preview after first day of qualifications- you were spot on about Morgan re: a mistake by Riley.

    Kinda excited to see if Simone can pull off a medal! And to see how Aliya fares in qualifications tomorrow.

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