Vanessa Ferrari and Lara Mori
Welcome to the preview for this weekend’s Melbourne World Cup, which begins on February 20 at 6 pm local time, which is basically in a few hours even though as I’m typing this, it’s still the 19th for me.
I thought I’d give you an event-by-event breakdown of each of the top contenders you’ll see this weekend, based both on what they can do out on the floor and where they currently stand in terms of qualifying for the Olympics because, remember, this is the sixth of eight apparatus world cups that count toward Olympic qualification for the specialists going this route.
To quickly recap what you may already know, the gymnasts attempting to qualify through the world cups have to attend at least three, and their rankings correspond to points which, when added up, determine the overall world cup series rankings. The maximum an athlete can get is 90 points if he or she wins three world cups, which some athletes have already done, and if multiple athletes do this at the same events, a tie-break will determine the overall series winner, which is the gymnast that will qualify to the Olympic Games on that particular event.
So now let’s go through each of the events to talk about the key players on each, as well as those who could potentially upset in the final three world cup events of the series.
The biggest contender here is Jade Carey, who already has 85 points toward her Olympic qualification and could get to a perfect 90 this weekend (I’m going off of my rankings, by the way, which account for all of the redistributed points based on who has already qualified for the Olympic Games at world championships…but the FIG has its own rankings, not inclusive of redistributed points, though the top contenders for each event are pretty much the same regardless).
Carey, who vaults an Amanar and a Cheng at her highest difficult levels but who is still incredibly competitive when she downgrades one or the other to either the DTY or the Lopez, is the heavy favorite to take gold here, unless something goes drastically wrong. The only other gymnast who matches her difficulty level is Maria Paseka, who can sometimes knock out a pretty fabulous Amanar, though her Cheng leaves much to be desired and if both compete the same two vaults, Carey’s on top for sure.
Currently third on the rankings with no wins on her list, Paseka’s only chance of qualifying would be to win vault at the next three world cups outright, which isn’t likely to happen with Carey also in the mix. However, with second-ranked Yu Linmin unable to attend this competition because of a travel ban due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, Paseka should move up into second place if she does well here and can drop her points from Cottbus.
Only 14 gymnasts will compete on vault here, and outside of the top two, no one is a true contender for either the title or a chance at a series upset, but Coline Dévillard is back from injury and can maybe spice things up a bit if she has her full difficulty.
Fan Yilin is one of the few contenders who has already reached a perfect 90, and even though she’ll miss this meet, she’ll stay safe for the time being, as no one here has the potential to catch her. Anastasia Iliankova is closest, and a win could get her to 80 points, but she’d have to also win in Baku and Doha to get to 90 which will be a challenge for her, especially as her bars can be fairly hit-or-miss.
One who also has the potential to creep up is Daria Spiridonova. Though she’s only ranked ninth at the moment, she’s competed in just one world cup. Based on how she looked last year, she could very well win the next three and surprise for a chance at the spot. She has the opportunity to jump up to sixth place in the rankings here if she wins, and a win for her will also decrease her teammate’s chances of potentially sneaking in, so it should be fun to watch the two battle.
Also ranked in the top five is Georgia-Rose Brown, who can also improve on her points total here, but it’s a pretty tough field with the Russians and Diana Varinska – who has already qualified for the Olympics and technically isn’t eligible to earn points here, though again, the FIG hasn’t been following its own redistribution procedure on its rankings, so who knows what’s happening, honestly #sports – and I don’t see her being a top medal contender unless there are falls.
Though I’m not sure she’ll be one of the top contenders, I’m also really excited to see the senior debut of Ondine Achampong, who is one of Great Britain’s young up-and-comers for this season and next quad.
Here’s where things could get interesting for the women. So, Emma Nedov currently leads the rankings with 75 points, and her biggest competition, Li Qi, won’t be in attendance. A win here could get Emma to 85 points, but Anastasiia Bachynska is here and she’s absolutely one who can jump into the mix even this late in the process.
Bachynska currently has 38 points after two meets, ranking her fourth, and a win here could get her to 68 points, bumping her up a spot to third. Nedov will hold onto her ranking pretty much no matter what happens Melbourne, but a win from Bachynska could mean Nedov will have to watch out at the next two world cups. Nedov isn’t in the danger zone yet, but this is absolutely going to be the hardest event to hit under pressure, and it’s going to be the one where we can expect a crazy surprise at the very last second in Doha later this season.
Again, since there are three meets left, all it will take is for someone – even someone who has never attended a world cup meet in the past – to come in and win them all, and bam, that’s our beam series winner. Urara Ashikawa and Ayaka Sakaguchi are both lovely on beam (and Ashikawa only needs two more wins to seal the top ranking), so they’re my picks for an upset, even at this stage in the game.
WOMEN’S FLOOR EXERCISE
Though Carey has the lead on floor with 78 points and is most likely to get the win in Melbourne with consistently the highest difficulty and execution levels in this field, if Carey tops both the vault and floor series, at this stage, the tie-break would qualify her through on vault, leaving floor open for the “alternate” to come in and get the spot.
The “alternate” right now is Lara Mori with 75 points, though teammate Vanessa Ferrari is right on her heels with 70, and if Ferrari outranks Mori here, she could get closer, and possibly even tie Mori if she finishes second ahead of her teammate (and, hypothetically, if Ferrari can beat Carey, Ferrari could potentially surpass both Mori and Carey to take the lead outright…it’s not likely, but it’s out there).
I don’t see anyone breaking this bubble here, but Bachynska – who beat Mori in Cottbus – is again someone to watch here as she is on beam. With one win already, and only two world cups under her belt, she could realistically get enough points to push her into the low 70s. I think the Italians are stronger than her on this event if they’re all hitting at full potential, but Bachynska could have a few tricks up her sleeve and I won’t count her out.
You also have to consider world floor medalist Claudia Fragapane, who picked up 20 points in Cottbus to currently rank 15th. She could get close to the top five here, and with two more world cups ahead of her, she’d also be capable of bumping both of the Italians off of the chart. At her full capability, I’d put her as a stronger contender than Bachynska, and I think she could put up quite a challenge for the top non-Carey ranking, which could make things super interesting at the end of the series despite Mori’s long run as a leader in this field.
MEN’S FLOOR EXERCISE
Missing worlds was a blessing in disguise for Rayderley Zapata, whose team qualified without him, leaving Zapata open to seal his own fate here rather than have to go on and earn a team spot later this year. With 85 points currently, Zapata has the potential to get to a 90 here, and basically no one will come close to catching him with neither Emil Soravuo, Christopher Remkes, or Casimir Schmidt competing here.
The biggest contender outside of Zapata is probably Hayden Skinner, who looked fantastic in Cottbus. He’s only competed that one time, so his 11th-place ranking is deceiving. A win here could get him all the way up to third, which would mean he and Zapata would have to battle it out over the next two world cups before anything is final.
I’d also keep my eyes on Bram Verhofstad and Jorge Vega, both of whom have the potential for killer sets, and then of course Tomas Gonzalez, who hasn’t ranked at a world cup since the first Cottbus meet back in 2018, but if he comes into this year doing what he’s capable of, he’s absolutely got the potential to surprise.
Note that Kazuki Minami, who topped the event in Cottbus, is no longer listed on the start lists, though if he does compete either here or at the next two world cups, he also has a major shot at winning the series title.
Weng Hao has a runaway lead on pommels with 90 points to his name already, but Kohei Kameyama is currently fourth with 60 points after two top rankings, and with his typically fabulous routines, he is super likely match Weng here, which would be our first tie in the series so far.
Other top-ranked guys in the mix in Melbourne include Saeedreza Keikha, Thierry Pellerin, Robert Seligman, Filip Ude, Nariman Kurbanov, and Stephen Nedoroscik, with Nedoroscik my favorite for really getting a jump on their rankings here, but I think this meet will be Kameyama’s to lose.
This is another event where China’s absence could result in a shake-up, and in a way, I’m kind of excited, because with both Liu Yang (who’s at 90 points, currently ranked first) and You Hao (second with 68 points) out, it really opens the door for Eleftherios Petrounias to make his last-ditch effort for an Olympic spot. Having competed only at Cottbus last year, he’s ranked 11th, but as the top contender for the title at this meet, we could see him jump to fourth, and then two more wins in Baku and Doha could see him tie for the top spot.
Third-ranked Courtney Tulloch will also compete here, as will fifth-ranked Ali Zahran, but I think Petrounias will jump ahead of both here with a good competition.
Vault has been one of the more exciting battles for the men, and though Hidenobu Yonekura currently holds the top spot with 75 points, Jorge Vega has the potential to jump ahead here, and Tseng Wei-Sheng, Yahor Sharamkou, Shin Jea-hwan, and Andrey Medvedev could also get super close.
You’d think pommels would be the beam of the men’s competition here, but vault is always wild at the world cups, especially as the guys tend to go all-out with difficulty, which obviously results in some pretty disastrous sets. A leader in qualifications could wind up dead last in the final, and with the execution scores for the top vaults all pretty much identical, it could come down to hundredths or thousandths to determine the winner, so honestly, we could be prepared to see the current rankings flipped completely out of order.
Rankings leader Vladislav Poliashov will be on hand here with the goal of turning his 85 points into 90, giving him some much-needed wiggle room ahead of You Hao, who also currently has 85 points but will obviously miss the competition in Melbourne.
Mitchell Morgans, currently third, will be the other guy to keep an eye on here, and Dinh Phuong Thanh has been known to hit some solid routines, but rankings-wise, that’s about it. This is definitely one of the weakest world cup series competitions, mostly because many of the top p-bars guys in the world qualified their team to the Games, or qualified individually at worlds last year, but this is Russia’s best bet for one of its potential individual berths, so we can look forward to seeing Poliashov come close to cinching it here.
The battle between Epke Zonderland and Hidetaka Miyachi has been epic so far, with the two tied going into Cottbus last year, though Zonderland’s absence coupled with Miyachi’s win meant Miyachi got the upper-hand when he reached 90 points.
A win for Zonderland here means he’d tie Miyachi at that 90-point mark, while another win for Miyachi could mean potentially improving on his position for the tie-breaker should Zonderland eventually also get to 90 points at one of the remaining world cups. This is going to be one that could come down to the very last final at the very last world cup, because what else should we expect from high bar if not drama? Either way, we’re in for two of the most exciting, jaw-dropping routines in the world from both of these guys, and I almost wish we could just pretend p-bars doesn’t exist so we could sneak that spot over to high bar for both of these guys to qualify.
No one else will really come into play against these guys, but Alexey Rostov and Mitchell Morgans have both done a respectable job at prior world cups, so I look forward to seeing them improve on their rankings here.
HOW TO WATCH
Qualifications, held on February 20-21, generally aren’t streamed and I haven’t seen anything to the contrary this year. However, the finals held on Saturday and Sunday will air on the Olympic Channel in the United States, and for those of you who are international but can’t figure out how to work a VPN, links generally have a way of popping up and we’ll share what we can should we find any.
Article by Lauren Hopkins