With women’s podium training wrapping up today at world championships in Kitakyushu, Japan, here’s the scoop on the standouts, the potential lineups, and who we think could sneak into finals and onto podiums.
Andrade, Murakami Out of All-Around
Despite coming in as two of the best all-arounders in the world after both finishing in the top five at the Olympic Games, neither Rebeca Andrade of Brazil (the Olympic silver all-around medalist) nor Murakami Mai of worlds host country Japan will compete in the all-around in Kitakyushu.
Andrade told the press that getting floor back was difficult for her due to her injuries leading up to the Olympic Games, so to do it at worlds would put too much pressure on her body. She added that her main focus is Paris 2024, not all-around or floor medals here. “I want to be smart right now, and know this isn’t the time.” Andrade looked strong on her remaining events, though, and is a strong contender for medals on both vault and bars.
This world championships is likely going to be the last time we see Murakami compete. The 25-year-old Olympic medalist said she initially considered retiring after Tokyo, but since there were no spectators allowed at the Games, she decided to “stick around for worlds because she wanted to compete before the home crowd one last time,” she told the Olympic Channel. Murakami is dealing with an ankle injury, and though she didn’t look like she was at a hundred percent in training, she decided to give it a try, and will compete beam and floor.
Melnikova Riding Olympics Momentum
After winning three medals, including all-around bronze, at the Olympic Games, Angelina Melnikova is looking like the one to beat in the all-around competition here, especially now that Andrade, who edged her out for silver in Tokyo, has decided to skip floor. Despite saying she wanted to take a break after Tokyo, Melnikova looks like she hasn’t even taken a nap, let alone a week off, and if she can keep the cool consistency she showed in training, she’s going to be hard to upset. She truly has the potential to medal on all four events in addition to coming in as the top all-around threat, something I never knew I wanted and now it’s all I can think about.
The rest of the Russians – fellow Olympian Vladislava Urazova along with Yana Vorona and Maria Minaeva – looked good overall, with bars a standout. Minaeva, 16, will be a bars final hopeful with a hit routine, and Urazova should be another top all-arounder if she can perform similarly to how she looked in Tokyo, though she had a few struggles on beam in today’s training and I heard a rumor that Minaeva could be the second all-arounder alongside Melnikova. Vorona, meanwhile, is typically strongest on beam, but she can be pretty hit or miss.
China Looked Strong, But Can They Handle the Pressure?
You could say that China’s team in Kitakyushu is a “B team,” comprised of four gymnasts who missed out on making the Olympic team this summer, but nearly every other country here is probably wishing for a top group as strong as China’s alternates.
Wei Xiaoyuan, who won the all-around title at China’s National Games last month, looked as good as can be expected, and will be one of the top contenders for an all-around medal here, in addition to hoping for a medal on bars, and possibly also on beam, though she looked a bit shaky in some of her training there.
She’ll be China’s sole all-arounder, with Luo Rui and Li Shijia on bars and beam, and then Qi Qi – who I still think should have been on the Olympic team – on vault and floor. Both Luo and Li looked to be in great shape on beam, but Luo’s consistency has kept her from medals here in the past, and she said she’s a bit nervous to compete internationally for the first time, so we’ll see if she can handle the pressure – which is something that can be said for everyone on this team, as this has historically been China’s downfall at major events.
Qi, meanwhile, was showing strong rudis on vault, and she had big tumbling on floor. I think the vault final should be close to guaranteed, but whether she can medal will depend on what she pulls out when it counts.
The U.S. Lineups Aren’t Finalized
All four of the American gymnasts trained all four events, with Kayla DiCello the standout in terms of how everything looked. The rest struggled with fatigue after a quick turnaround between traveling and training, and no one seemed like a lock to join DiCello as an all-arounder.
Fellow Olympic alternate Leanne Wong was strong on floor, though had falls on bars and beam, while eMjae Frazier was short on some of her bigger passes on floor and wasn’t blocking well on vault, though she was efficient on the other two. Konnor McClain, meanwhile, just seemed a bit tired overall, with multiple falls on bars, though she put together some beautiful beam work.
If I had to guess, I’d say DiCello and Frazier will do the all-around, with McClain going on beam and Wong can then fill in the gaps on bars and floor, with this breakdown based on both the trial last weekend and how everyone looked in training yesterday, but I could see them swapping Frazier and Wong for the all-around spot, especially because Wong at full strength is the stronger all-arounder between the two. But Wong hasn’t shown that she can be at full strength, while Frazier has, in which case she deserves the opportunity.
In terms of event potential, I actually think McClain has the biggest medal chance if she can do what she’s capable of on beam, but that’s a big ask based on what we’ve seen in recent weeks. Half the battle will be hitting in qualifications, but if she makes that happen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her as one of the top scorers. None of the U.S. gymnasts are competing two vaults, and bars will also be a difficult final for this group to make, though DiCello or Wong could be outliers depending on how the rest of the competition goes. Floor is probably the best bet with the potential for two finalists, with the U.S. looking a step ahead of nearly every other program here, and while there are concerns with routine construction that could hold the team back a bit, I think overall they should have some of the strongest competitors, with DiCello, Wong, and Frazier all capable of high 13s.
Elze Geurts of the Netherlands has a massive Yurchenko double and a handspring front full on vault, and is hoping to be a top qualifier into the final. Geurts missed out on making the national team just a couple of years ago, so to see her rise to an Olympic team contender this summer and now a potential world finalist at the age of 26 is incredible. Geurts will also compete floor – teammates Vera van Pol and Naomi Visser are in the all-around while Sanna Veerman will do bars (where she could have a shot at the final) and beam – and she showed off a big front layout to double front in her training there, though her overall difficulty is likely a bit too low for that final.
For France, 2020 Olympian Carolann Heduit looked both focused and relaxed in training. With one of the most balanced all-around programs in the world across all four events, and after making the all-around finals at both Euros and in Tokyo this year, I’m hoping she can put up a strong performance here. Even if she’s not a top medal contender, I think she’ll be one of the most exciting to watch in the final. Her teammate Coline Devillard, meanwhile, is going to be one of the strongest vault contenders, especially now that she has her Yurchenko double back after downgrading to a full for most of the past year, and the country also has Célia Serber in the mix, making her worlds debut.
The Italian team will have Asia and Alice D’Amato in the all-around, and both Elisa Iorio and Desiree Carofiglio are back from injury, with Iorio going up on bars and beam, and Carofiglio doing vault and floor. All four looked excellent in training, so it’s a shame there’s no team competition this year. Individual medals won’t be likely, but I think they could pull off a few finals. We haven’t seen Carofiglio compete floor since early 2020, but if she looks as good as she did then, she’d definitely be an outside hopeful for that final.
Becky Downie will have the biggest medal chance for Great Britain with her bars, which should be the most difficult in the competition alongside Wei, if both do everything they’re capable of. Downie, who will also compete beam here, had a few misses on bars in training and she also wasn’t at a hundred percent with either of her trial routines, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her put everything together in competition to pull off a medal. Georgia-Mae Fenton had a similar training day, with some great work and some misses. She was looking strong as an all-arounder leading up to worlds, but didn’t do any full floor sets, so it’s unclear what her plans are here. The Brits also have Ruby Stacey, a first-year senior who also considers bars a standout.
Other Individuals of Note
Though she doesn’t have the most difficult routine, Maria Ceplinschi – Romania’s sole competitor in Kitakyushu – looked fantastic on floor. The final could be out of reach for her, with her scores for hit routines generally in the low 13s, but almost anything is possible at worlds this year, and I’m hoping this will be one of those.
Similarly, 2012 Olympian and fan favorite Göksu Üctas Sanli of Turkey, who won silver on floor at Euros in 2020, had one of the most engaging routines on this event in podium training, and though her tumbling difficulty isn’t super strong, she’s another one I’d love to see sneak in.
Filipa Martins of Portugal looked fantastic on bars, and I think the final will be in the cards for both her and Hungary’s Zsofia Kovacs, who also had a strong showing. The South Koreans reportedly struggled on this apparatus in training, but hopefully Lee Yun-seo will hit in qualifications, because she’s another one with a routine that could factor into the final.
Ukraine’s Anastasiia Bachynska has looked really solid on the international circuit recently, but even in this depleted field, I think her overall difficulty and execution is lacking, so I don’t see her as a top-eight all-around contender. She struggled hitting her Yurchenko 1½ in training, and while she has some impressive skills on beam and floor, her form often holds her back. She’ll be Ukraine’s top performer here, and should make the all-around final, but apparatus finals might be a reach.
I didn’t see or hear anything about Hungary’s Csenge Bacskay or Slovenia’s Tjasa Kysselef, but I’m expecting the vault final for both based on the recent challenge cup circuit, where the two have been consistent and strong.
Finally, the Swedish trio of Tonya Paulsson, Nathalie Westlund, and Jennifer Williams showed some fabulous work in training. All three are capable of going 50+ in the all-around, so while the cutoff here could potentially be a little higher, I think at least one could make it in. Paulsson showed off gorgeous lines on bars, and Williams was stunning on beam, and though I didn’t see or hear anything about Westlund, she nearly swept nationals just over a week ago, and is generally strong on every event. It’ll be the worlds debut for all three, and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
Nancy Taman, the Egyptian veteran hoping to reach the vault final here after winning gold on the event at the Cairo Challenge Cup earlier this season, was unfortunately injured in training. The Egyptian team still has three gymnasts expected to compete, with Farah Hussein one to watch as she goes into her second Olympic cycle after narrowly missing out on Tokyo this summer.
We also just heard about Anina Wildi of Switzerland getting injured while training on beam. She was planning on doing the all-around with teammates Stefanie Siegenthaler and Lilli Habisreutinger, but unfortunately is going to have to withdraw from the competition.
So far, these are the only injuries for the women in podium training despite reports that the equipment is a bit tough, and despite everyone dealing with a quick turnaround between traveling and training. We hope both athletes get well soon, and fingers crossed that no one else is hurt over the next week!
Article by Lauren Hopkins