The excitement in the arena for the final women’s subdivision at Pan Am Championships in Rio de Janeiro was through the roof, and the Brazilian women – including 2020 Olympic champion and 2021 world champion Rebeca Andrade and two-time Olympian Flavia Saraiva – did not disappoint, winning three gold medals and leading the team’s qualification both into Sunday’s final and for this year’s world championships.
While Andrade was the main attraction, and delivered on every expectation the crowd had for her, it was Saraiva who stole the show with one of the best all-around performances of her career. After an injury on floor limited her in Tokyo last summer, taking her out of all-around contention and holding her back in the beam final, Saraiva took a break, returning on beam in May. But last night marked her first all-around performance since world championships in 2019, and she exceeded my every expectation, showing a strong Yurchenko double, one of her better-quality bars sets, and brilliant work on beam and floor.
Saraiva’s beam performance was the highlight of the competition, with everything coming together to create a routine that looked exactly the way beam should, from her acro to her dance to how she expressed herself and performed throughout. She was equally excellent on floor, just losing a little here and there for some of her tumbling lines, though her performance was stunning as always.
At the end of the day, Saraiva reached a 55.399 to win the all-around title by more than a point, and she also won the gold on beam with a 14.433 as well as the silver on floor with a 13.333. The all-around and beam titles were the first continental gold medals of her career, and her first international titles since she won gold on floor at the Cottbus world cup in 2018.
While Andrade didn’t compete floor here, she also stole the show in her own right. On vault, she showed a huge and gorgeous Yurchenko double that earned a massive 14.5, and her work on bars looked effortless, with smooth connections and sharp technique earning a 14.967 to take the title by nearly a point. There were a few checks throughout her beam set, but overall she was clean enough and had high enough difficulty to still put her above a 14, giving her the silver medal behind Saraiva.
The rest of the team wasn’t quite at the same level as its two stars, but Julia Soares was entertaining and lovely to watch on both beam and floor, and while both Carolyne Pedro and Christal Bezerra had mistakes, both are capable of really impressive work, and can hopefully come back stronger on Sunday.
At the end of the competition, Brazil wound up with a 161.967 team total, upsetting the American women by over a point to qualify in first place both into the team final – which will be held on Sunday – and for qualifications to world championships.
The U.S. women had a mostly good day, though unfortunately fell apart on beam, counting two routines with falls into their total score. There were also a few problems elsewhere that added up, though newcomer Lexi Zeiss in her international debut was confident, clean, and solid from start to finish, putting up a 54.199 in the all-around to secure silver ahead of the more experienced international competitors on the team.
Zeiss, 16, qualified elite for the first time last year, as a first-year senior, but missed earning a spot at nationals. After a gym transfer and some more attention to difficulty and detail, she turned heads with the best all-around performance of her career at the Pan Ams selection camp, a performance she bested by about a tenth in Rio. With a solid Yurchenko double on vault, and tidy work in the rest of her routines, Zeiss looked like a veteran, and is someone the U.S. is lucky to have add to its depth this quad.
Despite a fall on beam and some weak landings on floor, Skye Blakely still managed to earn all-around bronze with a 52.933 as well as the floor bronze with a 13.267, while Kayla DiCello in her first competition of the season finished fifth all-around with a 51.967. DiCello downgraded to a Yurchenko full on vault, holding her back a bit from the start, and then she had to fight through a couple of issues on bars while on beam, she both fell and then later grabbed the apparatus. But she came back to hit a strong routine on floor to win the gold with a 13.467.
Also competing for the U.S. were Elle Mueller, who fell on beam and was a bit weak in her form on both vault and floor, though she hit both and her beam aside from the fall was lovely, and Zoe Miller, who competed only on bars. She had a couple of iffy moments where she looked like she released the bar a bit too early, including on the Maloney and going into her dismount, but she had no problem fixing both areas, and thanks to her quick thinking and 6.5 difficulty, Miller managed a 14.133 to take the silver.
Canada ended up in third place with a 157.566, followed by Argentina in fourth with a 149.932, and Mexico in fifth with a 149.799 to round out the teams that earned berths for world championships.
All three all-arounders from Canada finished in the top seven, with Sydney Turner in fourth with a 52.600, Rose Woo in sixth with a 51.667, and Denelle Pedrick in seventh with a 51.533. Turner had strong and solid work across the board, with her bars a huge standout here, earning a 13.967 to upset several other strong bars podium contenders for the bronze. Woo had a fall on beam, but returned with excellent work elsewhere, while Pedrick hit all of her routines, including a Yurchenko double on vault, where she finished fourth.
Both Pedrick and Ava Stewart, who competed bars and beam, got bars skills named for them, including Pedrick’s clear hip straight into a Pak salto, and Stewart’s piked double front dismount, which landed low but was still a hit. Shallon Olsen also competed for the team, finishing fifth on vault.
Argentina had a young team here, with three 2005-born athletes leading as all-arounders, including Brisa Carraro in eighth with a 50.433, Meline Mesropian in ninth with a 49.300, and Rocio Saucedo in 12th with a 48.567. Carraro is lovely, and has so much potential to increase her score, especially on beam, and while Saucedo didn’t have the best day, she hit where the team needed her most, on beam. We also saw veteran Sira Macias with a strong bars set, while 2020 Olympian Abigail Magistrati competed everything but bars, though unfortunately had falls on vault and beam.
I was initially worried about Mexico’s ability to qualify to worlds after they started out with a 9.233 on floor and then counted all 11-range scores, but they quickly came back on vault, with two huge sets from Natalia Escalera and Ahtziri Sandoval, who both performed two vaults and won the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
Sandoval was also excellent on bars, as was Paulina Campos, and though the team struggled to get through beam, the scores built from the previous two events were more than enough to hold them above water. Campos was the top all-arounder for Mexico, finishing ninth with a 49.767, followed by Escalera in 11th with a 49.166 and Sandoval in 23rd with a 46.100. The team also saw routines from Paulina Vargas on beam and floor, and from Greys Briceño on bars in her senior debut.
Though they missed qualifying to worlds, the other teams qualifying to Sunday’s final included Colombia in sixth with a 143.465, Chile in seventh with a 142.468, and Cuba in eighth with a 134.999. Initially Jamaica was eighth with a 135.368, but today the standings have a one-point neutral deduction subtracted from their total, knocking them down to ninth with a 134.368.
The top 11 all-arounders not part of the top five teams earned individual nominative berths for worlds, which included Tyesha Mattis of Jamaica in 14th with a 48.467, Valentina Pardo of Colombia in 15th with a 48.100, Ana Karina Mendez of Peru in 16th with a 47.700, Antonia Marihuan of Chile in 17th with a 47.201, Ginna Escobar of Colombia in 18th with a 46.667, Milca Leon of Venezuela in 19th with a 46.499, Franchesca Santi of Chile in 20th with a 46.400, Alais Perea of Ecuador in 21st with a 46.366, Annalise Newman-Achee of Trinidad & Tobago in 22nd with a 46.266, Franciny Morales of Costa Rica in 24th with a 45.900, and Karla Navas of Panama in 25th with a 45.700.
Navas also performed two vaults, and surprised to win the title with a 13.333 average after getting the same score on both of her runs. I was sad to see her teammate Hillary Heron, who just won the all-around bronze at the Bolivarian Games, struggle throughout her performance to miss out on worlds despite coming into this meet as one of the top challengers, but I’m glad Panama still got one athlete to Liverpool, and that Navas made history with her medal success.
I was also sad to see Olivia Kelly of Barbados miss out. Kelly had one of the best beam performances of the competition and showed equally great work on floor in what was both her and Barbados’ international debut in the sport, and she also hit a strong Yurchenko full on vault, but she sadly struggled on bars with a number of falls, and despite being on path for around a 50 in the all-around, she ended up 26th with a 44.900. Still, it was an exciting debut, and with a little more time and experience, I have no reason to doubt that Kelly will be back as a top contender for worlds next year, and also as an individual with potential to qualify to Paris 2024.
In addition to Barbados, we won’t see WAG representation from Aruba, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico based on both yesterday’s results in Rio, and also on the fact that none of these programs have athletes in the mix from the apparatus world cup qualifiers.
Pan Ams served as the fourth of five continental qualifiers for world championships, with the series wrapping up next month at European Championships, after which the apparatus qualifiers will be named. You can follow the women’s worlds qualification process on our WAG tracker, which has a detailed list of all teams and individuals that have qualified so far for 2022.
Article by Lauren Hopkins