Ellie Black and Jordan Chiles
The women’s team final at the 2022 World Championships wasn’t without chaos and drama, as for most teams, it became more about who would survive than who was necessarily “the best.” In the end, though, history was made for all podium finishers, as the women from the United States earned a sixth-straight title, the British women won its first silver medal, and the Canadians made it onto the podium for the first time in history.
After qualifications, where the U.S. women stood more than 2.5 points ahead of the rest of the field, it was likely that they were the team to beat, with the other seven teams in the mix all capable of fighting for silver and bronze. However, the U.S. team is no longer infallible, especially after Tokyo being a bit of a wake-up call last year. Coming in six or seven points ahead, sure, gold is possible with multiple falls, but a narrower margin obviously makes it much easier for other teams to come in and close the gap if they’re on and the U.S. isn’t in a three-up three-count situation.
Starting on vault, the U.S. got off to about a half-point lead ahead of Great Britain, counting a Cheng and two Yurchenko doubles, including a gorgeous one from Jordan Chiles. They increased that lead to two points on bars, where Leanne Wong did exactly what was expected of her after not getting a chance to compete on this event in qualifications, while Chiles was super steady yet again, and Shilese Jones wasn’t at her very best, but “not at her very best” is still pretty damn good, and she brought in the team’s high score of 14.333.
Jade Carey was the leadoff on beam, and though she was a little tentative in her work, her slowness seemed more careful and deliberate than related to nerves, and we found out later that she noticed a drip of water on the beam – potentially from a leaky roof as Liverpool dealt with a rainstorm. Her steadiness started the team off with a hit, followed by a solid set from Chiles, and though Skye Blakely ended up having a fall on her standing full, the important thing with her routine is that she was able to come back from that with a ton of fight to finish with a score that was higher than most other fully hit routines in the competition.
Going into floor a total of 2.2 points ahead of the British women, it was clear that all the U.S. had to do was hit, and the gold was theirs. And that’s exactly what they did – with strong work from Jones, Carey, and then Chiles, the team reached a 166.564 total, half a point higher than what the U.S. managed in Tokyo, even with the fall, even with the vaults devalued four tenths each.
It wasn’t a perfect competition, but it was an important step on their road to Paris, especially as there have been many questions about the team’s consistency and ability to maintain dominance without some of last quad’s veterans, with major changes in the makeup of the national team staff, and after a few competitions that showed some glitches in the U.S. machine. This team, made up largely by older athletes that didn’t quite manage to make things work out the way they’d hoped last quad and led by three athletes currently competing at the college level, is the definition of a comeback team, and though there were many questions about how they’d make out at this level, their fight and determination proved everyone wrong and made them world champions.
I didn’t think the British team really had a shot at upsetting the U.S. either before or after qualifications, and thought if anyone was going to make that happen it would be Brazil or Italy if they were here at full strength, and probably if the U.S. had mistakes. But while the British team maybe doesn’t have quite the same level of finesse as these teams or the U.S., the squad that medaled in Tokyo (minus Amelie Morgan, with the additions of Georgia-Mae Fenton and Ondine Achampong), earned silver at Euros, and then came back to do it again here is a super strong one, and showed once again that the British women medaling as a team is no fluke, and I think it’s something we can continue to expect to see them do in the coming years.
The British women were very close to the U.S. in their first event, vault, putting up three strong Yurchenko doubles. I think having Chiles set the tone with her excellent vault meant that the judges couldn’t be quite as loose in their scoring with the British women as they were in qualifications, and so all three finished behind her, but there were very few problems here, with Achampong’s especially gorgeous.
On bars, the team fought through a big mistake from Jessica Gadirova, who couldn’t get her Ezhova around, though she gets bonus points in my book for being able to maintain the rhythm of her routine after catching that skill, which to me seemed like a guaranteed fall. Despite the mistake there, the team bounced back with a lovely set from Fenton and an excellent one from Alice Kinsella, who continues to prove herself as the team’s steadiest bar worker.
As with the U.S., beam went a bit awry when Kinsella had a fall on her triple flight series, going off-line after her side aerial to first layout stepout, causing her to land the second layout stepout completely off the beam and on the mat below. But super elegant sets from Fenton and Achampong kept them afloat, and they were able to follow that with high-energy floor routines from both Gadirovas – floor was the one apparatus Jennifer Gadirova did at this competition, and she was strong in both qualifications and the team final – as well as a hit from Kinsella, showing a great comeback routine after beam.
And so the British women took silver, the first in program history following a hard-fought bronze in 2015, with a 163.363, a score that teams like Brazil and Italy could have easily gotten in ahead of had they been at full strength, but they weren’t at full strength, and that’s gymnastics, where timing is everything, and hitting when it counts matters more than having the most magnificent beam routines or the best all-arounder in the world.
This is literally the reason Canada won bronze last night, and not in 2018 or 2019 when the team was more anticipated to surprise with a medal. This was easily not Canada’s strongest possible team, especially after losing national all-around champion Rose Woo to an injury just a couple of weeks before the competition, and then also losing Shallon Olsen days before after the devastating loss of her mother.
Of course, Ellie Black coming back after missing Pan Ams and the Commonwealth Games was a big source of relief, but she was the only member of any of last quad’s major teams to return, and with so many last-minute changes and swaps and alternates coming in, there was a big question as to whether this team could make the final at all, and “Can they medal?” was not even a question being asked.
As with the U.S. team, this ended up being largely a team of older gymnasts who are making later pushes in their elite careers after previously missing out on bigger teams. NCAA alum Denelle Pedrick, current collegiate athlete Emma Spence, and perennial alternate Laurie Denommée joined Black on the team. Then there’s Sydney Turner, the “baby” of the team at 17 who didn’t ever break onto the national scene as a junior, making her debut representing Canada at a small meet in Hungary only a year ago before stepping up and standing out as one of the country’s best this summer, when she surprised to win a bronze on bars at Pan Ams.
Despite not coming in as threats and despite surprising a bit to qualify into the final in last place, only tenths ahead of the Netherlands, the Canadians were the only team to compete last night without counting any falls, and on a night where falls ended up devastating some squads right down to the last second, this mattered more than anything. Starting on floor, the team put up three lower-difficulty but solid and entertaining sets, and they moved on to a big vault rotation that included great landings for Spence on her Yurchenko 1½, Black on her tsuk 1½, and Pedrick on her Yurchenko double.
In third at the halfway point, it seemed like moving to bars and beam was where Canada could slide a bit given that they lacked three consistently solid scores on these events, but a couple of standout routines from Black on both events – including a 14.033 for bars and a 13.833 for a smashing beam set – coupled with Spence’s consistent work and Turner’s strong sets took them to a 160.563, enough to upset several other teams that ultimately would lose the bronze under strenuous circumstances.
This isn’t to say that Canada won bronze because other teams lost it. Yes, there were other teams with more difficulty and higher scoring potential that would have made it difficult for Canada to get on the podium otherwise, but potential is meaningless when it comes time to compete – a gymnast’s difficulty and how good they looks doing it is only part of the battle, while actually hitting is a whole other story. Canada was on the other side of that last quad, showing incredible potential but falling short when it counted, so it was kind of nice to see them turn the tables this time around.
Rounding out the final, we had Brazil in fourth with a 159.661, Italy in fifth with a 159.463, China in sixth with a 157.529, Japan in seventh with a 156.964, and France in eighth with a 155.863, with most teams down significantly compared to qualifications.
Coming into this meet as one of my favorites to upset for a medal, the Brazilians really relying on only two athletes for the bulk of their scores didn’t end up working out when Flavia Saraiva unfortunately started dealing with ankle pain over the weekend. Though she was initially cleared to compete all four events in the final, by the time the competition happened, she was only able to do bars – and ended up limping away after her routine.
With Saraiva and Rebeca Andrade initially expected to compete all four events each, while Lorrane Oliveira and Julia Soares would split the other two while Carolyne Pedro sat on the sidelines, Saraiva’s injury meant Pedro would have to compete three events, with significantly lower scoring potential than Saraiva on all. She ended up doing a fantastic job to hit all three events when the team needed her most, but unfortunately mistakes from Soares followed by a fall from Andrade – under unimaginable pressure – on beam took them out of the running.
For a little while, it looked like they would end up somewhere around sixth place or so, but shortcomings from other teams pushed them up the rankings to fourth. While it wasn’t a medal – or an Olympic qualification berth – for this team, it was the best the Brazilian women have ever done in a team competition, besting their previous fifth-place record from 2007, another golden era in the sport for this program.
Going into the competition, I thought with Saraiva’s absence likely taking Brazil out of the running, Italy was my next obvious choice for the podium. At Euros, the women beat the British team after surpassing a 165 total score, right on the heels of the Americans in qualifications here, and though they were missing a key member of that team in Asia D’Amato, who competed all four events in Munich, I thought their replacements were strong enough overall that they could get within a fighting shot of at least a silver or bronze.
Unfortunately, falls took the team down from a medal contender to the bottom half of the pack, after Martina Maggio missed two releases on bars and then uncharacteristically also had a fall on beam. It looked like the team could still be in the conversation with floor and vault still to come, but newcomer Manila Esposito dropped her last floor pass to her hands after running out of steam, and then with only a Yurchenko full from her on vault – the team had two doubles and a 1½ a Euros – they just couldn’t make up for it, landing two tenths back from Brazil.
I say this at almost every meet now, but this really looked like it could be a comeback competition for China even with lower difficulty than other teams on vault and floor, if only because of how outstanding this team is on bars and beam, but despite all of that potential and how brilliant they should be, falls completely devastated them from the start, with Tang Xijing coming off the beam three times in the leadoff position to start the meet on the lowest possible note, followed by a fall from Luo Rui (though kudos to Ou Yushan for again ignoring the noise and keeping her own focus there and on her other two events as well).
Tang also had problems on floor with another fall there, and though they were counting on the biggest number from Zhang Jin, she ended up looking a bit weak on all of her passes to miss out on breaking a 13, though she came back strong to put up the team’s best on vault with a 13.933. Still, with Yurchenko fulls from the other two, the team wasn’t able to make up much on this apparatus, and then they got even further behind on bars, where both Luo and Wei Xiaoyuan brought in great scores, but Tang ended up landing her Jaeger on the high bar.
Adding back just her five falls alone would have put the team less than a point back from where the British women ended up, and adding back Luo’s beam fall would have surpassed them. Of course, the British women also didn’t have a perfect day, counting mistakes and a fall of their own, but I think China on a good day being so close despite two truly lackluster events proves how much ability they have. But that said, they always have the ability, and yet always – and especially over the past three team competitions here, in Tokyo, and in Stuttgart – manage to blow it. Something needs to change at the national level with how these athletes are prepared for these competitions.
Japan was just a heartbreaker. I honestly didn’t even think they’d make the final, let alone wind up a legitimate medal threat, so I’m thrilled this super inexperienced team was able to so brilliantly take the reins from those who retired after the 2020 Games. They have some killer routines, a fearless leader in Miyata Shoko, and a great balance across the members of this team and the events they’re performing.
After a strong day from start to almost finish, Japan was looking set for bronze with only one competitor left to go. That competitor was Fukasawa Kokoro, known mostly for her bars, though she typically competes in the all-around at the national level and showed up with an excellent vault for the team here. Her bars has 14+ potential when she’s on, though it looked like the pressure of being in her situation – the one who would seal the deal for the team’s first medal since 1966 – got to her, and she wound up performing the most devastating routine of the competition.
Fukasawa started out well but then had a bend in her knees while catching the Pak. Still, she fought back from that, and continued on right to the end where she lost her hip control in a handstand, bending in half and then straightening out again, though the mistakes seemed to rattle her, causing a massive form break in the stalder half before her Jaeger, causing her to hop off. With another massive break in a pirouette that caused her to pause the routine, she had to attempt the skill again – this time, exhausted after all of the fights and repeated elements – before she finally got to the toe full into the dismount, which felt like a million skills later. Earning just a 9.4, which is nearly five points lower than what her best routines are capable of, Japan went from bronze position to nearly last place, a heartbreaking note to a wild ride for this little team that wanted to show the world Japan isn’t done just because its legends are.
We actually got some pretty good perspective from Miyata, though, who said she couldn’t imagine the pressure Fukasawa was under, and added that if it was her in that position, she would’ve found it just as difficult to hit, adding that the team was thrilled with their performance, with or without a medal. It was a reminder that while an unexpected medal would have been an incredible win for this team, they came here with basically no expectations, wanting simply to enjoy themselves and see how they – a group of B-teamers last quad – would stack up against the world’s best. They proved they’re absolutely among the world’s best, they had a lot of fun while doing it, and I hope they come into next year’s worlds just as fired up.
I didn’t end up seeing much from France, but it looked like a tough meet for this team based on what I did see, what I heard, and the scores. With mistakes from Coline Devillard coming up short on vault, Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos having mistakes on bars, falls from both she and Carolann Heduit on beam, and a miss from Aline Friess on floor, the team was a bit all over the place, and unlike some of the other teams who also had to dig themselves out of holes, this team doesn’t have enough wiggle room to climb back up into a fighting position. A medal would have been a long shot regardless, but it was still of course a bit sad to see them not perform at the level they’re capable of.
Article by Lauren Hopkins