It’s time to get ready for the inevitable beautiful disaster that will be the women’s competition at 2015 Worlds. I mean, the glorious display of the best two and a half uninjured gymnasts the world has to offer. It should still be great, though, with multiple close qualification fights for Rio team spots and for the AA final. There’s reason to be excited in spite of the US/Simone inevitability and the general international bones-made-of-glass situation. But when Seda Tutkhalyan pulls out with restless leg syndrome, don’t come crying to me.
But in preparation for definitely not knowing what that thing is, here are a few notes on the storylines I’ll be paying attention to in each qualification subdivision.
(Also remember that the clocks change in the UK on Sunday the 25th. It doesn’t affect women’s qualifying, but it will affect the other competitions if you’re making plans and doing time-zone conversion.)
Subdivision 1 (Romania, Spain, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Norway, Panama, Cyprus) – 4:15am ET/1:15am PT, October 23
-Even without Ponor, it should be a pretty straightforward day for Romania in qualification. The team will advance to TF/Rio comfortably (as we learned in 2014, Romania is still top 8 even with a bars-tastrophe), Iordache will obviously make the AA final and should make BB and FX finals, with Bulimar potentially sneaking into some events as well.
-In a less interesting version of that we’ll see with the US team, the most competitive part of Romania’s qualification day (aside from the odyssey that is watching that bars rotation) will be who gets the second AA spot. In an ideally hit scenario, it will be Bulimar, but she hasn’t been competing big difficulty and has also never not been injured in the whole history of earth. If she hits, she’s fine, but she doesn’t have enough of a buffer over Jurca and Ocolisan to afford an off day or another one of those patented 12s on bars.
-Spain will be fighting to finish in the top 16 and advance to the April test event. It’s certainly not a given, but it is attainable and some encouraging signs have emerged recently. The team finished 15th last year and, more importantly, scored 214 at a friendly meet a few weeks ago without Roxana Popa. But, you know, Florida-home-meet-level-side-eye on that. Spain followed that 214 with a 211 at Novara. 211 was the cutoff for the top 16 last year, though with a few teams in this ranking area stepping up their rosters, it may get a tad harder this time. For Spain, so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow (the one that’s carrying Roxana Popa’s legs). Popa competed bars at Novara and got what would be a very helpful score for the team, but the farther away she is from top form, the iffier things become. (If Spain had competed without Popa in 2014, the team would have finished 24th instead of 15th). She’s kind of the whole deal. But as long as Spain can get out of 211 land, I’d say that constitutes a useful and acceptable result.
-Chuso. Methuselah is back at it, and because she is a time-traveling gypsy who has come back to show us all the wonders that future robo-humans will be able to attain, she has just casually decided to upgrade to a Produnova. Like you do when you’re 40. She’s not like a regular mom, she’s a cool mom. She may need that Prod since making the vault final is not quite the same guarantee these days with Hong, Biles, Paseka, Skinner (maybe…), Steingruber, the death-wish sisters, Moreno, Phan, etc. I’d still always take Chusovitina in a fight (and to make the vault final, but definitely in a fight).
Subdivision 2 (Japan, Austria, Ukraine, Slovakia, Georgia, Israel, Ecuador, Mongolia) – 6:30am ET/3:30am PT, October 23
–Japan should make TF, but it’s always a little touch-and-go for a while. Over the last couple quads, Japan has carved out an identity as a 6th-8th place team, never really in the safety zone, but always managing to slide through. We won’t really know anything even once Japan finishes because all the other borderline TF teams will still need to compete, and they’ll be the ones to determine whether Japan’s mark ends up being a good one or not. It’s going to be a scratch-and-claw this year for those last two TF spots, with Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Germany, and maybe even France or Belgium all gunning for it.
-Having Japan go early in the competition is excellent because I do expect Japan to qualify in 7th or 8th, meaning that their team score should be close to the cutoff. That gives us a clear event-by-event standard for measuring how all the subsequent teams are doing in their bids for TF/Rio. Outscore Japan, and start chilling the champagne. Don’t outscore Japan, and start checking the weather reports for Rio in April. I’m thinking it will take over 220 to make TF this year, so that’s something to watch, but we won’t know the standard until Japan goes.
-The Japanese are usually good for a Teramoto EF spot somewhere, but mostly we’ll need to keep an eye on Sae Miyakawa’s floor. She’s a good contender for the final as long as she doesn’t get hit with the compulsory five-tenth “you’re Japanese” floor deduction.
Subdivision 3 (Canada, Sweden, Argentina, New Zealand, Bolivia, Serbia, Lithuania) – 8:40am ET/5:40am PT, October 23
-We’ll need to pay serious attention to this one because Canada’s qualification performance is one of the more crucial and urgent. Brittany Rogers adds real quality and general wonderfulness to the mix, which is part of why we can expect a better result than last year, but Canada will not have access to Rogers for the test event since it coincides with NCAA nationals (thanks, scheduling). That means it’s all the more important for Canada to finish top 8 and clinch the Rio spot now. (Though I think Canada would still be favored to make it out of the test event even without Rogers, but no one wants to leave it that late and nail-bitey). 220 is an absolutely realistic qualifying score for this team, so a repeat of last year’s 214 is not acceptable. 54s-55s on these events, not 52s.
-Ellie Black will hope to play spoiler in the AA medal race, but for immediate qualification purposes, she’ll be fine. Advancing in the top 6 and making it into the lead group would reflect a strong day and is quite attainable. I’d also expect Black to challenge for the beam final, and if Rogers makes the bars final, I can’t be held responsible for my celebration. Black has two solid vaults, but may get nipped out of the final by people with more difficulty and worse execution again.
Subdivision 4 (Great Britain, Brazil, Venezuela, Finland, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, Phillipines) – 11:30am ET/8:30am PT, October 23
-Along with Italy, Great Britain has established a new middle class of top teams. They’re not in the big 4, but they’re more likely to make TF than the contending Japan group mentioned above. The health of Frags is a major concern. As is beam, just as a concept. Still, I certainly like GB to make team final relatively comfortably, so qualification will be more about positioning for the other finals. As usual, pray to the old gods and the new for Becky Downie on bars. With Ellie Downie and Amy Tinkler turning senior to challenge the old-world AA order, we could also see a nice little competition brew itself up for those two AA spots.
-Brazil. The country with the most anxiety coming into qualification because of the tremendous pressure of qualifying for a home Olympics. The longer it takes, the scarier it will get. I like Brazil to get through eventually as a full team, but it may take until the test event. Still, they’re hauling out the big guns to get it done right now. With the reanimated corpse of Jade Barbosa on the team as well as a woodland spirit named Flavia Saraiva, we can expect an improvement on last year’s debacle. Bars is the worry, though. Are these bars routines really able to score well enough to keep them 220 competitive? Absolutely cannot afford a 51 there.
-JESSICA LOPEZ. My sun and stars. That’s all. The crown princess of Venezuela is always a good bet to make the AA final and always teases us with potential to make the bars final and then doesn’t. Expect more of the same.
Subdivision 5 (Russia, Italy, Portugal, Iceland, Puerto Rico, Morocco) – 1:45pm ET/10:45am PT, October 23
-Oh Christ. That is the only acceptable beginning to any paragraph discussing the Russian WAG team. The crate of fur hats that Valentina will be forcing onto the apparatuses no longer includes that little tease Aliya Mustafina (so what’s even the point? Just of life?). Also Afanasyeva is maybe dying or whatever, so everything is terrible. How much do you wish we could watch Russian podium training this year? It’s going to be so Russian.
-Still, the Russians will be absolutely fine for qualification, even if they’re at the expected level of mess-itude on floor and everywhere. AA qualification will be a close contest between Tutkhalyan, Kharenkova, and Spiridonova, which should be the fun part of Russia’s qualification terrors. Expect the usual solid smattering of EF qualifiers as well. Paseka will make vault. If Komova makes bars and beam, the internet will turn into a flock of butterflies never to be heard from again. Spiridonova should make bars, though if someone has an error, we could even see the where-did-this-come-from Paseka bars routine sneak into the final. Kharenkova could also make the beam final, if this were Narnia, but she’s going to fall 16 times instead.
-Don’t sleep on Italy. It’s very uncomfortable. In fact, with some possible question marks looming around GB, I like Italy as the best choice for a non-big 4 spoiler this year. And even though qualification should be straightforward, Italy has done us the kindness of being yet another team with an interesting AA race among Ferrari, Ferlito, and Fasana. In fact, the top AA score from this subdivision may quite possibly come from Italy. As usual, Ferrari and Fasana should challenge for spots in the floor final as well. The best part of this subdivision, though, will be following how close Italy is able to get to this depleted Russia team. Can Italy actually pounce?
-Ana Filipa Martins is also in this subdivision. She qualified for the AA final last time, which was exciting because PORTUGAL?!!! So watch out for a possible repeat. We’re thinking somewhere in the 54s will be the AA cutoff again, right? Probably?
Subdivision 6 (Germany, Poland, Colombia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bahamas, Algeria) – 3:50pm ET/12:50pm PT, October 23
-Hm. Germany. What do we do with this team? Germany made the TF once recently, in 2011, but usually finishes 9th and everyone goes, “Huh. That’s a shame” and then forgets about it instantly. This team is fairly delightful to watch, with some non-boring bars work from Hill, Seitz, and Scheder, and that beam routine from Schaefer. It would be a disappointment if Germany doesn’t qualify someone into the bars final. As for the team, challenging the likes of Japan and Australia is another level that Germany has not reached with any consistency. If the Germans can’t pump up the difficulty on vault and floor, it’s hard to imagine that challenge happening this time. The floor score in particular needs to be within reason of what Japan and Canada will have previously put up. Germany will pick up points on bars, but not a whole bushel of points and can’t rely exclusively on that.
-Poland is in the same subdivision as Germany. Too soon? Obviously, it would be an international day of glory if Marta Pihan-Kulesza made the floor final, though that’s not particularly realistic with this field. Still, she can make the AA. Poland finished 17th last year, just out of the all-important top 16 cutoff, and while I think it would be considered an upset if they sneak into the top 16, what if Poland made the test event?
END OF DAY 1. At this point, the majority of the TF slots will likely be taken, so teams in the top 5 after the first day should feel pretty good. The team in 6th will be quite nervous, and the teams in 7th and 8th will be out, with the US and China still to come.
Subdivision 7 (China, North Korea, Singapore, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Monaco, Cayman Islands) – 4:15am ET/1:15am PT, October 24
-With the bars wasteland for Romania and the general Russianness of Russia, China seems to have emerged as a clear favorite for 2nd. This team is not the best possible Chinese team, without Yao or Huang, but it does have a desperately needed infusion of new blood, including a real vault and floor worker in Wang Yan. It will be fun to see how Wang, Mao Yi (another floor option, but who makes me a thousand kinds of nervous), and Fan Yilin (the new bars-a-tron 3000) will fare as they try to reinvigorate a team that has gradually stagnated post 2008.
-Shang Chunsong probably remains the best AA hope for China but lacks the vault to make a real run at it. I would expect Wang Yan to be the second AAer, though pretty much everyone on China’s team has a weak event or two that could cost her. Not having Huang and Yao hurts on bars, but this is China, so they still have a million backup 6.7s that can be used. It’s not the end of the world. Expect two qualifiers to the bars final as always, but it’s not quite the cutthroat competition to make the final that it usually is. That’s always the best part of China in qualification, but this year it looks like just three likely contenders in Tan Jiaxin, Fan, and Shang instead of the usual 60. Shang will be a medal threat on beam, and shockingly, China actually has two realistic floor finalists in Wang and Shang if they can actually hit their CV-a-thon routines.
-Other than China, the vault final will be the major story of this subdivision. That’s basically what North Korea is here for. It has been a while since PRK brought routines capable of making the bars and beam final, so it’s pretty much just Hong’s vault and guests. Hong will be the gold favorite once again and will make the final easily. Less assured of making it into the final is Our Lady of Screaming Kneecaps, Yamilet Pena, who will chuck her customary Prod, land on her ass, and probably still make the final on difficulty. Yay gymnastics!
-Also in this subdivision is Ana Sofia Gomez, who has had a little bit of trouble bringing her A game to recent competitions like Worlds last year or the Pan Ams AA final this year. Hopefully, she’s just saving her good one for this competition because a hit AA in qualification could qualify her in a very high position to the AA final.
Subdivision 8 (Belgium, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Malta, Vietnam, Indonesia) – 6:25am ET/3:25am PT, October 24
-And now we arrive at Subdivision 8, a.k.a. the one you’re planning on sleeping through. But still, get on the Belgium train, you guys, because it’s leaving the station. Belgium finished 11th last year, and I think this year’s team should be better than that one. Making the team final is too much to ask, but Belgium should comfortably make the test event and will have a real shot to qualify from there. AA qualifiers aren’t a given for this Belgium team, but pretty much everyone is capable of 54s, which should be close to the cutoff. That could get tense. It’s a loose definition of the word tense, but if we’re just sitting there watching the scores, we’ll take any horse race we can suddenly get excited about for two seconds.
-South Korea managed to finish 18th last year, and whether or not the South Koreans can sneak into the test event will have to suffice as the primary uncertainty factor in this subdivision. It’s hard to predict a big result from South Korea because the team has not shown competitive difficulty recently, in spite of perfecting execution. Every year, the people at the event watching podium training go, “WHAT OUT FOR SOUTH KOREA THIS YEAR!!!11111 THIS TEAM IS IT! SO BEAUTIFUL,” but they’ll usually struggle to get out of 12.8 land.
-Anna Pavlova is out, so instead, we’ll just have to spend that time turning into a pile of dust at the idea that she first competed in the Olympics 11 years ago.
-Phan of Vietnam is back. She’s likely to be the only EF contender in this subdivision, and since she’s going after most of the top vault contenders, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what she needs by that point.
Subdivision 9 (Australia, France, Bulgaria, Peru, Taiwan, Cuba, BeloAmerica) – 8:40am ET/5:40am PT, October 24
-Subdivision 9 will have serious implications for TF, as Australia is another of the perennial borderline qualifiers, a team that should get through but can’t have a disaster day and expect it to happen. France, meanwhile, suddenly scored a 6 trillion this month in a desperate effort to remind us that it’s still a country. This is the session the likes of Germany and Canada will be watching in the fetal position. And by Germany and Canada, I mean me. As for several of the other teams, it would be a disappointment if this year’s Australian group can’t hit 220. The Australians may put up some AA qualifiers, but that won’t be the main focus. Get your NCAA hats on, because it’s all about the team. Also keep an eye on Larrissa Miller’s bids for the bars and floor finals, and I’m sure I hardly need to say this, but just be ready to burn the FIG to the ground if Mez doesn’t make the beam final.
-This is an exciting time for the French, the first exciting time in quite a while, because there is finally a generation of new, lovely seniors capable of restoring competitive scores, with a DTY in there, some high-5s bars difficulties, and the capability to go 54 in the AA. This team shouldn’t have to squeak by in 12th all the time the way we’ve become accustomed. That 226 from the friendly meet is a score from a friendly meet, so ignore it, but it does at least add a little bit of intrigue about what kind of number France might actually be able to put together.
-The Cubans! Welcome back.
-Also, the BeloAmericans will be competing in this subdivision in their effort to teach little Belorussian girls what dreams are.
Subdivision 10 (United States, Netherlands, Latvia, Ireland, India) – 11:30am ET/8:30am PT, October 24
-Here we go. We can dispense with any discussions of qualification or Simone because obviously. Shooting gold medals everywhere. The main thing to watch for the US (aside from who is actually on the team), will be the fight to make the AA final. Is it bad that across all the whole competition at Worlds, this is the thing I’m most excited about? If Skinner is one of the competitors, it makes the decision easy as to who does which events in qualification and means Nichols, Raisman, and Douglas will all be given the chance to fight for that second spot. All three are quite capable of doing it, and all have been second at various times this season. It’s going to be crazy close, and I’m particularly interested to see how much the Raisman Worlds execution bump is still a thing.
-We can expect Biles and Skinner(if) to make the vault final fairly easily. Biles and Raisman will also be the frontrunners both to make the floor final and to finish 1-2 there. Bars and beam will be a trickier proposition. Kocian can make the bars final with a good one, but it’s not a given even with a hit. Biles should make beam, along with potentially Raisman, but it’s also beam. Mostly, this is about who that second AAer is going to be.
-I sort of love that Netherlands has become the trendy, cool kids’ pick to upset things and be a non-traditional team final qualifier. It will be quite challenging given the level of the teams they’re contending against, but the Dutch have flashes of difficulty from the Weverseseses in places and a new individual hope in Thorsdottir who can qualify to the AA final and fill the Van Gerner/Van Klaveren void without losing too much. Regardless, making the test event at least seems straightforward. We have a few teams in that “Won’t contend for medals and TF will be tough, but the test event should be easy” category. For them, this competition is just about getting through, not falling into a rip in the space-time continuum mid-routine, and then setting up for a big push in April.
-Dipa Karmakar of India will also be Prodding her way through this subdivision, hoping to fall-advance.
Subdivision 11 (Mexico, Greece, Egypt, Malaysia, Denmark, Namibia) – 1:40pm ET/10:40am PT, October 24
-Mexico’s 14th place finish last year was a huge deal. The goal here will be to replicate that performance, which seems realistic considering that the entire team is the same as last year. The problem for Mexico is that other adjacent teams have bolstered their rosters with new talent, so it’s hard to envision Mexico improving on 14th place. I’d still tab Mexico as one of the top 16 teams, but it’s going to be a tense score-watching experience. Mexico finished as the best team to miss out on the test event last time around, and it would be heartbreaking if that happens twice in a row. Vault is the major strength, so they’ll need to pick up serious ground there, probably looking to go a solid point and a half better than the likes of Spain and South Korea and close to a point better than Switzerland, though Steingruber will make that tough. Once again this year, the advancing-to-finals hopes will be Elsa Garcia in the AA and Alexa Moreno on vault.
-Vasiliki Millousi is back again. You’re welcome, society. Farah Ann Abdul Hadi (Malaysian Zamarripa) is also in this subdivision, so we’ll need to scrounge for videos so that we might revel in the glory of both of them.
Subdivision 12 (Switzerland, Hungary, South Africa, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Armenia, Honduras) – 3:50pm ET/12:50pm PT, October 24
-We end with the Jamaica subdivision. I’m sorry, is there anyone else in this session? Because I’m only here for Jamaica. NCAA goddesses Danusia Francis and Toni Ann Williams will be actually teaching little girls how to dream with their performances in this session. And by little girls, I mean gay adults. The only role models you’ve ever needed. I’m living in hope that we’ll see Danusia’s transverse aerial and Toni Ann’s double front beam dismount, and while advancing to any kind of final is likely unrealistic, I don’t care.
-Also repping the NCAA flag is Houry Gebeshian, who is back once again competing for Armenia.
-Oh, there are teams here too. Why isn’t Switzerland better? Switzerland always ends up finishing about 18th, even with Steingruber and in the days of Kaeslin the Elder. They just haven’t had the full team, but we can still hope Switzerland makes a run for the test event this time. It’s not out of the question, and we need someone to break into what looks like a relatively solid group of 16 teams going because it would be too boring if we just see the same top 16 as last year. But mostly, this is about Euro champion Steingruber. She should make the vault final and should qualify relatively highly into the AA. There’s not a ton of AA depth after the two US qualifiers and Iordache, so qualifying top 6 is possible for her.