The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Chinese Nationals — What Happened There?

If you were looking for a comfy, cozy competition where the expected people won titles and a clear picture of the potential Chinese worlds team emerged…Chinese Nationals was not that. Honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So let’s get into it. Here’s what you need to know to keep up as a responsible gymnastics citizen of the world.

All-Around

Your national all-around champion is Liu Tingting. In recent months (year), LTT has been limited to only bars and beam, but she has returned on all four pieces in 2019—using a Yfull on vault and a fully Netherlands-ified floor routine to build up sufficient scores to let her exceptional bars and beam routines carry her to competitive all-around totals.

The highlights are always going to be bars and beam, but this lovely turn-a-thon floor routine ranked quite well throughout the competition, and given a Chinese team that’s still grasping at straws when it comes to floor, this is at least a “well, we can always use Tingting” routine that reduces the potential urgency to find floor workers—even if the D score is pretty low.

Continuing her tradition of rising to the occasion in the all-around competition at nationals, two-time defending champion Luo Huan snatched a silver medal this year, putting together a comprehensively hit two-day all-around competition, with 14+s on bars and beam in both qualification and the AA final.

Things fell apart for Luo in the event finals, with misses on both pieces souring the final impression of her meet. Of the people who competed at nationals, she is currently a top-3 necessity on bars and beam, but China has a lot of people who can be “the bars and beam gymnast,” like Chen Yile who missed the competition with injury, so it’s not going to be a secure position for Luo moving forward.

Placing third AA was junior Ou Yushan, who is a glorious toe-pointy tropical fish on beam and we’ll get to that in a minute, but she is not senior eligible this year, so you can only get 3-out-of-5 Excitement Points about her right now. I’m sorry, them’s the rules.

Third among the seniors was first-year senior Tang Xijing, who came back from a meh day in qualification to recover a few spots in the all-around/team final. Beam is Tang’s strongest event, but on her day, she’s also capable of competitive numbers on bars and floor (her 13.45 on FX from day 2 was one of the stronger floor scores of the meet). That may become significant for team selection as we go because she can fill more roles than several of the other specialists. She doesn’t make you choose between a UB/BB worker and an FX worker. She can be both.

Zhang Jin is an interesting case because she struggled in the individual competition as a whole, placing 9th. Zhang is never going to have the bars score to get a huge AA total (no one is expecting that event from her), but she also experienced frequent issues on beam here. At the same time, Zhang’s potential D score on floor (where she destroyed the field in qualification) and her DTT on vault still make her nearly irresistible to a team. And if she is in hitting-beam mode, that can also be an exceptionally high score.

Qi Qi ultimately took 6th in the all-around. Similarly to Zhang, we’re not really expecting a bars score from Qi, but she can produce big numbers on the other three events. A fall on her Silivas on the first day of competition took her out of EF contention on floor, but she did manage to hit that skill on the second day. That’s the kind of tumbling difficulty China hasn’t been able to put on a team in way too long.

If Qi gets to a point where that pass is consistent, I don’t see how you can ignore this floor routine, especially when she also has a rudi on vault now. Speaking of…

Vault

The issue is not that China doesn’t have vaulters. China has vaulters. The issue is that China doesn’t have a ton of vaulters with other events—vaulters that make sense in team selection.

Liu Jinru won the vault title, successfully landing a DTT and a rudi.

Qi Qi took second place with a rudi and a DTY.

Deng Yalan took third place with a rudi and a DTT of her own, the best rudi of the bunch in terms of dynamics.

Yu Linmin missed out on the medals, putting up a very capable, normal DTY but also going for a Cheng that was a little…well she landed it?

We’ve seen Liu Jinru make teams in the past for her vaulting (and allegedly for floor as well, though the floor scores don’t always seem to follow), but because there is almost no overlap between China’s vaulters and China’s…other-eventers, the edge in this group of vaulters goes to the one who actually has other events, rather than the one who has the best vault score. And that’s Qi Qi.

Still, China will have to think seriously about these other vaulters because the difference between putting up one of these rudis in a team final versus a Yfull from someone like Tingting is absolutely humongous. Counterpoint: Can you afford to put a one-event vaulter on the same team as one-eventer Fan Yilin? No.

Of course, there’s also the worry that these vaults will never be able to be reproduced outside of Chinese nationals. Very legitimate.

Uneven bars

Our first (and not last) shock of event finals came with heavy favorite Fan Yilin missing her routine on bars, flopping against the high bar on an inbar attempt and falling out the medals entirely.

That opened the door for Liu Tingting to take gold with her 6.0 D routine.

It was not the cleanest final in the world. And by that I mean it was a complete and utter disaster in nearly every way. We had Fan’s miss, and Luo Huan going over on a handstand, and #5 qualifier Zhou Ruiyu dismounting to her hairline, and #6 qualifier falling on a Van Leeuwen, #7 qualifier Li Shijia falling on a Gienger.

All of that opened the door for some unexpected medalists like Cheng Shiyi, who took silver.

We’re accustomed to taking bars for granted for China, but China is not currently in a position where you can throw a dart and hit a team-final-ready bars routine. Fan Yilin’s score is nearly essential because beyond that…you have a few 6.0ish D scores from people like Tingting and Luo Huan and ideally Chen Yile if healthy (the group that can deliver on that 6.0 D with sufficient E scores as well), but even 6.0 D is not in the top echelon of bars difficulties right now. You don’t want to have to dig any deeper on the depth chart than the four I’ve listed, and none of those four have big vaults. Bars is actually kind of tough right now for China.

Balance Beam

Here we go. Three people hit in the bars final (LTT, Cheng Shiyi, and Ou Yushan), but only two people hit in the beam final—Ou Yushan and Tang Xijing.

Gold went to Ou, who did one of her weaker beam routines with a major break on her front handspring + front tuck series, but she’s just so fantastic that it didn’t really matter. Her team final beam routine has been the talk of the town.

Tang Xijing took silver and deserves credit for being the only person in the entire beam final who hit to potential and put up a mostly solid routine.

The rest was full of splatitude. Qi Qi fell on her layout and still took bronze because someone had to, Liu Tingting fell on her front tuck, Luo Huan fell on her layout, Luo Youjuan continued breaking hearts…it was bad.

On beam, however, I do feel like China is still in a “throw a dart and hit a TF routine” position. There are hitting concerns with most/all of them, but welcome to beam. You obviously want Tingting’s routine there, and between Luo Huan, and Qi Qi, and Zhang Jin, and Tang Xijing, and hopefully Chen Yile, most of the likely contenders for other apparatuses also have reasonable beam routines. I’m not worried about China’s ability to come up with three potentially competitive beam routines on a team of five. It’s China. They’re all perfect. I mean, they all fall every single second, but they’re all perfect.

Floor exercise

Floor is still a problem, but obviously I’m thrilled to talk about what happened to Zhang Jin in the floor final because it was sad-larious and the highlight of the whole competition.

It wasn’t her best routine even before THE MOMENT (although she did almost accidentally do a quintuple spin at the beginning, so credit there), but then the switch ring 1/2 turn came along, and….this.

Brilliantly played. That one is going in the hall of fame.

So anyway, Zhang Jin missed a floor medal that she would have been favored to win and Qi Qi missed the final entirely because she fell on a double double tuck in qualification, which opened the door for SURPRISE DONKEYS, our old friend Shang Chunsong to come back and take floor gold.

Shang has been sort of semi-Nabieva retired yet competing domestically lately, but if she’s winning floor titles on a national team that’s desperately in need of floor workers…I’m just saying there can still be a spot for our girl. Shang did compete bars in qualification with a high bar-only routine, but one that included an F and two E skills. It’s half of a routine. If she is able to find the other half of that golden amulet and combine the two under the glow of a harvest moon, she’ll be unstoppable.

Floor silver went to Ou Yushan, because she’s the new star, and bronze went to Liu Tingting, but a noteworthy 4th-place finish belonged to tumbling world champion Jia Fangfang, who continues tumbling your face off with the most brilliant DLO full.

Beyond the tumbling…I mean it’s a try? She’s improving on the leaps a little, the choreography doesn’t exist, but it remains a fascinating experiment into whether you can score competitively on floor with amazing tumbling and the bare minimum of everything else. She’s close. If the acro skills are H enough, you can totally get by with a bunch of B dance elements. She’s also still counting an A acro skill as one of her 8 in this routine, so there’s definitely room to upgrade in the tumbling department. She’s not even maxed out there.


Meanwhile, we’re going to need to talk extensively about junior Guan Chenchen.

Item #1)

Item #2)

Item #3)

End of conversation.

%d bloggers like this: