Zhaoqing World Challenge Cup

Missed Zhaoqing (I can’t imagine why…)?

Well, here’s what went down in case you callously skipped out on your weekly date with Olly and the Olympic Channel.

Men’s Floor

In the floor final, Deng Shudi’s cheek scar took a starring role again as he continued to look like the experienced spy who’s been around a few times and doesn’t have time for this young buck’s foolhardy rule shirking. He used passes like a double front pike, 1/2 out to express the sentiment, “I’m me, meanwhile your side pass is a back layout, thus concludes the third presidential debate.”

Some OOBishness on a couple passes made things closer than they probably should have been, but Deng’s victory here was never truly in doubt.

While Deng more or less cruised, we did have some issues in this final. Poor Lim Kaeson took a combination rudi attempt to his fibula and, both Genta Tsuyuki and Ri Kwang Bom had moments where they attempted to stand up only to realize they were much drunker than they thought they were.

Still, it wasn’t solely a Deng show. Deng’s closest challenge came somewhat as a surprise (I mean not really because Japan, but still…) as Takuya Sakakibara used an exceptional tucked double double and overall superior landing control compared to the contenders to snatch a last-minute silver medal as the final competitor.

The race for bronze came down to cleanliness and landing control among a group of very similar routines. Ultimately Lee Seungmin used his superior twisting form—his toes and legs really stood out in this final—to place just ahead of his countryman Shin Jeahwan, who probably has more raw acrobatic ability but was also somewhat less controlled—and struggled on a Japanese handstand that will have been “tsk, tsk, tsk”-ed right to a lower execution score. In 5th place, Loo Phay Xing also performed a clean, pleasant, and composed routine, but with a 5.2 D, whatcha gonna do.

Women’s Vault

Only five people showed for the women’s vault event in Zhaoqing, and two of those five competed handspring repulsions as their second vaults, so that was that. The dichotomy of watching someone perform a Cheng (the #3 most difficult vault) followed by someone performing the simplest vault in the entire code of points had its own novelty, but this final isn’t going down in history, is what I’m saying.

Still, we were treated to that Cheng Moment from Yu Linmin, who showed some improvement over her performance at Chinese Nationals, landing short with some ragged shape but also displaying more realistic security in the landing. With that and a very sound DTY, she took the vault title here by a few tenths and will to keep herself in the mix for China. There’s a solid argument to be made that Yu has now at least earned a chance on the Asian Championships team. 

The difficulty of Yu’s performance meant second place belonged to Chuso. Chuso did not perform her top difficulty here, going for her mid-range set of the handspring layout 1/1 and the Tsuk 1.5. It was Chuso doing Chuso doing Chuso and scoring quite competitively for it as usual. The best part of Chuso’s performance at this world cup, however, was her lurking in the background behind the wall like she was up to something for the remainder of the two days.

She’s the M of this operation.

Tan Ing Yueh was the only other one to perform two actual vaults, a Yfull and a Tsuk back layout (that got credited as piked), which was enough for the bronze medal.

The other eventful development of the women’s vault final was Shayne Tan being stopped by the judges during the run of her second vault. Based on the facial expressions of all the townspeople, there may have been some…road work happening in the landing area?…or some reason everyone urgently needed to stop her from going. Unclear. But there was a lot of shouting at her to stop during her run.

Because it was the judges that stopped her, she wasn’t penalized for a balk vault.

Pommel Horse

We were treated to an upset in the pommel horse final as major favorite and top qualifier Weng Hao was gravely disappointed by the behavior of this particular pommel horse—especially on such a grand occasion—and had no choice but to sit on it as punishment. Weng was so far ahead of the rest of the field on difficulty that he still managed third place despite a fall, but his miss opened the door for the two other world-class workers in this final, Zou Jingyuan and Rhys McClenaghan, both of whom hit their routines.

Zou’s pommel horse work may not quite be up to the level of his PBars work—because nothing in the world has ever been—but he’s also exceptionally strong on horse and rode an execution score over 9 to the gold medal. McClenaghan will be buoyed by his performance here, returning to competition and hitting both days without suffering any major issues. A win. Save for nearly getting lost in a tornado on his dismount circle, his finals routine went as he would have hoped, with still a few more tenths of difficulty to add back as he works toward full strength again.

This miss from Weng meant that solid hits from Jeon Yoseop and Abdulla Azimov were closer to medals than you might have expected coming in, but still no cigar.

Falls, you ask? Yes, it was a pommel horse final, so we did have the requisite three falls (which is actually not that many for PH, pull it together). In addition to Weng, Loo Phay Xing went Warp World 4 on a Russian circle, and Matija Baron basically fell before he started and then went full tarantula on another travel. A shame for Baron especially because he doesn’t get to compete at his home world cup this coming weekend since the two Croatian pommel spots default to Seligman and Ude. This was his moment.

Uneven Bars

China. Thank you for coming to this recap.

While the top 2 spots in qualification belonged to Koreans, that was only because the Chinese athletes missed their routines to place 3rd and 4th. No such problems occurred in the final as Li Shijia and Liu Jingxing both hit for what turned out to be a pretty comfortable 1-2 finish.

Gold went to Li Shijia, who showed a lovely piked Jaeger, got her essential difficulty boost from a Maloney to Gienger combination, and was able to outscore her countrywoman primarily on the strength of casts that were a little smoother and form that—save for a full straddle on her Pak—displayed fewer flashes of legs apart than Liu Jingxing. Liu used difficulty like a Church to Pak and her own Maloney to Gienger combination to stay level with Li on D score, but just came up a hair lower on execution.

For bronze, the inclusion of efficient difficulty like a Van Leeuwen and piked Jaeger was enough for top qualifier Eom Dohyun to take the medal ahead of her teammate Lee Eun Ju, who was probably a bit cleaner overall but definitely lower in the D score department.

On the sad side, dismount falls were a theme with Farah Ann Abdul Hadi and Hana Akaho both succumbing to that fate. Japan sent two of its newer, lower-level elites here in Akaho and Kokoro Fukusawa, and while they did not make much of a splash in the medal department, I think that’s largely a result of attempting to perform their routines while glued to a Kindergarten art class amount of beads and feathers and whatnot. And that needs to be taken into account.

Just waiting for gymnasts to start showing up to competitions covered in a macaroni baby Jesus and a handprint turkey and a cornhusk Kachina doll. Would be here for it.

I also want to mention Yeoh Li Wen, who had low difficulty and struggled to cast out of a Jaeger to drop her score way down, but is also lovely on bars. She displayed clean cast handstands and a level of amplitude on skills like her Jaeger and shoot to high that we don’t typically see from gymnasts who reside in her D-score bracket.

Sadly, Oksana Chusovitina did not make the final, but she did compete bars here in qualification, and that is very important to me.

Rings

Rings makes everyone who isn’t Liu Yang feel asdlkfjasdfjkasd;fkhjdf.

Liu presented the lone internationally competitive rings routine here, winning the title by a casual two points over everyone else, all of whom were just trying to get through without having an embolism. Mission accomplished I think?

Liu took a break in the middle of his routine to give “hey girl” vibes during a cross hold, so that’s how far ahead of the rest of the field he was here. The secret to being a rings champion is that you have to be equal parts impressive and insufferable.

Silver went to Jeon Yoseop, who was pretty much the only other competitor who didn’t have trouble, either in holding his strength elements or in managing to dismount while still alive. Jeon showed flatter positions in his holds and stuck a tuck 1.5 dismount, and with just a handstand-balance problem or two, he was the only other competitor to break 8 in execution. Meanwhile, difficulty of 2nd-to-Liu level was enough to carry Takuya Sakakibara to the bronze medal, though his performance was not as smooth as Jeon’s.

Obviously, Nattipong Aeadwong’s routine was the one I could most identify with, that overall sense of “holding these positions is stupid, and other people should do it while watch.” Correct. He did, however, finish his set with an excellent stuck dismount that allowed him to place 6th among the 7th competitors, ahead of Kim Chol who showed quite a lot of 1-second-is-the-new-2-seconds in his routine and dismounted into a jacuzzi.

Men’s Vault

Three falls and a stretcher. Just another day at a men’s vault final.

Men’s vault delivered us a major upset. It appeared to all the world like favorite Shin Jeahwan was going to cruise to victory, especially after nailing a Kas 2.5 first vault that was the class of the entire final and should have been separated from the other vaults in execution by more than it was. Alas, Shin plunked his second vault, a handspring 2.5, landing well short and flopping to the side.

Ultimately, it was the flopping to the side part that took the gold away because Shin enjoyed quite a margin from the first vault. He theoretically could have fallen here and still won, but it was the 0.3 neutral deduction that put him in silver position, just behind Kim Hyok, who hit his handspring 2.5 and Kas 1.5 with some bobbing and weaving but not the same level of landing disaster that befell much of the field.

Kim Hyok’s compatriot Kim Chol was supposed to be the next-best favorite after Shin, but Kim Chol sat a Roche on his first vault, taking himself out of contention. Nattipong Aeadwong also took himself out by self-immolating his ankles on a Kas 1/1. He had to be carried out of the arena, scratching his second vault.

That left a bronze medal opening for the Japanese competitors, Tsuyuki and Sakakibara, the result determined by who made the smallest error. The winner of the smallest error competition turned out to be Genta Tsuyuki after Sakakibara took three lunges back on a Yurchenko 2.5, dropping him to 4th place.

Balance Beam

There was no question that this beam final would be the Li Shijia Show. She could have fallen and still won, but she’s too good for that nonsense, going up first in the final and hitting a crisply connected and beautifully extended routine in a way that only the Chinese beamers can. Li scored over 15 and ensured that no one else had even the slightest shot at preventing her from winning her second gold of the meet.

Silver belonged to her teammate Yin Sisi, who also enjoyed a clear margin of ability over the rest of the field. Yin had a larger error than Li in her routine, a significant lean and lunge on her now-compulsory fhs + front tuck series, as well as a couple more hesitations in combination and less difficulty going in, but it was still a strong performance from her for a comfortable silver medal.

The race for bronze was simply a matter of who hit among the remaining six competitors, all of whom had a realistic shot at it. I was ultimately pleased to see the medal go to Eom Dohyun because while she did have some checks (and knee form deductions on basically every skill), I thought 6.8 execution was too harsh for a hit routine without major wobbles, especially compared to other routines at a similar or weaker level that were scoring into the low 7s at least.

It looked for a while like bronze would go to her teammate Lee Eun Ju, but a botched leap attempt with major wobble toward the end of Lee’s routine spoiled those chances and left her in 4th place again. Uzbekistan’s Ominakhon Khalilova got through with a hit, which was good enough for a 5th-place finish she can always rest her hat on because the remainder of the field fell, including Akaho and Fukasawa of Japan (see feather disability above) and Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, who did put together some lovely work aside from a tour jete attempt that took her off the beam.

Parallel Bars

Zou Jingyuan is good at parallel bars, thus concludes my book report. It will surprise no one that Zou ended up with the largest margin of victory of any champion at this meet, hitting another pristine PBars routine and going over 16 without even trotting out his full difficulty. He did have a chest-lean adjustment on his nonetheless stuck dismount, which meant that his execution score dropped all the way down to 9.550 like he’s a peasant or something.

Execution went a long way in this final because Lee Seungmin was certainly not near the top of the pack in difficulty—and seemed like he would be an also ran competing in the final position with a qualification score 4 tenths lower than the current 3rd-place. But, Lee came up with an exceptionally clean routine with a stuck dismount that propelled him to the silver medal ahead of Ri Yong Min and Jeon Yoseop, both of whom had far more difficulty but noticeably sloppier performances.

The tragedies of the PBars final belonged to Satsuki Ogaki, who overbalanced a handstand and then later got his thigh acquainted with the left rail, and Ri Kwang Bom, who had come in as the #2 qualifier with a legitimate chance at a medal. Sadly, Ri Kwang Bom happened to pull his bicep off and use it as a fashionable head accessory while attempting to get up to handstand on a Tippelt. Like a proper disciple of Ri Se Gwang—knowing that loss of limb and/or death is not an appropriate excuse to cease competing—he continued with his routine for some reason and also participated in the high bar final minutes later.

Women’s Floor

The women’s floor final in Zhaoqing was not exactly a display of the latest awesome tumbling. We saw one pass of E value or greater in the final, a full-in opening from Liu Jingxing that—along with a little more comfort in the landing department overall—allowed her to sneak ahead of the field for gold with 12.950.

A telling sign regarding the content of these floor routines is that the highest D score (4.9) belonged to Tan Ing Yueh, who performed just a two-pass routine. She showed a double tuck first pass, a 1.5 to front full second pass, and the remainder dance elements. The key for her was that she fully rotated both her Memmel and her double wolf for D credit, and that more than anything else carried her to second place.

Once again, Lee Eun Ju just lost out on a medal to her teammate Eom Dohyun, but in this case I take some issue with the result because I saw Lee’s routine as the stronger one. Lee did have some issues in landing her first two passes cleanly, but Eom had hops of her own, had some turn downgrades, and was deeply at risk of a background music deduction. I would have switched those two.

In the second half of the standings we had the Japanese pair, Akaho and Fukusawa, not too far back. Akaho is a charming sprite and could have been right in there for a medal if not for a lunge and OOB on a 1.5 to front full. Olly was particularly taken with her use of Holst and is basically adopting her as we speak. Isabella Brett made an appearance for New Zealand but struggled to control her tumbling landings and ended up in 7th.

The saddest part of the final was the routine from Farah Ann Abdul Hadi. She had a rough competition as a whole but floor was the place she could have pulled it back together for a medal. On paper, hers is the most delightful and best executed routine of the final, but on this occasion, she sat her opening 2.5 to punch front and struggled on a double back landing to end up with a sub-11 score in last place.

High Bar

The last final of the meet was supposed to belong to Lin Chaopan, a world all-around medalist with an internationally competitive routine that under normal circumstances would have outpaced the field by a massive margin. On this occasion, however, Lin peeled off trying to catch a Kolman and proceeded to jettison all of his limbs as he hurtled through the air like the nannies in Mary Poppins right toward the edge of the podium. The camera angle was such that it almost looked like he flew directly into a camera person on first viewing. He didn’t. Just normal-type fall.

Lin had a full-point difficulty margin over the 2nd-best member of the field, so he still ended up with silver. But, the fall allowed gold to go to Takuya Sakakibara, really the only other member of the final who showed grownup-man difficulty with a Kolman and a stuck double double layout dismount, both hit quite crisply to carry him to a noncontroversial victory.

Another trend of this competition was Lee Seongmin going cleanly with lower difficulty and snatching a medal for his effort, which he did effectively once again on HB for bronze. There wasn’t a ton of content in his routine, but he led off the final without error, punctuated by a stuck dismount, and that was enough to hang on.

The low-difficulty-but-clean (?) strategy was certainly attempted by many in this final, but they all had a little bit more leg-raggedness than Lee, save for Loo Phay Xing, who was also pristine but basically just like, “This is a giant, end of routine” so he couldn’t make a true dent in the standings.

So that’s that. The Challenge Cup series is back this week in Osijek, Croatia, with qualification beginning Thursday and finals running Saturday and Sunday.

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