The spring Challenge Cup series wrapped up over the weekend in Koper, featuring enough vault-related insanity to keep us satiated until the series picks up again in September. Or, like, until the real meets of the summer and whatnot. Here’s what happened.
Someone finally got all my memos. While I spent last week’s recap of Osijek’s floor final lamenting that Tomas Gonzalez’s execution should be compelling enough to outweigh landing errors and keep him ahead of most mushy-kneed mortals and yet SOMEHOW WASN’T, this week the judges fell into line and awarded Gonzalez an 8.8 execution score. That allowed him to take floor gold on the execution tiebreak over the superior difficulty of Milad Karimi.
Karimi was great, but…
Last week in Osijek, brand new teenage child Aurel Benovic was among several competitors who missed out on medals but impressed with execution and potential, and those qualities came through for him this weekend with more controlled landings and a serious upgrade in difficulty (now at 6.1) in a bronze medal performance. Watch out for this one in coming years.
Meanwhile, special commendation goes to the Norway federation for getting its male gymnasts shorts that fit. Note to the Japanese federation and those muumuus the whole team wears on floor.
Also everyone got their party favor bags from Kyle R’s birthday.
If there’s not an iPad in there…
Though the vault final was supposed to be the domain of home-nation hope and last week’s champion Teja Belak, it proved instead to be the Marina Nekrasova party. Nekrasova stormed in with an exceptional landing on a handspring layout full and a nearly-as-comfortable Tsuk 1.5 to take the gold medal.
Nekrasova’s vaulting was the highlight of the final, and while Teja Belak did well to land her vaults in a similar fashion to last weekend—and honestly had a bit stronger in-air execution than Nekrasova—she fell just short in the difficulty department to sit in second place.
The power of the DTY elevated Chile’s Franchesca Santi to third place, a spot she earned by beating out the #2 qualifier Yamilet Peña, who had a crazy landing on a Y1.5 and some aggressive tucking on a handspring layout full attempt, both of which took her execution scores down too low for a medal. It’s funny to see Peña do handspring layout vaults now because her technique on the block still has that super early JUST TUCK AND HOPE form from the Produnova days, but then she has to lay the vault out for landing. Usually we see gymnasts lose the shape and tuck as they try to find their landings. Peña gets more laid out as she goes.
Slovenia’s Tjasa Kysselef also improved on her landing quality from last weekend’s bronze medal vault performance, but in a deeper field, she wasn’t able to take a medal this time.
Meanwhile, Tijana Tkalcec landed over here.
My big issue in this vault final was the charity of D-panel evaluation, with so many gymnasts (most?) simply getting credit for the vault that they posted despite not showing that shape in the air. I would have liked to see more discernment and more downgrades. A lot of tucked vaults got evaluated as layouts and pikes because that’s what the gymnast posted.
The Rhys Show came to town, end of recap. After competing two weeks ago in Zhaoqing, Rhys McClenaghan made another appearance on pommel horse in Koper, smooshing the rest of the field like a series of little bugs. He upgraded his difficulty by a few tenths compared to Zhaoqing and looked a little cleaner as well to record a massive 15.450, a point and a half higher than anyone else in the final. Also helpful: he didn’t have to compete against Weng Hao and Zou Jingyuan here.
Ilyas Azizov went through cleanly for silver (not a chance of a leg separation there) and Alexander Myakinin of Israel showed quick and powerful work to take bronze, showing that Israel may be developing greater depth of events. Pommel horse has been one of the “I mean I got a 10…?” events for them in the past.
My primary highlights from the final, however, were the flare work of Jamie Lewis of Great Britain (doesn’t have the full execution yet, but he’s a gymnast very capable of carrying on the tradition), and the hilarious quitter’s try from Nariman Kurbanov, who got stuck on a scissor right at the beginning and had nothing for you from there, subsequently falling twice and then taking two steps on a pommel horse dismount. Same.
The bars hitting hasn’t been…awesome at these world challenge cups, and the situation in Koper was no exception. Ultimately, Zsofia Kovacs cruised to the title by a point and a half by showing a level of difficulty far beyond what the rest of the competitors could bring and also, you know, hitting it.
With just three of the eight competitors staying on in the final, hitting was a big deal. The “actually staying on” strategy is what brought Jasmin Mader a silver medal and Aliaksandra Varabyova a bronze medal despite a massive dead hang in her routine and quite low difficulty from both. They didn’t fall. Have a medal.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some quality content here. There was a lot to be entertained by in this bars final, particularly the moment when “This Is Me” started playing as gymnast after gymnast clattered to the ground. I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be, this is me. It sure is, Ana-Maria Puiu. You’re a Romanian. That 4.250 execution score after a series of overbalanced handstands built to a fall is exactly who you’re meant to be. You have a tradition to uphold.
A true standout in the final was Zoja Szekely of Hungary, who fell on a layout Jaeger (!) attempt to take herself out of the medals, but when she resumed her routine she hit a piked Jaeger with ease, has huge amplitude, and connects difficult releases, works crisply and cleanly, and will be a thing in time. I know I’m not usually into rewarding falls, but I feel like this routine should have medaled even with the fall. It was more than a fall better than every non-Kovacs routine in this final.
Also impressive was Nazli Savranbasi of Turkey. She lost it at the end of her routine with a handstand struggle-to-dismount fall, but she has beautiful potential and excellent form on elements like her Stalder Shap to Pak and Van Leeuwen. We should see a lot more of that routine.
Nikita Simonov took a second consecutive rings title here, following up on his success from Osijek last week. I did not think his performance was quite as strong this time, with two handstand positions that were pretty hesitant, a rolling hold on a cross, and a deep dismount, but his score ended up about the same, so whatever.
Simonov just fended off Ali Zahran of Egypt, who has been pretty competitive at the Olympic qualification events and has an eponymous inverted swallow element that he performed, but he too had some handstand issues and some rushed holds toward the end of his routine.
Because Italy always has to have someone for rings, the bronze medal went to Salvatore Marasca by just a smidge over Vinzenz Höck, whom I thought had the stronger routine in a number of respects but did have a minor leg seizure while trying to hold a planche, which may have done it.
Who wants to see some people explode some body parts on vault???? You do? Great. Let’s talk about Audrys Nin Reyes.
Nin Reyes went for a double front pike 1/2 out for his first vault, getting an incredible amount of distance but landing so crunched that his entire ankle shot out the back of his leg and spattered all over the line judge. He limped off the mat, unable to put any weight on his left foot, so then what did he do? Why, it’s a men’s vault final! Of course he vaulted again. He seemed to still be alive somehow after the second vault, but the catastrophic landings took him out of the medals and into 4th place.
Gold went to Shek Wai Hung, who landed his Tsuk full-in without dying, thoughhe pretty much ended up off the mat in Tijana Tkalcec territory. Still, the difficulty of that vault coupled with the fairly pristine Dragulescu that followed was enough to clinch himself a win, just ahead of the more composed but less difficult vaults of Yahor Sharamkou, who also had a jarring landing on his second vault (Kas 2.5) that made him feel kind of Nin Reyes-y.
Pre-meet gold contender Andrey Medvedev put up the best single vault of the entire final with his Tsuk double pike first vault (the judges didn’t agree, but they were wrong), but a stumble backward on a Blanik with a couple lunges was enough to take him down to third place.
Adria Vera of Spain also has a very pretty Shewfelt. Be aware of that. In terms of in-the-air execution, he was the class of the field.
Beam told a similar story to bars in that Zsofia Kovacs was able to use her superior difficulty to take the title among a struggling field. Kovacs did have some major breaks and large checks, including two near-falls on an aerial walkover and a side somi, but with a D score that was seven tenths higher than any other hit routine—along with the ability to hit leaps—she could afford those. In this final, that routine counted as a win.
Still, the ultimate result felt a little sour because Kovacs ended up just .050 ahead of a far cleaner routine from Ilaria Käslin that, while quite a bit less difficult, should have been allowed to make up for that lack of D in execution, both in terms of solidity and form. Käslin’s was my gold medal routine.
Bronze went to the last competitor of the beam final, Farah Hussein, who used a lack of wobbles to snatch the 2nd-best execution score of the final, behind only Käslin. The leaps and leg execution aren’t quite there for Hussein, so she wasn’t able to get into the 8s, but in a final where lots of people were having major wobbles, Hussein did not.
Iulia Berar of Romania took fourth, showing the 2nd-best difficulty of the final but also falling on an acro series. Still, Berar’s execution score was not among the lowest despite the fall because she does have excellent toes and extension in her leaps, so she’s always going to face fewer built-in errors. Goksu Uctas Sanli also stood out by really trying to rack up the difficulty on side leaps. It nearly fell apart on a straight jump 1/1, but her use of a wolf jump full from side position (and making it not terrifying) was tremendous.
Sadly, potential new Finnish fave Ada Hautala fell immediately on her back dive mount, going straight through to a hip circle fall, which put her 7th.
On PBars, we move to the Frank Baines portion of the competition. Despite qualifying all the way down in 6th after a miss on the first day, as well as having to overcome the disability of shoulders that are 58 feet wider than the PBars, he came through with a precise routine in the final, featuring secure handstand positions, smooth Healys, and only a small hop on a double front dismount.
That was enough to put him ahead of Milad Karimi, who was slightly more vertically challenged in his routine and had a few tenths less difficulty, but also showed a very clean Diam and Stutz at the end and stuck an excellent double front 1/2 out for a routine that I thought could just as easily have taken gold.
A gratifying bronze medal went to Ilias Georgiou who qualified in first position for a second straight weekend, but whereas last week his arms turned to jelly as he forget everything in the final, this week he came through with the highest execution score of the group to take 3rd. The #3 qualifier Joel Plata unfortunately collapsed into a ball of mush when trying to press up to a handstand and finished last.
The women’s floor final bucked the trend of the previous two weekends to some extent in that we saw fewer two-pass, this-is-an-event-of-leaps-and-turns routines, with three passes being the typical composition here.
Nonetheless, we still saw the overall trend of difficulty being built up through dance elements rather than tumbling elements continue, with both gold medalist Ilaria Käslin and bronze medalist Adela Sajn going for just a lone front full as one of their three passes and counting the minimum 3 acro skills for their D scores.
Also everyone had to go wait for these scores on this stupid couch and then got scolded if they tried to get up immediately after getting their scores, so Adela Sajn was like “NAP TIME FOR ME.”
Silver medalist Ana-Maria Puiu brought some of that extension potential we saw in the bars disaster to floor, where she also used an actual, real life full-in as well as a stuck double pike to take silver.
Overall, we did see a little bit more difficulty in the floor final this week—6th place Ada Hautala also showed a full-in—but execution still won the day, with Ilaria Käslin getting her gold with the highest E score after coming so close on beam.
But, of course, the true winner of the final was Goksu Uctas Sanli who gave us a little bit of a Night of Honesty when her score came up and she learned she did not get credit for falling out of a couple leaps.
Thank you. We’re not asking for a lot. Just a little actual realism.
Rounding out the finals, the men took to high bar, where the big and deserved winner was veteran Umit Samiloglu of Turkey, who showed the requisite impressive difficulty with a Cassina and a Kolman while displaying notably better leg position in the air than the others in this final attempting those skills. Punctuating that with a stuck dismount, he ended up three tenths clear of the rest of the field.
His crowning achievement, however, was the tribute shirt he made to Aljaz Pegan, wishing him a happy birtday. I mean birthday.
Also snatching a strong execution score was Frank Baines, who did have an insane-legged Tak 1/1 but was otherwise solid with a stuck DLO 1/1 for the silver.
I was a bit surprised to see routines with moments of very crazy legs still get big scores, as Alexander Myakinin was full tarantula on his Cassina and Kolman and still came out ahead of Joel Plata for the bronze medal. Plata did have a close catch or two, allowing the judges to really ding him, but his form was stronger and he stuck a glorious double double layout. I figured he was going to come out ahead there.
Also performing well for Spain at this event was Adria Vera. If I’ve become a new fan of anyone at this competition, it’s Vera. He had a major struggle coming out of a Tkatchev 1/2 here to drop well down the standings, but also stuck a DLO 1/1 and was a joy to watch on his events.
Meanwhile, Alexander Shatilov continued being a floor specialist in this high bar final.