Have Mersin! (Challenge Cup)

The world challenge cup tour got underway once again this weekend in Mersin, Turkey and…you’re fine that you missed it. You’ll definitely live. But here’s what happened.


Aurel Benovic of Croatia is quickly emerging as one of the new challenge cup floor princes—Robert Tvorogal is shook—as he romped to the title by a near-massive margin over the rest of the field, boasting the most difficult routine in the final and the most competent twisting positions to match.

Mustafa Arca’s D score earned him a silver medal, but I mostly want to talk about Rok Klavora because he’s now nearly a quadrennium removed from his frosted-tips phase, so we can once again truly appreciate the lovely flight on his twisting passes and his gold-star body position on a double Arabian. That garnered him the highest E score of the final—he just lacked the difficulty of the others (his filler pass was just a layout) and ended up in bronze position.

I was also a bit disappointed that Yordan Alexandrov finished out of the medals in 4th since he showed an excellent whip to full-twisting double back first pass and a smooth Manna, but he too didn’t have quite the necessary D.


OK, well first of all we need to talk about how this pommel horse looked like it was from one of those displays of gymnastics equipment from the past that they have at meets sometimes—where that moldy brown pommel horse from the 20s is sitting next to a rope and that’s the whole thing. It was that exact pommel horse.

Anyway, Saso Bertoncelj won. Obviously. It was probably closer than it should have been, though. Bertoncelj didn’t have remotely the highest D in the final, but his form should always be more than enough to make up for it in a field like this and earn gold. This time it just barely was as he slipped ahead of Ferhat Arican in silver position and Ahmet Onder in bronze. Both of the Turkish gentlemen have form issues but stayed on the apparatus, so everyone goes home happy. The biggest obstacle Turkey faces this year in trying to fulfill its destiny and qualify a men’s team to the Olympics is pommel horse. They desperately need Arican and Onder to hit exactly like this in worlds qualification to endure that piece.

Everyone else either fell or had a routine that was so hilarious that it might as well have been a fall. My true champion was Neofytos Kyriakou, who went into a fetal position two separate times, including on his end-of-routine Russians where he just ended up tucked and fully rubbing himself against the horse—but he never came off somehow. Anyway, he’s my role model and I’ll be giving a 3rd-grade class presentation about him.


Women’s vault went exactly according to plan. We knew from qualifying that our challenge cup vault queens Teja Belak, Tjasa Kysselef, and Tijana Tkalcec were the class of the field, and they used their superior difficulty to go 1-2-3 in the final as well.

Belak was always going to win if she hit, and that’s exactly what happened. The layout shape in her handspring front layout full also continues to improve every time we see it. I was happy to see Tkalcec step back the difficulty a little this time to perform some more comfortable vaults. It paid off for her with a bronze medal, though the lack of difficulty did mean Kysselef was able to pass her and take silver.

I do also want to mention Nazli Savranbasi, who finished 5th here. She performed a pretty nice handspring front pike 1/2—just a little short with a hop but definitely ready for NCAA—and I thought the downgrade of her second vault from Tsuk back layout to back pike was too harsh (where is this critical eye when watching people attempt their trash Lopezes?). For me, she should have scored higher than she did.


The story of the rings final was Ibrahim Colak being like, “Step aside, potato butts, I’m the winner.” His strength and difficulty, showing flatter positions and more comfortable holds than anyone else, meant that it was never going to be that close. His excellent stuck double front pike only padded the margin.

His countryman Yunus Gundogdu (hee hee, dog doo) took a warranted second, also sticking a super-pretty double front pike dismount, and third place went to Javidan Babayev of Azerbaijan, well back of Gundogdu but showing just enough comfort in his Maltese elements to outpace those who really struggled on holds.

Which was everyone. We had a lot of muscling and drooping and almost dying while trying a straddle planche and turning it into a straddle sit. But my prince Kyriakou also rocked this final, going up, struggling his way through exactly two L sits and then immediately peacing out, which is a rings routine I can truly get behind.


Ireland, Ireland, Ireland forever.

We knew going in that this bars final was not going to be a shining comet. (I mean, a sub-10 score made it out of qualification.) But a serious of falls ensured that the door was open for truly any member of the group to walk through right onto the podium.

We had Jaeger falls from Hribar and Belak, a Stalder Shap fall from Milne, and a toe-on fall from Langenskioeld (who actually has some really lovely potential on bars here and there, just rushed her way through a toe circle and couldn’t get it up to handstand). Meanwhile, Tienna Nguyen did stay on the bars, but she lost her way in a Stalder full attempt and had to recast and improvise, losing her CR for not having an element with full turn in the process. So it ended up being like a fall. Her front Stalder 1/2 on low bar is a winner, though.

That meant the rest—Nazli Savranbasi, Megan Ryan, and Jane Heffernan—came away with the medals. Savranbasi was the clear triumph, showing some really excellent moments like an opening Stalder full to Stalder Shap combination that would fit seamlessly in some of the best routines in the world. In other places she loses form (and really struggled to cast out of a piked Jaeger) but for this final, that counted as a glorious hit for gold.

Megan Ryan and Jane Heffernan would not have expected medals coming in, but they both stayed on the bars, and that was a enough. That not-falling thing allowed clean moments like Ryan’s position on her front giant 1/2 and Heffernan’s Stalder full on the low bar to lift their scores up just enough to get on the podium. A huge deal for Irish women’s gymnastics to get medals at a challenge cup.


You guys, this vault final. It looked at the women’s bars final and was like, “Mmm, can be more tragic.”

We had Al-Hmood balking on a Tsuk and just doing an olde-tyme straddle side somi vault, directly connected to forward roll.

We had Gondogdu sitting his double front, trying to get up, and then sitting it again, like a true slapstick pioneer.

It ended up that our champion, Murad Agharzayev, went full Yamilet Peña cannonball-butt-scrape on his double front…for the title. We didn’t get to see David Huddleston’s first vault (the feed, the availability of scoring, and the everything about this meet did not go great), but we know he did rock those classic Hungarian granny panties all the way to second place. Our prince Kyriakou also got his medal (!) here with a bronze. I’m so proud. He did sit his Kas 1.5 first vault…which was good enough for bronze. This vault final.


My actual, legitimate favorite final of this competition was beam. It wasn’t glorious by any means, but we had enough good routines that some of them didn’t even medal because there were more than three. Important work.

A warranted gold medal belonged to Audrey Rousseau by a wide margin. Despite having to wait for 185 years before her routine, she performed the most composed set of the final, not attempting a ton of combinations to try to rack up difficulty, but easily hitting all the requisite D acro skills and showing some lovely switch split positions in the process.

Unfortunately, an obvious anti-Canadian conspiracy emerged during this final because Emma Milne also had to wait for 185 years before her routine—though it didn’t go as well for her as she came off on her side aerial + loso + loso series. With a series as difficult as that, she had the composition to win here, but it wasn’t her day in the final.

Silver went to Teja “not just a vault specialist” Belak, who tied for the lowest difficulty in the final but quickly worked her way through a secure and confident routine, featuring quite a lovely switch split to split jump mount sequence. Just pristine.

Tienna Nguyen just did take bronze over Tina Zelcic. Nguyen had much more “I’m trying to have a real D score” composition—with elements like the split jump 1/2 from side and a double pike dismount—though I do want to mention Zelcic of Croatia because I was really impressed by her routine. Solid acro elements, only minimal wobbles, and pretty change-leg skills. I hadn’t seen her do beam before, and I hope we get to see it more.

Sadly, Tutya Yilmaz fell on her back handspring back lay-pike 1/1 attempt, which took her score down, but the rest of the routine was really strong. Which made it all the more painful. It was a double turn that did in Adela Sajn in this final, and a potentially ill-advised split leap 1/1 attempt popped Tran Doan Quynh Nam off the beam. Try to remember Tran as well. She had some excellent height and leg positions on both splits and acro elements. When that routine goes well—and she’s not trying a split leap 1/1—it could be an impressive moment.


Just seven people participated on PBars—understandable, PBars—and it wasn’t really much of a competition. Three of the athletes were obviously better than everyone else and easily separated themselves for the medals.

Ferhat Arican and Ahmet Onder proved to be about 15 levels above the rest, Arican showing his exceptional difficulty and style, aided a bit by a stuck double front 1/2, to take gold. In the end, he finished just a few tenths ahead of Onder—similarly executed routines, but Arican had three tenths more D.

Also impressive was Yordan Alexandrov, who didn’t have the difficulty of the Turks but showed some really smooth elements like a crisply executed Stutz held in handstand for 15 years, and that allowed him to take bronze.

Agharzayev dismounted with a double front seamlessly connected into forward roll, which was also something.


Floor was also there. I have barely anything to say about it. I know I watched it. I know I saw every routine, but…is Double Tuck Amnesia a phenomenon? I think it might be.

Goksu Uctas Sanli followed her 1st-place result in qualification with a gold medal here, standing out from the rabble through her dance elements. I was concerned that falling out of a triple turn attempt might compromise her chance at gold, but no.

We had a tie for silver between Tutya Yilmaz and Tran Doan Quynh Nam—Tran showing those same dance element positions that made her stand out on beam and Yilmaz performed in the role of Fragapane Lite, controlling the bounces on her tumbling passes just enough to rise ahead of those who truly struggled on their landings.

Adela Sajn nearly got there for a medal—her routine was basically indistinguishable from 2nd and 3rd place—but I think a short landing on her opening double pike must have kept her down. Importantly, Tienna Nguyen has mastered the art of bouncing around a million times as choreography out of dance elements until everyone forgets what a landing is.


On the bar that is high, we also had three obvious medalists separate themselves from the group. Umit Samiloglu was the difficulty king, delivering on a Cassina and a Kolman to earn the highest D score and carry himself to the gold despite a truly crazy Tak 1/1 that almost allowed him to be caught by silver medalist Ahmet Onder.

Onder hit all of his releases without clattering to the ground, so this was certainly a win. As on PBars, bronze belonged to Yordan Alexandrov, who had some foot form here and there but comfortably managed all his releases and showed nice positions on elements like his Tak to earn himself a reasonable E score.

The series resumes this coming weekend in Szombathely with qualification on Friday and two days of finals on Saturday and Sunday—3pm local time. Krisztian Berki and Oleg Verniaiev highlight what is expected to be a deeper field than we saw at Mersin.

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