The first day of qualification is complete in Cottbus, and here’s what you need to know.
The big pre-competition news coming out of men’s floor was the withdrawal of Emil Soravuo of Finland, who is currently second (among eligible athletes) in the Olympic qualification race and appeared to be the most likely challenger to Rayderley Zapata. Soravuo’s departure cleared the way for Zapata to feel more comfortable with his position, but being Zapata he still had to keep things interesting and just barely make the final with an E score in the 7s. But the important thing is that he’s in the final with a chance to right things on Saturday and get the necessary points to retain the position of Olympic qualification favorite.
With a 6.4 D score and superior execution, Kazuki Minami of Japan advanced to the final in first place, two tenths clear of Kirill Prokopev, followed by Milad Karimi (already qualified to Olympics), then Hayden Skinner, Nikita Ignatyev, and Colin Van Wicklen.
The challenge for all of these athletes is an absence of previous results. Van Wicklen is the only one among them currently with any ranking points (and not thaaaat many himself), so showing up at this point and finishing 3rd or 4th at some meets isn’t really going to do anything in the Olympic race. These other athletes have to consistently win because Zapata has such a head start.
But if Minami keeps doing floor routines with that kind of score, he has a chance to move up the standings very very (very) quickly. This floor thing isn’t over.
In sad news, Donnell Whittenburg got a 3 for a short routine on floor and withdrew from rings.
The women’s vault competition in Cottbus is a race between Maria Paseka and Yu Linmin to see who can best take advantage of the absence of Jade Carey to snatch a bunch of ranking points and get within striking distance for the remaining events.
Yu went for full difficulty in qualification and advanced in first place with a 14.704 average. In second place was Paseka, whose difficulty scores were 5.8 and 4.8—which would indicate to me that she went with an Amanar for the first vault and attempted a Lopez for her second vault but was credited with Podkopayeva. Though I haven’t seen them, so that’s just an educated guess.
Paseka received a 14.299 average, so she qualified many tenths behind Yu Linmin, but we’d expect Paseka to go for the Cheng in the final because it’s Paseka. So that’s still anyone’s title. Wins are a vital commodity for both if they’re going to have any shot to challenge Carey.
Teja Belak qualified in a strong third place, pretty close to Paseka, but she probably doesn’t have the difficulty to get actual wins in the series and make a real push toward the top. Still a nice possibility for a medal for her—or one of the DTY crew of Makarena Pinto, Yesenia Ferrera, and Ayaka Sakaguchi, who all advanced to the final.
Current Olympic spot favorite Weng Hao fulfilled the prophecy by placing first in qualification with a 15.100, just ahead of Oleg Verniaiev (who is here because it’s a world cup event and it’s Oleg, but he’s not eligible for the Olympic ranking points).
Potentially even more significant for Weng’s Olympic hopes than his own result, however, is the result from Kohei Kameyama. Heading in, Kameyama was Weng’s next-closest challenger for the Olympic spot, but Kameyama missed the final entirely and will gain no ranking points from this competition. That opens the door for Weng to pretty-much-basically run away with this thing and get himself to the maximum of 90 points (once Lee CK’s points are redistributed) should he go on to victory in the final.
Stephen Nedoroscik did very well to qualify in third place (the leading trio has a fairly large margin over the rest of the pack), but in terms of Olympic qualification, everyone is at the mercy of Weng’s performance on Saturday.
The other pommel horsies will keep some hope alive even if Weng wins the series, however, because the way Liu Yang is dominating rings, Liu would be the favorite to win an intra-country Chinese tiebreak. At least at this point. That would mean Weng is out of luck and someone else would get the PH spot. That’s also why it’s important for Weng to win this event—even with more meet opportunities to come. All results matter for the intra-country tiebreak.
The big news from bars qualification is that Anastasia Iliankova appears to be back for realsies this time, qualifying in first place ahead of Fan Yilin. Both showed 6.3 D scores, but Iliankova got her on execution—going 14.533 to Fan’s 14.466.
Fan does enjoy the ranking advantage on Iliankova heading into this competition, so even if this same qualification result is repeated in the final, Fan would remain ahead of Iliankova overall, but things would start to get closssssse.
Other athletes with potential for huge bars scores like Yin Sisi (3rd), Anastasia Agafonova (4th), and Sophie Scheder (7th) also advanced to the final. That should make for an intensely compelling event, but because those three are all looking for their first ranking points at this competition, while Iliankova and Fan are heading ever closer to the maximum, treat the Olympic race as being Fan v. Iliankova right now. (Lyu Jiaqi also still has a ton of ranking points herself, but didn’t attend this meet.)
There are so many solid rings competitors in this field, but everyone is basically just treading water while watching the Liu Yang Show. Liu Yang already has two wins on his record and qualified in first place here with a 15.100, on his way to the maximum of 90 ranking points if he can repeat that result in the final.
Eleftherios Petrounias recovered well from his world championships disappointment to place 2nd in qualification here, but he’s going to be really up against it if Liu gets another win. Those who are closest to challenging Liu—that would be Petrounias, Tulloch who qualified third here and does have one win on his record so far, You Hao who ended up competing rings after all here and only just made it into the final—will have to view this competition as “can’t let Liu win.”
Because if Liu does get to 90 points, the others will know that they need three wins just to tie him. And there are exactly three meets left. Tough days.