A saga, to be sure.
Liu Tingting entered today’s all-around final as the leader from qualification (final standings are based on the two-day total), and it was largely that impressive day 1 performance that allowed her to hang on for a repeat all-around title—and to weather the national beam nightmare that was today’s competition.
Like a number of her countrywomen, Liu had a rough beam routine, coming off on her front handspring front tuck series (she also found her Yurchenko full a struggle), which meant that despite excellent routines on bars and floor, Liu placed 3rd among the athletes on day 2, just a smidgen behind Wei Xiaoyuan and Qi Qi. That 56.000 she scored on day 1, however, allowed her more than a smidgen of wiggle room (Smidgen of Wiggle Room is also the name of every floor routine Adi Pop ever choreographed for China). The title wasn’t really in doubt heading to Liu’s final routine on floor, where she just needed to be undisastrous in order to win. She was far better than undisastrous.
Despite being the defending champion, Liu Tingting was not the favorite heading into this competition. The last time we had seen her was worlds, when she had that disastrous time on bars and beam in the team final, and she definitely did not seem like she’d be the winner in the lead-up training. But while it wasn’t a perfect competition for Liu, her 8-routine performance was far more composed than most of her greener compatriots, which made the difference.
Among those greener compatriots, the title might well have been within Wei Xiaoyuan’s grasp, especially after her statement bars routine that featured a 6.3 D score (the highest in the AA final).
She was just a couple tenths behind Liu at that point but also missed on her acro series on beam and had to settle for second place. We’ll see plenty more from Wei. Her investment on floor makes her stand out, as does the connection amplitude she gets on the ever-popular 3/1 + front tuck. Her front tuck goes up, not sideways.
The most impressive performer on the day, however, was Qi Qi, who elevated herself into the bronze medal position after starting the day in 5th. Primarily, this was due to her floor routine, with a stuck landing on her Silivas that can go a long was toward separating her from the “mid-13s at home, 13.0 at worlds” floor routines that many of the other contenders are bringing.
In addition to her good events, though, she also hit a comfortable beam routine, which was particularly remarkable given what was happening to nearly everyone else.
Qi Qi’s bars is never going to allow her to get huge AA totals—her hit meet scored almost identically to Liu Tingting and Wei Xiaoyuan’s one-fall meets—but she was the rare gem among the frontrunners who actually hit to her capability in this all-around final.
Which brings us to Guan Chenchen. Sigh.
Guan was soaring after the first day, qualifying in a surprising 2nd place and doing so thanks to a remarkable 7.1/15.400 beam routine. Sadly, her second-day performance turned out to be more of a tragic cross-generational Hulu miniseries about finding purpose through pain. Mary Louise Parker won three Golden Globes for Guan Chenchen’s nationals, is what I’m saying.
Things started to turn sour pretty early on with bars, where she peeled off on a Weiler attempt and forced her coach into a quick hip grab.
On beam, where everything was so magical on Thursday, Guan fell on her front handspring front tuck series (although still managed an excellent 14.050 and the third best beam score of the day because that’s what D score will do for you), and then she moved on floor, putting her hands down on her opening full-in to cap off a 51.500 day that saw her drop from 2nd to 6th.
But the true message of this miniseries was that even if you go to floor having just fallen on beam and nearly self-mangled on bars, it’s still important to give yourself punch-snaps.
Among the Olympic contenders, Tang Xijing partially recovered from the struggles on day 1 that had put her in an alarming 6th place. This time around, she hit a excellent “remember I’m THE SILVER” beam routine for 14.850, the top score of the day on that event by quite a wide margin. Bars remained a problem, however, as Tang got lost in a pirouette and had to cover, so while she improved on day 2 and managed the 4th-beat AA score, that still saw her settle at only 5th overall—not an ideal performance for a gymnast who probably became the tentative title favorite upon the withdrawal of Ou Yushan.
The surprising journey of typical second-tier elite Lu Yufei continued in Saturday’s all-around competition, where she was nearly able to mimic her performance from the first day and did enough to hang on for 4th place overall, juuusssst missing out on a podium finish that would have been a major upset. In this roller coaster competition, Lu Yufei was probably the steadiest athlete of them all.
Zhang Jin produced the top vault score of the day, but the remaining apparatuses weren’t really at the level she would need to get herself back into team-frontrunner status and kept her in 7th overall.
As for Shang Chunsong, she had more problems today than on the first day, falling on a straight jump full from side position on beam and not replicating her exceptional floor routine that got her into the event final.
A standout performances among the remaining athletes belonged to small beacon of the future Zhang Di with her beam routine—a rare high-difficulty hit—that may also be challenging Guan Chenchen’s supremacy for the title of Most Sideward. Zhang performs a combination of four connected side jumps, with a split jump 1/2 to straddle 1/2 to split to straddle.
To some extent, the people whose Olympic team hopes got the biggest lift today were Ou Yushan and Li Shijia. It was a rough-enough day overall that no one’s performances turned the injured gymnasts into forgotten characters, though this is the first competition back after a long break and some clunky moments are to be expected.
Still, Liu Tingting’s AA title obviously helps her case as a reminder of how good she can be, and while I do think Wei Xiaoyuan also entrenched herself in the main group of contenders with this meet, she and Liu TT are both currently vaulting Yfulls, and it’s a problem. It means you can’t really put them on the same Olympic team of four, so Liu’s all-around performance gives her an edge in that race for the time being.
Qi Qi also helped further establish herself as a potential necessity for vault and floor, more so than she seemed heading into the event. That 14.200 she scored on floor in the AA final is really difficult to ignore. My Chinese floor priors had been in the “well, you could just use people like Li Shijia and Tang Xijing on floor and Qi Qi isn’t adding that much more” area, but if that 14.200 becomes a common thing, that really is adding much more.
On the other side, Guan Chenchen’s meet in the all-around final reminded me why I’m leaning more toward her as a +1 aiming for the beam final than as a member of the AA Olympic team. But I do like the idea of Guan and Fan Yilin as the individuals for China—more so than using someone like Qi Qi in that position, who could make event finals on vault and floor and finish about 5th or 6th but probably wouldn’t be a medal winner. Guan would have to hit beam, which is obviously not a given, but when she does hit, she can score with anyone. And that kind of medal ability is what you want in a +1 from a top country.
Meanwhile, the men’s all-around final brought us a last-minute surprise. It seemed for the majority of the two days of competition that Xiao Ruoteng was your obvious favorite and winner, but a miss on high bar in the final rotation allowed Sun Wei to jump ahead of him and take the championship. That was not at all what I expected after watching the first rotation, in which Sun Wei fell on floor and suffered two real ankle-crusher landings. At that point, he seemed to be falling off the pace, not gearing up toward victory, but Xiao was a little iffy everywhere and allowed Sun to stay close enough to pounce on that final mistake.
Deng Shudi and Lin Chaopan also managed to beat Xiao on day 2 after the HB problem, but because they were far enough back after the first day of competition, they had to settle for 3rd and 4th place overall.