The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Ukraine Defeats Romania: A Postmortem

Well it didn’t go great!

Following a fairly dominant qualification performance in which Romania outscored Ukraine by 4.600, the Romanian team looked to be resting on a cloud of chocolates heading into a European team final that was theirs for the winning.

That favorite status, however, ignored Romania’s virtuosic ability to find new and creative ways to fall apart on bars. Ioana Stanciulescu led off Romania’s bars rotation with a 9.800 that eliminated Romania’s entire potential advantage in one fell swoop. Fell being the operative word. The 9.800 (and 4.600 execution score) looks a bit harsh for what was basically your run-of-the-mill two-fall routine, but the second fall (after a missed Ray) was handstand based, with Stanciulescu repeatedly going over on a handstand and trying to correct before ultimately deciding it was a lost cause and hopping off. It was that avalanche of handstand deductions PLUS the subsequent fall that made the score look even worse than the routine actually was.

Sfiringu also had problems on bars, throwing in a rarely seen accidental tucked Jaeger that ended up torpedoing her execution score and giving her an even lower total than she received in qualification when she actually fell (scoring here was also much tighter on bars and floor than it was on the first day).

Ukraine didn’t try to do a ton on bars—Varinska and Bachynska both dismounted with double tucks and Varinska went for only a 5.1 D score, the lowest for any of the Ukrainian or Romanian athletes despite being Varinska. That not trying to do a lot strategy was quite effective compared to Romania’s light-the-toilet-on-fire strategy and gave Ukraine an advantage of more than 4 points because of bars alone.

Romania’s hopes, however, were not fully dashed at this point, and the comeback began almost immediately with a beam rotation in which none of the Romanians even fell (!) and several of them showed excellent potential in the medium of nearly falling but courageously flailing and staying on. The one fall in the lead-group beam rotation came from Anastasia Motak, who missed her front pike combination and also received an overtime deduction because she was born, lived, and died during a preposterous dismount preparation display that I will spend the rest of my life watching.

That beam consistency-ish helped Romania claw some of the margin back, and moving to floor, Romania used its superiority there to progressively close the gap with each routine, particularly a stellar comeback showing from Stanciulescu that earned the highest floor score of the day. Suddenly, going into the final routine from Larisa Iordache, Romania needed only a score in the 12.9s to win the team title. That seemed supremely doable for Iordache since she went 13.433 in qualification for a routine without her best landings.

Then, things took another turn. Iordache was forced to bail on her third pass, an intended back 2.5 to front tuck, where she was able to complete only a double full. This was a particularly big deal because it meant that her routine no longer included a front tumbling element—worth 0.5 in composition requirements. That left Iordache with a D score of just 5.0 and a total of 12.766, putting Romania less than two tenths behind and giving Ukraine the European team title.

Shades of Mattie Larson in the 2010 team final here, though in Larson’s case the situation was more extreme because she also lost the combination pass composition requirement, which no longer exists.

In 2010, the discussion was that Larson could have just added a random front tuck or front aerial in her choreography to get that front-acro 0.5 back and fulfill the requirement, though the rules have since changed to prohibit such things. Now, the front tumbling element must be part of an actual acro line, so it would not have been a simple matter for Iordache to improvise and meet the requirement. She would have had to ad lib an entire tumbling pass that she doesn’t train.

Now, she did still have one pass left in her routine and would have ended up gaining value by ditching her double pike and replacing it with some nothing like, say, a front handspring + front tuck (there must be at least two elements for it to be considered an acro line). While she’d lose three tenths in skill value, she’d gain five tenths in composition, so it would have been worth it—but expecting someone to do a cost-benefit analysis like that in the middle of her floor routine is a lot.

And so the team title went to Ukraine, despite a total even lower than the team achieved for a pretty rough qualification performance two days previously. That one beam fall was the only true blemish, where overall Ukraine defied multiple decades of heritage and used slow-and-steady-wins-the-race to defeat the wildly chaotic (and much more fun to talk about) Romanian performance. But who am I kidding, the actual reason Ukraine won was Anastasia Bachynska’s hair.

In other worlds, Hungary met expectations by winning the bronze medal, once again proving itself to be the best bars team in the competition. Hungary’s qualification score would actually have put the team in really close contention to win, but things did not quite go ideally on beam and floor today. Hungary still enjoyed a significant margin over Turkey in fourth place, the Czech Republic in fifth place, and Croatia in sixth place.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg’s qualification score was higher than Croatia’s TF score. What, you thought I wasn’t going to shoehorn a Luxembourg moment in here?

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