The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Chinese Nationals All-Around

The all-around final from Chinese Nationals proved that this competition was truly from another dimension, and I couldn’t be prouder. Here’s a rundown of the major Olympic contenders and how they fared in today’s all-around compared to the events of day 1. (Results)

Who was still great?

Lu Yufei – National Champion Lu Yufei (!). For someone who wasn’t even remotely close to the edge of the radar for the Olympic team pre-pandemic, Lu’s rise to a national championship has been remarkable. In the Before Times, the highest AA she had ever scored at an actual competition was 54.0 and her claim to fame was that time she was at the American Cup and NBC was like, “I mean no, though.” Here, her two scores were 56.932 and 56.735, going a full 8-for-8. We saw a gymnast with strong enough bars to stand out even among the Chinese team (with a truly stylish piked Jaeger), consistently high-scoring beam, and an increasingly undeniable floor routine that went 14.133 on day 2.

Zhang Jin – Also in the 8-for-8 club was Zhang Jin, who used an exceptionally composed two-day performance to snatch silver in the all-around. While her all-around beam wasn’t quite as secure as the first day, her floor remained at a team-final level reminiscent of 2018, and she was one of the very few gymnasts who successfully didn’t die while performing a competitively difficult vault on both days of competition. Zhang’s best path to a surprise Olympic bid seems to be if everyone else continues being kind of blah or downgraded on vault.

Based on this competition, it would seem she has regained her position from Qi Qi as the one you can go to for a 14 on vault.

Who recovered?

Tang Xijing – Not that Tang was bad on the first day. She was fine, but she clearly improved every event for the all-around final to record the #2 total on the day—behind only Lu Yufei. Her bars was extremely clean, and the shakiness that characterized her beam hit on the first day was gone. With a floor score today that also matched Zhang, Tang should consider this a successful nationals despite not finishing in the top 3 all-around or being on the very highest-scoring team permutations from this meet.

That’s mostly down to not having a high vault score given the FTY she was showing. If she adds that DTY back at the training camp competitions, I’d say that makes her a favorite for the team since the vault score is the only reason she ends up behind a gymnast like Zhang in the current team score dynamic. Even if she doesn’t upgrade back, I’d say she’s in contention with a good shot, especially if she manages to keep showing more consistency than someone like Li Shijia.

Ou Yushan – It wasn’t exactly the triumphant rebirth we had hoped, but Ou Yushan did get maneuvered into the all-around final after all (thanks to some strategic withdrawing — byeeeeee Wu Ran) and drastically improved on her day 1 performance. On this occasion, she only fell the one time on beam instead of two, and did not flop over on her Yfull, allowing her to move up to 6th in the final all-around standings with the #3 score on the day, even with a fall.

The highlight of Ou’s performance was once again her floor, this time featuring a stick on her whip-whip-3/1 for a 14.333. That floor routine alone keeps her on China’s highest-scoring potential teams since it’s at least a half point (if not closer to a point) better than what the general pack of team contenders are able to do on floor. My feeling on the matter is that Ou fully earns her Olympic ticket thanks to floor, and then if you get a hit beam out of her too, that’s an extra win.

Also a special shout-out to He Licheng, who was not even on the national team but managed to finish fifth here, ahead of quite a few name brands, and hit a pretty strong DTT in the all-around final that made you go, “Hey, might want to keep this in mind.”

Who are we not mad at, just worried about?

Li Shijia – Today, Li was not able to live up to the excellence of her first-place performance from Wednesday, falling on her DTY attempt and again on her acro series on beam, which dropped her down to third in the cumulative standings. Bronze is still not a bad result, and if you assume a hit beam like the one we saw on the first day, Li is definitely on your best-scoring potential team. But today’s work did not assuage any consistency concerns. She’s opening the door to those who might emerge as more reliable hits.

Guan Chenchen – Here’s the thing. Guan Chenchen fell all the way from 4th to 9th in the final all-around standings because of today’s performance, which is not ideal. But, it was mostly due to a full-throated apocalypse on bars, a routine that is entirely irrelevant for her. We know Guan is bad at bars. I talked to everyone, and we’re all OK with it. On the bright side, she did manage to hit beam this time for an insane 15.466—the highest beam score of the competition so far.

That beam score (along with her DTY) could actually put her on China’s highest-scoring potential team, though I’m not super optimistic that would actually happen given the general concerns over her hitting. But it would be numerically justified, and I’m therefore on board.

Because of her 9th-place finish, Guan does not automatically make the Olympic selection squad, which is troubling, though per the Chinese gymternet, the procedures sound like they’re written loosely enough to allow for Guan to be added as an additional invite, which of course she should be.

Who’s in big, bad trouble?

Qi Qi – Qi’s day 1 performance left numerous concerns as to how helpful she might actually be to an Olympic team at this point, despite her recent necessity for vault and floor. With her scores dropping on vault, beam, and floor in the all-around final, those concerns were only exacerbated. Knowing that vault is kind of an important deal for her, Qi attempted to step back up to the DTY today, but it did not go well with a short-sideways landing and a fall. Qi dropped all the way to 12th all-around in the final results, did not show a convincing performance here on any event, and has now withdrawn from the vault final. Not a great sign.

Wei Xiaoyuan – Now, there was a recovery here. Wei came back from her two-fall beam performance on the first day to stay on the apparatus today. That was a victory. But staying on meant just 13.966, which wasn’t that close to a contending beam score, especially when Guan can have some wobbles for 15.466, and Ou straight-up fell for a 13.833. It’s really been all about a very good bars routine for Wei this week, but as is also the case for Liu Tingting right now, a high-ish 14 on bars alone is not enough to get onto a Chinese team.

Next step: Day 1 of event finals. I’ll be watching to see whether any of the vault specialists can make a good case for themselves as a contender for the +1 spot, and for what ends up looking like the highest-scoring three on bars.

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