Olympic Uneven Bars Preview

Today, let’s talk about bars, which should feature the highest profile, most exciting gold medal battle of the women’s competition at the Olympics. At least as long as everything goes to plan. It is bars after all.

Rules – Each athlete will count her 8 most difficult skills, including the dismount, for her difficulty score. Routines must also include a flight element from high bar to low bar, a same-bar release skill, the display of different grips, and a pirouetting element with at least a full turn.

TIER I

Nina Derwael (BEL) and Sunisa Lee (USA)

Derwael is the two-time defending world champion with the 2nd-highest difficulty score in the world. Lee owns the highest difficulty in the world as well as the highest score recorded on bars in 2021 with a 15.300. It should be a good one.

The 6.8 peak difficulty score for Lee is a very slight check in her column because it looks like Derwael is planning to go for at best a 6.7. Still, that’s just one tenth, and it’s going to get more complicated than that with both athletes facing some fraught composition decisions.

Lee performs that 6.8 difficulty only when she is exactly on, and if she’s not, she will adjust to her backup composition, which should put her at 6.5. It will be an interesting strategic conundrum for Lee because she’s still capable of winning Olympic silver with her backup 6.5 routine but is probably going to need to lean on the 6.8 to win gold, all things being hit.

That said, Derwael has decisions of her own to make with her potential composition. After missing on bars on the first day of the FIT Challenge, Derwael removed the new and slightly controversial Nabieva 1/2 from her routine in the event final to go down to a 6.6 difficulty. That’s a safer and probably more comfortable routine for her, but one that also has to introduce more skills and more cast handstands to get up to a 6.6 difficulty and is therefore risking a lower execution score as well.

Efficiency of composition is going to be a major factor here because even if both athletes perform their peak difficulties and Lee ends up owning a one-tenth edge, Derwael’s counter-advantage would be her more efficient routine. Lee takes 10 skills (plus 3 cast handstands and a giant swing) to get to her 6.8 difficulty score. This includes a blind change to get facing the proper direction for her piked jaeger, and a giant full to fulfill the turn requirement, neither of which count among her 8 most difficult elements. Derwael, meanwhile, takes 8 skills (plus 3 cast handstands and no giant) to get to her 6.7, with no elements besides cast handstands that don’t contribute to her difficulty score.

Because everything is a deduction and every additional element is a deduction risk, having fewer total elements is a huge deal for execution. (In addition to her difficulty, Derwael has owned the highest E score in each of the last two worlds finals, including scoring .333 higher than Lee on execution in the 2019 final). But, if Derwael goes down to the 6.6 routine she did a couple weeks ago, she mostly loses that efficiency edge, which will be at least as significant if not more significant than the actual difficulty score in deciding who comes out on top.

All of which is to say this is shaping up as an extremely close race, where slight composition adjustments will be everything.

TIER II

Fan Yilin (CHN)

The most likely spoiler to the top duo and most likely additional medalist would be 2015 and 2017 world champion Fan Yilin. Fan is currently going for a peak 6.5 difficulty score if she connects everything (she has added an inbar full to the 6.3 she performed at nationals), so that’s slightly lower than what Lee and Derwael will aim for but also right in the mix. Fan will mostly be hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2016 Olympics, where her pirouettes were hammered to such a degree in qualification that she missed the event final entirely despite entering the competition as a reigning world champion.

Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova and Anastasia Iliankova and Viktoria Listunova (RUS)

Expect difficulty scores of 6.3 from everyone in this batch of Russians except Listunova, whose addition of a Fabrichnova dismount can put her at 6.4. All four will be expected to record medal-level totals as they battle in qualification to see which two will make the bars final. And I do expect two of them to make the bars final, both of whom will rank among the top medal contenders. At every phase of Russian Cup, all four got almost exactly the same scores as each other, so it should be a fun journey. (In this context, fun is a word that means tragic.)

Listunova has the difficulty edge right now, but she does not typically end up ranked as the top Russian on bars by execution, so that difficulty alone won’t necessarily give her a lead, especially with the landing risk of that Fabrichnova compared to the comfort of the full-twisting double tuck the others perform. Urazova owns the best bars average among the Russians in 2021 and is probably the one I trust the most to hit her routine and finish her pirouettes vertically enough for a score in the high 14s. Urazova is my safest bet for the final.

Meanwhile, Melnikova and Iliankova have the potential to produce the two most impressive routines of the bunch on their day (Iliankova gets cool points for going for the biggest same-bar releases) and could easily be the two to get into the final—as long as they withstand their potential stumbling blocks. The piked Jaeger has proved harrowing for Melnikova at times this year, while Iliankova’s score is often dependent on how much she looks like a starfish during her Yezhova and how much that affects her execution. Those skills will be critical.

Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos (FRA)

De Jesus Dos Santos has increased her difficulty score to 6.3 (as of the FIT Challenge a couple weeks ago) with the addition of an all-important Nabieva. While DJDS has typically come up a bit shy of being among the best bars workers in the world (she was second alternate to the final in 2019), this added difficulty should be exactly what she needs to get into a final this time, or even into the medal mix depending on how things go. Her execution is certainly able to keep pace with the best bars workers.

Elisabeth Seitz (GER)

The veteran sage of the group, Seitz made her first world bars final back in 2010 and has remained pretty much exactly as competitive to this day as she was at that first worlds, enduring many highs and lows and being personally victimized by the women’s technical committee. Seitz won her lone world bars medal in 2018 (a bronze) and famously finished 4th in the 2016 Olympic final, just 0.033 behind Sophie Scheder. She’ll be among the select few with a difficulty total over 6.0 at the Olympics and should be considered a favorite to make her third Olympic bars final.

Simone Biles (USA)

Uneven bars is the one event on which Biles will not enter the Olympics as the gold medal favorite, but she is certainly in contention to advance to the event final, especially since the snub of Riley McCusker has established Biles as the 2nd-best bars worker on the US team, clearing a path to the final.

Biles won a silver on bars at 2018 worlds and came just a tenth short of medaling in 2019, so the precedent for her being in the medal mix is certainly there. I do, however, think her 6.2 difficulty score will prove slightly more of a hindrance in getting close to the medals this year since other contenders have emerged and/or upped their difficulty in the specific quest for a medal here. Whereas for Biles, this is the “I mean, whatever” final.

Lu Yufei (CHN)

While Fan Yilin is—by a pretty clear margin—the best bars worker on China’s Olympic squad and shouldn’t face a two-per-country threat, there are other Chinese athletes who can score well (and will need to do so if China is to stay competitive on bars in the team competition). I’d rank Lu Yufei as the best among them. We’ve seen strong bars numbers from Lu this year, including a couple 14.8s that if replicated at the Olympics would be enough to make the final. Not since 2017 have two Chinese gymnasts made the bars final, a streak that China will be looking to end.

TIER III

Rebeca Andrade (BRA)

There are several athletes who come into the Olympics with lower difficulty than the major medal contenders but who have the execution and comfort with their routines to overcome that. Chief among them should be Andrade, who most recently did a 6.1 difficulty in Doha and has been performing cleanly enough for mid-14s, which I expect to be around the cutoff for the Olympic final.

Hatakeda Hitomi (JPN)

Hatakeda has now joined the 6.3 club with the exact same routine composition as Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova. Since that routine is putting both Russians in medal contention, it can do the same for Hatakeda, a clean bars worker who now has the composition to match, even if we haven’t typically seen high bars scores from her.

Jonna Adlerteg (SWE)

Adlerteg has among the more competitive difficulty slates in the Olympic field and can go into the 6s if she puts it all together at once. She’ll be an underdog for the actual final because her execution score is typically not as high when she does her most difficult releases, but she’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

Kim Bui (GER)

Bui has long boasted an efficient and challenging bars routine with the requisite D +E flight combinations to rack up the connection bonus, though at this point I imagine she’s going to have to dismount with something more difficult than a double pike to get herself into an Olympic event final.

Sanne Wevers (NED)

I mention Wevers here just because she might do the clear-hip Nabieva 1/2. Which would be excellent.

27 thoughts on “Olympic Uneven Bars Preview”

  1. “snub of Riley McCusker”

    What “snub”?

    I am NO fan of Skinner but thinking Riley should have been named for the +1 over Skinner is ridiculous when she went 15 just once this season, the other two routines in the same ball park as Biles’ scores, and a fall on a TOE ON. Also, she’s carrying an injury.

    I do not understand this “RIlEy WuZ RObBed” narrative.
    A 14.553 average from 5 routines is not a medal contender in Tokyo.
    Dropping her fall on day two of Trials gives her a 14.8 average on four routines. Biles is capable of that score range.

    People keep saying, well Biles and Carey make Skinner redundant for VT finals. Skinner will be 3 per’d for vault.
    Lee and Biles made McCusker redundant for bars finals. McCusker would have likely been 3 per’d for bars.

    In case of an issue with Carey or Biles in VT qualifications, Skinner will win a vault medal if she qualifies. McCusker could never a bars medal unless half the field fell.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Should have been THREE bars routines, not two.
      Riley’s scores for her 5 bars routines this season were:
      14.650 (Winter Cup)
      14.650 (Nats Day 1)
      15.100 (Nats Day 2)
      14.800 (OT Day 1)
      13.566 (OT Day 2)

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      1. A medal on bars for Riley would have been tough, but there is enough talent among the US women to use the +1 spot to have filled the second medal potential spot on bars with Riley. Biles simply does not have the difficulty to contend this time on bars. McCusker, even without being totally consistent through the competition and trials season was the most reasonable gymnast to bring in the +1 spot.

        However, for that to have happened, Skinner needed to have been on the team. With Skinner’s trials finish and vault potential, you couldn’t leave her off the team entirely so based on Tom’s stubborn adherence to rank order, MyKayla gets wasted in the +1 spot.

        Unfortunately this whole situation simply magnifies the problem with Grace being on this team in any capacity. She doesn’t help the team final score, she doesn’t have individual medal prospects anywhere, and her inclusion on the 4 person team means she knocked both the best potential 4th member of the team into the +1 spot and the best potential +1 member off the team entirely.

        If someone like Leanne Wong had shown up with 5 14+ floor routines then she would have had the best argument. However, because she didn’t, the biggest and more obvious gap was on bars and McCusker fits that gap very well.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I think Riley was snubbed, but not by Skinner. Skinner should have been on the team and McCallum should have been watching from Minnesota.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. As much as I’m happy for Grace and dislike MyKayla, I have to agree that Skinner on the team and Riley as an individual makes the most sense.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. That would involve Tom leaving Grace home. He always puts her on teams, no matter what. Skinner got screwed because tom refuses to make the tuff calls and favors Grace.

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      3. Grace has never been “favored” by Tom.

        She made the 2018 team and was needed for that team on vault and floor not because she was favored, but because Jade Carey decided to skip Worlds. Had Jade not decided to go the individual route, McCallum would have been the alternate.

        She made the 2019 over Skinner not that she was favored, but because the team needed her. She did vault and bars in team finals because that is where the hole was…bars. This was due to McCusker being injured and Hurd and Wong falling at World Trials. You can’t have Skinner doing bars in team finals.

        2021 she made the team because she was 4th ranked in the all around, when qualifications are 4-4-3 and because her scores were better than Suni on 2 events as opposed to Skinner who was better than Suni on one event.

        If you want to take favoritism, let’s discuss the two visits that Forster made to her gym to meet with Skinner, when he didn’t visit all the National Team gymnasts’ gyms. Shilese Jones would have liked a visit and some attention from Forster.

        Skinner’s E scores were held up all of Olympic Trials, other than vault. Her beam score Day 1 of Trials is laughable and cannot be defended.

        If Biles has no chance at a bars medal, than neither does McCusker.

        But let’s face it, the likely hood of Suni, Biles, and Carey sweeping the event finals spots is pretty high. There is a chance that Chiles, McCallum, and Skinner will get 2 per’d.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. shamrockstar81 thank you!! I love Grace and she is not favored by Tom at all. I think both the Grace – Myk and the Myk – Riley team – individual makes sense, the only problem is that Tom did not communicate the criteria and selection process to the athletes and the media

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I wouldn’t say Riley was snubbed, but I can see the argument. “Riley fell on a TOE ON” yeah so did Simone. Both were uncharacteristic, more so for Riley. “She went 15 just once this season”, and Biles never did throughout this quad (She is still the GOAT obvs). The “issue” with Skinner is not she would never win a vault medal, it’s that the US could win two vault medals without her. Riley gave the US a chance to win a second Bars medal with her potential 15. But the team is the team. There’s no point in arguing now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Clarification: Simone didn’t fall on a toe on at Olympic Trials. She fell at the GK Classic

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      2. Finally someone with two brain cells to rub together. The ‘issue’ with Skinner is her STILL HIDEOUS form on all events except vault, where she’s made it up to average.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. But Simone wasn’t doing ONE event, like Riley was.

        It is still hilarious to me that people would put Riley on the team after falling on the one event she did at Olympic Trials.

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  2. Why do we STILL, after all this time, not like Skinner? Why is liking her or not even mentioned in the conversation about whether or not she should have been on the team. Gym fans are so frustrating.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree. It is bizarre how many gym fans feel the need to qualify any positive statements about Skinner with a statement that they dislike her as a person.

      I personally am frustrated by Grace’s inclusion on the team but would never turn that into a personal attack on her or her character.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Uh, because her form sucks the galactic banana raw and creaming and that’s a bit embarrassing to have on a national TEAM? Morons are so frustrating.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Skinner had all this time to improve her elite gymnastics.
      Instead she is doing the same filthy gymnastics she did last quad. She was enjoyable to watch in NCAA because she had cleaned up considerably. However, back to elite she is back to cramming in as many difficult skills into a routine as possible to maximize her D score. Had she been smart and gone for well constructed, well executed routines, she would be on the Olympic Team. Instead she insisted on skills that incur automatic deductions. For example, her Moors which is always tucked. Or a full in beam dismount.

      Her gymnastics leaves a lot to be desired.

      Skinner stans are so frustrating because STILL, after all this time, they ignore her flaws?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree. She has form issues that should and did keep her out of the team competition.

        But I don’t understand the gymnastics community’s need to continually express how much they don’t like her in order to justify anything positive that’s said about her or any other gymnast that the collective community has decided to not like. I hate the way we talk about any of these athletes like they aren’t actual people. Bad form is not a valid reason, for me at least, to not like someone. I’m not foolish enough to think that I could convince anyone otherwise, but I hope that any gymnast, elite or not, who reads these comments gets to hear the other side of the narrative. Their value is not just about how good their gymnastics is. That they can be good people worthy of being liked or appreciated even if their legs aren’t straight during a flip. “I don’t like her” is not the same as ‘I don’t like her gymnastics’.

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    4. Wait, wait, wait… there’s a big difference between frustrated at a gymnast’s form and not liking them as a person. Unfortunately, a lot of the time people will say they don’t like the gymnast because they don’t like the gymnastics.

      It’s human nature to do so, but you don’t have to pick winners and losers. It’s not necessary to trash one gymnast to elevate another gymnast.

      Yes, Skinner’s form issues are maddening, especially since she was a very clean gymnast in college. This is a major flaw in her coaching. Her coaches should have the Code of Points in front of them, look at the list of deductions, look at her Moors, and then realize she is losing nearly as much as the skill is worth. And then they should repeat that throughout across all of her routines and skills and maximize the code for her skill set and body type. Similarly, we can criticize Grace’s inconsistency over the past competition season and question her inclusion on the team WITHOUT getting mad at her or disliking her because she was selected.

      But none of these criticisms are about the PERSON. They are about the GYMNASTICS. I believe as gym fans we have a duty not to attack the athletes. Commenting on their gymnastics is fair game but especially given the history of USA gymnastics, we need to support them and lift them up all we can.

      Liked by 2 people

    5. What’s the matter, Matt? Perturbed because I have excellent reasons to dislike Skinner’s gymnastics which have nothing to do with her personality?
      OK, Matt….🤮

      Liked by 1 person

  3. JUSTICE FOR WEI XIAOYUAN. JUSTICE FOR BECKY DOWNIE.

    Riley McCusker should have been sent too, but she’s not on their level. And what the heck ever happened to Anastasia Agafonova. Her bar routines at the end of 2019 were the best of the past 5 years from Russia. She was screwed over at Worlds and should have qualified to finals.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I so miss Simakova and Agafonova, what even happened with them? But anyway, the three new senior didn’t leave them a chance for Tokyo

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