The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Asian Championship Women’s Preview

The Asian Championships—the next step in the world championship qualification pathway—begin this week in Doha. On offer for the women will be 4 team spots at worlds, as well as an additional 8 all-around spots for those who are not part of a qualifying country (the men have 5 team spots and 6 AA spots).

The team/AA competition will span two days for some reason, with vault and bars on June 15th followed by beam and floor on June 16th. That two-day competition will determine all the qualifiers for worlds, with event finals on the 17th and 18th to crown continental champions.

In the team department, China and Japan are the major favorites and should have no problem at all getting two of the four team spots available (though based on scores so far this year we could have a tightly matched race between the two).

While the Chinese women have not featured in an official competition so far this year (the national championship was canceled), they did hold an internal trial for the Asian Championship team, and subsequently named a traveling squad of Zhang Jin, Tang Xijing, Wu Ran, Wei Xiaoyuan, Luo Rui, and Sun Xinyi, with the alternate among that group of 6 still TBD. Since Tang, Wei, and Luo are necessary for bars, Zhang is looking very necessary for vault and floor, and Wu got 13.866 on floor at the trial, I’d venture to assume that the alternate will be Sun Xinyi, who is a phenomenal beamer on an already deep beam team, but we shall see.

Not making China’s team were Ou Yushan, who did not compete floor at the trial and did only a Yfull on vault, and Qi Qi, who may have been able to add some vaultishness to the group but didn’t show another competitive apparatus.

With several veterans in the selected team, China is bringing a much more experienced squad than Japan, which is in rebirth mode following the post-Olympic international retirements of Murakami, Teramoto, Hatakeda, and Sugihara (who is still planning to compete at the national event championships). Rather, Japan’s Asian Championship team is the brand new quintet of Kasahara Arisa, Miyata Shoko, Yamada Chiharu, Watanabe Hazuki, and Matsuda Touwa, who despite their lack of footprint on the global gymnastic scene, have recorded scores at nationals and NHK that should at least keep China on its toes.

The complication here for Japan is the national event championships also taking place on the 18th and 19th—precluding gymnasts from competing at both meets—which are a critical part of Japan’s world championship selection process. Based on the results of nationals and NHK, Kasahara, Miyata, and Yamada have already clinched their spots on this year’s worlds team with their top-3 AA finishes. The 4th and 5th spots on the worlds team, meanwhile, will be determined by whose best-two-scores averages on each event add the most to a potential team score following the event championships, with the 4th spot limited to those who finished 4th-10th at NHK and the 5th spot without AA placement or meet participation limitations (which is a big step for Japan’s selection process and I’m so proud of you).

The 5th spot having no ties to AA finishes is critical for world beam champion Urara Ashikawa’s hopes of making it back to worlds since she has not recorded the necessary all-around results so far this year. She’s going to need to get that 5th spot with her beam scores, and given how close the race for the final worlds spots looks right now, results at the event championship will influence the picture tremendously. For those still aiming at a spot on the worlds team, the event championships are a far more important competition than the Asian championship, which means that Japan isn’t sending its top-scoring team or all its available top-placing gymnasts to Doha this week.

The pre-competition team bronze favorite will be South Korea. South Korea is not quite as spoiled for top routines as China, or as spoiled for depth as Japan, but given the Olympic performances from Lee Yunseo and Yeo Seojeong and that surprise 11th-place worlds finish from Shin Solyi, South Korea should have the routines on this year’s Asian Champs team to excel. At April’s national championship, Yeo Seojeong won the general division and Shin Solyi won the high school division (Lee Yunseo did not compete then but is back now) with scores that should put South Korea behind China and Japan but with a realistic buffer over everyone else.

Typically, we see Taiwan rank 4th in the continent among the teams present, so consider the Taiwanese team the most likely to snatch the final team spot given what we know so far. This team doesn’t always have the full contingent of scores, but the results from the internal Asian Championships selection competition at the beginning of May were encouraging, with Ting Hua-Tien dominating the all-around on the first day of competition, supported by individual standout results like Huang Tzu-Hsing’s 13.300 on beam on day 2.

Those scores, depending on realism as always, would outpace what we saw most recently from the next group of contending squads at the Southeast Asian Games, where a Philippines team with Aleah Finnegan defeated Vietnam and Singapore but with quite a bit of parity among those teams overall. At the most recent Asian Championship in 2019, it was Malaysia that finished 5th as a team—not far behind Taiwan—but Farah Ann Abdul Hadi has since retired and Malaysia sent just two athletes to the SEA Games.

As for the individuals, the apparatus world cup qualifiers early in the year were a boon for many of the other gymnasts in Asia hoping to qualify themselves. Because those events were so poorly attended, we’ll end up going pretty far down the women’s ranking lists to find enough qualifiers for worlds, and most people who got any points at some juncture (especially on bars, beam, and floor) will be in contention for an apparatus spot at worlds.

On the Oksana Chusovitina front, she has already qualified to worlds to compete vault alone via those apparatus world cups, but she would need to compete the AA at the Asian Championship if she wants to qualify to compete all four events at worlds.

Also on vault, Protistha Samanta of India has already secured herself a worlds spot, and her Indian teammate Pranati Nayak is highly likely to get a vault spot for herself once the dust settles. Angel Wong of Hong Kong will also get a beam spot, and Korkem Yerbossynkyzy of Kazakhstan should end up with spots on a couple events.

On floor, Dildora Aripova of Uzbekistan and Aida Bauyrzhanova of Kazakhstan have clinched event spots, but I imagine both will be aiming for the all-around here and do seem like realistic candidates for the 8 available positions (max 2 per country), along with many of the others who figured at the SEA Games, like all-around champion Rifda Irfanaluthfi of Indonesia, and Rachel Yeoh Li Wen of Malaysia and Nadine Joy Nathan of Singapore who both finished well.

As for anything helpful like entry lists, or start lists, or scores, or streaming, well…TBD? Gymnastics gonna gymnastics.

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