I’m stunned. I really didn’t think anyone would be able to top the American Women. Their performance in the prelims was so dominant. Before I start in on some of the details of the competition, I must say that I think that this competition shows the down side of the 3 up, 3 count format. When 3 gymnasts compete and all 3 scores count, you don’t necessarily have the best team come out on top. The Americans were clearly the team with the most depth but yet they ended up with the silver medal. Why? Because of the 3 up, 3 count format. In the past, a team was allowed to drop one score per event. That way, if you had a fall on your team, it didn’t completely ruin your chances. Now, it’s really anyone’s game. If one team has a fall, that could potentially drop them completely out of contention. Needless to say, I don’t like this newer format. Not only do fewer gymnasts get to participate in team finals but the best team may not win. Yes, I might be slightly bitter right now. Yes, the Chinese were great today and deserve to finally be on top. But still. I don’t like it.

Zhang Nan on Beam at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus, Denmark

Ok, let me start by saying that I did not get to see the entire competition live. I thought that the finals started at 11am Pacific time but it actually started at 10am. So while I’m waiting for the availability of the archive, I will blog about what I did see. I came into the competition in the 3rd rotation, with the USA on Beam…

3rd Rotation:

Jana Bieger (USA) on Beam: Apparently she fell on Vault. I haven’t seen this yet. She did not compete on Bars so this was her first chance to make up for her mistake in the first rotation. It’s always tough to have to recover from a fall earlier in the competition but especially on Beam. This did not seem to phase Bieger. She was incredibly aggressive from start to finish. She had a couple minor wobbles in the routine and a step on her double front dismount but a great performance overall.

Chellsie Memmel (USA) on Beam: Wow. This athlete is incredible. She fell off Bars (again, haven’t seen it yet) so she, too, was recovering from a previous fall. She rocked her arabian. Nailed her backhandspring layout. But it was her punch front that was outrageous. She landed it with basically only one foot! Her right foot slid completely off the Beam but she barely even seemed to flinch. Unbelievable save. She had a slight step/hop on her dismount.

Pang Panpan (China) on Beam: Typical Chinese routine. Beautiful lines and choreography. Great extension on her leaps. Nothing that really stood out but a great routine.

Zhang Nan (China) on Beam: I almost didn’t recognize her at first. Her hair is so long now (compared to her formerly short cut), pulled back in bun. She performed basically the same routine as she has done for the past several years. Her best combo was her sheep jump to full-twisting swing down. Excellent connection and great amplitude on both skills. One of the better swing downs out there.

Anna Pavlova (Russia) on Floor: I have long been a fan of this athlete. She has beautiful form and excellent power but she doesn’t seem to have the consistency. At the 2004 Olympics, I thought she deserved the bronze in the All Around (she finished 4th behind Zhang Nan of China) but that’s a different blog for a different day. Her floor routine had it’s usual clean lines and powerful tumbling. I’m not sure why but I really like the way her full-twisting double looks. It’s one of my favorites to watch. Maybe it’s her open tuck position. Anyhow, all of her tumbling was solid although her signature pass of 2.5 twist to front layout step out seemed a bit off. Her timing wasn’t quite right on the punch into the layout. It was hard to tell (I’ll have to rewatch it) but it looked like her 2.5 twist was over-rotated.

Romania on Vault: Not sure of their names but I saw two double-twisting Yurchenkos from Romania. The first was decent though the form was only so-so but a good landing. The second was outstanding. Her form was good, save for slightly crossed legs at one point and she landed so lightly on her feet and was completely upright on the landing. Great vault. I thought it was scored a tad low.

Laura Campos (Spain) on Bars: Spain was wearing some seriously loud leotards. Flourescent yellow, red/pink, striped numbers with a strange looking high neck. Not too sure about those. Her routine looked very Spain-like. Clean lines but little amplitude on her releases. Her double layout dismount was slung out and she had to pike to make it to her feet.

4th Rotation:

Going into the last rotation, the top four spots belonged to China, USA, Romania & Russia. China led by nine tenths over the United States. Romania was about 1.9 ahead of Russia.

Romania on Bars: I was surprised by Romania on Bars. It is usually their weakest event but this seemed to take their weakness to a whole new level. They didn’t even look like a junior team on this event. I had hoped that the new generations would be different, that working on the basics at the beginning levels of the sport would start to turn things around for them on the Bars. But this was sadly not the case. The two performers that were shown had poor form, especially on their releases, and weak lines. They seemed to labor through their routines and one had visibly bent arms on all of her cast handstands. One of them also fell the wrong way on a full-twisting pirouette on the low bar at the beginning of her routine. I don’t mean to be harsh but you expect more at the elite level, especially the World Championships and especially from the reigning Olympic Champions.

Russia on Vault: Awesome. You couldn’t have asked for a better rotation for the Russians. 3 double-twisting yurchenkos and 3 near sticks. Pavlova started them off with a stick and her typical clean lines. I am having trouble remembering her name right now but the current European Vault champ followed Pavlova with an even higher vault and a near stick (ever so slight bounce). Elena Zamodlochikova (can you believe this gal is still around!?) finished the rotation with an excellent double-twisting yurchenko of her own. It was a near stick but had the slight shuffling around that she is known for. With such a stellar rotation and the Romanians’ difficulty on Bars, the Russians moved into 3rd place.

Cheng Fei (China) on Floor: Fantastic routine! She rocked her double-twisting double back with ease. It’s the best I’ve seen her do it. She danced with her usual charm and the rest of her landings were great. She was the 2nd performer for China. Pang Panpan was not shown but they said she had a solid performance.

Zhang Nan (China) on Floor: She basically needed a clean showing on Floor to wrap things up for China. With a 9 tenth lead going into the 4th rotation, China basically needed a fall and the Americans needed to hit in order for the Chinese to slip into 2nd place. She seemed nervous and slightly cautious. Her landings were clean though she did not seem aggressive and her dance seemed uninspired. But she did her job. She hit her routine and it was enough to put China in a comfortable position and it certainly put pressure on the Americans.

Jana Bieger (USA) on Floor: I am not a fan of Bieger’s choreography. Someone please call Adriana Pop! But wow, can that gal tumble! She looked like she floated in her double layout. Great landing. And she nailed her full-twisting front step-out to triple twist. Her triple was slighty low but she covered so well that you almost couldn’t tell. She was so high on her arabian that she over-rotated and went out of bounds. She came back strong with her final pass of double pike, which she nailed.

Alicia Sacramone (USA) on Floor: I like how saucey Sacramone is on Floor. She is very entertaining to watch. And she has extreme power in her tumbling. She did have a few hops on her front tumbling passes – her arabian and her 2.5 twist to punch layout front. Those were the only visible errors in her routine. Apparently her routine was the cause of some controversy in the prelims and her subsequent score (they deducted 5 tenths from her difficulty score after watching a video replay of her routine) meant that she did not make the Floor finals, where she is the reigning World Champion.

Chellsie Memmel (USA) on Floor: Talk about pressure! To have to hit your routine for your team to have any hope of winning, and to have fallen off your best event earlier in the competition so your confidence is skewed… There was quite a lengthy wait for Memmel on the podium while she waited for the judges to post Sacramone’s score. The tension was palpable. Memmel hit the best routine I have ever seen from her. Even better than her clutch performance in the All Around finals last year in Melbourne to win the World Championships. She absolutely rocked every landing with confidence and ease. She could not have done a better job.

Sadly for Memmel and the rest of the American squad, her routine was not enough to overtake the Chinese. I will say that I am pleased for China. Technically, they are probably the best team in the world but they rarely put it all together when the pressure is on. It was great to see them finally live up to their potential. They did an outstanding job to take the title. The United States was obviously disappointed. They came in to win, they dominated the prelims and it looked like it would be a cake walk to stay on top. But they had an off day. Memmel fell on Bars, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do. And Bieger fell on Vault. Also rare. But that’s just the way of things in sport. Sometimes you have an bad day when you least expect it. I look forward to the rest of the competition. I’m definitely rooting for Memmel in the All Around. Other athletes I would like to see do well: Dasha Joura (AUS), Oksana Chusovitina (GER), Vanessa Ferrari (ITA), Anna Pavlova (RUS), Hollie Dykes (AUS) & Beth Tweddle.

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