Recovering from writing quick hits en français took a few days. Here are some impressions written after the French International, hopefully with fewer grammatical faults:
1. Gymnastics is a hard, hard sport. Sometimes it's easy to forget that in an Olympic year when everyone is so "on" and you can cut the tension in arenas with a knife. But with one vault -- and one fall on her neck -- Germany's Janine Berger demonstrated why this sport can be so tenuous. Luckily Janine has escaped with what is likely to be a minor leg injury (in the grand scheme of things, anyway).
2. Speaking of vault...the level on this event right now is higher than it's ever been, in both men's and women's gymnastics. True, we saw no Amanars in La-Roche-Sur-Yon, but three gymnasts did Rudis. Note that Mexico's charming, smiley Alexa Moreno not only did a nice Rudi but came pretty close to landing a Tsuk double full as her second vault. Alexa said she's also training Tsuk 2.5s into the pit in her gym in Mexicali.
3. Italy on the rise. In her third year as a senior and with one Olympics under her belt, Italy's Carlotta Ferlito has reached a new level of maturity, as seen in her confident and polished work on beam and floor. Her new floor exercise is impeccably choreographed, original and very fun to watch. My favorite part comes right before her final tumbling pass, when she flutters her hand over her heart in perfect time with the music.
Her teammate Vanessa Ferrari is a totally different character: efficient gymnastics, but with all the class that several years at the top of the sport gives you. Ferrari has made no secret that she's continuing after two Olympic Games because she can make a living as a gymnast, and I wonder if it's tempered the competitive fire somewhat, this chasing money over medals. At any rate, this new objective seemed to have lessened the pressure on her, as evidenced by her super solid performances on beam, floor and uneven bars in France.
4. Speaking of floor...there's one spot left on the Russian women's team for the European Championships in Moscow, and with her win on floor in La Roche-Sur-Yon (and going one for two on beam, topping the competitors in qualifying but falling on her barani in finals), Ksenia Afanasyeva has probably earned her spot. It's especially nice to see her hit that incredible Olympic floor routine, since before yesterday the only video of her doing it really, really well was during the qualifying round in London, and it was taken on someone's phone and the quality isn't great.
5. More on the floor. I was skeptical of this new rule that deducts gymnasts for standing in the corner and breathing for several seconds before their tumbling passes, but the more I see of these early quad floors, the more I like it. Sure, every now and then it's obvious that a gymnast is simply standing on one leg like a stork and moving their arms a bit while waiting to tumble, or taking deep breaths with their back to the diagonal instead of facing it, but overall it's absolutely improved the expression and overall quality of women's floor. Good idea, FIG.
6. A golden age of men's vault. Even though he didn't throw his new handspring front 3.5 twist vault (which will be called the Yang II), Olympic vault champion Yang Hak Seon proved he is still the master of this apparatus and one of the great vaulters of all time. Still, he's in incredible company: he matched with Olympic silver and bronze medalists Igor Radivilov (a man who still has yet to get his due on this event) of Ukraine and Denis Ablyazin of Russia.
Watch those two youngsters, by the way: rings champion Ablyazin has great years ahead of him, as does Ukraine's Oleg Verniaiev, who is more of an all-arounder than a specialist but is top 10 in the world on almost every event.
7. The new face from Japan. Look out Kohei? Ryohei Kato hit his intricate parallel bars routine to take first place on the event. He's not a specialist, however -- in spite of his gold on parallel bars, the son of a Japanese coach is more of an all-around threat.
8. The new combination on beam. Front aerial + front aerial + sheep jump. Or front aerial plus front aerial plus something. Several gymnasts trained this in France, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's the new front aerial, back handspring layout.
9. Canada the contender. The bars qualification in La Roche-Sur-Yon was dominated by Canadians Sabrina Gill and Kaitlyn Hofland (a real latter-day Khorkina on bars), while newcomer Maegan Chant delivered on her specialities, vault and balance beam. Canada's great strength has always been choreography, but in the past three years we've started to see big skills to go along with it. It certainly looks like the Canadian women's fifth place team finish at the Olympics may have been the beginning of the story, not the end.
10. A crowd gymnasts have to love. The intimate, 5,000 seat Vendespace was a change from the gigantic Palais Omnisports de Bercy in Paris that usually hosts the event, but the crowd (a packed house for both qualifications and finals) was no less knowledgeable or enthusiastic. They saw Danell Leyva and Yin Alvarez prepping for Danell's high bar routine and immediately began clapping those five rhythmic claps Yin does to get Danell pumped for his dismount. And Danell hadn't even been lifted to the bar yet. American gymnasts love it. French gymnasts love it. Rest of the world: take notes.