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ANTWERP, 2:30 p.m.: So, where were we?
The big news that came out of yesterday's men's/women's podium training was that American McKayla Maroney, always a newsmaker, will compete all-around at this Championships. Maroney's elevation from vault/floor specialist to all-arounder also means that Brenna Dowell will not participate at all at this meet, since only three gymnasts per event per country can compete.
That must be devastating for the hardworking Dowell, who finished third all-around at the U.S. Championships (where Maroney did only vault and floor) and endured the grueling U.S. selection process and almost nonstop training since August's U.S. Championships. Nobody ever said life was fair.
In reality, there are seven podium prospects: Russia's Aliya Mustafina and Tatiana Nabieva, Romania's Larisa Iordache, the U.S.'s Simone Biles and Kyla Ross, China's Yao Jinnan and Switzerland's Giulia Steingruber. Maroney, who finished 11th all-around in qualification at the 2011 Worlds (she did not make all-around finals due to the two-per-country rule) makes eight. Anyone else, even someone like Brazil's Leticia Costa for instance (who looked very good in training) would be a big surprise.
Whether Maroney can actually medal is a bigger question. Her spot in all-around finals isn't a given -- she's combatting both U.S. champion Biles and her former gym-mate and Fierce Five teammate (not to mention best friend) Kyla Ross, both of whom have posted extremely high all-around numbers consistently this season. With only the top two per country making the all-around final, the Biles-Maroney-Ross sub-plot will be a thoroughly interesting side competition, however.
2:37 p.m.: Speaking of, Biles (the Belgian announcer pronounces her name "Simon Biles" as she's introduced) just did a beautiful full floor routine that got one of those rare bursts of applause from around the arena. Her tumbling (double double tuck, double layout half out, full in tuck) was spot-on.
Over on vault, Italy's Carlotta Ferlito is doing Yurchenko fulls and doing jump half turns when she lands.
Poor Krystyna Sankova of Ukraine went up after and splatted her first two passes (double Arabian and 1.5 to 2.5). Sigh.
2:50 p.m.: On the sidelines, Martha Karolyi is practicing her floor exercise dance, doing little movements (generally with decent extension), demonstrating to the coaches (in this case Biles's coach Aimee Boorman) how to do things properly. Boorman nods dutifully.
2:55 p.m.: Over on beam, French national champion Valentine Sabatou showed off a very nice two bhs to double pike dismount. This is Valentine's first Worlds, but she doesn't lack for experience: she was a member of the 2012 senior Euros squad and was named to the Olympic team, only to be replaced when she went down with an injury.
The one thing I don't understand well about her is why her difficulty to this point has been fairly low -- at the meets in France this year she was opening up with a simple (for this level) double tuck on floor. Here though she looks to be working a full in pike, a much more suitable pass for a gymnast of her abilities.
3:06 p.m.: Is Noel van Klaveren of the Netherlands using the same floor music as Sandra Izbasa from Romania? Sounds like it...Noel, the European silver medalist on bars, has good tumbling skills too, showing off a pretty double layout to begin and a front double full to end.
Over on vault, Biles is killing it -- great Amanar just now, and her second vault (roundoff, half on, front layout half off) looks easier for her than it has for anyone. She really flies!
On floor, Lithuania's Laura Svilpaite is going through the same tango she used at the 2012 Olympics. Svilpaite has changed coaches since last year's Olympics (and lightened her hair) and the change seems to have done her some good. Seems to have done her some good: she looks stronger than she did in 2012, or since she was a junior. Still no difficulty to speak of, alas -- she opens up with a 1.5 to front tuck half and does a roundoff, double tuck second pass.
Sabatou underrotates her full in pike and has to put her hands down, but it's delightful to see the upgrade. Ditto with her second pass -- 1.5 to double pike. She crashes her double tuck at the end though -- just not enough power.
Poland's Paula Plichta is the first gymnast I've heard do "Hijo de la Luna" since Aliya Mustafina did it so memorably in 2010. What a wonderful piece of music!
3:16 p.m.: Simone Biles retired after her third Amanar, I believe. On floor, van Klaveren has done about three double layouts as well. When she gets tired she doesn't lift quite like she should and pulls in a bit, which leads to her landing the skill on her hands and knees. She's getting some advice from her coach at one side of the floor.
On beam, 2012 European beam bronze medalist Ruby Harrold of Great Britain is showing off her experience. What was shown wasn't perfect (though nice bhs, layout, layout combo!) but she had some small troubles on her Onodi, switch, sheep combo. Still, she looked completely calm about it all -- that's what experience does for you.
3:18 p.m.: The Australian women may not be here, but their National Team Coordinator is. Peggy Liddick is sitting in the stands just under the press tribune watching everyone like a hawk and all but taking notes. She just got a warm greeting from Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner, whom it appears just arrived.
3:43 p.m.: Had a word in the mixed zone with Eric Demay, who with his wife Cecile are the French National coaches at the central training venue in Paris. At the moment they're responsible for Sabatou and Mira Boumejmajen, the two gymnasts here, as well as Marine Brevet (recovering from an Achilles tear), and juniors Claire Martin and Clara Chambellant. But not for much longer, perhaps -- Eric says their coaching contract is up in three weeks, and does not think it will be renewed, so he and Cecile may go abroad again. Before they were in Paris, they had been in Mexico, where one of their pupils was Mitzi Sosa.
3:48 p.m.: Between subdivisions, the question is: Who starts where? For the U.S., McKayla Maroney will be starting on floor exercise (she's training in the next subdivision) while Simone Biles will start on bars. So that's great for Biles, who gets her two weak events out of the way first, while it's bad for Maroney, who will do her two best events and then have to contend with bars and beam when she's a bit more tired.
3:55 p.m.: Quick links: Sports2Visuals on an Achilles injury to the Netherlands's Jeffrey Wammes, who has withdrawn from the competition. Also, Inside Gymnastics Magazine has Martha Karolyi's reply to the "When will we see Gabby Douglas back in competition?" question.
4:00 p.m.: So here's subdivision four, including Maroney, who impresses with a lovely floated 2.5 to front layout full and stuck double pike in crosstumbling. Also in the group is Britain's Ruby Harrold, who shows a good Arabian double front. Over on beam, Canada's Ellie Black looks confident and comfortable doing a punch front to wolf jump and timer double full dismount.
4:07 p.m.: Over on vault, Spain's new star Roxana Popa is showing off one of the better DTYs in Europe.
Ruby Harrold floor: Double Arabian. Front double full. 1.5 to front layout full. Indian music. Double tuck. You'd like to see just a little more polish on this routine, but certainly a world class exercise.
Over on bars, Vanessa Ferrari is looking less precise than she has recently on this event -- it's surprising to see foot form and lots of little leg separations in this training exercise from my point of view. Maybe she's just getting a feel for things? Has she gone all Zonderland on us?
4:14 p.m.: The Belgian on bars (not sure who it is, but it's not Gaelle Mys) is quite impressive -- clean Tkatchev to immediate Pak and full twisting double tuck dismount, well done. Wait a sec, that's not a Belgian, it's Larisa Iordache!
Liking the way Ellie Black is moving through her beam routine. Very polished work, in the choreo and the skills. She looks confident and right on.
Maroney is on floor, and she is selling it, really getting into her dance and commanding attention. Impressive passes too: double layout (tiny shuffle), 2.5 to front layout full, Arabian double front third line and double pike (one foot barely OOB). Staying in bounds could be a problem for her -- remember her 2012 routine?
On vault, Hungary's Noemi Makra just did a wonderful handspring front pike half and stuck it cold. It's not a hard vault in this code of points and it won't earn her a big score, but it is the prettiest piece of gymnastics I've seen in this arena all afternoon, with great technique and old-school effortlessness. And this is why you gotta love Makra -- she's like that on every event.
4:20 p.m.: Aliya Mustafina on beam: Looking more focused than usual, quite frankly. Good switch half to Onodi to double turn, even if the Onodi-turn combo is a bit iffy. But what's impressive about her, as with Maroney, is how much sheer elegance there is in her every movement. She drips with it. It's stunning. It's what gymnastics should be like.
4:35 p.m.: Mustafina floor: Two whips to double Arabian, steps back. 2.5 to front layout full, messy messy legs. Memmel turn to full turn with leg at head going the other way. Triple full, ditto about the legs. Double tuck. I do like the music live -- it's very intense, very dramatic, very...Russian somehow.
Maroney on vault is Maroney on vault. Two good strong Amanars, no problems, a roundoff half on, layout half off, warming up for the full.
Popa's looking very good over on bars as well. She's got a Maloney to Geinger, a unique combo, a Tkatchev, a Pak salto and a full twisting double layout.
Saw just a bit of Larisa Iordache on beam, and now she's warming up her bhs, back full on the floor. Striking black, white and acid green leo, too. More to come.
Maroney just did an Amanar that was a carbon copy of what she did in Olympic team finals. Actually, it was better. BAM! That got the biggest round of applause yet at this Worlds. Second vault: roundoff, half on, front layout full off, big step forward, but no chance of that being underrotated.
4:40 p.m.: Ellie Black on floor: 2.5 to triple full, a pass that is so hard it can't be put into words. Front layout full walkout to double tuck. Front double full third pass.
The Brazilians are going for black and yellow Adidas here, with white racing stripes down the arms. Up on beam now is Daniele Hypolito, who is looking very sharp.
Iordache full set on beam: Bhs, back full, small step back but fine. Roundoff, layout to two feet, legs a tad messy. Full turn with leg at head, slightly overturned. Switch to switch half. Front aerial to back tuck. Scissone. Romanian arm movements. Side somie. And roundoff, bhs, triple full, all the way around, small step forward.
Jamaica's Tori Ann Williams has a huge double layout on floor. Second pass is a powerful full in, a bit hard for her to control on the landing. Tori Ann trains in the eastern U.S., if I'm not mistaken. Two whips to double tuck. Switch ring with no effort made to throw her head back. Double pike, stuck. Very impressive tumbling!
4:48 p.m.: Caught the full set of Popa on bars: Maloney? to Gienger. Toe full to Tkatchev. Pak, toe shoot to high, full twisting double layout. Nice!
Iordache is back up on beam, and this time she's put the roundoff, layout full into her routine. Very well done! Better than her bhs, tuck full, frankly.
4:58 p.m.: Funny, when Iordache does a roundoff, layout on beam her legs are a bit messy and she tends to bounce out of it. When she adds the full twist -- the harder skill -- she usually sticks it cold.
There's a bit of gossip around concerning Tatiana Nabieva, who was apparently evaluated for a concussion after falling on her head in tumbling either today or yesterday (that's why she didn't train today.) She also has a rather large bruise on her head, apparently. The latest word (hearsay) is that she will compete all the same, podium training be darned.
5:04 p.m.: Larisa Iordache's double double tuck looked very nice in the warmup on floor. And here's Vanessa Ferrari's cool new tango: double double tuck, well done. Full in tuck. Double tuck, bounces out. After what happened in 2010, and with this great new routine, except Ferrari to be the sentimental favorite on this event. Double pike to end.
Black, who stuck a handspring front layout full cold on vault a few moments ago, has moved on to her Rudi. Mustafina's DTY was good, but not fantastic (legs, always the legs in her twisting). What's interesting is that she's working on a second vault, doing roundoff, half on timers. What do you make of that?
5:10 p.m.: Mustafina's second vault is definitely there. It appears she will do the same vault she (and Nabieva) debuted in 2010. The one she just did looked a bit tucked from up the general's view up here in the press gallery, but that doesn't mean the judges will see it the same way.
Austrian Elisa Haemmerle's floor music is a classical, string instrument version of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." Elegant interpretation.
Iordache floor: Double double tuck, a little low. Full in tuck, hop back. Still not used to hearing her do something that doesn't have a Spanish flavor. Triple full and double pike to end.
Maroney on bars: For her, very good. Probably the best she can do on this event right now.
5:18 p.m.: Ferrari is the only person to put her music on again and do a dance through. It's good music -- you could listen to it all day.
Gotta love that Ruby Harrold on bars: Maloney to Bhardwaj (full twisting Pak), excellent. Khorkina II transition to high. Zuchold. Jaeger. Double front. Such a cool routine.
Black's second vault, a double twisting Tsukahara is alive and well in podium training, even if it's being landed a tad low.
5:33 p.m.: Maroney on beam is brisk and businesslike. She takes a few wobbles here and there, notably this time on her punch front, but like on bars, the routine, while it won't get her into event finals, is a decent one, especially when it gets bookended by vaults and floor routines like the ones we saw from her earlier today. But will it be enough to overtake Kyla Ross or Simone Biles in prelims? That is really, really, really hard to say.
Roxana Popa floor: Something that sounds typically spicy and Spanish. Nice double layout, Rox! Two whips to two bhs to full in tuck. Ooh! 2.5 to punch front. And stuck double pike. That was great.
Natsumi Sasada of Japan on vault: FTY. Ferrari is doing FTY timers but appears to be only heading toward a Yurchenko 1.5 (though with her, you never know -- she pulls around DTYs in competition after doing nothing close in trainings.)
Ukraine's Dariya Matveyeva on floor: A Bond piece that DeBeers used forever to sell diamonds. (How appropriate for Antwerp!) Double pike. Double tuck. She's got the beautiful Ukrainian presence on this event, but not enough difficulty to make a big impact. Meanwhile, Iordache has been cranking out the DTYs on vault.
Lovely Noemi Makra on floor: Full in pike with terrific right technique. Right into triple full, again, wonderful form.
5:41 p.m.: Germany's Cagla Aykol on floor: Good 2.5 to front layout mount. Full in pike wild on landing. Whips? to double pike nearly to her head -- yikes and ouch. (She's fine, she didn't quite hit her head I don't think.) Double tuck to end. An ambitious routine, but perhaps not quite ready today.
Over on bars, Mustafina goes for a toe-on transition (maybe her new Seitz to mixed grip?), misses entirely, flies through the air and lands on her back between the bars. Yikes. She'll go again after some rechalking. Stalder full to toe Khorkina II, catches that and jumps down.
Pretty floor routine from Germany's Pauline Schäfer on floor. Schaeffer was a junior prodigy as a youngster, then disappeared for awhile and has recently come back onto the scene and started making German teams. She did Junior Euros last year as well.
The announcers here should really stop saying things like: "Gymnasts, 12 more minutes in this rotation. You are free to use your apparatus for the next 12 minutes." The Anglophones will not be able to resist a chuckle.
Man, Makra's form on floor is just so good.
5:52 p.m.: Mustafina is really throwing every trick in her book here. Her earlier problems on bars behind her, she is warming up her Pak to immediate stalder Khorkina II. Imagine a routine with that and the Seitz to mixed grip!
Maroney back on beam: She falls on a side aerial. Hmm.
Mustafina's last routine on bars of the day was everything she's got: Stalder full to Seitz to mixed grip, the Pak to immediate stalder Khorkina II, and a toe full to immediate 1.5 twisting double tuck. She lost form for a sec after the toe full, but my goodness that was remarkable! An amazing routine.
6:33 p.m.: All right, here we go with the third and final subdivision of the day. Time has flown by! In the gym now: Sandra Izbasa, warming up floor in an orange and black leotard that made me mistake her for a Dutch gymnast. Floor is the only event the Olympic vault champion will compete here in Antwerp, which seems a bit odd given that she is the Olympic vault champion. But she was Olympic floor champion in 2008, and her many fans will be pleased to see her do floor. Izbasa has looked good in the run up to this meet, and she's certainly a medal contender on this event.
Izbasa floor: Like Maroney, she knows how to get the most out of every movement. Her first three seconds are excellent! Full in pike, well done. 1.5 to triple full to single stag jump, bouncy as ever. Full in tuck with a small hop. Switch side half with a hop. 2.5 twist to front layout full to end. Very nice.
6:46 p.m.: Here's how hard Victoria Moors's double double layout is on floor: It's so hard that she's accorded an extra 1:30 on floor just to warm it up before doing her routine. It's reasonably laid out
Hannah Whelan of Great Britain on floor: Full in tuck, a new first pass in this new routine for Hannah. 2.5 to front layout, wild and a tad scary on the front layout. Whip double tuck, a tad slow on rotation for my taste, but she made it. For this new choreo, Hannah appears to have built on the Adi Pop-created routine she had in 2011 and 2012. It's very likeable.
Moors's floor routine is indeed her 2012 "Assassin's Tango" piece, which allows her to do four passes. Everyone seems to stop for a second and watch as she runs (it feels like slow motion) into her double double layout. And it's fine. Better than fine, actually -- she nearly sticks it. Is it a true layout? Well, it's close, we'll say that. The rest of the routine is classic Moors. Could this be her year?
India's Dipa Karmakar opens with an Arabian double front on floor and shows a 2.5 twist second pass. As a whole, the Indian team has a ways to go in terms of form, but they do have some world class skills.
7:01 p.m.: Also caught a bit of Switzerland's Giulia Steingruber on bars in this first rotation of subdivision five. Steingruber is not Mustafina on bars, but she's not bad, either. Steingruber's lack of a weak event (if she has one, it's bars) helped her finish fifth in the all-around at the European Championships this spring, and it's put her in the conversation here of potential all-around medalists.
From the host country, saw just one dismount (double pike) from two-time Belgian Olympian Gaelle Mys. It was a good one too. Gaelle saluted the pretend judges off to the side of the beam with enthusiasm after that one.
7:08 p.m.: You can't help but like the Uzbeks on floor. It's kind of the Soviet/Russian influence, but their gymnastics (and their choreography) is just very polished, very clean, and very engaging. Up on floor now is Dilonoza Abdusalimova, with a fun, fast-paced set that contains lovely traditional looking dance moves, very Soviet gymnastics of the 1980s-1990s.
Belgium's Gaelle Mys has a nice routine as well on floor, to "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps." Snappy choreo and clean tumbling -- she opens with a front double full to front layout half. The Belgian crowd will love this set.
The Netherlands's Chantysha Netteb, a first year senior making her Worlds debut here, was a bit nervous on beam. But her event is really vault, where she was Junior European champion last year.
7:14 p.m.: As far as bad falls go, today I've seen only three: Karmakar of India did a handspring front tuck on vault and basically overrotated it to her head, which looked like it could have been much worse if her arms hadn't broken her fall a bit (her coach, after making sure she was OK, kissed the top of her head as she walked back down the runway). One of the four Egyptian gymansts nearly escaped a leg injury landing a 2.5 twist, and Chile's Catalina Escobar badly underrotated a DTY on vault. Though she stood it up, that's the kind of thing you can break your knee or hip doing.
Mercifully, haven't seen any handspring double front vaults from anyone yet. The Dominican Republic's Yamilet Pena, now on bars, stuck to Yurchenko things on vault last rotation, as far as I saw.
7:24 p.m.: On beam, Giulia Steingruber is doing something I've never seen any gymnast do before: Bhs, layout to two feet to immediate bhs walkout. Well, why not?
Transcribing a McKayla Maroney interview. To the reporter from Brazil, who asked if she knew anything about the 2016 Olympic host country, Maroney goes: "I know it's beautiful, and it's like a party place. That's what I've heard..."
7:36 p.m.: Seeing tons of beauty from the elegant Vasiliki Millousi on beam, though she did all on her side aerial. It was the same on bars.
7:40 p.m.: Just when Bea from The Couch Gymnast and I thought we were safe from handspring double fronts, Fadwa Mahmoud of Egypt ripped off one just now. She sat it down, so it was a safe landing. Extreme gymnastics right there. Yeeks.
7:42 p.m.: Hey, new floor routine for Steingruber! Same great tumbling: full twisting double layout with a spot from her coach (she could easily do it by herself), followed by a double layout and a double pike to close. Steingruber has danced to a classical piece for the past couple years, but her new music is more epic, like something you'd hear in a film like "Last of the Mohecians" as the characters contemplate the majesty of the Appalachians.
7:57 p.m.: Poor Beckie Downie! Her bars swing is phenomenal, but she's just having lots of little problems making all her intricate connections in the routine during this podium training set. If she could put this routine all together, it would be wonderful. But she didn't really do it tonight (though it's possible that I missed it when she did.)
8:07 p.m.: Spain's Silvia Colussi-Pelaez has ditched her "Carmen" floor routine for an equally dramatic Spanish guitar piece that is surprisingly suspenseful. Tumbling: Full in tuck, whip to double tuck second pass.
Vasiliki Millousi's new floor routine is also sublime -- a soft, elegant piece that's slightly mysterious and gets more powerful toward the end. She tumbled a double tuck to open and layouts for the rest of the exercise.
8:12 p.m.: Looks like Giulia Steingruber's vaults here will be a handspring Rudi (as usual) and a DTY (that's new). Steingruber competed a Tsuk double full second vault at the summer Universiade, if I'm not mistaken. (Oh wait, I am mistaken. Steingruber didn't do Universiade, but she did compete the Tsuk double in prelims at the 2012 Olympics.)
8:45 p.m.: Podium training over, the red-shirted volunteer crews have removed the balance beam and are reinstalling the pommel horse and rings on the podium. Will be back tomorrow with more quick hits from men's qualification. Have a good evening, and dream of gymnastics...