Toronto 2015: AA finals recap

Ellie Black of Canada wrote history by being the first athlete not from USA to win the Pan American AA title in decades. The 2012 Olympian, who had a rough day during qualifications, proved that she can put any struggles behind her and she was determined to fight for the title from the very first moment she entered the arena. I knew she was going to win this right after she stuck her tsukahara 1.5, which was the only non yurchenko vault we saw from the top contenders. She had to use all the energy from that vault in order to deliver on her weakest event, the uneven bars. She was going to show an upgraded routine, with brand new elements she had never competed internationally before, and the fact that she had fallen during qualifications didn’t make the situation any less stressful. And yet, she delivered one of the best routines of her entire career, flying high during her shang, nailing her jaeger + pak combination, catching her brand new van leeuwen and sticking her Moors dismount. She was one of only three top contenders who managed to hit their bars routines and because of that she found herself in the second position halfway through the competition. She continued to impress on balance beam, where she performed all her difficult skills and combinations (bhs + tucked full, front pike, bhs + layout, double turn + full turn, switch leap + switch half) with only minor wobbles before sticking her 2.5 dismount. The massive 14.95 she earned for that routine put her in the top of the scoreboard with only one event to go and after her biggest competitor Maddie Desch had a major mistake, it was clear that the title was hers to lose. Fortunately, everything went well for her during her last event, the floor exercise, where she nailed all her unique tumbling passes and received a massive applause from her home crowd.

USA’s Madison Desch had qualified second into the finals with a fall on balance beam so she was expected to be one of the top contenders for the gold medal if she hit. She started her competition brilliantly, with a powerful double twisting yurchenko and she continued by hitting her jaeger, downie and ricna + pak on the uneven bars, an event that has given her a fair amount of trouble in the past. After those solid performances she was leading the competition. Then, she moved on the event that everything went wrong during qualifications. To my surprise, she didn’t choose to play it safe and she tried to perform the skill where she fell the previous day, the layout full. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to hit it and she put her hand on the beam. That mistake, combined with the minor form errors she had throughout her routine caused her score to be a 13.950 and opened the door for her competitors. She recovered from that error very well and she performed an excellent floor routine, which included a whip + double arabian and a stuck triple full but that wasn’t quite enough for the gold medal. Maddie was clearly not satisfied when she saw the final score, but this silver AA medal still is the biggest individual achievement of her career and she has every reason to be extremely proud of herself. She has qualified into floor finals, when she’ll have an other opportunity to bring home a gold medal.

Brazil’s rising star, Flavia Saraiva was delighted to win the bronze medal. Flavia, who had qualified into the finals in 4th place, started her competition with a beautifully executed full twisting yurchenko that earned one of the highest execution score we saw. She had a very rough warm up on bars but she got it together once the green light was on and she delivered a good routine with only one wobble during her toe on full. On beam, she had the exact same mistake we saw during qualifications. She was a bit off-line during her round of + layout combination and she wobbled for several seconds before she somehow managed to save it. A mistake like that could have been detrimental for an other athlete but Flavia still earned a high score because of her high start value and clean execution during the rest of her routine. She barely gives anything away in form deductions. Her knees are always straight, her toes are always pointed, her skills have good amplitude and her leaps always show enough flexibility so she was still able to post the second highest score of the AA finals on the event. Just like all of her biggest competitors, she finished on floor, which is an excellent event for her and she really gave it all during this performance. Her tumbling passes (1.5 + double front full, full in, double tuck, double pike) were all high, clean and well landed, her choreography was delightful and she never stopped smiling during the routine. I think that some of the scores she received were a tiny bit generous but there’s no doubt she deserved that bronze medal.

The top qualifier, Amelia Hundley from USA unfortunately couldn’t repeat her amazing performance during qualifications. She nailed her double twisting yurchenko and was the leader after the first rotation but things didn’t go her way on uneven bars. She only scored a 12.9 after falling on her wieler half and hitting the low bar. This was very disappointing, especially since she had the 2nd highest score on bars during qualifications. She put this fall behind her and showed great fight and determination on her last two events. Her beam routine, which included a bhs + loso + loso, a front tuck and a double pike dismount, was as solid as it could possibly be and she really delivered on floor. She showed a brand new routine, with new choreography and tumbling passes. She jumped out of her double lay out, she brought back her powerful piked full in and she added a whip + double tuck combination as her third pass. Her performance was fantastic and she really got the crowd behind her, but it wasn’t enough for her to recover from a score in the 12s. Amelia may not have managed to medal but she looks stronger and more confident than ever and she has qualified to bars and floor finals and she has a great chance to get redemption by winning an individual medal there.

On fifth place we have Daniele Hypolito, who had one of the most impressive and solid performances we saw last night. The oldest gymnast of the competition, started on her weakest event, the uneven bars. She was late in a couple of pirouettes and her tkatcev was short but she did not have any major mistakes and she had her three best events left. During the second rotation she performed a beautiful beam routine which included a switch ring + ring leap combination, a side aerial + jump + side somi and a layout after two back handsprings. After the scary fall she had during qualifications, it was great to see her nailing her double pike dismount and having a big smile on her face after the end of that routine. Her floor wasn’t any less impressive. She had no problems with her very difficult opening combination, she stuck the rest of her tumbling passes and she showed fabulous turns. She finished strong on vault, where she landed her yurchenko 1.5 with only one step forward. Daniele’s execution is far from perfect. Some times she bends her knees, she doesn’t keep her legs together, she doesn’t get enough height in some of her elements and she often lands with her chest a bit low. However, I still think that the judges were a bit harsh on her and that some of her routines should have scored a couple of tenths higher. Yes, she is “too old” for the sport and yes, she doesn’t have the flashy skills we saw from some of her teammates, but right now she is the team’s most reliable athlete, she is Brazil’s second best AAer and her chances to go to Rio are as good as anyone’s.

Canadian Isabela Onyshko finished in a very respectable 6th place. She started with a solid full twisting yurchenko. Her vault is much higher and more dynamic than it was last year and that reflects on her score. Then she moved on bars, which is probably her best event. She really had the audience’s support when she hit her tricky opening combination but then, it all went wrong during her pak salto. She had the usual massive leg separation and she also fell on the low bar, receiving a big sight from the home crowd. This caused her to score a full point lower than she did during qualifications. She put that disappointment behind her and gave us one of the most solid routines of her career on beam. She stuck her layout and her switch ring and she hit my favorite combination, the front aerial to half illusion turn to score a 14.0. Her floor routine was also much better than the one she did in qualifications and she controlled her landings very well. She really has lovely choreography and presentation and the arena just exploded when she stuck her final double pike. Her reaction and the tears of joy on her face when she finished her routine really was one of the highlights of the evening for me.

Guatemala’s Ana Sofia Gomez Porras has a very similar story. Just like Isabela, she started strong on vault where she performed a DTY. There were a couple of deductions for bent knees and crossed ankles but her landing was absolutely superb and she received a good 14.650. Then, it all went wrong on bars. She started her routine well, by connecting her toe on full to her maloney and she performed the spectacular ray + gienger combination but then, she lost her back tension during a handstand and had to take several empty swings. This mistake obviously affected her, since she crashed her gienger right after. She only scored an 11.9 for this disappointing performance and she couldn’t make up for it on the remaining events. However, she showed that she’s excellent on beam and floor by performing her bhs + tucked full and sticking her full in and triple full. Thankfully, Ana will have plenty of chances to get redemption during bars, beam and floor finals.

Ana Lago of Mexico finished 8th after posting scores above 13 on every event. She started the competition with a strong bars routine, which included a maloney, a van leeuwen and a gienger done in combination. She did have some minor form errors but she hit most of her handstands and she landed her full in dismount very well. She continued her effort with a confident beam set. She did not perform her standing arabian, but she still showed difficult elements, like a front aerial + jump series, a front tuck, a tour jete half and a switch half. We didn’t get to see her vault and floor, but judging from her scores she must have nailed her full twisting yurhcenko.

On 9th place we have Cuba’s rising star, Marcia Videaux. The first year senior, who impressed us all by winning a world cup gold medal on vault a couple of weeks ago earned solid scores on every event besides beam, where she only got an 11.6. We didn’t get to see her on her signature event, vault, but she scored an impressive 14.7 so I have no doubt she was as great as always. Her bars were also very nice, including a stalder full into a high tkatcev and a lovely endo half into a bail to handstand. She has good, clean execution and fluid swing so I expect to see her upgrading soon. Cuba did not participate at last year’s world championships so they can only send three athletes to Glasgow and I would be very surprised if Marcia is not one of them.

You can find the results of the competition here

Photo: Foto: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

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