Laura Jurca, Romania
Laura Jurca attended multiple international competitions during 2015, but she was not particularly impressive. I saw massive potential on her when she was a junior, so it was rather disappointing not to see her upgrading her routines despite being healthy and struggling to score above 14. I still believe that she has not reached her full potential but damn, she really did have the competition of her life in Glasgow. Laura has had several falls and mistakes during the year and she’s a rather inconsistent gymnast but she actually didn’t put a foot wrong during the entire world championships. When all of her more experienced teammates were falling apart during qualifications, she held it together and she hit her routine on every single event. She had some minor errors and she gave several tenths away with her execution but she was the only Romanian athlete not to have a fall during the first day of competition and she managed to qualify into the All Around finals because of that. She was not a medal contender but that doesn’t change the fact that she was under tremendous pressure. She knew her team’s situation, she knew that they had not qualified into the team finals and the Olympic Games after a disastrous performance, she knew that everyone was talking about Romania not being among the top gymnastics countries any more and she knew that she needed to get redemption. She could have easily crumbled under the pressure, but instead, she had the competition of her life during the All Around finals, delivering strong routines on every event and breaking 15 for the first time in her career. During qualifications, she placed 23rd in the All Around and she was one of the last athletes to qualify into the finals. During the finals, she finished in the top 8. Hopefully, this amazing performance has given Laura the confidence she needs in order to upgrade her routines and show consistency in the future.
Mai Murakami, Japan
When the Japanese team was named earlier this year, Mai was only a second alternate. Eventually, the team started struggling with injuries and Mai got to travel to Glasgow as the first reserve Then, the lovely Aiko Sugihara had some problems with her knee and she could only compete on bars and beam. The Japanese team, who was relying on Aiko’s double twisting yurchenko and floor routine, now needed an athlete to replace her on those events and Mai fit that role perfectly. Because of that, she replaced the excellent uneven bars worker Yuki Uchiyama and she got to compete. Mai has always been a very inconsistent gymnast and she has struggled with growth and injuries during the past two years so it was hard to predict how she would perform after being added to the main team in the last minute. However, when the green light was on, she stunned the world. She was fantastic during qualifications, nailing every single routine to qualify in the All Around finals above national All Around champions Asuka Teramoto and Natsumi Sasada and she competed on all four events during the team finals and only had one fall on the balance beam. After that, she was amazing during the All Around finals where she finished in an impressive 6th place! Mai stuck every single double twisting yurchenko she performed in Glasgow, she nailed some powerful tumbling passes, she showed excellent skill level on beam and she was one of the most improved gymnasts on the uneven bars, which used to be an extremely weak event for her. After having to deal with all kinds of problems for the biggest part of her senior career, this tiny powerhouse we all loved in 2011, is finally living up to her All Around potential. In 2012, she did not manage to earn a spot in Japan’s Olympic team so hopefully, 2016 will be her time.
Maria Paseka, Russia
After not being able to compete at the 2011, the 2013 and the 2014 worlds due to injuries, Maria Paseka finally participated in her first world championships in Glasgow and she did a brilliant job. She contributed on more events than any of her teammates during the team finals, and while everyone around her was having falls, she manage to stay clam and delivered three solid routines. She got over the disappointment of the team finals and she came back to win Russia’s first medal of the competition by becoming the vault world champion. I know that this was a rather controversial result and Maria is far from perfect but regardless of that, she is one of the most improved and determined gymnasts out there. Nobody expected her to achieve any great accomplishments after the London Olympics, nobody expected her to actually complete an amanar, or to upgrade into a Cheng and nobody expected her to ever be useful on any event besides vault but she did all of those things anyway. And it certainly was not easy for her. During this quad, she has had more injuries than one can’t count, she has missed plenty of training and she had to deal with lots of disappointments but she kept fighting, she kept working hard and she was rewarded for it.
Ellie Downie, Great Britain
It was clear that Ellie Downie is an extremely talented gymnast from her first years as a junior elite but she has definitely exceeded people’s expectations with her amazing performances during her first senior year. She is only 16 years old and she was heading to her first world championships in her own country. There was lots of hype around her and there was a crowd screaming for her but she handled the pressure brilliantly and she became the most successful British gymnast of the championships. She obviously had two falls on the uneven bars and didn’t manage to qualify into the All Around finals ahead of her two teammates, but I am sure that what she achieved makes up for those disappointing mistakes. During the team finals, she fell on her very first event, but she put that behind her and hit a beautiful beam routine as well as a powerful floor set. After that, she was the one who secured Great Britain’s first worlds team medal in the history of the sport with a fantastic double twisting yurchenko. Her reaction was priceless and I cried just as hard as she did after their final score appeared. Ellie also qualified into two event finals and she was excellent in both of them. On vault, she had the lowest start value of all the competitor but she still managed to finish in an impressive fourth place thanks to her fantastic execution and on floor, she delivered the absolute best routine of her career, sticking all her ridiculously difficult tumbling passes. In one year, Ellie became a three times European finalist, a two times world finalist, the first ever British athlete to win a major All Around title and a worlds bronze medalist. It’s almost scary to think what she can achieve in the following years.
Giulia Steingruber, Switzerland
The last time we saw Giulia during the world championships, she was being carried out of the arena in a wheelchair after hurting herself on vault. Her injury was definitely one of the saddest moments of the competition and it prevented her from competing in the floor finals but it does not change all the amazing this she achieved in Glasgow. During the first day of competition, she lead her team to a 16th place finish, helping them qualify into the test event while also placing 2nd in the All Around, beating Olympic champion Gabby Douglas. Finishing in second place behind Simone, even in qualifications is a fantastic achievement and it makes us realize how far Giulia has come since the last quad. She was supposed to be a vault specialist! This was her reputation. She was supposed to be the successor of Ariella Kaeslin and be a strong contender for vault finals but she achieved so much more than that and now, she is one of the very best gymnasts in the world. She was also one of the few gymnasts to qualify in the All Around and two event finals and she showed incredible difficulty and execution throughout the competition. Unfortunately, she did not finish her world championships or her year in a high note but she still proved that she is a strong contender for the Olympic Games. She has not torn any ligaments and it looks like her injury is not major, so she should be able to come back in time to fight for a spot in Rio.
Part 1 here
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