Ksenia Afanasyeva, Russia
In the beginning of the quad, it looked like Ksenia Afanasyeva was ready to take over the world. She won the European title on floor in front of her home crowd, she revealed a surprisingly good amanar, she earned the team, the vault and the floor exercise titles at the Universiade and she was supposed to be a strong medal contender on vault and floor at the world championships. However, an injury got in the way of that and Ksenia kept having problems, that prevented her from competing at major meets for more than a year. Afanasyeva is now 24 years old. She had been to two Olympic Games, she has been a three times individual Olympic finalist, an Olympic medalist, a European medalist and champion and a two times world champion. She had already had a great career and given her age and her health, I don’t think that it would be surprising to see her retiring after her injuries during the last couple of years but she actually came back and looked much stronger than anyone could possibly expect. After competing at a couple of minor competitions, she participated in the European championships, where she won the floor title and surprisingly, became the vault silver medalist after pulling an amanar out of nowhere! After that, she was successful at the Russian Cup and she earned a spot for her country’s worlds team. Of course, this was all too good to be true, and Ksenia suffered a kidney infection and ended up in the hospital right before worlds. Ksenia Afanasyeva had two major injuries during this quad and she was struggling with a kidney infection just weeks before worlds. We were not even sure if she was actually going to compete and then she came to Glasgow, hit every single routine she performed and became a world silver medalist!
The situation of team Brazil coming into Glasgow was far from ideal. They had lost two of their top gymnasts to torn ACLs while Leticia Costa was not healthy enough to compete her full difficulty on all the events. Jade Barbosa was also coming back from an injury and she had not competed her double twisting yurchenko since before she got hurt and first year senior Thauany Araujo barely had any international experience. The team was also heavily relying on an other first year senior, Flavia Saraiva, who was competing in her first world championships and Lorrane Oliveira, who had fallen more times that she had landed on her feet during the year. And yet, when it was time to compete, they somehow managed to get it together and impress the world! They had a couple of major mistakes, but they were one of the most improved teams of the competition, scoring almost ten points higher than they had scored in 2014 and placing 9th, barely missing out a team finals spot by just a few tenths. Flavia and Lorrane did not have a great competition in the All Around finals and I wish the team had managed to directly qualify into the Olympics, but they will have a chance to do that at the Test event, in front of a home crowd that will be cheering for them as loudly as possible. I think that they are the team with the most room for improvement, and not just because of potential comebacks. Rebeca Andrade’s return, even in a couple of events would certainly be a massive help for them, but even the athletes who did compete at worlds all have plenty of room for upgrades in their routines and I’m very excited to see what they can do.
Ruby Harrold, Great Britain
Ruby had to miss the biggest part of the year due to an injury. She did not get a chance to fight for medals at the European championships and the European Games and we weren’t even sure if she was still in contention for the Glasgow team until about a month before worlds. She returned in competition at the British team championships, showing mediocre routines before making her international comeback at the Osijek World Cup a week later. Even though she won the title, she was not quite as clean and precise as she has been in the past. Of course, this was understandable for an athlete coming back from an injury, but the world championships were just around the corner and Ruby did not have tons of time to improve. Things did not look better for her at the friendly meet against the Netherlands, where she fell on her bars dismount and did not manage to break 14 on any event. Great Britain does not have an incredibly deep team right now so I did not doubt that Ruby would actually go to worlds, but I thought she would probably compete on a couple of events during prelims and deliver a 14.3 for her team on the uneven bars during team finals at the best case scenario. Instead, she ended up competing on all four events during qualifications, she got her double twisting yurchenko back, she qualified into the All Around finals over Ellie Downie and she made it into the third worlds bars finals of her career! She helped her team with their historic bronze medal and even though she did not have a great competition in the All Around finals, just making it that far is an incredible accomplishment given her limited preparation. Then, she finished her competition with one of the best routines of her career on the uneven bars finals and her home crowd exploded as she stuck her double front dismount cold. I have seen lots of people saying that once GB’s talented juniors turn seniors, Ruby will no longer be a top contender for their major teams but I certainly don’t think that this is the case.
Fan Yilin, China
What an amazing year for this girl! She did not have the junior career she could have because she was struggling with injuries for the entire 2014, but unlike plenty of other talented Chinese young gymnasts, she actually managed to recover and get back in shape. She had plenty of success during this season, winning the national uneven bars title over world champion Huang Huidan and becoming the balance beam champion at the Asian Games. Due to her health problems, she did not have tons of international experience heading into Glasgow so it was great to see her actually handling the pressure as well as she did. She obviously had a fall on balance beam during qualifications and so did half of her team, but this was the only mistake she had at the entire championships. During the team competition, Fan delivered excellent routines on both bars and beam, helping her team earn the silver medal. Then, it was her time to shine as an individual at the uneven bars finals and she did not disappoint, since she really performed the absolute best routines she could possibly do. Her start value was the highest one of the night, her inbar full + komova 2 + pak + chow + gienger combination was mind blowing and her double layout dismount looked better than ever. She was the first of four gymnasts to post an 15.366 score which was enough for the gold medal and she was part of the first four-way tie in the history of the sport. At the age of 16, Fan Yilin already achieved what every Chinese gymnast dreams of and her photo will forever be on the wall of champions. Now, it’s time for her to work hard to become an Olympian too.
Hong Un Jong, North Korea
Hong Un Jong is certainly one of the absolute best vaulters of the quad and she has the medals to prove it. She won a bronze in 2013, she earned the gold in 2014 and now, she completes her collection with a silver. Her team has not competed at all during the year, and the lack of preparation was obvious in their performance during qualifications, where every single athlete had major mistakes and falls. However, Un Jong delivered on the event that mattered the most and she showed two strong vaults during qualifications. She improved her performance for the finals, where she performed a clean amanar and a well executed cheng, for an impressive 15.633 average. Lots of fans felt that she actually deserved to defend the title, but what matters the most is that she earned a medal and directly qualified to the Rio Olympic Games, where she will have a chance to win her second Olympic gold medal.
Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan
Oksana Chusovitina does not need to qualify into finals or to win medals in order to be considered a hero. The fact that she is a forty years old woman competing in a sport when you are considered too old in your early 20s is enough by itself. Any athlete who performs a Produnova will immediately get the attention of fans from all over the world for attempting the most difficult vault that has ever been done by a woman. But when this athlete is not a young, healthy gymnast who is currently in her peak but a forty years old woman… what can we even say in this case? Chusovitina was all that everyone was talking about during podium training and qualifications and for one more time, she exceeded everyone’s expectations and she did the impossible. After competing for more than two decades, Oksana continues to surprise us and to take away our breaths with her courage and determination and she continues to show why she is a living legend. She was hoping to qualify into the vault finals and fight for a medal. Unfortunately, she was not able to do that, but she did ear a spot for the test event so she has a great chance to qualify to the seventh Olympic Games of her long career. I’m so excited to see her writing history in front of our eyes once again and I can’t wait to find out what other surprises she has planned.
Brittany Rogers, Canada
What an incredible comeback story! Brittany Rogers, who has been competing for the University of Georgia during this quad, announced that she would return to elite and try to compete at the Olympic Games for the second time in her career. Unlike Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas or Viktoria Komova, who were also making their comebacks, Brittany did not compete internationally before the world championships. She did participate in the Canadian championships earlier this year, but back then, she was just getting back into shape and she was not quite ready to deliver strong routines. Coming into Glasgow, she hadn’t competed in any major elite meets since the 2012 Olympics, she hadn’t been back in elite training for too long, she was debuting new routines, full of intricate upgrades and she knew that her team was relying on her in order to qualify to the Olympic Games. I have always loved Brittany’s gymnastics and I never doubted her talent, but I was definitely worried about how she would perform after such a long absence from the international stage. She was under tremendous pressure and this was her first major international competition in three years but nobody would have guessed that after watching her routines. When the green light was on, Brittany was freaking brilliant! She stuck her double twisting yurchenko both times she competed it and she showed an excellent level of difficulty on bars and beam. Her scores on those three events were counted towards the team’s total and she was one of the main reasons why Canada managed to qualify into team finals and get a ticket to Rio. Her individual results were also impressive, since she became a reserve for the vault finals and she placed 16th on the uneven bars, so it’s very easy to forgive her for her mistake on this event during the team finals. In 2012, Brittany helped Canada finish in a historic fifth place at the Olympic Games and now, she helped them finish in a historic sixth place at worlds so I’m very excited to see her writing history once again next year.
Madison Kocian, USA
Madison Kocian has not had an injury free year since 2010. Lots of athletes would have retired from elite gymnastics after having that many health problems but she did not! She didn’t give up when she had to stay away from competition for two whole years when she was only 14 years old, she didn’t give up when she got hurt again in 2013, after finally making her comeback just in time for her senior debut and she didn’t give up when she hurt her elbow in the beginning of 2015. She kept fighting, she kept pushing herself and at the end, she was rewarded for it. Last year, she was part of USA’s gold medal winning team but a mistake during qualifications prevented her from qualifying into the event finals. This time, she was much more confident and much more well prepared so she hit every single routine she performed at Glasgow. She delivered on both bars and beam during qualifications, she showed an excellent bars set that helped her team win the gold medal in the team finals and then, it was her time to shine in the individual finals. She was not perfect but she showed an incredible level of difficulty and clean execution and at the end of the day she posted a 15.366 to tie with Daria Spiridonova, Viktoria Komova and Fan Yilin for the uneven bars title. Maddie has been undefeated on bars during the entire 2015. She competed at the Secret Classic, the national championships and the world championships and she won a gold medal on her favorite event at each and every one of those competitions. After plenty of injuries, struggles and disappointments, the young gymnast we all fell in love with back in 2010, is a three times world champion and I couldn’t possibly be prouder of her!
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