Uneven bars is probably the event I have enjoyed the most during this quad. Τhere is definitely some lack of variety among the top routines, but right now, we have such an incredibly deep and diverse field of athletes, who are all capable of amazing work on this apparatus and the contenders for gold medals are more than on any other event. A few months before worlds, we all knew that Maria Paseka, Hong Un Jong and Simone Biles would be fighting for the vault gold, with Giulia Steingruber and MyKayla Skinner being underdogs. We knew that the top contenders for the beam title would be Simone Biles, Larisa Iordache, Wang Yan and Shang Chunsong and we had no doubt that the floor and the all around gold medals would be Simone’s to loose. And then, we had the uneven bars, where Becky Downie, Viktoria Komova, Tan Jiaxin, Daria Spiridonova, Aliya Mustafina, Huang Huidan, Fan Yilin and Madison Kocian were all top gold medals contenders, with Elisabeth Seitz, Sophie Scheder, Gabby Douglas, Shang Chunsong and Maria Paseka all being underdogs. I don’t think there have been so many athletes with realistic chances to become world champions on the same event since the beginning of the new scoring system and it was certainly exciting to see. In 2013 and 2014 we had five uneven bars world medalist (Huang, Ross, Mustafina, Yao and Spiridonova), all of whom are still active. Four of them, including the last two world champions and the reigning Olympic champion, were all absent from Glasgow. Moreover, multiple event finals contenders ended up having mistakes in qualifications and failing to place in the top 8. And yet, despite the absence of some of the world’s best athletes on this event, we still had one of the most deep and exciting finals the world has ever seen. This is how deep the field is right now.
I was also very excited to see multiple athletes from multiple countries showing excellent progress on this event. Great Britain’s Ellie Downie and Kelly Simm, Russia’s Maria Paseka, Canada’s Ellie Black and USA’s Madison Desch are all perfect examples for that. The uneven bars were a relatively weak event for those athletes, who did not have high start values and often struggled with consistency. However, they all surprised me this year, by cleaning up their execution and showing major upgrades. Downie’s maloney + tkatcev and piked tkatcev + pak, Black’s shang, Kelly’s inbar piked tkatcev and Madison’s downie and ricna + pak combination were all pleasant surprises. I feel like I should also mention USA’s Alyona Shchennikova, who showed major upgrades and performed combinations I would never think we’d see, when she connected her shaposhnikova variations with inbar stalders.
My sentimental favorite routine of the year is Polina Shchennikova‘s performance at the American Classic. It was great to see her back after her back injury and her maloney + stalder full + piked tkatcev + pak + toe on + van leeuwen combination was simply breathtaking. It really is a shame that this is the only routine she hit during the year.
Another sentimental favorite is Maria Kharenkova‘s bars routine at the qualifications of the European championships. She showed a great level of difficulty and there was not even one legs separation during the entire exercise. Her komova + pak was lovely, her piked jaeger was high and her lines and toe point were beautiful. She received an impressive 14.7 and we were all hoping that she would eventually be able to contribute more on this event. Unfortunately, during the rest of the year she kept falling, she had to downgrade her routine and she never lived up to the potential she showed at that point.
Honorable mentions should also go to Russia’s Angelina Melnikova, who has a classical Russian routine that can score above 15, the Netherlands’ Sanne Wevers, who won her first European medal with an incredibly clean bars set and Hungary’s Noemi Makra, who is capable of a maloney + hindorff combination and a gorgeous church. We should also mention Netherlands’ Lieke Wevers, for performing the prettiest church + pak combination in the world and for finally getting her double front dismount consistent and USA’s Rachel Gowey for her excellent upgraded komova + giant full combination and her beautiful double layout dismount. I was also very impressed by Brittany Rogers, who performed a world class routine, which included a downie and a ricna + pak, in the first year of her comeback.
So, let’s take a look at the 20 routines that impressed me the most during 2015
20. Jessica Lopez, (Venezuela) Pan-american Games event finals
I absolutely adore Jessica Lopez on bars. She may not have perfect form and I wish she could fix those legs separations, but her routine is simply spectacular. She shows beautiful lines and toe point, she performs some of the most intricate combinations being done in the world, she gets impressive height on all her flight elements and her double front is one of the prettiest dismounts being done in the world. It’s just incredible to think that this woman is capable of a routine with 4 major releases at the age of 29. This year, Jessica became the silver medalist at the Pan-american Games but she had an unfortunate fall during the world championships that prevented her from challenging for the finals. Hopefully, she will be even more successful next year.
19. Gabby Douglas, (USA) worlds AA
Gabby has really come a long way since she was an uneven bars specialist for team USA three years ago, but she still has some excellent work on this event. Her handstands and her pak salto have improved a lot since 2012 and she seems to have much better control of her body. I love her sky high piked tkatcev, and her inbar 1/2 + endo 1/2 + chow combination is all I ever needed in life. She shows beautiful lines, fluid swing and clean execution before finishing with a lovely double layout dismount. This routine seems way too easy for her, and I’m excited to see her upgrading and showing what more she can do.
18. Ashton Locklear, (USA) nationals day 2
Exquisite work! Her handstands are spot on, her lines and her toe point are beautiful and the amplitude in all her flight elements is fantastic. The opening inbar + toe on full + chow + pak + maloney + bail combination is absolutely breathtaking and her jaeger is freaking gorgeous. And then, when you think it can’t get any better, she sticks that dismount cold! She had some tiny legs separations here and there but who cares? This performance is stunning and one could never guess that she could not perform a dismount without being spotted just a couple of weeks before that. I just can’t wait until Ashton is at her top shape again.
17. Elsa Garcia, Sao Paulo World Cup
I absolutely adore this routine and I’m devastated Elsa did not manage to earn a major medal for it. For me, the giant with 1.5 turns has always been one of the most frustrating skills out there. I just always thought that it’s not worth it. It only has a D value and you rarely see an athlete performing it without giving away at least three tenths in deductions. And then, you have Elsa Garcia finishing this intricate skill right into a handstand and connecting it into a beautiful high jaeger without giving much away! Her stalder full + van leeuwen is fabulous, her handstands are spot on, her bail to handstand is picture perfect and she finishes with a stuck double front dismount. What more can we ask for?
16. Maria Paseka, Russian Cup qualifications
For me, this performance was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. I never expected Maria Paseka to be one of Russia’s best on the uneven bars and yet, here she is, proving me wrong for one more time. Her entire routine is comprised by one spectacular combination. There aren’t many people in the world right now who can directly connect 6 high level elements and Maria does it without any major execution errors. She bends her knees at some points but besides the late toe on full in the beginning of her routine, she did an excellent job at hitting her handstands and keeping her legs glued together throughout the exercise and then, she stuck that double front dismount cold! It’s incredible! And the best thing is that there’s so much room for upgrades in this routine. She is actually counting a giant (B) towards her start value, so adding one more D element would automatically give her an extra 0.2. Then, she could perform her tkatcev in the piked position and earn two more tenths, for a massive 6.7 start value. I just hope she can stay healthy, because her injuries are the only thing that has been holding her back during her career.
15. Brenna Dowell, (USA) nationals day 1
Brenna is not the cleanest gymnast out there, and it’s hard not to notice the form break on her pak salto but honestly, I couldn’t care less. In a world full of shaposhnikova variations into pak saltos into khorkina variations and inbar halfs into jaeger, this routine is a breath of fresh air. In a time where everyone performs a jaeger, a ricna, a downie or a church, Brenna performs a tweddle. In a time where the vast majority of gymnasts do a pak salto or a bail to handstand as their transition from the high to the low bar, Brenna chooses to do an ezhova. In a time where everyone dismounts with a tucked full in or a double layout, she finishes her routine with a full twisting double layout. She’s unique, she’s innovative and she’s spectacular. And of course, we need to remember that unlike most of her teammates, she did not have elite training during the entire year. She only had a couple of month to get back into shape and build enough endurance, and that makes her routine even more impressive.
14. Elisabeth Seitz, (Germany) worlds All Around finals
Elisabeth has always been a daredevil and it’s great to see her adjusting to the new code and still produce competitive routine at the age of 22. I definitely miss her def but taking it out of her routine is probably a smart decision that will improve her execution score. Her opening maloney + ricna combination is absolutely fabulous, her downie + pak is very dynamic and it looks like she can do this toe on full + full in dismount in her sleep. Her form is not perfect but she has definitely cleaned up a lot during this quad and she is getting rewarded for it. She hasn’t been very lucky this year. Firstly, she did not get to compete at the finals of the European Games due to the one per country rule and then, she had a fall during worlds qualifications that cost her a spot in the finals. Hopefully, she can upgrade her routine, improve her consistency and achieve better results next year.
13. Natalia Kapitonova, (Russia) Massilia Event finals
What a beauty! This routine includes all the great qualities we’ve come to expect from Russia on this event. Gorgeous lines, beautiful toe point, lovely pirouettes, finishing right into a handstand, beautiful inbar stalders, lovely flight elements, an effortless van leeuwen and a sky high full in dismount, done in combination. And they are all executed brilliantly! I can’t wait until she can connect her pak salto to her van leeuwen and maybe upgrade her release into an E tkatcev variation. She’s not really a front runner for Russia’s Olympic team, but she could achieve wonders in the future.
12. Sophie Scheder, (Germany) worlds qualifications
That was an excellent routine for Sophie, and the fact that she performed it right after watching most of her teammates having falls makes it even more impressive. The opening combination is simply gorgeous. She doesn’t hit the best body position during her inbars, but both her inbar full and her toe on full finished right into a handstand, her Komova 2 seemed effortless and her bail was stunning. Her jaeger is gorgeous and her inbar piked tkatcev is simply breathtaking. It really is a shame that this skill can’t get named after both Sophie and Kelly Simm, who also successfully competed it at worlds.
11. Ruby Harrold (Great Britain), worlds event finals
I was so impressed by this routine and by Ruby’s performance at the world championships in general. She was just coming back from an injury, she had been messy and inconsistent in the pre worlds competitions and I did not think she was ready. However, when the green light was one, she competed absolutely brilliantly. Her routine is so exciting and unique that I really don’t mind the legs separations during some of her skills. I absolutely love bhardwajs and she’s one of the very few people in the world competing this skill in combination. And of course, she’s the only athlete in the planet capable of this spectacular van leeuwen + zuchold + toe on full combination. She often struggles with this pirouette, but during the world finals, she finished it right into a handstand before performing a high jaeger and finishing with a STUCK double front dismount, that got a massive reaction from the British crowd. It really was one of the best routines she has performed during her career and it was certainly a great way for her to finish a rather hard year.
10. Huang Huidan (China), nationals event finals
With Yao Jinnan recovering from a shoulder surgery, it looked like Huang Huidan would be the top contender for the worlds uneven bars title. Unfortunately, this was not the case, since the 2013 world champion ended up struggling with some nagging injuries that prevented her from performing at her best and she did not get a ticket to Glasgow. However, she still gave us a couple of stunning performances during the year. Her inbar full + chow + pak + chow half combination is spectacular. It seems like the vast majority of the world’s best uneven bars worker perform similar sequences, but Huang was one of the first athletes to connect those elements back in 2012. Her healy and her ling were gorgeous and her piked jaeger is probably the prettiest release I’ve seen during this entire quad. And of course, her dismount is so refreshing to see. Everyone seems to end their routines with full ins, double layouts or double fronts, so her unique dismount is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully, she will put all her problems behind her and challenge for a ticket to Rio. She is such a stunning gymnast and I would be devastated if she never got to go to the Olympics.
9. Tan Jiaxin (China) worlds team finals
It’s crazy to think that a gymnast with the difficulty and the execution of Tan Jiaxin has never qualified into a worlds or continental final on this event, but this is what happens when you come from a country like China. Tan shows excellent flight and form during her opening hindorff + pak combination, she probably has the best maloney + gienger in the entire Chinese team and she finishes with a pretty much perfect double layout dismount. Her 1.5 pirouette is quite late, but this really is the only major deduction in her routine. She is an exquisite uneven bars worker and I’m hoping to see her bringing her ray dismount back and challenging for a spot in her country’s Olympic team next year.
8. Madison Kocian, (USA) nationals day 2
What a year this has been for Madison! Every time she competed a routine on the uneven bars, she ended up leaving the competition with a gold medal! This routine, without the inbar full, is a bit easier than the one she performed at the world championships but I personally prefer it because it just seems so effortless. She can now perform this komova 2 + pak + chow combination in her sleep, her inbar half finished right into a handstand, her jaeger was sky high and she stuck that full in dismount cold. I do wish she hit a better position during her inbar stalders but there’s no doubt that this was an excellent performance for her and I’m so happy to see her finally living up to her potential after struggling with injuries for her entire career.
7. Aliya Mustafina, European Games qualifications
Aliya had not competed for the first half of the year and with all the action that has been going on I didn’t really have the time to realize it. And then, she came back to hit this excellent routine at the European Games and I understood how much i had missed her. Her new inbar full + maloney + pak + van leeuwen combination was excellent, her inbar half finished right into a handstand, this piked jaeger was absolutely gorgeous and talk about hitting handstands! All her kip to handstands and her pirouettes are spot on. She finished with a really exquisite toe on full right into a stuck full in dismount. Absolutely great work! I love how she is both aggressive and graceful on this event at the same time and I hope to see her coming back strong next year, because gymnastics is just not the same without her.
6. Shang Chunsong (China), nationals AA
Chunsong has come such a long way on this event during this quad. She showed good potential since she turned senior in 2012 and she always had a respectable level of difficulty but her body was too loose, her handstands were short, her execution was messy and some of her elements lacked amplitude. Now, she has worked hard to improve those weaknesses and even though she is still not perfect, she is one of the best uneven bars workers in the world. Her original Shang in the beginning of her routine is breathtaking, her pirouettes are much improved, her jaeger is high and clean and her handstands are all excellent. I love how she performs a shaposhnikova instead of a maloney and this dismount seems way too easy for her. I’m so glad to see her finally finding a routine that works for her and gaining consistency and confidence on this event and I can’t wait to see what she can do in the future.
5. Becky Downie (Great Britain) European qualification
This was a huge routine for Becky, who has done such an excellent job for her country during this quad. I personally wish she had a bit more variety during this set but this is still spectacular. Her forward toe on 1/2 + chow + shang combination is so insanely difficult and she performs is so freaking well… it’s ridiculous. Her toe on full finishes right into a handstand, her ricna is sky high and her pak salto is absolutely gorgeous. And then, she pulls out another spectacular maloney + hindorff combination, at the end of her routine before finishing with a stuck full in dismount. She was one of the first people to connect a shaposhnikova variation into a tkatcev variation, and then tons of other athletes from all over the world followed her example, while plenty of gymnasts are working on the skill that she created, so she definitely had an impact on the uneven bars during this quad.
4. Daria Spiridonova (Russia) European championships event finals
Daria has won a medal at every single Europeans and Worlds finals that has happened during the two years she has been a senior and she deserves every bit of this amazing success. She is simply stunning on this event, where she shows style, elegance, confidence and fabulous execution. This was the first major international final where she was performing her upgraded routine but one would have never guess that this was a new composition for her. Her inbar full finished right into a handstand, she got great amplitude during her komova 2, she performed a beautiful pak salto and she easily connected it to this lovely van leeuwen. Her jaeger was gorgeous and she absolutely nailed that toe on full + full twisting double tuck combination to win a well deserved European title on her favorite apparatus. Daria is team finals worthy in only one event, but if she keeps performing like that, this one event could be enough.
3. Fan Yilin, worlds event finals
It’s always great to see an athlete performing her absolute best routine of the year when it matters the most, and this is exactly what Yilin did during the worlds finals. She is a brilliant uneven bars worker, with excellent difficulty and execution. Her opening inbar full + komova 2 + pak + chow + gienger combination is simply breathtaking. It’s so incredibly difficult and she had never performed it before the world championships, but she makes it look so easy that one would think she’s been doing it for her entire life. She has gorgeous lines and extension, her swing is lovely, she hit her handstands after all her pirouettes and her kips, her toes were pointed and her legs were glued together throughout the entire routine and this was the best double layout dismount she has shown during the entire year. I still miss the stunning dismount she showed at the Chinese nationals, but this is clearly one of the best and the most memorable routines of this year and of the entire quad. It was great to see this first year senior, who had to deal with major injuries last year to come and continue her country’s tradition on this event, while the two uneven bars world champions of her team were not competing. Fan has done an excellent job all year long and hopefully she can keep it up and be even stronger next year.
2. Daria Skrypnik (Russia), Russian cup AA
I could spend my entire life watching Daria’s opening combination on repeat over and over again. It’s just so smooth, so clean, so beautiful! Her Komova 2 is fabulous, her pak salto is picture perfect and she connects it to her chow with incredibly fluidity. And her control during the clear hip half is incredible! Those combinations usually look rushed and sloppy but hers is absolutely lovely! Her body position during her inbars is fantastic, her piked jaeger is high and clean and her inbar full + full in combination is unusual and very well executed. With a start value of 6.6, this is actually one of the most difficult routines being done in the world but she makes it looks so effortless! At the age of 15, Daria has already won every major uneven bars title she could possibly win. Now, it’s time for her to upgrade this set and fight for a spot in Russia’s Olympic team.
1. Viktoria Komova (Russia) worlds event finals
There are good uneven bars workers, there are great uneven bars workers and then, there is Komova. Lots of people out there perform routines similar to hers with fantastic execution, but to me, nobody will be quite as stylish, or as beautiful to watch as she is on this event. It’s not about her lines, her technique, her toe point or her level of difficulty. She has that special something that makes her routines always stand out. I’m not saying that there are no flaws in her execution. You can see the flexed feet during her inbar stalders, the bent knees in her tap before the dismount and some other minor deductions during her routine. But even though she’s not perfect, she’s magical. Just look at her gorgeous extension and toe point, look at her body position during her inbars and at the amplitude during her flight elements. It’s GORGEOUS. She’s the one who invented the skill that most of the world’s best uneven bars workers are performing and she can execute it brilliantly. Her pak salto is a piece of art and her van leeuwen is beautiful. Her inbar half is perfect, her piked jaeger just floats in the air, her piked tkatcev is gorgeous and god, this full in dismount seems so easy for her. She’s just poetry in motion on this event, and this isn’t even her best. She’s working on a double double dismount, she’s capable of an inbar full and she could certainly have a 7.0 start value by 2016. I certainly hope she stays healthy and gets a ticket to Rio because a routine like hers is worthy of an Olympic gold medal.
The best vaults of 2015 here
gif credit: sparklesandchalk
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