It’s hard to believe 2015 is already coming to an end. It certainly was a memorable year, full of emotions and surprises. We watched plenty of gorgeous and innovative gymnastics, we got a few excellent comebacks, we saw some underdogs exceeding our expectations and achieving excellent results and we got to witness history being written in front of our eyes. The following list includes my five personal favorite moments of the year, and not necessarily the most influential or important performances of 2015. Some amazing moments that didn’t make the final cut are team Netherlands’ qualifying into the Olympics after a stunning performance at Glasgow, Hungary being third after the first day of competition in the European Games, Flavia Saraiva winning an All Around medal at the Pan-american Games, Simone Biles writing history by winning three All Around titles in a row, Claire Martin’s bronze medal at the European championships, Russia’s performance at worlds qualifications, Shang Chunsong’s excellent performance at worlds, Aliya Mustafina and Lieke Wever’s performance at the European Games and Sydney Johnson-Scharpf and Christina Desiderio making the junior national team.
5. Laurie Hernandez and Jazmyn Foberg finishing 1-2 at nationals
Following those two young athletes, who train at the same gym, through the years has been such a special journey. In 2014 not many people even knew Jazzy’s name. She was a new face, who hadn’t even made it to nationals the year before, she was always overshadowed by her teammates and nobody had high expectations from her. And yet, she showed remarkable progress, she upgraded her routines on every single event, she showed clean execution and impressive consistency and she stunned the world by winning the National All Around title over athletes like Nia Dennis and Norah Flatley, who had much more experience than she did. In 2015, she found herself entering nationals as the reigning All Around champion and she was under immense pressure to prove that her gold medal in 2014 was not a fluke and that she was here to stay. Laurie has quite a different story. She stole the world’s heart with her energy and fierceness back in 2012 and she became a fan favorite when she was 12 years old. She showed remarkable progress in 2013, introducing major upgrades on every event and gaining polish and consistency, proving that her difficulty can be just as impressive as her artistry and her performance quality. She was extremely successful and she was expected to dominate in 2014, when her biggest rival, Bailie Key, would turn senior. However this never happened because Laurie suffered from two major injuries that kept her out of competition for the entire year so 2015 was all about redemption for her. She has one of the most impressive comebacks of the year, she had won every competition she entered before nationals and she showed incredible mental strength and determination to regain her difficulty after major health problems. Both girls were under great pressure, competing at the most important meet of the year and they both delivered. Jazzy, who had added some huge skills and combinations into her routines, had a couple of minor mistakes but at at end of the day she was the second best gymnast of the country. Laurie did not have the highest start values out there, but she hit every single routine, showing incredible precision, artistry and confidence and she won a well deserved national title. After the end of the competition, she even said that she wish she had received a lower score so she and Jazzy could have tied for the gold medal. It was really incredible to see those two athletes, who had had completely different journeys getting on the podium holding hands at the last year of their junior careers and I can’t wait to see them competing side by side as seniors.
(gif credit: I-dont-understand gymnastics, photo credit: John Cheng/USA gymnastics)
4. Great Britain’s historic bronze medal
What an amazing result for this team, and the fact that they achieved that in their own country, in front of a crowd that was screaming on the top of their lungs made it even more special. I absolutely loved the dynamic of the team, which included both experienced veterans and talented first year seniors and they all came together and delivered a brilliant performance when it counted. They didn’t quite have the performance they were hoping for on the uneven bars, but they made up for that with solid routines on every other event. Ruby Harrold and Claudia Fragapane were both coming back from injuries, Amy Tinkler and Ellie Downie were both competing at their first world championships and Becky Downie was coming back from a major disappointment after not qualifying into the uneven bars finals but none of those problems stopped them. They were on fire, they showed brilliant, explosive gymnastics and they deserved every bit of that gold medal. Great Britain is not even my favorite team, but when the final score came up, the entire arena exploding and the team broke into tears I was crying just as hard as they were because from now on, those girls will always be remembered as the athletes who won Great Britain’s first team medal in the history of women’s artistic gymnastics.
(photo credit: FIG, gif credit: jordynslefteyebrow)
3. Maria Paseka and Ksenia Afanasyeva’s performances at the European vault finals
Vault finals in continental championships are not usually the kind of competition that takes your breath away. Even though the depth on this event has definitely improved, there aren’t a ton of athletes who are capable of two vaults and this makes things a tiny bit more predictable. When I opened my TV to watch those finals, I was expecting a rather boring competition. Giulia Steingruber seemed to be a lock for the gold medal as long as she landed on her feet and most of the other finalists had performed rather easy vaults during qualifications. And yet, 20 minutes later I found myself hyperventilating and passionately screaming to my TV when Ksenia Afanasyeva and Maria Paseka decided to pull amanars out of nowhere and fight for the podium. Both athletes had only performed a double twisting yurchenko and a lopez during qualifications and were making their comebacks. Afanasyeva had competed the amanar once in her career in 2013, she was coming back from an injury and we didn’t even know she was still working on the 2.5 twists. Even when she said she was considering performing that vault in the finals, most people were reluctant to believe her. Paseka was also coming back from injuries, she hadn’t performed an amanar since 2014 and she wasn’t even supposed to be competing at the European championships. She was only an alternate who had to fly to France in the last minute after her teammate Alla Sosnitskaya got injured, she hadn’t even gotten the chance to participate in the podium training and nobody had any idea if she was well prepared for this competition. She had competed a Cheng at the recent Russian championships and her attempt wasn’t even successful, so nobody was even considering the possibility of her doing an amanar at that point. I screamed when I saw the 6.3 start value flashing in the score board, I screamed while they were both running towards the vault and I screamed even harder when they both put absolutely decent amanars on their feet. It was an incredible comeback for two athletes who have both been plagued with injuries for the last two years but kept fighting to return to the sport and I was thrilled to see them being so successful during 2015 (gif credit: sparklesandchalk)
2. The UB tie
As gymnastics fans, we always want multiple athletes to win a world title and yet, we know that only one can. But that wasn’t the case in the uneven bars finals, where four gymnasts all received a magical 15.366 to tie for the gold medal. Daria Spiridonova was a rather underrated junior, who had an excellent first senior year in 2014, winning bronze medals at the European and the world championships. She looked determined to achieve even better results in 2015, she upgraded her routine and she had been a rock on this event all year long. Madison Kocian has had one of the most challenging careers out there, she has been injured over and over again and everyone thought that she would be another talented junior who would never make it big as a senior. And yet, she didn’t give up, she kept working hard, she kept pushing herself and at the end of the day she was rewarded for it with three worlds gold medals. Talking about challenging careers, there wasn’t even one year when Viktoria Komova didn’t have to deal with at least one major health problem since she turned senior in 2011. She had been injured, she had been sick and even her most loyal fans had lost faith in her comeback. But after two years away from major international competitions, she somehow managed to tape herself together and to return to the world championships for the first time since her senior debut. She qualified into two event finals and she defended the uneven bars title she had earned in 2011 with a stunning routine, reminding us why she was hyped to be the next “it girl” of artistic gymnastics. Fan Yilin hasn’t had an easy time with injuries either. After showing great promise, she ended up hurting her elbow and she was forced to stay away from competition for about a year. So many talented Chinese juniors quietly retired due to injuries before ever getting to compete as seniors and it looked like Yilin would be one of them, but she actually came back, she showed a spectacular upgraded routine and she really performed to the best of her abilities that day. She had the highest start value of the competition, she earned a well deserved medal and now, her picture will forever be in the Wall of champions, next to the photos of the other Chinese gymnastics legends. It really was incredible to watch those amazing four athletes hysterically laughing at this unorthodox result and standing next to each other on the top of the podium and I can’t wait to see them competing against each other once again next year.
1. Larisa Iordache’s All Around bronze
What a moment for this girl! After having the best year of her career in 2014, Larisa had a rather rough 2015, since she was dealing with pain for the biggest part of the year. She had to miss the European championships and the European Games, where she could have won multiple medals and her status remained unknown until about one month before worlds. However, when she returned to competition at the Romania vs France friendly meet and the Romanian nationals, nobody could have possibly guessed that she was injured. She was performing huge skills like a double double on floor and a triple twist on beam, she was hitting her routines and she had the sparkle and the energy that made so many people fall in love with her in the first place. She continued to shine at the Novara Cup, where she won a gold medal on every single event and she headed to Glasgow as a top contender for the All Around, the balance beam and the floor exercise podium. She looked ready and confident, but when it was time to compete everything went wrong. She started the day with a shaky and downgraded floor routine that was not enough for her to qualify into the event finals and then she had devastating falls on both bars and beam. This was the worse competition of her career and it happened at the worse possible moment. Her team did not manage to place in the top 8 and get a ticket for Rio for the first time in decades and none of her teammates even qualified into the event finals. It was a devastating result for a country with a long tradition in the sport and at the end of the qualifying round, Larisa couldn’t hold back her tears. Now, there was only one chance for Romania to win a medal, and this was the All Around finals. Larisa had to put the biggest disappointment of her career behind her, she had to ignore all the negative comments about her performance and she had to climb from the 16th place into the top 3 in order to save the face of Romanian gymnastics. She was under more pressure than anyone else in those finals and she actually had to start her quest for a medal on the balance beam, which has always been her most inconsistent event. It was so easy for her to lose her focus and to make a mistake but she somehow managed to control her emotions and she gave us a brilliant performance on all four events and thanks to her, the Romanian flag was right up there once again. At the end of the competition, she was crying again, but this time, her tears were tears of joy.
photo credit: sports2visual