The qualification round of the 2018 World Championships was held in Doha, Qatar on 27 and 28 October.
Compared to last year’s drama, this year’s qualifying competition went as smooth as air. No athlete got injured (is that even a thing?!, is Montreal 2017 still wondering), and I sustained no major heartache (though a lot of minor ones, because welcome to gymnastics).
The United States dominated the team qualification round, scoring a huge 174.429, almost nine points ahead of Russia (165.497) and China (165.196). Canada, Brazil, Japan, France and Germany also qualified to the team finals. I suffered a minor heartache, when Great Britain finished just short of an eighth place finish, but captain Becky Downie had soothing words for everyone: ‘The bad the comes with the good is all part of the journey. Couldn’t be prouder to be back representing 🇬🇧 on the world stage again & there is so much more to come for this team!!’
The two queens of qualifications were Olympic champions Simone Biles of the U.S. and Aliya Mustafina of Russia. Simone was back after a year off gymnastics, and casually qualified first into all finals but bars, where she qualified second. On vault, she landed her own skill, a Yurchenko half twist onto the table into two twists, now officially called The Biles. We ran out of superlatives for this young lady a long time ago, but she keeps getting better and better, and it is probably time for the dictionary to keep pace with her – Biles-licious? Superb-iles? Simonique? The queen of life, Aliya Mustafina, also came back from a year off gymnastics, in which, just ordinarily, she got married and divorced, and was also pregnant and gave birth to her baby daughter Alisa! She was back flawlessly as only she can be, qualifying into the bars final, competing also on beam and (casually) on floor, and making her scores count on all apparatuses. She said: ‘When you become a mother, life doesn’t end. If there’s a thing you can do that gives you pleasure, you do it.’ Mustafinesque is already a word, right?
U.S. Olympic champion (and queen of everything) Simone Biles topped the all around qualification board, with an insane 60.965. This score is higher than the one with which Simone won the all around title in 2015, when scores on bars, beam and floor were automatically half a point higher (see D-score rules). Simone had a nearly-perfect competition, despite a late-night trip to the ER the night before, where she was diagnosed with a kidney stone. Could she be stronger?! Superb-iles indeed! Florida commit Morgan Hurd qualified in second place with an excellent (for the humans) 56.465, Japan’s Mai Murakami was third with a 55.632, Belgium’s Nina Derwael (!!!) was fourth with a 55.564, Russia’s Angelina Melnikova was fifth with a 55.465 and Canada’s Elsabeth Black was sixth with a 54.999.
My heart ached a bit more here. Florida commit Riley McCusker let the nerves have the best of her and had an underwhelming performance on all apparatuses, including a fall on beam. I was disappointed, and so was she, but the unwavering support for her teammates throughout the competition says it all of the person she is – so proud! Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos of France also had some nerve-related problems, but still qualified in seventh place. I really REALLY hope she will hit on Thursday!
My heart glowed with pride, on the contrary, to see Russia’s Irina Alexeeva shining at her first World Championships and qualifying eleventh into the all around final. Rumour has it that she will join her coach at Alabama once the time comes, nothing would make me happier! I was also beyond delighted to see Romania’s Denisa Golgota leading her team, hitting four-for-four (and the whole team sixteen-for-sixteen!) and qualifying seventeenth into the all around final.
Unless her kidney stone causes her further trouble, Simone will certainly win all around gold – she is head and shoulders above the rest of the world. I also think Morgan will probably win silver – it would be a major achievement for this young lady, after so many last year predicted that she would not even make the Worlds team this year! The race for third place, however, is wide open, and could go to almost anyone in the top-ten though. I do want to hope (though I should probably not say it, NO MORE JINXING!) that this will be Angelina Melnikova’s year. Her and Morgan’s international friendship is so adorable, I would LOVE to see them standing on the podium together. I would also be happy to see Mai Murakami redeeming herself after last year’s beam bummer. Mélanie DJDS, on paper, would be the most disappointed not to win a medal. This lady needs to believe in herself, and she will become unstoppable! And if Nina Derwael wins an all around medal… OMG, I cannot even think of it!!!!
The event finals qualifiers were full of surprises. On vault, behind Simone (15.666), Alabama freshman Shallon Olsen (Canada) qualified second with a good 14.550 – Shallon competed a Cheng and a DTY. In third place was South Korea’s new-born star, Yeo Seojeong (14.483), followed by Alexa Moreno of Mexico (14.466) – could this be her year?! – and the unstoppable Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan. This woman is just… JUST. I must say I am relieved that Angelina Melnikova failed to qualify to the final. I would have had a heart attack, had she attempted her Cheng again…
On bars, Nina Derwael connected all her super intricate work for a 15.066 – she needs to win, she just needs to. Behind her, Simone is now also a bars specialist (14.866) and Germany’s Elisabeth Seitz has her chance to win that medal that slipped through her fingers at the 2016 Olympics (14.566). The competition, however, will be tight. Luo Huan of China, Morgan Hurd, Queen Aliya Mustafina, Jonna Adlerteg of Sweden and Becky Downie are all within less than three tenths. Jonna is the first Swedish woman to ever qualify to an event finals at the World Championships, and the first to qualify to any finals in SIXTY years – SIXTY!!! If she wins a medal (I hope she does!), the roof will come down!
On beam, Simone Biles (14.800) and Kara Eaker (14.466) proved to be above everyone else (I secretly hope Kara will beat Simone in the final though!). Zhang Jin saved the day for China, after Chen Yile fell (big heartache for me) and Liu Tingting put her hands down in her front acro series – but qualified anyway for the finals, because she is that good. Olympic champion Sanne Wevers qualified in fourth and is training her triple spin. She needs to compete it to have a chance for gold. Canada’s Anne-Marie Padurariu and Elsabeth Black also qualified, together with Nina Derwael, who proved that her silver medal at Euros was not a magic fluke. Major heartbreak for me on beam was to see Marine Boyer out of the final for less than two tenths – sigh!
On floor, Simone Biles outscored the rest of the field of more than a point, just because she has a kidney stone (15.333). The current world champion, Mai Murakami was second (14.100) and Angelina Melnikova third (14.033). Angelina needs to leave this World Championships with at least an individual medal, I have been waiting for too long! Brooklyn Moors of Canada also thankfully qualified to the finals, her dance is divine, learn rest of the world! I was also happy to see European champion Mélanie DJDS and Flavia Saraiva of Brazil going through, as well as Russia’s Liliia Akhaimova – this woman needs more recognition for everything she does – she has an almost-Aly Raisman tumbling pass, for goodness’ sake! Morgan Hurd qualified over Utah commit Grace McCallum and my heart ached a bit more – but Morgan on floor is so beautiful, I just hate the two-per-country rule… Finally, Spain’s Cintia Rodriguez did not make the floor final, but she is gorgeous to watch – I wish she competed in the NCAA!
Speaking of the NCAA, UCLA alumna Danusia Francis competed for Jamaica and finished seventy-first in the all around. On beam, she is still competing her NCAA signature dismount, an aerial cartwheel on the side of the beam to a full-twisting dismount – beautiful! Danusia was at Worlds with a Jamaican team for the first time, and said that it is a fantastic experience to compete with a team. So happy for them, they will be even stronger once Cal’s Toni-Ann Williams recovers from her latest injury. Former Denver standout Simona Castro competed for Chile and was fifty-fifth in the all around. UCLA commit Frida Esparza competed for Mexico and did an excellent job: she was thirty-second in the all around and is currently one of the reserves. UNC commit Tienna Nguyen, who competed for Vietnam, was seventy-seventh in the all around, while Alabama commit Corinne Bunagan, who competed for the Philippines, was ninety-seventh.