Catalina Ponor at the European Championships in April. Photograph: Silvia Vatteroni

2017 was a sad year for gymnastics.

It will be remembered as the year of the sexual abuse scandal that involved USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, and of the unacceptable attempts by USA Gymnastics to cover up Nassar’s crimes, its own ineptitude to protect athletes and its dirty conscience. We pay respect and we support all victims, more and less famous, among which are Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher, Mattie Larson, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard.

We hope that the scandal and the suffering of all the victims will lead to a new culture in the sport of gymnastics, in which the health, well-being and happiness of the gymnasts will come before any results and personal gains.

The other sad aspect of 2017 was that it was a year marred by an incredible number of injuries, which prevented many talented gymnasts from achieving deserved results. Romania’s Larisa Iordache, U.S. Ragan Smith and Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade got injured just before or during the World Championships in October. Great Britain’s Ellie Downie underwent surgery in summer and could not compete at Worlds. Brazil’s Flavia Saraiva got injured before Worlds. And Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari tore her Achilles during the floor final at Worlds.

2017 also saw some heartbreaking retirements. Olympic champion Cătălina Ponor bid farewell to gymnastics after a disappointing World Championships, extinguishing the last flame of the golden age of Romanian gymnastics. China’s Shang Chunsong retired after not being named to the World Championships team. She left gymnastics with much fewer medals than she deserved. NCAA super talented juniors Madison Preston of UCLA and Sabrina Schwab of Utah both put an early end to their college careers due to recurrent injuries. U.S. talents Jazmyn Foberg and Christina Desiderio also both announced that their bodies could not handle elite gymnastics any longer, and went to college one year early, Jazmyn to Florida and Christina to LSU.

So what was left in 2017?

What was left was a lot of surprises, some new faces and some long-overdue victories.
At the European Championships in April Great Britain’s Ellie Downie became the first British gymnast to win the all around title, ahead of Hungary’s Zsófia Kovács and France’s Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos. History was also made by Nina Derwael, who became the first Belgian woman to win an uneven bars gold medal at the European championships. Long overdue medals were achieved by the Netherlands’ Eythora Thorsdottir, who won a silver on beam and a bronze on floor, and by Russia’s Angelina Melnikova, who pulled out her best ever floor routine to win the floor title. On beam, Romania movingly raised its head to win the title with Cătălina Ponor (at its fifth European victory on this apparatus) and a bronze medal with Larisa Iordache. France’s Coline Devillard won a surprising title on vault.

2017 saw the senior international debut of some very talented gymnasts. Elena Eremina was Russia’s best gymnast in 2017. She won a silver medal on bars at the European championships, and a silver medal on bars and a bronze medal in the all around at the World Championships. Another impressive debut was U.S. Jade Carey’s, who won two silver medals, on vault and floor, at the World championships, her first ever international competition. Impressive on bars was also Russia’s Anastasia Iliankova, who battled through injuries to finish fourth at Worlds on that apparatus.

Another sensational international debut was that of 2017 World all around champion Morgan Hurd of the United States. Morgan came into the World championships as the underdog of Team USA, which included two Olympic alternates, but due to some luck and lots of nerves, she managed to win the title. She was also later congratulated by her favourite author J.K. Rowling!

The World championships in October was a disappointment on many levels. There was no sensational debut as Simone Biles’ in 2013, the level of gymnastics was good but not exceptional, old champions seemed out of shape and injuries were rampant. That said, however, a few gymnasts managed to finally get the medals they deserved, and overall, it was an exciting and unpredictable competition. Canada’s Ellie Black and Belgium’s Nina Derwael made history for their respective countries, Ellie by becoming the first Canadian gymnast to win an all around medal (a silver), and Nina by becoming the first Belgian gymnast to win a medal at the World championships (a bronze on bars). Three gymnasts managed to snitch a long overdue medal. Japan’s Mai Murakami, after disappointing fourth-place finishes on beam and in the all around, finally won a gold medal on floor (Mai Murakami is a World champion, woohoo!); Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber won a bronze medal on vault to add to her bronze Olympic medal from 2016 (and she and Maria Paseka became BFF!); and Great Britain’s Claudia Fragapane managed to win a bronze medal on floor. Two gymnasts impressively retained their titles against all odds: Russia’s Maria Paseka on vault and China’s Fan Yilin on bars (this time on her own!). Germany impressed on beam, where it won two medals. Pauline Schäfer, the 2015 bronze medallist, won gold with the best routine of the championships, and Tabea Alt won bronze.

Among the surprises of 2017 was the immense depth and talent of the U.S. junior squad. The depth of Team USA is no surprise, but the United States is building a group of athletes who are both powerful and elegant, good tumblers and impressive dancers. Credit goes to the coaching staff, as well as the incredible commitment of the young athletes. Hopefully they will be raised in a safe and healthy environment, and will achieve their dreams at an acceptable cost. Among the talented group of gymnasts are U.S. all around champion Maile O’Keefe, U.S. floor champion Emma Malabuyo, U.S. beam champion Kara Eaker, U.S. vault champion Leanne Wong, as well as Gabby Perea, Adeline Kenlin, Sunisa Lee, Audrey Davis, Olivia Dunne and others.

Another pleasant surprise was the comeback of Russia’s stars Aliya Mustafina, who had a baby girl earlier this year, and Viktoria Komova, who is coming back from injury. They both seem very motivated and excited to be back.

The NCAA saw two Olympic champions compete in college for the first time. These were Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian, both for UCLA. Kyla Ross went on to be named Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year and to win two NCAA National titles, on bars and beam. A huge number of talented elite gymnasts also joined college gymnastics in 2017. These included Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner for Utah, who tied for the NCAA floor title in April and became the first college gymnast to compete a double double on floor, fan favourite Maggie Nichols for Oklahoma, who led the all around ranking all season, Olympian Ruby Harrold for LSU, Olympic Trials participants Amelia Hundley and Rachel Gowey for Florida, and U.S. national team members Maddie Desch for Alabama and Sabrina Vega for Georgia.

Oklahoma won its third national title in April, ahead of LSU (I’m still heartbroken, 2017 was their year!) and Florida. Oklahoma may not have a lot of internationally renowned names, but they are incredibly consistent, they stick landings and they hit beam – always. Credit and respect goes to head coach K.J. Kindler for building such an incredible programme. LSU’s freshman Kennedi Edney had an impressive season and was crowned NCAA champion on vault. UCLA’s freshman Kyla Ross won beam, and the floor title was shared by Utah’s freshman MyKayla Skinner and LSU’s senior Ashleigh Gnat. The bars title was shared among six gymnasts for the first time: Maggie Nichols and Nicole Lehrmann (Oklahoma), Kyla Ross (UCLA), Alex McMurtry (Florida), Sarah Finnegan (LSU) and Katie Bailey (Alabama). The all around crown was won by Florida’s Alex McMurtry, who inherited the title from her teammate Bridget Sloan, ahead of MyKayla Skinner and Alabama’s Kiana Winston. Alex McMurtry was also the winner of the prestigious Honda Award, while LSU’s Ashleigh Gnat was the recipient of the AAI Award, awarded to the best senior gymnast in the country.

Among post-season and pre-season surprises, the main one is the replacement of Georgia head coach Danna Durante with former Georgia superstar Courtney Kupets-Carter, who was accompanied back to Georgia with former legendary head coach Suzanne Yoculan. We shall see what the dream duo can do! Another surprise is the immense talent Florida is bringing in for the 2018 season: Alyssa Bauman, Jazmyn Foberg and Megan Skaggs are all on the Gators’ roster for next year. Wow! In another surprising move, Stanford fired head coach Kristen Smyth, and replaced her with former Cardinal standout Tabitha Yim. The Cardinals have also welcomed a ton of new freshmen, to start the new season from scratch and forget last year’s disastrous finish. Final significant surprise, check out Kyla Ross’s new dismount on bars – a full-twisting double layout!

In other gymnastics related news, congratulations to Russian stars Aliya Mustafina, Ksenia Afanasyeva and Ksenia Semenova, who all became mothers for the first time this year. Congratulations also to 2004 Olympic champion Carly Patterson and 2004 Olympic medallist Courtney Kupets-Carter, who gave birth to two healthy baby boys this year. And congratulations to Utah’s Makenna Merrell (now Merrell-Giles) and West Virginia alumna Brooklyn Doggette who got married in the summer.

Finally, if you are up to procrastination and you have already watched all of the NCAA pre-season meets, you can have a look at Simone Biles’ appearances in Dancing with the Stars from earlier this year.

Simone Biles is also officially back in the gym, so who is excited for 2018?!

Article by Talitha Ilacqua
Axact

WOGymnastikA

WOGymnastikA is a blog turned website which brings you the latest updates on women’s artistic gymnastics as well as exclusive interviews with your favorite gymnasts. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact us on wogymnastika@gmail.com .

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