Today saw the AA competition at the World University Games in Gwangju South Korea. Kelly Simm Britain’s only female gymnast at the games finished in third place after qualification, but a fall on beam hinted that a clean competition could see her climb further still. In qualification Filipa Martins from Portugal finished top, her eighth place finish at Europeans earlier in the year giving indication of her strong AA capabilities. Russia’s Polina Fedorova was second, reserve for the Russian team that finished third at World Championships, she is a neat gymnast who also topped the floor qualification. After Kelly came Asuka Teramoto, and Natsumi Sasada from Japan, Asuka is a hugely experienced competitor taking part in three world championships including a bars final in 2011, and fourth place on beam in 2014, as well as an Olympic games where she qualified 8th in London for the AA competition. Natsumi also competed at last year’s world championships, and the girls finished first and second at this years Japan nationals. Heo Seonmi and Eum Da Yeon from South Korea both have world level experience, and rounding off the top eight was Daria Elizarova who years ago was one of my favorite Russian Juniors ever. Unfortunately injury prevented her from fulfilling her huge potential, but after a spell competing for Uzbekistan, she is back competing for Russia, not quite the difficulty of old, but this former junior European AA champion has that unmistakable style and performance quality of the best prepared Russian gymnasts.
So with some strong competitors, Kelly rotated in Olympic order starting on vault. She performed her laid out Podkopayeva well, the first half of the vault particularly is impressive, legs locked together in the turn coming on to the vault, which although should be standard, as any gymnastics fan knows is increasingly rare nowadays. Also impressive is how cleanly completed the turn is. Coming off the vault, Kelly maintained the straight shape well through the half turn, a little more lift would see this vault bringing in the big scores, as for now she is having to pike down which will be affecting her E score. A jump back on landing, but 14.333 the same as in Baku, and second only to her QF efforts in score for this new vault. Off to a great start with the highest score, and leading the competition.
On to bars next, Kelly had a long wait having been first on vault in the first group, to last on bars in the second group, no problem at all though, she hit her new and difficult routine yet again. There are form faults here and there which when ironed out will increase the score even more, but Kelly has upgraded so much on this piece. Credit must be given for not only upping her D score, but her E score too over the last year, as with added difficulty always comes the risk of higher deductions cancelling out the added D scores with lower E’s. To put things into perspective, Kelly scored in the 12’s in 2014’s English and British Championships, her last two outings on bars have both scored in the 14’s.
So, beginning with the toe on full, a little trouble really caused by being out of alignment after the first half turn, meaning the second half would not be able to stay on top of the bar, a beautifully flighted Komova II transition with just the leg separation on the back swing, then back to the low bar with a well performed Pak with the tiniest of leg separations, but well controlled. Although there is still the odd area it creeps in, generally I was very impressed with the change in Kelly’s toe point and general extension throughout the exercise giving her a far more aesthetically pleasing look as a gymnast, and of course upping that E score. The piked Galante, or ‘Simm’ is outstanding, and keeps getting better. It comes off straight arms, lifts high and clear of the bar with straight legs, and catches cleanly, a release equal to the quality of the best bar workers. Finishing with a double layout, well performed, but for the leg separation that could squeeze a couple of extra tenths from the judges, and Kelly was half way through and at the head of the field. 14.333, another outing on bars, another career highest score.
Heading to beam Kelly was 0.267 ahead of Asuka, and 1.2 ahead of Natsumi. Kelly has had a hit and miss year on beam so far, it’s presently the weakest piece in her AA competition, in addition she had fallen in prelims. In contrast, the Japanese girls are very strong on this piece, with Natsumi leading prelims with a 14.250, and although Asuka also had trouble in prelims, 4th place at worlds makes this a very strong piece for her. Sure enough, both girls hit their routines beautifully, an even higher score of 14.50 for Natsumi today, and a score that would have beaten Aliya Mustafina to the 2014 world bronze medal. Asuka scored 14.10, so both girls improving on their strongest piece.
Kelly had to stay on to have any hope of claiming the title, and she did exactly that. Starting with change to change 1/4, a little short on the split on the 1/4 turn, but other than that lovely form, and a solid confident start. I like the side choreography, so often lackluster and unimaginative, Kelly uses interesting intricate movement to fulfill this requirement. Safely through the flick to back straight series, and not a hint of a wobble so far. Front somi, switch half where there will have been deductions for feet, and not hitting split position, then a high solid back tuck and free walkover, and the skills on the beam were done. High Double pike with the pace on landing, and Kelly’s face showed exactly what it meant to hit a routine without a single wobble when it matters the most. Responding well to pressure is exactly what you want from gymnasts in big competition, and Kelly showed what she was made of on her trickiest piece. 13.866 was enough to keep Kelly in the lead, but following the excellent beam routines from both Japanese girls, it was by the tiniest of margins 0.033.
Although naturally the stronger floor worker, Kelly needed to hit to secure the title. Both Japanese girls competed well earning 13.466 each, leaving Kelly also requiring 13.466 to take first place. Attainable certainly, but never guaranteed. High double layout to open, following with the exciting whip to full in, not as precise as she has performed it landing wise, but she has this tumble nailed now, and was good enough. Really well performed leap series with extended legs and hit positions, half way through and going well. One and a half to a high double tuck, a large step back on landing, but staying in bounds. Beautiful Popa to W jump, then finishing with double pike, a couple of scurried steps back, but surely enough. Kelly is working hard on her presentation even managing a smile during the routine, selling it more and more as her confidence grows.
13.80 and Kelly came off the podium looking as delighted as her personal coach Keith Richardson did, Kelly has been at Dynamo since she was very young, and it’s lovely to see how much such victories matter to both coach and gymnast. 56.322 is a great AA total, Kelly’s highest to date, and the third highest GB total this year behind Ellie Downie taking AA bronze at Europeans, and Amy Tinkler securing the British AA title.
Well done to Kelly and Keith and Debbie Richardson her personal coaches at Dynamo, and good luck for finals tomorrow!