As a means to make the flaming dumpster fire that was the year 2020 slightly more bearable, the FIG has decided to organize a last-minute major international gymnastics competition to offer the gymnasts some competition exposure in a year that has essentially been a gymnastics drought.
The Friendship and Solidarity Competition will be the first meet in 2020 for many of the gymnasts competing, so don’t expect things to go too smoothly. Most of the gymnasts will not be at peak form, but they don’t need to be. The entire purpose of the meet is to regain competition exposure and, per the FIG, “make the message clear: Friendship and Solidarity shall triumph above all.” But in actuality, it’s also a huge test for the Olympic Committee to prove that a major international sporting event can be held safely for the Olympic Games next year.
The competition will have a very unique structure- as opposed to a traditional meet where gymnasts compete on teams based on nationality, gymnasts will compete on two teams: team friendship and team solidarity. The two teams will comprise of 15 men and women from Japan, China, Russia, and the United States. The top three scores per event will be counted towards the final team total.
On the women’s side, team friendship will begin the competition on bars. This is an event where they’ll be looking to capitalize on their scoring potential over team solidarity. Angelina Melnikova will kick-off the meet on bars, an event where she finished in fourth at 2019 Worlds. Following Melnikova will be Zhou Ruiyu who will boast her 6.0 D-score and her gorgeous one-arm pirouettes, a staple element in Chinese uneven bar composition. Rounding out the rotation will be Asuka Teramoto and Hitomi Hatakeda. This is Asuka’s first meet back since her Achilles rupture in March, so I’m excited to see if she’ll debut any new upgrades.
Sophia Butler will kick-off the beam rotation for team friendship. She did beam at the WOGA classic earlier this year showing off a unique side aerial-Onodi acro-series (!!!) and a flic-flic-layout. I’m interested to see if she’ll keep all the difficulty, or play it safe (fingers crossed she does the side-aerial to Onodi!) Yana Vorona will also be hoping to contribute a big number on beam, showing off a nice flic-flic-loso acro series and clean execution throughout.
Starting the floor rotation will be Liu Jieyu who opens with a huge triple-full directly into punch front, a pass that has gained popularity over the past several years among the Chinese. Notably, Asuka Teramoto is also slated to compete on floor, even after just recovering from her Achilles tear. However, the highlight of the rotation will be Angelina Melnikova who could have the highest-scoring floor routine of the entire meet.
Moving over to the men, team friendship will begin the meet on rings where Artur Dalaloyan will begin the rotation. However, the strongest routine will probably come from Yuya Kamoto who does a unique Felge to swallow midway through his routine.
Moving on to vault, the rotation again will begin with Artur Dalaloyan, who is the 2018 World silver medalist on vault, showing a strong Blanik and triple-twisting Yurchenko duo. Notably, the roster only shows five gymnasts from team friendship competing vault, while the start list only shows three: Artur Dalaloyan, Alexey Rostov, and Kazuma Kaya. It would be a shame if Shi Cong (originally listed to do vault) scratched because he could provide a really strong score with his Kaz double.
Team friendship is like the avengers of parallel bars. Yuya Kamoto, Kazuma Kaya, Yul Moldauer, Shane Wiskus, and Artur Dalaloyan are all slated to compete. 2/6 gymnasts on team friendship have a World Championship accolade on parallel bars and every gymnast on team friendship will be expecting to post at minimum a 6.0 D-score, and we’ll potentially see even more upgrades.
High bar should also be a really strong event for team friendship, as long as everything goes as planned. Newcomer Zhang Boheng can potentially bring in a very good score as long as he stays on the bar. Alexey Rostov too struggles a little bit with consistency but can bring in a very big number as long as he hits. Keep an eye out for Artur Dalaloyan who seems to be upgrading his layout Tkatchev to a Liukin (full-twisting layout Tkatchev) based on podium training videos. I’m also interested in seeing where Yul Moldauer is in terms of difficulty. Yul debuted a new 5.4 high bar routine at Winter Cup this year, but missed his Kolman on day one. I’m interested to see if he’ll keep his new upgrades or play it safe.
Moving over to floor, Shane Wiskus will be team friendship’s leadoff. Shane debuted a brand new floor routine during Winter Cup finals earlier this year, debuting a new front 1/1 into Randi and back 2.5 into front 2/1. Zhang Boheng caught my attention during Chinese Nationals last month by showing off a floor routine with execution reminiscent of Li Xiaoshuang. 2018 floor world champion Artur Dalaloyan will also be looking to put up a very high number, combining superior execution with colossal difficulty that can score in the mid to high 14’s.
Team friendship will close out the meet on pommel horse, a particularly stressful event to finish on. Leading off will be Artur Dalaloyan who can swing pommels nicely, but certainly isn’t his strongest event. Kazuma Kaya, on the other hand, will be looking to capitalize on his pommel horse prowess. The 2015 World Championship bronze medalist has scoring potential in the mid to high 14’s and shows off a nice array of Russian and flair work.
For the women’s side, team solidarity has been tasked with the challenge to begin the competition on beam, a tumultuous journey for many. Zhang Jin and Lu Yufei will start off the rotation, and (hopefully) will set the bar high, each doing beautiful dance elements that actually deserve to receive credit, as well as high, floaty layout series. I’m also looking forward to seeing the state of Elena Gerasimova’s beam. After her success from 2019 Junior Worlds, she will be looking to add more difficulty to her already tremendous beam routine that already has a front walkover-front and aerial-LOSO acro series.
On floor, neither eMjae Frazier nor Shilese Jones are slated to compete, which surprises me because of their high scoring potential. Instead, we will see Aleksandra Schekoldina who was a member of the silver-winning Russian team at 2019 Worlds. Floor is by far Schekoldina’s strongest event, so she has the highest possible scoring potential of team solidarity as long as she hits, which can be an issue sometimes. Chiaki Hatakeda, sister of Hitomi Hatakeda, has a lot of tumbling capability (remember her quadruple twist a few years ago?) as well as her compatriot Akari Matsumura who does a floaty triple-full to punch front opening pass.
For vault, Aleksandra Schekoldina will lead off, Aleksandra gets a really good block on her DTY so I’m expecting she’ll probably bring in a big score. Shilese Jones and eMjae Frazier should also bring in impressive scores with their Amanar-ifyable DTYs. Zhang Jin will have the highest D-score of the group with her Tsukahara double-full but tends to struggle with amplitude which gets reflected in her E-score.
As team solidarity concludes their meet on bars, I’m most excited to see potential upgrades from Shilese Jones. Per her Instagram Shilese has been working on several new release elements and combinations to help build her 5.6 D-score. Lu Yufei will have a stand-out routine showing off an impressive Tkatchev-Gienger direct connection to rack up valuable connection bonus, as well as the most PERFECT piked Jaeger ever done on bars.
On the men’s side team solidarity has the advantage of starting on vault, a relatively easy event to get out of the way first. Notably, Kohei Uchimura is listed to compete on vault, which comes as a huge surprise to me since he has stated numerous times he will fight for an Olympic spot as a high bar specialist. Wataru Tanigawa will be showing off a MASSIVE Blanik where he actually maintains straight legs throughout the entirety of the vault. And of course who could forget Nikita Nagornyy- the 2019 World Vault Champion where he will probably stick his Dragalescu again.
For parallel bars, newcomer Yin Dehang combines clean execution with an impressive 6.2 D-score that should score in the mid to high 14’s. Also, keep an eye out for Dimitrii Lankin who has some impressive peach and single bar elements.
Team solidarity hands down wins the high bar E-score award. Kohei Uchimura, looking to grab an individual high bar spot in Tokyo, will show off his new Bretschneider (and hopefully work out better than at All Japan Championships last month). Kohei’s execution is unmatched to the rest of the world, however, and increasing his difficulty and combining it with his flawless execution leads him further down the track to becoming an individual event specialist at next year’s Olympics. Almost on par with Kohei’s cleanliness is Paul Juda. Although Paul lacks the difficulty, he makes up in his squeaky clean execution, where he normally scores around the 8.6-8.8 range.
Contrary to the top-notch execution on high bar, team solidarity will boast big D-scores on floor. Casually opening with triple-backs, Nikita Nagornyy and Dimitri Lankin will be the highlight of the rotation. Just like his wonderful piked-double front on vault, Wataru Tanigawa competes has two double front-pikes on floor (one with and without the half-out).
Although the stakes aren’t high for the gymnasts competing, FIG President, Morinari Watanabe, is putting his heart and soul into making sure this meet runs smoothly. This meet is a huge test for the Tokyo Organizing Committee to prove to the world a major international sports competition is feasible, even with the pandemic looming as a backdrop.