Memorable moments from prelims
TOKYO -- The first round of competition at the World Gymnastics Championships wrapped Saturday evening, setting the stage for the team and individual finals to come. Here's a rundown of the most memorable moments so far:
The team to beat: USA. The U.S. women were the early favorite for the team gold at these world championships, but injuries to team leader Alicia Sacramone (torn Achilles) and bars specialist Anna Li (abdominal strain) seemed to cast a world title into doubt. Having only five healthy team members forced the U.S. to use inexperienced gymnasts on every event, but the results were outstanding: When the chalk cleared, the U.S. was leading defending world champion Russia by more than three points. In addition, all five American gymnasts -- Jordyn Wieber, Alexandra Raisman, Gabrielle Douglas, Sabrina Vega and McKayla Maroney -- were ranked among the top 12 in the all-around, with Raisman and Maroney in pole position on floor exercise and vault, respectively. Consider team favorite status back on. More on what's causing the U.S. team's injuries.
The gymnast to beat: Viktoria Komova (Russia). After struggling with her routines all week in training, the pieces came together at the right time for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games all-around champion, who now has to be considered a favorite for the individual all-around title. Even with a small mistake on floor and a simpler vault than her typical one, she leads the talented Wieber by less than .2 of a point. Watch Komova on bars.
The thrill: Yamilet Pena (Dominican Republic), vault: Pena, the sole female gymnast from the Dominican Republic to come to Tokyo, made her mark by becoming only the second woman to compete a spectacularly difficult handspring double front vault. The handspring double front, in which a gymnast flips forward two-and-a-half times off of the vaulting table, was last performed successfully in 1999. It's so hard that no woman has tried it at world championships since. Pena will get the chance to do the vault again in event finals, where she qualified in third place.
The skill: Elisabeth Seitz (Germany), uneven bars: The 17-year-old from Heidelberg, Germany, hit an exceptionally risky set that included an original element -- a very difficult full-twisting release move from the low bar to the high bar. The skill will most likely be named after Seitz. And that wasn't all: Later in the routine Seitz caught another full-twisting release move (called a Def) that is among the hardest you can do on bars. Unfortunately, a low execution score will keep her out of the individual event final. Watch Seitz on bars.
The spill: He Kexin (China), uneven bars: The 2008 Olympic gold medalist on bars has been practically untouchable on the event for the past several years, but her reign may be at an end. He fell on a release skill for the second straight year at worlds, and did not qualify for the event final on bars as a result. With teams limited to only five gymnasts for the Olympics, the Chinese may decide He is too much of a risk to put on the team next year. Furthermore, China has several who can now rival He's difficulty on the event, including Huang Qiushuang, who did qualify for bar finals. Watch He on bars.
The pressure-beater: Jordyn Wieber (U.S.), balance beam: With the weight of the worlds on her shoulders, the 16-year-old faced down balance beam with the same remarkable calmness she did when winning her national title in August. Her gutsy routine, capped with a stuck 2.5-twist dismount, received the third-best beam score of the qualification round, and reminded us once again why the gymnastics world has caught such a strong case of Wieber fever.
The Cinderella story: Sui Lu (China), floor exercise: Always a contender but rarely a champion in major international competitions on floor, Sui did perhaps the greatest routine of her career in prelims. The tumbling passes were stuck cold, and the dance was expressive and graceful. This could be the year she finally nabs world gold on floor, though at the moment she is in second place behind American Raisman.
The comeback: Catalina Ponor (Romania), balance beam: The 2004 Olympic beam champion returned to serious training several months ago after more than three years out of the sport. Turns out she hasn't lost anything -- her beam routine in prelims rivaled her work at the height of her career and earned her a place in event finals. Watch Ponor on beam.
The newcomer: McKayla Maroney (U.S.), vault: Maroney, 15, already unofficially holds the title for the world's best Amanar vault. What's remarkable is that her second vault, (the weaker one for most gymnasts), is so good that it received a higher score than some gymnasts' preferred vault. She'll go into the vault event final as the one to beat. Watch Maroney on vault.