It wasn’t pretty for anyone, but in the end, the Russians took it.
The Russian women, led by all-around favorite Aliya Mustafina, overcame three nervous falls on uneven bars to claim their first ever World team title over the United States and China. Not counting the uneven bars, where Russia was forced to count three falls, the dynamic team of Mustafina, Tatiana Nabieva, Anna Dementyeva, birthday girl Ksenia Semyonova, Ksenia Afanasyeva and Yekaterina Kurbatova came back to win the first gold medal of this World Championships.
Their team score, 175.397, bettered the United States by only two tenths of a point. China, third, scored 174.781.
Another great performance from all-around favorite Mustafina not withstanding, the story of this final was the sheer number of falls after a nearly flawless qualifying round from all teams. The United States performed nervously on balance beam, with Alexandra Raisman (back handspring, layout to two feet), Alicia Sacramone (front pike) and Rebecca Bross (standing Arabian) all nearly falling but saving the routines out of sheer determination.
The Russians and Chinese were unlucky on uneven bars, an excellent event for both teams. Jiang Yuyuan and Huang Qiushaung missed after Pak salto transitions to the low bar, and Olympic bars champion He Kexin was forced to muscle a kip to high bar. Russia got off to a bad start when tablesetter Dementyeva fell on her Tkatchev release. Things got worse when Nabieva fell twice, once on her signature toe on layout Tkatchev over the bar, once on a low bar pirouette.
Nevertheless, the Russians were the team with the fewest mistakes after the U.S. went to floor and had to count a fall from Mattie Larson, who has been struggling with the Janssen-Fritsen floor all week in Rotterdam. Larson made the double layout she fell on in preliminaries but did not have the height or rotation for the double pike that capped off her routine. In addition, Larson tumbled only a 2.5 twist, leaving out the front layout that normally follows, taking an additional deduction for leaving out the change of direction requirement for routines.
The Russian team has been great for a long time, but surprisingly, this is the first World team title they have won since the breakup of the Soviet Union’s Unified Team, which competed for the last time at the 1992 Olympics.
What was interesting about this night in Rotterdam was how close the top three teams really were. Any had the ability to win the title had they stayed clean. But given the number of falls counted (three for Russia, two for China and one for the United States), it is a testament to how good the Russian team still is that they won.
A resurgent Romania, now guided by Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang, finished just outside the medals with 173.096. Romanian fans shouldn’t despair, however — the country has a very strong all-around contender in Ana Porgras, as well as two stunning juniors in Larissa Iordache and Diana Bulimar, who are waiting the wings. Japan rebounded from several errors in the qualifying round to finish fifth, equaling its 2008 Olympic result, followed by Australia, Britain and Italy.
Follow Gymnastics Examiner Blythe Lawrence on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GymExaminer or click the “Subscribe” button above to receive the latest gymnastics news and results via e-mail.