Floor finals are always exciting. They always signify end of the WAG competition and they are the most theatrical and fun competition of the event. Today’s floor finals, with its slew of fabulous performances, the constant re-shuffling of the line up and the closeness of each performance made this one better than ever.
Three gymnasts were given a rare gift today, the opportunity to compete in this floor final, even though they had been relegated to the three reserve position days ago in the preliminary competition.
Australia’s Lauren Mitchell found out a day or two before, when Romania’s Diana Bulimar sustained a foot fracture. Despite having the highest difficulty and performing the highest scoring floor routines of the competition over the past week, Mitchell was not able to quite bring it back to that level today, despite an excellent performance. She missed one of her leaps during the routine, but the quick thinking Aussie showed her experience and threw it in at the end. It was not enough, however.
Poor Diana Chelaru had no such warning. She was probably snacking on peanits with her team mates in the delegation seating, watching the first floor finals without a Romanian in it for a long time, when she got the call to compete.
I had known something was up when I returned to the media stand only to run into Vanessa Ferrari hopping on one foot and holding a bag of ice. She and Chiara Gandolfi were trying to work out how to get her up the steep narrow stairs. The solution; a piggyback! By the time I returned to the stand FIG had tweeted that Chelaru would be replacing Ferrari. It was very sad to see Ferrari not being able to perform after her beautiful floor performances this week or the upgrades she had planned for today. Sadly, she sprained her ankle on a simple salto.
When the other gymnasts marched out, Chelaru was still warming up in the other gym and only came out five minutes before her routine. The little charmer performed a good routine, with her usual smile and effortless bounce, but the difficulty just wasn’t where it was last year after a period of injury.
We will probably never know if Ksenia Afanasyeva replacing Viktoriya Komova after Komova botched her beam final was due to aggravated injury for Komova or just a good old Russian switcheroo. What I do know is that there were many, many overjoyed fans who had been terribly disappointed by her failure to qualify. When the news hit the internet, there were shouts of joy all over Twitter and Facebook.
Some of the gymnasts received a rare gift of these finals, but so did those viewing it. It was one of those finals. Everybody hit- or had no major mistakes. And everybody not only hit, but looked strong, charismatic and exciting. At no point could you feel any kind of confidence in a result. I know when Aly Raisman nailed her floor, I stupidly thought, “Well, that’s it, no one can catch that.” Then little Sui Lu did just that with an effortless floor exercise that combined Raisman’s power with Adriana Pop’s delightful choreography.
Then Ksenia Afanasyeva took to the floor.
Last year the Russian had officially earned herself a spot in this same final, having upgraded her floor to show a double layout to open and a whip-whip-bhs-triple twist as a second pass. If she could pull off that routine in floor finals, she had every chance at striking her first individual gold. Instead she landed on her knees on her very first pass, the double layout. Long time fans- fans who had watched her come so close in individual competitions only to fall apart could only sigh and see their worst fears realised. In a team situations Afanasyea could shine, but on her own she never seemed able to pull it off.
I once wrote this about Ksenia Afanasyeva;
“Watching Ksenia Afanasyeva’s career has been like watching someone trying to start a temperamental car. Sometimes the engine wheezes and grumbles and won’t start at all. Sometimes the engine sputters and eventually turns over, chugging away. Sometimes it resembles that famous comic scene where all the pieces fall of piece by piece until all that is left is a horrified driver, frozen, clutching the steering wheel in the middle of a busy intersection.
And sometimes, when you least expect it, it simply shoots off with no warning, streaking toward the horizon.”
Today was the day. The unpredictable Russian took to the floor last and hit her routine with decent landings, fabulous dance elements and a whole lot of personal style. There are those that will say she didn’t deserve the gold any more than Raisman or Sui Lu, and the execution scores will show how little there was in it between the three. Martha Karolyi frankly admitted in a post-meet interview that she thought her gymnast deserved the gold.
She told Ria Novosti; “I was preparing myself for this, but still did not expect the judges to give the first place to me. I saw the girls had high scores, and decided that’ll just do my job. And it worked out. I’m stunned and happy.”
But there is something special about Afanasyeva’s floor work. It has a quality that no other gymnasts possesses. This is not to say she is more elegant than others, or more powerful. Sui Lu was as effortlessly elegant while Aly Raisman eclipsed her in power. Somehow, Ksenia managed to combine the two and give that intangible something else to her performance. There is no other gymnast whose music matches her personality and who can perform such complex choreography with such a sense of ease. I honestly think any of the top three could have won the gold, but Afan won the judges over. And the audience in the arena, who had been so enthusiastic all day, seemed to adore this routine.
I also think being thrown into the final was the best thing that could happen to a gymnast like Afanasyeva who clearly has a tendency to over-think.
It was a truly fabulous floor final. One of the biggest criticisms of the all around competition was the lack of clean performances. Today we saw eight of them. They varied in difficulty, finesse and style, but it was the most competitive event of the women’s competition. It was suspenseful, delightful and surprising. And for that I am grateful.
(I want to add a postscript to this article. I thought it was sufficient enough to say that any of the top three could have won floor when I wrote this, because yes, it seems the judges were finding some differences I simply could not see. Yes, I do agree that Afanasyeva’s win was helped by being placed last in this final, just as I think Wieber landing outside the medals was about her performing first. I also think Afanasyeva helped herself by selling the routine and its choreography but I cannot see where she outclasses Sui Lu in execution, either- but once again, that is not her fault. I maintain that it was a fabulous floor final- because everyone hit and because we saw both incredible tumbling and some beautiful dance- sometimes at the same time. I was not judging the judging because if I think too hard about it, it will only turn me into a bitter fan of the sport I love. It was still, to me, the most impressive floor final, in terms of the gymnasts performances as a body of work, that I have seen in a long while.)