U.S. Women Win Back-to-Back World Titles
(11 votes, average 4.09 out of 5)

Jenny Liang (coach), Simone Biles, MyKayla Skinner, Alyssa Baumann, Madison Kocian, Madison Desch, Ashton Locklear, Kyla Ross.

While the U.S. women's team put up a fall-free effort in the world championship Team Finals, the rest of the eight-team field experienced a free fall of sorts. The defending champions posted the highest mark on every apparatus except balance beam (3rd), and never trailed throughout the meet. It was a show of dominance that could hardly have been predicted after the U.S. championships in August, when only eight gymnasts were healthy enough to compete in the all-around.

In Nanning, veteran Kyla Ross was the only American to work all four events in the medal round, while 2013 world all-around champion Simone Biles performed on every apparatus but uneven bars, where she had suffered a major break in qualifications.

Unlike the men's Team Final the day before, the women's meet had little drama. After Ross (double-twisting Yurchenko), MyKayla Skinner (Cheng Fei) and Biles (Amanar) vaulted for a team total of 46.741, the Americans had a healthy lead that only grew. At bars, Ross swung a steady 5.9-value (14.733) set and stuck her double layout. Madison Kocian and Ashton Locklear, both of whom worked only one event, pitched in a 14.90 (6.3) and 15.10 (6.4), respectively. Each relied on tidy inside-Stalder work to boost their difficulty.

Alyssa Baumann kept the moment going on beam, her only event, with a 14.50 (6.0), while Ross and Biles each had a major wobble. Ross windmilled her arms after a side somi, and Biles nearly came off after her consecutive layouts.

By the final rotation, the U.S. had a cushion the size of an in-ground pit. All three gymnasts could have fallen and it would not have mattered. Ross (13.966) opened with an elegant routine (5.4 D-score) to set up power tumblers Skinner and Biles, both of whom had 6.5 of difficulty.

And both gymnasts made it look easy. MyKayla opened with two double-twisting doubles, one in layout, the other tucked. Her third pass was a tucked full-in, and after stepping out of the area on a leap, she closed with a 1.5 twist through to 2.5 twist (14.666). Biles' routine, which seems to get better every time she performs it, was more celebration than competition. Smiling throughout, she mounted with a tucked double-double and followed with her Biles, a double layout-half (stuck cold). After a double layout and tucked full-in, each from an effortless three-step run, she finished with a catchy ending pose that lit up the crowd (15.375).

With 179.280, the U.S. performed at a higher level than the other teams, several of which had a legitimate shot at silver. That medal when to China (172.587), although the home team was far from perfect. After hitting two of three Yurchenko-double-twists, the squad moved to one of its strong events, bars. But Shang Chunsong, whose routine is packed with big releases, made a silly error when her cast handstand went too far. She overarched in an effort to save it but dropped off. Huang Huidan, the 2013 world bars champion, hit well for 15.133 (Pak, Stalder-Shaposhnikova-half; barani-in dismount from elgrip), but Yao Jinnan did not work to her potential.

China found its groove on beam in the third rotation, but the gold was already out of reach. The American trio had already stayed on, but China posted a 44.066, tops for the event. Shang led the way with 15.066, showing solid tumbling, a double turn and triple twist dismount. Huang and Yao posted 14.60 and 14.40, respectively.

The final event revealed China's relative weakness to the field. It tallied the fifth-ranked total on floor (44.066), more than 3.0 behind the Americans. Tan Jiaxin opened with a clean 1.5 twist through to triple twist, but her D-score was only 5.6 (13.90). Chen Siyi was next and couldn't get through all of her tumbling. She fell on her double pike dismount, which could have been a result of her physical condition; she had wraps on both knees as well as on her left elbow and ankle. Shang anchored with a 14.033, which included her signature 1.5 twist through to triple twist punch front.

Russia held off Romania for the bronze, 171.462-170.963, riding the considerable talent and experience of Aliya Mustafina. The 2010 world champion worked every event for a 58.998 total, her top score coming on bars (15.066). Daria Spiridonova (inside-Stalder-Shaposhnikova-half) and Yekaterina Kramarenko contributed 14.966 and 14.633, but the next two events were a struggle for the team. Fifth place on beam and seventh on floor indicate that Russia is still trying to find six healthy, talented gymnasts. Closing on vault, with Yurchenko-doubles from Mustafina and Tatiana Nabieva and a Cheng Fei from Alla Sosnitskaya, the team was able reach the podium. But the team's overall performance gave credence to the words of deposed head coach Alexander Alexandrov, who told IG earlier this year that one of Russia's biggest problems was its lack of reserves in the program. Indeed, it appears that the reserves are already on the team.

With the lowest bars total of the meet (40.232), Romania did well to come so close to a medal. The team ranked second on vault and beam, and third on floor, which can be attributed to Larisa Iordache, who finally appears to be healthy.

Fifth-place Italy (169.023) ranked sixth on three events and second on floor, the latter due to the ageless Vanessa Ferrari, who led the team with her 14.666 (6.4). Ferrari, the 2006 world champion, mounted with three consecutive tumbling passes (tucked double-double, double layout to split jump, tucked full-in) and closed with a double pike. Ferrari, who turns 24 on Nov. 10, was the only Italian to do the all-around, and in fact was the only team member to work more than two events.

The lowest beam total dashed the hopes of Great Britain, a team that has shown great improvement and potential in recent years. Rebecca Downie seems to have found a new level of confidence, Ruby Harrold performs an extremely original routine on bars, and Claudia Fragapane is captivating on floor. Sixth place was probably lower than the Brits had hoped for, but a medal was probably out of reach anyway.

The Aussies used three 5.0 vaults, which was too much to overcome in a world Team Final. But head coach Peggy Liddick was pleased with how her team pulled together to finish seventh. After Lauren Mitchell had to pull out with injury, Kiera Munteanu stepped in and vaulted.

"Sometimes naiveté is a good thing," Liddick quipped.

She also praised the efforts of veteran Olivia Vivian. "She is an athlete and she is a fighter, and she sets such a great example for the young kids," Liddick said.

Japan finished eighth, mainly due to a lack of difficulty, which continues to be a narrative on the current state of gymnastics.

For now, the U.S. is leading the way in that department, even with four world championship rookies. Afterward, U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi was all smiles.

"It makes me very happy because it proves that it's not just because somebody made a mistake [that we won]," she said. "But I think at this moment our group of girls are performing a higher level of gymnastics than most of the other countries."

At the Nanning Women's Team Final, that was clear for all to see.

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