Stretching Out: Vault Should Be a Compelling Event in Antwerp
(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

The 44th World Gymnastics Championships kicks off on Monday, Sept. 30, in Antwerp, Belgium, and fans can anticipate several emerging story lines. One of the most intriguing will be vault, for both men and women.

1) Women's Vault: North Korea is back!

McKayla Maroney (USA), the 2011 world vault champion who did not impress at the Olympic vault finals, will likely be challenged by Hong Un Jong. She's the only North Korean woman entered in Antwerp, and apparently the only person ever to have a twin sister three years her senior. She also won vault at the 2008 Olympics and 2013 University Games.

Hong Un Jong wasn't in London last summer because North Korea had been banned for changing the birth year (but not the month and date!) of Hong Su Jong, who placed second on vault at the 2007 worlds (Un Jong was fourth). For Antwerp, North Korean officials have listed March 9, 1989, for Un Jong's birth date, same as in 2007, when Su Jong's was listed as March 9, 1986 (which had made her eligible for the 2004 Olympics). Both are now listed as March 9, 1989, in their FIG profiles. Age is just a number, anyway, right?

At the recent Universiade, Un Jong vaulted an Amanar (6.3) and Cheng Fei (6.4), the two hardest vaults in the field. She did those same two vaults in 2008, as well, so she's got some experience. By claiming she has the two hardest vaults in the field, I'm purposely excluding anyone who attempts a Produnova (double front, 7.0) until she can land one consistently without scaring the bejeebers out of everyone in the arena.

Watch these at your own risk:

Fadwa Mahmoud of Egypt. Vault.

Yamilet Pena of Dominican Republic.Vault.

Both of these Produnovas are about as far as you can get from Article 7.2 in the Code of Points, which states, "The current philosophy for exercise content and combination encourages an emphasis on the mastery of dance and acrobatic choreography, artistically presented." Upon her crash landing, Mahmoud does an involuntary headspring in tuck position. I've seen Pena land her Produnova on her feet, her rear and flat on her back.

So, back to the anticipated showdown between Maroney and Hong. It is widely acknowledged that Maroney has the best Amanar in the world. Since 2011, it has been an irrefutable law of gymnastics. Maroney could outscore most men with her Amanar (which is called a Shewfelt for men). Maroney's second vault is another story. She does a Mustafina (half-on to layout front-full), which she sat down in London last summer. She landed it fine at the P&G Championships in Hartford, Conn., last month. It is worth 6.0, so she trails Hong by 0.40 in their respective second vaults.

Both of Hong's vaults at the Universiade showed good amplitude but iffy landings. Hong herself is a hit-or-miss competitor, however. Remember the 2009 worlds in London, when she fell on both her Amanar and Cheng Fei to hand the title to American Kayla Williams? Should Hong avoid falls in Antwerp, Maroney will need two clean landings to make up the 0.40 deficit. Depending on the Start List order for finals, Maroney may also have to perform under intense pressure in Antwerp, especially if Hong competes well before her. That wasn't the case at all in 2011, when Maroney faced little challenge and won by a whopping .567. And that was with an easier second vault (Podkopayeva).

1) Men's Vault: A Korean Affair?

Like the Hong-Maroney duel, the possible vault-off between Olympic champion Yang Hak Seon and Ri Se Gwang should be classic. Ri, from North Korea, missed his shot at Olympic gold because of the fluctuating birth dates of Hong Su Jong. No, life is not fair.

Yang is from South Korea and profited greatly from Ri's absence in London, although he might have won anyway. Yang is the first to vault a handspring-front with a triple twist, and he makes it look easy. To match Ri's combined Start Value, Yang is desperately trying to learn a Kasamatsu-2.5 twist, and he makes it look hard. In fact, he keeps falling on it in competition, missing it both days at the recent Korean world trials.

Like Maroney with Hong, Yang trails Ri by 0.40 without the Kasamatsu-2.5. Yang's back-up second vault is a Kasamatsu-double twist (Lopez), worth 6.0, and he does it very well. Does he risk even trying the 2.5 in qualifications? We'll see.

Ri has his own namesake vault, a Tsukahara to full-twisting double back, and a piked Dragulescu. Both are worth 6.4 and challenging to land, let alone stick. Yang's two vaults are single somersaults with multiple twists. If Ri hits both vaults with minimal landing deductions, Yang will be forced to gamble with the Kasamatsu-2.5. If he can't do it successfully in Antwerp, Yang, the defending world and Olympic champion, will have a hard time winning the event for the third year in a row.

Though Yang and Ri have never met prior to Antwerp, a rivalry has been created nonetheless.

"I have my own vault, and Ri Se Gwang has his own vault," Yang told IG's Hu Yizhou at the Korean world trials. "And as it goes, it's like, naturally, he became my rival!" (Read full interview in the October issue of IG.)

Yes, thanks to the reinstatement of North Korea, vault should be a competitive and compelling contest in Antwerp for both men and women.

Comments (6)add comment
..., Low-rated comment [Show]

Alex Liang said:

Who's the first to try a Yurchenko triple then?
I am still waiting for a female gymnast to attempt a Yurchenko triple twist in competition, someone like Maroney already has such a strong Amanar and surely it would be feasible for her to [do] an extra half twist onto it. That would probably raise the value of that vault to maybe 6.6? 6.7? It's still shy of the 7.0 given to the Proudonova (well, Proudonova did do it without scaring the bejeebers out of everyone and she was never really rewarded for it under the old code). As for the men, I think Kohei Uchimura and Alexander Artemev (2007, USA nationals) have competed it though plenty others have posted Youtube videos of them trying it in training.

As for Stacy's comment above, I just wanted to say that being a truly great vaulter means having an equally strong second vault. Not many gymnasts can claim to be able to do that (I certainly suffered from having a weaker second vault when I was competing...)
September 27, 2013
Votes: +0

gymgrrl said:

Re: Maroney's second vault
Maroney is a national and world gold medalist on vault, as well as an Olympic silver medalist. Obviously, she is doing something right, no?
September 27, 2013
Votes: +1

Jonnny said:

Have you ever heard of Simone Biles? Did you even watch Hong's vaults from Universiade? They were a mess, especially the Cheng.
September 28, 2013
Votes: +0

PJ said:

I think the whole not impressed thing was just a joke, based off the now very well known meme.
September 28, 2013
Votes: +0

Dwight said:

September 28, 2013
Votes: +0

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