Most Underrated Gymnast?
Yao Jinnan was highly underrated before 2011 worlds. In a poll that I created prior to the championship, asking who readers thought would medal in the all around, Yao received a grand total of 25 votes, tying her with Chinese national champion Tan Sixin, who did not make the all around final in Tokyo, and putting her behind Jordyn Wieber (261 votes), Viktoria Komova (171), Anna Dementyeva (74) and Ana Porgras (64). Yao won the bronze in the all around in Tokyo, with a fall on beam as the only thing that kept her from becoming China’s first world or Olympic all around champion.
In the beam poll, Yao received only 8 votes, putting her behind Ana Porgras (160 votes), Catalina Ponor (138), Viktoria Komova (104), Jordyn Wieber (94), Anna Dementyeva (44), Tan Sixin (38), Sui Lu (37), Alicia Sacramone (31) and Lauren Mitchell (27). She won the silver medal on beam, finishing behind only teammate Sui Lu, who delivered a nearly flawless routine with a high level of difficulty. I did not include her in the floor poll, an event on which she finished 4th in Tokyo, but nobody wrote her name in.
There was a lot of praise for Yao following the world championships. I will say that I am one of probably many people who just wishes that Yao had stayed on beam in the all around, getting rid of the mess that followed involving Wieber and Komova. Plus, she is just so cute, and she was so happy to just be on the podium. Either way, Yao exceeded my expectations, which were slightly higher than those of my readers, but still modest. Her medal count was equal to that of Wieber and Komova (just different colors), and more importantly, she hit every single routine except for the beam routine that ended up losing the all around gold. That included four routines in prelims, four in team finals and two in event finals. Not bad for her first world championships, especially considering that her first international competition (not senior international, international) was in 2011.
It seems as though with upgrade rumors from Wieber and Komova, the return of Mustafina and Bross and the new additions of Ross and Iordache, Yao is being counted out when it comes to the 2012 all around title. Those are six fantastic gymnasts, who have all earned their place in people’s minds as all around favorites, but so is Yao. Her new bars were well received, maybe even too well received, in event finals in London. She is the second best beam worker in the world, behind a gymnast who rarely competes all around in major competitions, and was less than .2 away from a medal on floor in Tokyo, beating Wieber. She beat Komova on floor in every portion of the competition. And then, of course, we must consider the all important Amanar rumors. I won’t deny that she needs it, because it seems that the Russians (maybe just Komova at the moment) are the only ones who can even themselves out after an easier vault on bars. If Komova has a clean Amanar, everyone else is toast after two rotations. Yao, however, could be considered a more balanced gymnast. She is consistent and not wobbly on beam. There is no reason why she should not be considered as a contender for the all around.
This poll from Universal Sports, however, suggests that she isn’t. Now, it would be easy to say that this poll is skewed because Universal Sports is an American website, but Komova is leading Wieber by 21%, which is a pretty huge amount. I think that those numbers make it clear that this is not a poll with a large amount of bias, or that there is somehow an odd Komova bias, which isn’t logical, but I really don’t think that they are that far apart.
I feel like people are considering Yao for a minor medal, and not for the title, which I personally think is silly. No, she did not win the first international meet of the quadrennium, only to become world champion when she became eligible. No, she is not going for the WOGA three-peat. No, she is not the dominant 2010 world champion returning from what was potentially a career ending injury. No, she is not the youth Olympic champion who is seeking redemption after her mother was left off of the 1988 Olympic team. Yao is our little surprise of the quadrennium. Nobody knew that she existed until 2010, unless they were very devoted fans of Chinese gymnastics, but that did not stop her from being one of the stars of 2011. After all of the difficulty scores have been added, it’s all about hitting your routines when it counts, and Yao may be able to do that.
I guess she will come in under the radar again, unless she shows a lot of upgrades in the spring. She didn’t look great at the test event, but that was the test event. The Olympics should be another story, and I love underdogs. I wish her the best in the Olympic year, and I haven’t forgotten about her.