As usual, the things that are on my mind are usually put there by issues debated on message boards. On the intlgym forum, there is currently a thread debating the likelihood of He Kexin going to London. I had also intended to start a new feature called “what if”, a sort of subjunctive gymnastics discussion based in either the past or the future. This seemed like a good place to start.
What if: He Kexin repeats as Olympic bars champion?
Now, I imagine most readers will be like me. Had I read this title elsewhere my initial reaction would have been a dismissive pulling of the face: “surely it would be impossible for He Kexin to manage that, she hasn’t hit a routine in major competition for two years?”.
True, it doesn’t seem like the most likely eventuality, but when considered rationally, it isn’t that ridiculous. Let’s have a look at some handy subheadings...
The last major competition bars set that He Kexin hit to a good standard was in the Rotterdam team final back in 2010. It looked like this:
OK so 2 years is a long time not to hit a routine. However, to make a comparison, it is that amount of time since Rebecca Bross properly nailed something and she is still a legitimate consideration for her countries Olympic team despite far greater depth. Also, when your last hit international routine received a score that remains to be the highest recorded in the quad, it hardly does bad things to your reputation especially if you compete for a country which does not punish inconsistency to nearly the same degree as other powerhouse gymnastics nations.
In many ways He Kexin remains to be amongst China’s greatest hopes of Olympic gold in London. This again might sound strange when first read, but let’s consider other competitors. Sui Lu, the fantastic current beam world champion and floor silver medallist, has a very reasonable chance as well. However, as history has told us, floor and beam tend to be a lot closer and less easy to predict in most circumstances than the bars, which tends to be very difficulty led and far more specialist as an apparatus (in a similar way to the vault). Her reputation difficulty wise might be a real asset to her: she is the only gymnast to break 16 on the uneven bars at world competition this quad and she has done it on at least 2 occasions.
As discussed heavily here and elsewhere, the 5 per team rule does not bode well for event specialists from powerhouse countries. However, with little legitimate chance of team gold, the Chinese programme may well be looking to the AA (solely with Yao Jinnan) and EFs more than other countries.
AT the recent Cottbus cup, she qualified with a reasonably clean routine and scored a 15.225, which is likely to be close to a medal worthy score at the Olympics, and she was using a routine with a D score of 7.1. Here is her qualification routine...
Not her best, but her dead hang looks far less pronounced
Likelihood: Slim. The issues He Kexin faces are threefold:
1. Convincing the Chinese coaches that her bar routine is consistent enough to make her worthy of one of five team spots on the basis of a single routine
2. Hitting in qualifications
3. Hitting in finals
All three would be very difficult, but not impossible. As we have seen over the years, Chinese coaches seem to be more forgiving of errors (but it is important to note that she was pulled from the team finals last year after a disappointing prelims).
Sadly, the main issues with her routine can be boiled down to a single factor: catching her laid out jaeger. Her dead hangs are not nearly as bad as they have been in the past, and her pirouettes and opening Li Ya combination are still impressive. It is clear that the skill must stay to keep the D score in the rafters, otherwise it probably would have been bumped by now in favour or something far more consistent.
What if she managed it? She would be the first Chinese WAG gymnast ever to have two Olympic gold medals, and would add this second Olympic title to the 09 world title to establish herself as one of the modern greats on the apparatus. She would be the first since Khorkina to repeat Olympic gold on the same apparatus.
Personal Opinion: I would be shocked if He Kexin made the Olympic team based on her recent performances, and perhaps would feel like there were shades of unfairness for other possible team members given that she already has had her Olympic experience, not to mention Olympic gold. However, if she made it against all odds and hit cleanly I would be happy to see her medal.
Although it seems crazy, and is highly unlikely, it is not beyond the realms of possibility. This would be a true Olympic shocker. In many ways, it simply comes down to the successful catching of a Jaeger at the right time.