22 (Moments We Loved) Heading Into 2022!

By the Team at Inside Gymnastics

An unprecedented global pandemic created an arena atmosphere like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Comebacks in gyms across the world inspired us all to reach beyond what we ever thought possible. Headlines were made, stories were written and moments were captured on camera on and off the floor that gave us chills, and pushed us into new conversations. And of course, there were moments that left us in tears of joy as we watched athletes realize dreams they have worked for their entire lives.

Sports have the power to unify, and our team at Inside Gymnastics loved putting together 22 moments heading into 2022 that captured our hearts this year as we take a look back at the competition, the stars and the storylines that created an unforgettable 2021. And so without further ado…

1. The Vault Heard ‘Round the World – Simone Biles Lands the Yurchenko Double Pike!  

Heading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, seven-time U.S. National All-Around Champion and defending Olympic Champion Simone Biles was dubbed by virtually all in the sport as the G.O.A.T., – Greatest of All Time. Earlier in the year, the four-time Olympic gold medalist and 25-time World medalist created yet another unprecedented athletic sensation and stunning achievement when she landed a Yurchenko double pike with ease at the U.S. Classic, becoming the first woman to perform the vault in competition. It was a moment like no other in gymnastics and really, in sports anywhere.

In Tokyo, we will never forget Biles’ courageous beam routine that captured the bronze medal. Just by stepping on the podium, Biles forever distinguished herself not for what she has accomplished but for who she is. The fight she showed just to return to the final was an incredible achievement and a true testament to the Olympic motto – Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger. A brilliant athlete, a true sportswoman, a transformational leader and hero, Simone is a woman who has forever changed the sport and the world around her with her strength and courage to be her authentic self. And for that, she is truly the greatest of all time.

2. Golden Girl! Suni Lee Becomes the Olympic All-Around Champion

“This is our dream. This is for my mom and my dad.” – Suni Lee 

With a stunning performance marked by grace and grit and backed by the belief and inspiration of her family, Sunisa Lee soared in Tokyo. Olympic Champion. What an amazing and beautiful ring that incredible distinction has. A place in the history books. A guiding light for the next generation. Life-changing is not an understatement. Carly. Nastia. Gabby. Simone. And now Suni. The fifth straight woman to win the title for the United States, Lee joins an elite group of athletes the world will know by first name.

3. NCAA History! Abby Heiskell Clinches Michigan’s First NCAA Title 

At the 2021 NCAA Championships it all came down to junior Abby Heiskell on the beam. In an epic battle from start to finish with Michigan and Oklahoma tying the meet up with just one routine to go for each team, Heiskell needed a 9.850 under tremendous pressure for Michigan to win its first NCAA title in program history. She came in clutch with a 9.925 to seal the deal for the Wolverines! Period. Exclamation point.

4. Against All Odds, Stephen Nedoroscik Makes History with Pommel Horse Gold 

Stephen Nedoroscik had just about everything working against him. First came a case of vocal cord dysfunction that nearly forced him out of the Worlds Selection Camp. Then came an illness that left him bed-ridden with a 103 degree fever instead of boarding his flight for Kitakyushu. He missed several days of practice, his wrist was hurting (later discovered to be fractured) and his passport was lost, but Nedoroscik eventually made it Kitakyushu–determined to compete in his first World Championships despite also missing podium training after arriving too late. There was a lot of uncertainty (he also might have accidentally forgotten his trademark competition goggles at home—oops) but none of that was a match for Nedoroscik, who went on to become the first pommel horse World Champion ever for the U.S. men! “It means everything to me. I’m so honored to be that person,” Nedoroscik said. “I didn’t even realize those sorts of statistics were on the line when I was competing. I’m really proud of how I competed and I’m really happy to make other people proud of me.”

5. Perseverance Personified – Brazil’s Golden Girl–Rebeca Andrade 

Rebeca Andrade is another perfect example of overcoming the odds. Three ACL surgeries in four years, a global pandemic, an Olympic postponement. Seemingly one obstacle after another, and yet nothing could stop Andrade from achieving her lifelong goal of becoming an Olympic medalist. Andrade took silver in the All-Around final in Tokyo, in addition to becoming an Olympic and World Champion on vault in 2021-–both were firsts for her country! “I think after I came back from Tokyo I had a better understanding of everything that happened; everything I did at the Olympic Games, everything that I represented. I’m so happy! All the affection I’m getting from everyone and being able to inspire so many people, not just children—it’s been amazing!”

6. Russian Coronation – Angelina Melnikova Leads Russian Women to Gold 

With momentum back on their side, ROC performed beautifully, almost theatrically, on floor, their final event in Tokyo. Teammates Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova put on a show leaving the finale to veteran Angelina Melnikova, who poured her whole heart and soul into her routine. It was a crowning achievement for her and her team and the emotion was real once she struck her final pose. She knew and the world knew it was gold. Melnikova and her team seized the moment with an incredible display of artistry that was reminiscent of the golden era of the former Soviet dynasty and Russian program. She also became the 2021 World All-Around Champion in Kitakyushu at the 50th FIG World Gymnastics Championships, capping an incredible year for the Russian women!

7. Artur and The Achilles

Nothing was going to stop Artur Dalaloyan from competing in Tokyo for his Russian team, not even a devastating Achilles tear just three months before the Games! After he finished all six events in Qualifications in Tokyo, keeping us all on the edge of our seats, he amazingly sat in fourth place in the first of three subdivisions for the All-Around finals, and broke down in tears. “I couldn’t control my emotions. To be honest, it was like a storm inside. On one hand, I was overcome with joyful emotions because I would have the strength, because I was able to go out and do vault and floor. The Olympic Games mean a lot to me. Many athletes don’t get to go to the Olympic Games even once in their lives. But thanks to the support of my family, my loved ones, wife, kids, the support of the whole team, I managed to find strength and start working right after I had surgery.”

And help lead his team to a historic gold medal.

8. MyKayla Skinner Solidifies Olympic Spot 

MyKayla Skinner has been fighting for her Olympic dream for a long time. Years of hard work and unwavering determination came down to two vaults in St. Louis at the Olympic Trials. Skinner turned to the crowd, motioning for them to make some noise before she ran down the runway and performed two of the best vaults she has done in her career. The tears were almost instantaneous-–in that moment she didn’t know if that would be the final routine of her career. Turns out it was just the beginning of her Olympic journey, which ended with an Olympic silver medal on vault!

9. Nia Dennis Goes Viral–Again 

Once a viral sensation, always a viral sensation! During UCLA’s 2021 season opener, Nia Dennis performed a signature routine loaded with fun, captivating dance moves destined for virality. The routine, which began with Dennis kneeling with her fist in the air (a homage to the protest movement led by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick) had a “Black excellence” theme and was performed to a mashup of music by Black artists such as Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Tupac. The routine has over 3 million views on YouTube and more than 8 million on Twitter! Dennis also took her talents to Simone Biles’ Gold Over America Tour in the fall where she told us, “The elite world is very small, so I was just so excited to reconnect with them. I was just honestly honored to be asked to participate and help inspire these girls, and help be a part of Simone’s message.”

10. Chellsie Memmel’s #BonusRound 

Chellsie Memmel, the 33-year-old mother of two continues to inspire us all with her undeniable love and passion for the sport. Seeing Memmel hit her beam routine on day one at the U.S. Championships and the excitement shared among the crowd, her coaches and family is a moment we’ll long remember after the chalk dust settles in 2021. It had been nearly a decade since we last saw her nail a beam routine like that in a major elite competition, but in that moment, it felt like no time had passed. Mission accomplished. And in so many ways, Chellsie’s journey to a comeback is the journey gymnastics and all of us needed at this moment in time. And to that we say, #Chellyeah!

11. Sam Mikulak’s Tremendous Fight at Championships

With six U.S. National All-Around titles to his name, so much was riding on Sam Mikulak’s shoulders heading into what would be his final U.S. Championships. Day one was filled with jitters and mistakes, leaving him in seventh place—a place we’re not used to seeing him. On day two, we saw the passion, fight, and big time routines we’re used to seeing from Mikulak back in full force. His high bar routine put an exclamation mark on his redemption performance, which was good enough to land him on the podium with the bronze medal. We will long remember Mikulak’s finesse, difficulty, honesty and his ability to fire up a crowd with his gymnastics and personality more than any placement or accolade he’s achieved, and we’ll truly miss him on the competition floor.

12. Oksana’s 8th

EIGHT Olympic Games. 46 years of age. Need we say more? After her vaults in Tokyo, the legendary Oksana Chusovitina waved to the cameras and blew a kiss as she said a tearful “goodbye” to a standing ovation from the judges, coaches and athletes on the floor. Will this actually be the end? With Chuso, you can never say never!

13. Murakami’s Emotional Exit 

When Murakami Mai ended her storied career with a gold medal on floor at the World Championships in front of a home crowd, all felt right in the world. Her emotional win closes out her Olympic cycle which began for her with a gold medal on floor at the World Championships in 2017, and also included a bronze medal on floor at the Tokyo Olympics. It was Murakami’s final bow and even more important than her gold medal, she has forever inspired generations of gymnasts across Japan.

14. Nikita Nagornyy Nails the Triple Pike 

We could seriously watch Russia’s Nikita Nagornyy perform his triple pike on floor all day long! He made it look way too easy en route to winning the European Championships on floor. All we can say is we hope we’ll see this incredible skill again in 2022!

2021 was also a resurgence for the Russian men. In Tokyo, their 1-2 punch of textbook technique with whopping difficulty delivered. They put the art in Artistic Gymnastics, with routines as stylish as they are difficult and on this day, unbeatable. It was truly emotional for each member of the team – all four in tears and on their knees relishing a moment that only a few have ever experienced, and all four awarding each other their medals in a victory ceremony truly representative of the times. 

15. Jade Carey Bounces Back for Gold 

When Simone Biles withdrew from the vault and floor finals in Tokyo, Jade Carey instantly became the favorite for gold on both events. Vault didn’t go as planned – her medal chances were dashed the moment she tripped on the runway on her first vault. However, within 24 hours, her tears of disappointment became tears of joy as she claimed the top prize on floor with a powerful, well-executed routine. Her face had the words “redemption” written all over it and we all celebrated Carey’s golden moment!

16. King Kohei’s Final Bow 

For seven-time Olympic medalist and 21-time World medalist Uchimura Kohei, falling off high bar in his home Olympics and failing to advance to the event finals isn’t how he wanted to complete his gymnastics career. At Worlds in Kitakyushu, Uchimura competed under immense pressure on the event to finish what he started on his own terms. Though he’s conquered virtually every individual achievement to be had in the sport of gymnastics, it’s Uchimura’s character, drive and passion for his sport we salute as much or more as his high-flying, exquisite gymnastics. To be able to experience a moment like this at home – a trip to finals – and finish in sixth place was all heart. With his status as a legend in the sport already signed and sealed, it was one more time we got to see Uchimura in action. One more time to be amazed. And as the torch was passed to his countrymen, it was maybe one last time knowing we’re so lucky to have witnessed it all.

17. Brody Malone Earns Olympic Berth 

Brody Malone left no doubts in our minds that he was ready for Tokyo with his steady performance at Olympic Trials, which followed the first U.S. National All-Around title of his career just a few weeks prior. With the way he competes, one would never know Malone was tackling a lot of his “firsts” in 2021. Malone was calm, collected and dominant en route to punching his ticket to Tokyo with a first place finish at Trials. Pointing Malone in the Mixed Zone after the All-Around in Tokyo, Sam Mikulak said, “This year was definitely his time. Here’s the future right here.”

18. Nina Derwael Wins the Battle of the Bars

Heading into the Games, there was a lot of talk of who would capture the uneven bar crown in Tokyo. Suni Lee and Nina Derwael were the overwhelming favorites in a lot of minds, with the two last facing off at Worlds in 2019 where Derwael took home the gold and Lee the bronze. In the end, it was Derwael who won gold with a superb routine as stylish as it is difficult, and made history for her country by becoming the first Belgian Olympic medalist in women’s gymnastics!

19. There’s a New King in Town: Hashimoto Daiki 

Hashimoto Daiki proved to be the next star for the Japanese men’s team after claiming the All-Around and high bar gold in Tokyo! At the age of 19, the heir apparent to countryman “King” Kohei is the youngest Olympic Champion ever on the men’s side. His impressive difficulty combined with clean execution should make him a medal favorite for years to come. “I want to lead the next generation of gymnastics in Japan!” he said. He’s off to a roaring start!

20. Vanessa Ferrari’s Medal Moment—FINALLY! 

Using the very fitting and emotional, “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocceli, Vanessa Ferrari finished off her career with the medal she had been striving for for over a decade. After just missing the podium and finishing fourth in 2012 and 2016, Ferrari performed her heart out in Tokyo and was rewarded with a silver medal. At the age of 30, Ferrari’s silver is the first individual Olympic medal for a female Italian gymnast and adds her name to an exclusive list of women who became Olympic medalists beyond their 20’s. Truly remarkable!

21. Leanne Wong – At Last The Routine We’ve Been Waiting For!

She had the difficulty, she had the stunning execution matched with picture perfect, elegant choreography—all Leanne Wong needed was to find her landings on floor to put up a complete performance from start to finish on the event. She did exactly that during day one of the U.S. Championships! It was perhaps the best routine we’ve ever seen Wong do and we truly enjoyed every second of it as we took to Twitter to say “THIS is the routine we’ve been waiting for from Leanne Wong.” Named an alternate for the Olympic team, Wong would go on to place second in the world in the All-Around at the 2021 World Championships in Kitakyushu.

22. Guan Chenchen Becomes the Queen of the Beam 

China’s Guan Chenchen worked the beam with such confidence and poise, it’s hard to believe Tokyo was her senior international debut! Prior to the Games the gymnastics world was buzzing over her massive D-Score potential (she went 6.9 in qualifications and 6.5 in the finals in Tokyo). With her technical prowess and artistic mastery skills, the Queen of the Beam reigned supreme!

Happy New Year from all of us at Inside Gymnastics! See you in 2022!

Photos by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics

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