By Christy Sandmaier with Ashlee Buhler

With a beautiful, calm confidence, the artistic Angelina Melnikova (RUS) officially became the 2021 World All-Around Champion today in Kitakyushu. The Tokyo gold medalist with her team and 2019 World All-Around bronze medalist was the favorite to win here and moved into first after the second rotation. From there, she never relinquished the top spot, snapping an over decades-long U.S. golden streak and becoming the first non-American to win the World All-Around title since the legendary Aliya Mustafina won gold in 2010. Melnikova totaled a 56.632 while Leanne Wong (USA) captured silver with a 56.340 and her teammate Kayla DiCello won bronze (54.566).

Melnikova’s day began with a double twisting Yurchenko for a 14.466. Following a 14.533 on bars, she went to beam and performed beautifully including a gorgeous switch leap mount to switch leap, back handspring layout step out, aerial to split jump to straddle jump, side somi and double pike with a hop. A 13.8 made things closer than expected heading to floor.

With Wong’s 14.033 posted just prior, Melnikova stepped onto the podium with the deepest breath of her life perhaps, and we took in the moment with her and simply watched her perform. Gold or silver, the strength of her resolve and just being here after such a trying two years, this was Melnikova’s moment to enjoy. She was nervous, she said afterwards, as she didn’t feel she did her floor very well, but it was enough in the end – a 13.833 and gold.

We love seeing great things happen for great athletes and today, as she took the top step on the podium as the new queen of the sport, Melnikova’s happiness radiated. Her gold medal smile was the coronation we’ve been waiting for from the moment we knew she would compete in Kitakyushu. Together with her strength and determination, her eyes spoke relief with this victory – a personal triumph on the world’s largest stage. It was the moment so many gymnastics fans around the world have also been waiting to see for Melnikova. With her gold secured, she is also only the third Russian to take the All-Around crown, following Mustafina, and Svetlanta Khorkina who won in 1997 and 2001. She wears it well.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “I did everything I wanted. I had only one month to prepare. I was really surprised I could do all I did today! I feel like I made history.” 

For Wong and DiCello, the 2020 Olympic alternates and future Florida Gator teammates (Wong is headed back to Gainesville in November, she says, and DiCello is slated to compete in 2022), silver and bronze represents a changing of the guard in the U.S. program. And for Wong especially, it was a silver lining in the most wonderful way as she completed the All-Around competition we always knew she could. Four routines with the performance quality we’ve been waiting to see in competition. On bars (Maloney + Pak salto, Stalder 1/2 + straddled Jaeger and gorgeous double layout!) beam (gorgeous turn combination), and on floor, especially, she not only performed with her trademark technique, grace and style, but with a confidence we hadn’t yet seen until now. 

In quarantine for 10 days in Tokyo when her teammate and roommate Kara Eaker tested positive for COVID, Wong’s determination to come back at Worlds was born from a heartbreaking Olympic experience. Impressive from start to finish, she wasn’t letting her performance just happen here, she was making it happen. And today, a new storyline was written for her – World All-Around silver medalist. 

“It feels amazing,” Wong said. “To be at the World Championship and win a medal, it feels great. I’m really happy with this experience.”

DiCello led after the first event and then had an uncharacteristic fall on her Maloney to Tkatchev combo – she appeared to be too close and wasn’t able to hang on. The rest of the routine was strong (12.766). “I just had to move past my mistake and move forward,” DiCello said after the competition. She didn’t perform with the confidence we’ve seen from her on beam, playing it a little cautious and saving a wolf turn with some very wide swinging arms, but it was enough to move her ahead of Vladislava Urazova (RUS), who was in third after two rotations, but opened the door after a fall on her roundoff layout stepout mount. 

On the floor, DiCello’s smile was back! With an All-Around medal at her first World Championships on the line, she performed with confidence and ease. She opened the routine with a strong Silivas, followed by a 2.5 to front full that was as solid as can be. She finished the routine with a double pike and a smile that spoke a thousand words. She came here with a mission to win an All-Around medal, fought through until the very end, and completed the mission with a bronze. It’s the third time in the last five World Championships that two Americans have been on the podium together. 

For all three women, today’s competition represents a different journey for each. A changing of the guard and a new resolve for the future. Each will remember this moment as the culmination and the start of a new chapter in gymnastics, as well as for them personally. It will be interesting to see who we will see in Liverpool one year from now as the road to Paris comes into view. Said Wong, “I feel like we did a really good job for the next generation and setting the stage.”

Today, the stage is theirs.

Photos Volker Minkus/FIG

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