Audrys Nin Reyes
The third day of competition at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile included all-around finals for both the women and the men, with Kayla DiCello of the United States and Félix Dolci of Canada winning the gold medals in their respective fields, while Luisa Blanco of Colombia and Audrys Nin Reyes of the Dominican Republic earned the coveted continental Olympic berths.
The women’s competition was set to be a close one before it even began. With the top three gymnasts – DiCello, teammate Jordan Chiles, and Flavia Saraiva of Brazil – all within two tenths of one another after strong qualification meets for all of them, it was clear there would be no room for error in the final, and in the end, that’s exactly how things worked out.
DiCello won the title with a 54.699, up about a tenth compared to her qualifications performance after very similar routines throughout, and where there was the occasional weaker spot, like a hop back on her Yurchenko double vault, she made up for it with improvements elsewhere, like with a better landing on her double pike dismount on beam. She maybe was the “weakest” of the top three contending for gold in terms of difficulty levels and lacking some of the flair that Chiles and Saraiva have, but being steady and consistent was all she needed today as the others faltered and came up short.
After the third rotation, it looked like Saraiva would take the gold. With hits on vault and bars and one of her best beam routines of the season, which earned a well-deserved 14.166, she was leading by seven tenths going into the final rotation. As the world bronze medalist on floor with the ability to score in the high 13s, the title was hers to lose at that point, but a wild landing on the double tuck in her second pass and then a missed connection in the third – she only managed to get her 1½ into a barani instead of her usual front full – she scored just a 12.9.
Saraiva ended up with a 54.565 total, which was actually an increase of a tenth compared to her prelims performance thanks to her work on beam, but it was also a tenth back from DiCello, showing just how costly those mistakes on floor ended up being.
After leading the qualification round a tenth ahead of Saraiva and with room for improvement, we unfortunately saw mistakes from Chiles in the final as well, with her total ending up being a 53.999 for the bronze. Chiles started out strong on vault, but missed her connection out of the Maloney on bars and later put her hands down on her double wolf turn on floor, where her landings were also a bit uncontrolled across the board. The wolf turn fall wasn’t a massive deduction – just three tenths – and I don’t think she would’ve topped Saraiva had it not happened, but her problem on bars was much more severe, taking her down more than a full point from what she’s capable of and leaving her out of the running for gold and silver.
I think with everyone at full strength, the order likely would’ve been Chiles, Saraiva, and DiCello, but with everyone so close, literally every tenth counted, and DiCello – who has looked her best here in years – was able to capitalize on that lack of attention to detail from the two stronger athletes.
It would’ve been difficult for anyone else to sneak onto the podium, but Jade Barbosa – who had a disastrous bars routine in qualifications to finish eighth there – was likely going to be the one to make it happen if she could put everything together when it counted. Her bars set today was great, a complete turnaround from what we saw on Sunday, and everything else she did in the final was pretty strong, with beam – where she had a few wobbly elements to earn a 12.9 – her only setback. In the end, it wasn’t enough for her to break into that top group, but her fourth-place finish with a 53.333 was a great result for her given the beam mistakes, with the score her top international all-around total since 2018.
Rounding out the top eight were Ava Stewart of Canada in fifth with a 52.498, Natalia Escalera of Mexico in sixth with a 51.832, Aurélie Tran of Canada in seventh with a 50.465, and Luisa Blanco of Colombia in eighth with a 50.099.
Stewart had a great day, hitting her complete bars set after missing the dismount in prelims, while also performing a strong Yurchenko 1½ and a fantastic beam set to show her best combined work since before the Olympic Games, while Escalera was also basically at her best, with excellent performances across the board. Tran had a fall on bars, but came back strong and was otherwise lovely, while Blanco put up the best performance of her elite comeback – including a textbook Yurchenko 1½ for her last routine of the day – to secure her Olympic berth as the highest-ranked athlete eligible to earn a spot.
Because the apparatus world cup spots will be confirmed before the continental spots, it means Blanco will have to wait until next spring before the FIG makes her spot official, but there isn’t really anything that could change this and she’ll absolutely be expected to have her name added to the list of individuals already qualified.
Her closest competition ended up being Milagros Curti of Argentina, who had a great performance and was leading going into the final rotation. She and Blanco ended up going head-to-head on vault, but Blanco was easily able to get ahead with both higher difficulty and much stronger execution, as Curti struggled to get her Yurchenko full around, landing short and possibly putting a hand down to end up with a 48.798, more than a point back from Blanco.
The men’s competition was a wild one, with a constantly-shifting leaderboard and mistakes that took some athletes from medal contenders to much deeper in the rankings. In the end, it was Félix Dolci of Canada who got the win, becoming the first Canadian man to get the title since 1963, and doing it with an almost flawless day…until high bar.
Dolci’s floor was easily the best of the bunch, he made it through his weakest routine – pommels – with relative ease if not a high score, and he was excellent on rings, vault, and parallel bars, going into the final rotation with a full point lead. Unfortunately, he missed his Tkachev on high bar, catching it close and circling the bar before coming off, but with no one else capable of making up ground on this apparatus, he was able to stay on top with an 82.531 to get the gold, an especially poignant moment as he sacrificed his all-around chances at world championships in order for the Canadians to put up stronger pommel horse workers to ensure success for the team.
The silver medal went to Diogo Soares of Brazil, who had a quietly good day with no massive scores anywhere, but with confident and clean gymnastics across the board, and his pommels set was a standout in this field, looking fluid and clean to earn a 13.766. He also put up solid sets on parallel bars and high bar at the end of his meet to earn scores of 13.833 and 13.6, helping him to move up from fourth before these events onto the podium with an 81.865 total.
Coming in for the bronze was Donnell Whittenburg of the United States with an 81.764. He also had a pretty solid day, getting through his weaker routines – pommels and high bar – with no major problems, and showing great difficulty on two of his best – floor and rings – to stay in medal contention all meet long. Though he dropped to eighth after pommels, he was able to quickly rise with his superb rings set, which earned a 14.566 – massive in this field – and he didn’t budge from the top three for the rest of the competition, showing confidence and consistency until the very end.
Rounding out the top eight were Cameron Bock of the United States with an 80.698, Audrys Nin Reyes of the Dominican Republic in fifth with an 80.165, Joel Alvarez of Chile in sixth with a 78.930, Isaac Nuñez of Mexico in seventh with a 78.065, and Andres Martinez of Colombia in eighth with a 78.031.
Bock came into the final as a contender for gold, and despite a weak start on floor, a solid pommels set that earned a 13.7 brought him into the top three after the second rotation. Unfortunately, he ended up sitting his double double dismount on rings, and though he fought valiantly to dig himself out of that hole with a strong Kas 1½ on vault and a gorgeous parallel bars set, he got stuck trying to get out of his German giants on high bar, causing him to hop off and miss the podium by just over a point.
Though Nin Reyes didn’t come into this final as a medal contender with generally lower difficulty than the top guys, he did come in as one of the athletes with the potential to earn the Olympic berth, and I’ve honestly never seen him so calm and confident in competition before. He got close to an Olympic spot at world championships with his ranking on vault, but with that field likely going to be incredibly competitive at the world cups next year, this was really his best shot to make it to Paris, and after he missed out on both Rio and Tokyo, it was incredibly special to watch everything finally come together for him here.
Once he made it safely through pommels and rings in his first two events, it was obvious Nin Reyes was on a mission, something he made clear with his brilliant Dragulescu on vault, which earned a 14.6. From there, he put up solid sets on p-bars and high bar, making it so that all he had to do on floor was hit, which he did with ease, earning a 13.233 to finish more than a point ahead of the next-eligible athlete.
That athlete was Alvarez, who really thrived in front of a home crowd, playing off of their energy to put up tremendous routines basically from start to finish. His only real mistake was on high bar, where he needed to take a bit of a jog out of the landing on his tucked double double dismount, but I don’t think that would have helped him surpass Nin Reyes in the end, with the Dominican gymnast really setting himself apart from the rest of the Olympic hopefuls on vault.
The top Olympic hopeful coming into the final was Arthur Mariano, who qualified in fifth place with an 81.231 and seemed hell-bent on earning a third individual spot for Brazil after the team got a non-nominative berth in Antwerp on top of Soares’ nominative spot, but with his pommels and rings routines much weaker than the rest of the field and a disastrous p-bars routine, Mariano wasn’t able to capitalize on his best work – he did beautiful work on floor, vault, and high bar! – and ended up in ninth with a 77.932.
Though he didn’t earn a spot here, I do think he’ll be one of the top – if not the top – high bar contenders at the world cup series next year, especially now that Croatia’s Tin Srbic has already qualified to Paris, and Brazil should also have Arthur Zanetti in the mix on rings as well as Caio Souza potentially on vault, assuming he’s back from his Achilles injury in time. If no one qualifies via the world cups, selecting an athlete to fill the non-nominative role will be ridiculously hard between these three athletes, all of whom are capable of producing big results on the highest international stage.
The saddest part of the day was William Emard, who was consistently in the top three for the first four rotations, losing his ability to contend in the final two, ultimately finishing 16th with a 75.664, something he called his “rock bottom” following the competition (though only after he congratulated his teammate for his win). Emard was basically close to his best on floor, rings, and vault, and like so many of the guys in this final for whom pommel horse is not a strength, he made it through that event without any major issues, looking like a medal would be possible.
Unfortunately, he came off halfway through his p-bars set, and then on high bar, he ended up with three falls. First, it was when he wasn’t able to get his Endo to handstand, causing him to fall over in the wrong direction before coming off. Then it was when a Tak half went awry in a weird moment where he looked like he had it around, but then just released the bar, staring at his hands like he didn’t know what went wrong. Finally, he missed the layout Kovacs, and was forced to complete the routine looking positively destroyed, making it through but coming away with just a 9.066 on an event where he’s capable of scores in the 13s.
In the end, the p-bars fall sealed his fate in finishing off the podium, as I don’t think he would have surpassed any of the medalists with even his best high bar set at that point, but it was a heartbreaking finish nonetheless, especially coming off of the high that was world championships.
Article by Lauren Hopkins