Russia's Melnikova wins gymnastics world gold in Biles' absence

Kitakyushu (Japan) (AFP) – Russia's Angelina Melnikova took advantage of Simone Biles' absence to win the women's all-around world gymnastics title Thursday, saying she was happy to be "able to compete for first place".


Melnikova took gold ahead of American teenagers Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello, after Biles and a host of other top gymnasts decided not to compete in Kitakyushu in western Japan.

Melnikova, who won all-around bronze at this year's Tokyo Olympics after Biles withdrew over mental health concerns, said she had been determined to compete despite having little time to prepare after the Games.

But she said Biles' absence had made her task easier, and she was "exhausted" after completing the job.

"It's always exciting to compete with Simone because of her strength and power, but I also enjoyed being able to compete for first place," said Melnikova.

"I had only one month to prepare, and I was really surprised that I could do all I did today."

Biles is currently performing in a gymnastics stage show also featuring her Tokyo Olympics team-mates Jordan Chiles, MyKayla Skinner and Grace McCallum.

Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee also skipped the world championships to appear in a TV show.

Silver-medallist Rebeca Andrade of Brazil is competing in Japan but dropped out of the all-around event to avoid wear and tear on her body.

"So exhausted"

Melnikova went the extra mile to secure the gold, finishing with 56.632 points to become the first Russian woman since Aliya Mustafina in 2010 to win the world title.

"I'm very happy that I was able to carry on the tradition," said the 21-year-old, who won all-around bronze at the 2019 world championships.

"I did everything that I wanted. I don't know what to say because I'm so happy and I'm so exhausted now."

Eighteen-year-old Wong took silver on 56.340 points in her first world championships appearance.

Leanne Wong of the United States finished second in her first world gymnastics championships
Leanne Wong of the United States finished second in her first world gymnastics championships Charly TRIBALLEAU AFP

Wong was an alternate for the US team at the Tokyo Olympics, but had to spend her entire stay in quarantine after her roommate tested positive for coronavirus.

"Definitely after the first time in Japan, I always had in my mind that I wanted to do the world championships," said Wong.

"During my quarantine, I was trying to keep my body active and do whatever I could in the room so I could prepare myself."

Seventeen-year-old DiCello fell on her uneven bars routine, but dusted herself off to claim third ahead of Russia's Vladislava Urazova on 54.566 points.

"After I fell on bars, I knew that I just had to keep a clean rest of the bar routine so that I could stay where I wanted to stay," she said.

Japan's Hitomi Hatakeda, who qualified for the final in fourth place, was forced to withdraw Wednesday after suffering a serious spinal injury in training.

Hatakeda fell off the uneven bars and was diagnosed with damage to her central spinal cord and bruising of the cervical vertebrae.

A Japan Gymnastics Association official said Thursday that Hatakeda was conscious but had no further update on her condition.