Iris Schwarzhaupt (Stuttgart/GER) could hardly believe it was all for real. The 21-year-old pharma student found herself atop the podium with a World Championship gold medal around her neck, having just donned the UCI rainbow jersey. She then called in Max Maute, son of German coach Dieter Maute, to join her on her lap of honour, and gave her joy free rein.
The new champion did not have it all her own way in the Final4 of the UCI World Championship in Liege on Saturday evening, but while she committed the odd error in this, her first appearance at a World Championship, the difficulty level of her routine meant that she could defend her lead over the rest of the field. Perfect handstands, transitions and turns as well as a Maute jump got the crowd on her side before a moment’s panic in the dying seconds of her routine when she found herself standing on the ground. At the end of the day however, she had done enough to maintain first place.
Defending champion Milena Slupina (Bernlohe/GER) had to be content with silver this time around, and certainly had no complaints about the outcome. She also had a fall, and as such was delighted with the end result and a runner-up spot. "Sure, it was my second World Championships but I still wanted to enjoy my time here and the atmosphere," she said after the competition. "I wanted to take as many positive experiences with me and if everything worked out well, maybe bring home a medal." In the qualifying round, the 23-year-old was perfection personified with 190 points, giving her top spot, but those points were not carried over into the medal round, and that was where Schwarzhaupt raised her game.
Adriana Mathis (AUT) managed a Final4 performance without touching the ground but the 2015 World Champion had opted for a routine in the evening session that was safety-first. After getting her handlebar handstand slightly wrong twice in qualifying, she took that element out of her programme and paid the price, with the resulting 176 points enough only for a solid bronze medal performance.
Seraina Waibel (SUI) was pleased simply to make it through to the final in her last appearance at a World Championship, and she rounded off her career with a second fourth-placed finish in a row.
It looked like being a German one-two in the artistic pairs open category. Right up until the last part of the routine on one wheel, it appeared that Patrick Tisch and Nina Stapf (Magstadt/GER) had silver in the bag. Alas, Stapf lost her balance during the shoulder stand and had to jump off, and their final score plummeted to 127.29 points which saw them drop behind the Swiss pair of Lukas Burri and Fabienne Hammerschmidt (Uzwil). Burri/ Hammerschmidt themselves did not manage to make it through the routine without touching the ground, but their score of 134.78 was enough for a surprise runner-up spot which they were certainly not expecting.
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There was no doubt about the destination of the gold medal however, with reigning champions Serafin Schefold and Max Hanselmann (Öhringen/GER) the pick of the crop. They suffered a fall at the beginning of their routine, with Schefold not quite managing the Maute jump, from the saddle to the handlebars, which the two attempted simultaneously. The rest however was simply spectacular and perfectly executed, and their 155.06 points were more than enough for a second consecutive World Championship gold.
The last cycle-ball match of the evening saw the much-awaited clash of the titans, with World champions Germany and European champions Austria going toe-to-toe for first place in the group. It was an ideal way to round off the day’s entertainment for the spectators, with 14 goals in as many minutes making it the highest-scoring match of the group stages.
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The result went the way of Patrick Schnetzer and Markus Bröll (Höchst/AUT) as the Austrians squeezed home 8-6 over Bernd and Gerhard Mlady (Stein/GER). Schnetzer/Bröll, who were unbeaten in the group stages, are now through to the medal matches, while the Mladys finished second in the group and will now have to go through the intermediate knock-out round where they will face World Championship hosts Belgium (who finished fifth) on Sunday morning. Switzerland (3rd) will play off against Czech Republic (4th) for the third spot in the final round.
France (6th) face a relegation play-off once again to maintain their top-flight status and it will be repeat of the 2017 match-up against Group B winners Liechtenstein, who are looking to make it up into Group A in just their second appearance.