© Ricardo Bufolin

By Blythe Lawrence

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Even in his wildest dreams, Ruben Padilla never saw it ending like this. Using two passes he’d never competed before in his senior World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships debut, the 17-year-old with the toothpaste commercial smile bounced off with the World silver medal in men’s double mini-trampoline Friday afternoon, second only to the likes of Russian “tornado” Mikhail Zalomin, the Kohei Uchimura of double-mini.

“I didn’t really see it coming,” an emotional Padilla said following a tearful reunion with his teammates after the results were finalized. “I just wanted to go and hit my passes. The main goal coming here was just to make finals, and I did that. Adding a medal on top, that’s amazing. It’s always been a dream to get on a podium at a World Championship, but I didn’t think it would be in my first year.”

The very first American competitor to take the floor at the trampoline and tumbling Worlds, Padilla impressed from the start, executing newly upgraded routines with the ease of a seasoned professional to qualify to the final in a respectable seventh place. He was even better in the medal round Friday, seemingly dropping from the sky on two different triple flipping dismounts to soft, controlled landings.

Competing in front of a cheering home crowd, Zalomin was near his best, whirling like a top in the air and displaying catlike precision on his landings as he took his fourth World title. Argentina’s Lucas Adorno, whose father Claudio represented Argentina at the World Championships 30 years ago, finished with the bronze, his first World medal.

Padilla’s silver was the only U.S. medal of the day, but not its only success story. American Matthew Hawkins, a double mini team silver medalist from 2017, finished just out the medals in fourth, while tumbler Hope Bravo scored a personal best 66.3 for two well-executed routines and sixth place in her first World final.

“I’m kind of starstruck,” admitted Bravo of competing alongside the likes of Chinese superstar Jia Fangfang, who dominated the final with the incredible difficulty and high-quality execution of her passes, making it all look effortless as she picked up her fifth World title. Great Britain’s Shanice Davidson was also strongly impressive for silver, and Viktoria Danilenko, who pushed the difficulty envelope by being the only gymnast in the final to show three double flipping elements in a single pass (two double pikes to a double tuck), gave Russia its second medal of the day with bronze.

“To be in a final with them is kind of surreal,” Bravo said. “Finishing up this meet, literally walking back and getting my stuff, I was thinking, ‘I’m ready to get back into the gym and get harder passes and then come back and see what I can really do.’ I think this is just the beginning.”

The women’s synchronized trampoline final didn’t go the way Nicole Ahsinger and Sarah Webster would have hoped, with Ahsinger forgetting part of their recently modified routine mid-final and causing the pair to begin performing different elements.

“I got jumbled up,” Ahsinger admitted. Despite the mistakes, the U.S. team finished fifth in a final that didn’t lack for errors, with every pair except those who ended on the podium failing to complete their routine. Top qualifiers Megu Uyama and Hikaru Mori of Japan stayed clean for gold, while double Olympic champion Rosannagh MacLennan of Canada and new synchro partner Sarah Milette came away with silver. In a first for Mexico, Melissa Flores and Loza Dafne Navarro’s well-executed routine earned bronze. Elsewhere, Belarus’s Ulaadzislau Hancharou and Aleh Rabtsau successfully defended their World title in men’s synchro.

Ahsinger will get another chance Saturday when she competes in the women’s trampoline semifinal, trying to crack the top eight that advance to the medal round. Advancing to semis in St. Petersburg was her main goal at this competition, the 2016 Olympian said.

“Anything can happen in semifinals,” she added. “I’m trying to stay positive, and hopefully it all goes right for me.”