© Tom Theobald

By Blythe Lawrence

Laura Zeng’s quest to better her sixth-place finish from last year’s Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships hit a snag approximately five seconds into her first routine of Friday’s all-around final in Sofia, Bulgaria.

After momentarily dropping the clubs, “I was a little bit like, oops, there it goes,” Zeng giggled afterward. “And then I was just like, stay focused. I think it was in a way a good thing. The worst thing that can happen, so to speak, is to drop. And now that it happened I could just go freely and go for it. I had nothing to lose.”

The reality of rhythmic is that a split-second loss of apparatus is all it takes to hinder any chances of a medal or a record. But it doesn’t mean you can’t come back and give a performance to be proud of — and through the next three events, that’s exactly what Zeng did.

She went clean with the ribbon, then delivered a career high 19.450 points with the hoop before ending with her ball routine to Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us.”

“I’m just really proud of the way I fought through,” she said after the competition. “Throughout the later routines I was just thinking, I just want to show what I’ve been working so hard on. We spent weeks training in Novogorsk, and we’ve gone to so many competitions. This competition is just about showing what we’ve been working on. So I was really proud and grateful to showcase that.”

Russia’s Dina Averina romped to her second consecutive world all-around title, though even she had a drop of her own with the ribbon during her final routine. Israel’s Linoy Ashram and Russia’s Aleksandra Soldatova rounded out the podium.

Zeng’s eighth-place finish still ties the second highest placement by an American in the all-around at a World Championships, a statistic with which Zeng is very familiar. Her eighth-place finish at the 2015 Worlds was at the time the best performance ever by an American on the world stage. She did herself two better last year, finishing sixth.

Griskenas, who competed earlier in the day, placed 17th after clean routines with the ball, ribbon and clubs. Her only visible error came when the hoop got away from her during the final seconds of a heartfelt performance to Pentatonix’s “Mary Did You Know.”

“It was a great opportunity and experience that I would love to repeat,” Griskenas said. A warm reception from the Arena Armeec crowd provided a lift during the competition, she added. “The energy of the crowd was amazing and surreal!” she exclaimed. “They all sang my ball music during my performance! Their energy was amazing and helped guide me.”

Worlds isn’t the end of the season for the U.S. Next up is Pan American Championships in Lima, Peru, in about a week. “We get a couple days of downtime and then boom,” Zeng said. On the to-do list for this precious time off? “Rest. Sleep. Lay in bed. Do nothing!” she exclaimed. And why not? So much has been accomplished already.