Flavia Saraiva didn’t know she would compete in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games until her teammate Rebeca Andrade – widely accepted as a favorite for the all-around title – withdrew after breaking her toe at the end of July.
While Saraiva isn’t quite at Andrade’s level just yet, she is a dynamic young gymnast expected to help in the rejuvenation of the Brazilian women’s program leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games on their home turf.
The diminutive 14-year-old broke onto the international scene at last year’s Houston National Invitational, where she struggled quite a bit on bars and beam in, earning only a 47.5 total. She ended up placing 10th in a field that included Olympians Jessica Lopez of Venezuela and Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan.
At the end of 2013, she appeared to be a different gymnast at Gymnasiade in Brazil, contributing to the team’s silver medal and earning a 55.4 in the all-around, edging out teammate Andrade by just 0.05 after raising her overall score nearly eight points in less than a year. In event finals, Saraiva placed sixth on bars with a 12.825, but then went on to nab the gold on both beam and floor, where she earned 14.45 and a 13.775, respectively.
She’s kept busy in 2014, beginning her international year at the WOGA Classic, where she won another beam gold while placing 5th in the all-around. At the Junior Pan American Championships in March, she made another strong impression, helping her team to silver and then again defeating Andrade in the all-around, this time winning gold with a 56.167, her personal best. She qualified to all event finals but vault, earning bronze on bars and beam and another gold on floor.
We last saw Saraiva at the Brazilian National Championships two weeks ago, where the news of her Youth Olympic Games assignment was still brand new. She looked pretty rusty, winning the junior all-around title but with only a 51.8, quite a fall from her win at Pan Ams just four months earlier. She had multiple falls on bars and beam during her all-around performance in Aracaju, qualifying only to beam finals, where she made more mistakes to earn just a 13.6 on her best event.
Saraiva vaults a Yurchenko full. It’s a decent vault for her…she’s just so tiny, it’s difficult for her to get much of a lift, though her execution is usually strong here.
Saraiva is hit or miss on the uneven bars. She earned a 13.1 in finals at Pan Ams, but you’ll typically see her somewhere in the mid to high 12s on this event if she hits…her form is generally pretty clean but her difficulty is very low.
Beam is Saraiva’s event. Nerves will sometimes get the best of her here, but when she hits, she’s golden, and could definitely be a threat for the top of the podium in Nanjing…though I think her YOG competitors also tend to excel at beam, so it could be quite the fight!
Saraiva has been improving on floor, and should earn somewhere in the low 14s if she can hit her tumbling. When she’s clean, she’s very clean. She also has a lot of fun in her routine, so it should be something of a crowd-pleaser in China.
Overall, Saraiva is an interesting entry for the Youth Olympic Games. If she has no problems, she could win all-around gold, and has already bested two of her Nanjing competitors (Seda Tutkhalyan and Ellie Downie at Gymnasiade). But when she makes a mistake, she falls apart, turning a wobble on beam into falls across three different events. There aren’t many gymnasts who have a five point all-around difference between one competition and the next!
Essentially, she is a brilliant little gymnast…but risky as a competitor. Her potential for all-around, beam, and floor medals is great, but whether she can pull it off will depend on if she can keep her cool or not. Luckily for her, some of her top competition also haven’t yet learned how to keep their heads in the game!
Article by Lauren Hopkins