She’s only been training for about four weeks since rolling both ankles during podium training at last year’s World Championships, but Lauren Mitchell is committed to finally winning an Olympic medal.
“I’m not at my ideal shape and definitely not at my peak shape,” Mitchell admitted after podium training for this week’s Australian Championships, where women begin with prelims tomorrow evening. “But the Olympic medal is the only one I haven’t won, so that’s unfinished business.”
She wants to use these championships as a starting off point for what will hopefully be her third Olympic Games. Ideal shape or not, the 23-year-old needs a bit of practice after being out for most of this quad. She did come back strong last summer, winning two silver medals at last year’s Commonwealth Games, but now things are getting serious.
With only a little over a year between now and the Games, Mitchell has the important task of helping her country qualify as a team at this year’s World Championships. Australia must place in the top eight in order to qualify straight away without an appearance at next year’s test event, and Mitchell’s beam and floor could be incredibly helpful in what should be a difficult field.
Australia managed to reach the top eight at last year’s Worlds, coming into the team final as a bit of a surprise when they defeated Germany by just over a point. This was especially surprising, as they did it without the help of Mitchell, relying instead on veterans and the 16-year-old alternate Kiara Munteanu stepping up and hitting strong routines, taking advantage of the Germans crumbling on even their best event.
In addition to Mitchell’s return meaning big things for the team, Australia is also happy to welcome back 2012 Olympian Emily Little, 21, who returned to competition at last year’s Mexican Open after two years away from the sport.
This is Little’s first major domestic competition back, and she’s hoping to “get as close to perfection as [she] can,” both in Melbourne and at every upcoming competition. “It’s a bit scary to think that now is where it all starts,” she told Gymnastics Australia after podium training. “The whole campaign – nationals, worlds, and Rio. It’s very exciting and nerve-wracking.”
In Mexico, Little came back on a high note, earning a 53.550 and the silver medal despite a fall on beam (without which she would have defeated Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza for gold…not bad for a first meet back!). She went on to have a strong performance at the American Cup this March, earning a 55.165 for steady routines, and then she brought in a 53.500 at Jesolo a month later after struggling on bars and beam.
Though she is a very strong all-arounder and has potential to grow even more in that sense with a bit more training time, Little’s real secret weapon is her DTY. As the only Australian competing the difficult vault, she has the potential to earn roughly a point higher than any of her teammates on the event. A full point will be incredibly valuable to a team with a big mission this fall, so look for Little to really impress there.
Emma Nedov, the 2013 Australian beam champion, got last season off to a rough start, making big errors at both the WOGA Classic and Australian Championships, where she earned a 45.600 in the all-around qualification and then just a 51.900 with improved routines during finals. As a member of the Worlds team, she earned a 14.266 in qualifications, which tied her for 8th place, but due to the execution tie-breaker rule did not earn a spot in finals.
Beam would be Nedov’s greatest contribution to the team, and she had two very strong routines in Jesolo this year, but is a bit inconsistent on the event, especially when it comes to hitting connections. If she hits everything with no problems, she is capable of reaching around a 15 on the event, but she tends to make costly mistakes every now and then, and on a beam-heavy team as it is, will really have to prove this week that she has a routine that can be counted on at any moment, and/or that she could also contribute on other events.
Finally, there’s 17-year-old Georgia Godwin, hoping to defend her title as she also makes a bid for Rio 2016. Godwin had a bit of bad luck last year, missing out on both the Commonwealth Games and World Championships teams despite her gold-winning all-around win in Melbourne. Godwin is fantastic on beam, but unfortunately for her, that’s where her teammates tend to shine, including Nedov, Mary-Anne Monckton (who won silver on the event at Commonwealth Games), and of course, 2009 world beam silver medalist Mitchell.
Godwin’s beam is gorgeous, but like Nedov, she has been hit or miss there in the past year, with about a 50% error rate. At Championships in 2014, she hit both all-around competition routines with ease, but then fell in event finals. It was the same story at Massilia in November – lovely routine in the all-around, but multiple mistakes in finals. At Jesolo this year, she showed a beautiful routine on qualification day, and earned a 14.2 on the event even with just a simple layout dismount, but then in the team final (which served as the qualifier for event finals) she fell and earned a 12.7.
This lack of consistency is likely what hurt Godwin last year, but she doesn’t seem deterred. “You only get one shot at it, and I’ve had the Olympic dream since I was about eight, so to go to Rio and represent Australia would be amazing.” Her goal this week is to compete as she trains, and to hit all events in order to prove her readiness for international competition.
National team coordinator Peggy Liddick says this will be key for gymnasts who want to be considered for the upcoming World Championships and Olympic Games. “Being able to come in time after time, and compete without much variation in a cool, calm, and collected manner. That’s what it’s all about.”
The women begin competition at the 2015 Australian Championships with prelims on May 20, followed by all-around finals on May 22 and event finals on May 23-24. For more information, check out our event page. We will post a full list of athletes competing as soon as it becomes available to us.
Article by Lauren Hopkins