A few months ago, someone asked me whether Brazil would gain enough traction to earn a spot in the team final at the 2016 Olympic Games.
I had no idea if this would be possible. Sure, Alexander Alexandrov is helping to improve the program and new seniors like Rebeca Andrade and Flavia Saraiva are making waves internationally, but lots of teams are in good shape. Even if Brazil looks good, do they really have a shot at outperforming everyone else when the time comes?
Now I feel confident answering “yes they can.”
Brazil was on fire at this year’s Flanders International Team Challenge in Ghent, Belgium. The team placed first in qualifications with a 221.350, a whopping five points ahead of Germany in second (and improving on their 2014 Worlds qualification score by ten points). They also saw a near-sweep of the all-around podium, with Saraiva earning gold after scoring 55.8 and Andrade earning the silver medal with a 55.350; veteran Daniele Hypolito also had a great day, finishing just a tenth away from bronze after posting a 54.95 for 4th place.
The best thing is that while the women looked fantastic here, there’s so much room for improvement. Saraiva performed just an FTY when she’s capable of hitting a solid double, Andrade struggled on vault and beam, and Hypolito was weak on bars. They also brought just five women to compete here, and yet pulled out the win over other teams that relied on six athletes in the five-up, four-count format.
In addition to the three above, Leticia Costa also performed in the all-around, finishing 14th with a 53.500 after hitting a solid DTY but showing some struggles on bars and beam, and Julie Sinmon competed on everything but floor, putting up decent numbers on vault and bars but falling on beam, typically her best event, and earning just a 12.6 there.
The women looked best on floor, going four-for-four there to earn a huge 57.1 event score, the highest event score of the day. With two 13.9s, a 14.45 from Saraiva, and a Worlds medal-worthy 14.85 from Andrade, they actually come close to rivaling the United States here. They’re also relatively strong on vault, with a potential Amanar in their arsenal from Andrade, and while they don’t have as many big numbers on the other two events, they still manage to put up a few strong scores there, including Andrade’s 14.6 on bars.
Alexandrov has clearly been doing a lot of great work with these women, and I think what we’ve seen so far in Belgium is just the beginning. It will be very exciting watching the resurgence of this team over the next year, and I can now answer with no doubt in my mind that Brazil can definitely be in the team finals picture at the Olympic Games they host next summer.
Germany had an interesting day in that they finally managed to put up multiple 14+ routines on beam from Sophie Scheder (9th AA) and Elisabeth Seitz (13th AA), but these two fell on their best events, bars, on which they’re typically capable of scoring near 15. It definitely limited their individual and team success, as did a relatively weak team in general.
Pauline Schäfer had some great all-around success, however, earning a 54.9 to place 5th after showing some decent performances across the board after hitting her FTY in addition to clean routines on bars and floor. Though like her teammates, she also had a fall on her best event, beam, without which she likely could have won the all-around title.
France qualified third among the senior teams, earning a 215.650 to narrowly edge out host team Belgium by half a point. Marine Brevet had an excellent day in the all-around, earning the bronze medal with a 55.05 after some lovely work especially on beam (14.1) and floor (14.). She was helped by Valentine Pikul (11th AA), Louise Vanhille (20th AA with an excellent floor), Lucie Perdreau, Anne Kuhm, and Grace Charpy.
While Belgium didn’t quite have the day they’d hoped for thanks to several costly falls on bars, new senior Rune Hermans more than proved her value to the team with hit routines on each of her four events, her 54.65 putting her in 6th place in the all-around. Hermans is especially gifted on floor, where she shines both as a performer and in her expert execution of both tumbling and dance elements, and she could be key in helping her team qualify in the top 12 to the Olympic Games next summer.
The more experienced Lisa Verschueren was right behind her in the all-around race, placing 7th with a 54.5 after equally skilled performances on bars and floor especially. This year’s national all-around champ Cindy Vandenhole had an issue with her vault and then struggled on beam as well, unfortunately putting her in 23rd place, and then Olympian Gaelle Mys had multiple falls on bars, earning just a 10.4 on the event despite an otherwise solid day.
Also competing at home were Dorien Motten and Hélia Hocquet on two events apiece; Motten had a nice FTY but fell on bars, while Hocquet had a fall on beam and other mistakes on floor, both of which are relatively low-difficulty routines to begin with.
Great Britain sent more of a B team to Ghent, so it wasn’t surprising to see them place 5th with a score of 214.050. In addition to Kelly Simm, using this competition to prepare for the European Games, they had Welsh gymnasts Angel Romaeo, Raer Theaker, and Georgina Hockenhull on hand alongside Charlie Fellows, last year’s World Championships alternate.
Simm is known for her vault, though she actually had a big error here, missing the springboard and getting a score of zero. However, she went on and hit her remaining events incredibly well, which is great for her as European Games require all athletes to do the all-around in team finals. She did some of her best work here on bars, beam, and floor! Bars was especially strong, earning a 14.2 for a routine out of a 6.0 start value, her highest d-score of the day; she also proved to work efficiently on floor, earning a 14.1 there with a 5.8 to start.
The team had no real super strong all-arounders, which hurt them in the end. Fellows, Romaeo, and Hockenhull all placed within a tenth of one another, with Fellows and Romaeo tying in 16th place with scores of 52.9 and then Hockenhull sitting right behind them in 18th with a 52.8. Most of what they did was very nice work, though it was a bummer to see Hockenhull have issues on beam. Finally, Theaker placed 27th with a 50.65 after falling on beam and floor.
The Netherlands was in a similar spot as the Brits, placing 6th with a 211.700 after not including some of their leading athletes in the mix. None of their European Championships team members traveled to Belgium, with just the Euro Games training squad (including those not on the team but who trained with the goal of making it) in attendance.
Céline van Gerner backed out of competition at the last minute, leaving them with just four athletes on hand making every score count, always a challenge. Lieke Wevers led the pack with her 8th place all-around finish, scoring a 54.35 with beam her standout. Lisa Top tied in 11th place with a 54.05 after hitting an impressive floor routine, and then Maartje Ruikes and Vera van Pol placed 21st and 24th, respectively. While it’s difficult to judge this team’s Worlds potential without several of their strongest members (namely van Gerner, Eythora Thorsdottir, Noel van Klaveren, and Sanne Wevers), I think both Wevers and Top put in some great work.
Other senior teams competing here include Spain in 7th place with a 209.950, Ireland in 8th with a 190.600, Austria in 9th with a 184.950, and Norway in 10th with a 178.000. New Zealand also sent its top girls, Courtney McGregor and Charlotte Sullivan, each of whom earned a 49.8 in the all-around to tie in 30th, while Azerbaijan’s Mariia Smirnova placed 36th with a 46.300.
From Spain, I have to say I was impressed with Ana Perez, who in 10th place had the best all-around score from her country with a 54.1. She had a lovely FTY in addition to clean work on her other events, and had a fantastic finish in what ended up being a very large and difficult field.
Finals continue in Ghent tomorrow afternoon. Full results are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins