It took me a while to emotionally process everything in Saturday’s qualification day. Between China’s worst bar rotation in one hundred years, the most nervous the U.S. has ever been in competition, the Netherlands qualifying to their first Olympic Games as a team since 1976, and BRENNA…it’s been a hard couple of days. But I think I’m finally ready to speak about it all rationally. For the most part.
United States, 236.611
I can’t believe the U.S. team is leading by over five points and bested last year’s score by a point…and yet it was the worst I’ve seen them compete in recent years. I called the day ‘horrific’ on Twitter and while it wasn’t really literally horrific, and despite all of the nervous mistakes, they still only counted one fall. But really, if they finished that well looking the way they did, imagine what they could do if they were on?
It was a bizarre meet from almost the second they stepped out. When Brenna Dowell didn’t hear the beep on floor and then ran back out to start her routine before the 30 second timer ran down (with Marta Karolyi yelling “go, go, go!” at her which must inspire the fear of God) to compete without music (this literally would happen to Dowell) I said “this is going to be a fun day.” Fun meaning terrifying. But Dowell slayed, her only error a stumble out of bounds on her final pass, and she finally got the double front pike named for her two years after originally submitting it.
The next full moon drama happened with Aly Raisman not qualifying to floor finals. She made a mistake so rare for her in stepping out of bounds on her opening pass, and then lost her sense in the air on the split jump out of her double layout, in addition to having a few other nervous bloopers. With Maggie Nichols’ excellent set – talk about hitting when it counts – she was able to best Raisman by a few tenths to sneak into the floor final in one of the biggest upsets ever.
Simone Biles went on to get a 15.966 for her floor routine, but even she wasn’t immune to the nonsense, sitting her Amanar in warm-ups…though she nailed it in competition for a 16.0. The other vaults were great, but while Raisman looked fabulous in the air, she was unable to hold onto the landing, taking two sizable steps out and scoring less than Gabby Douglas did for her DTY, prompting Martha Karolyi to swap the two for team finals.
Then came bars. Sigh. Karolyi decided after Dowell’s fantastic training sets to use Dowell as the anchor, deciding between Raisman and Nichols as the lead-off, determining who would compete in the all-around. Raisman got the nod, whether for political reasons or because Karolyi thought she would outscore Nichols on all four events, and though she had been competing this routine actually pretty beautifully all year with virtually no mistakes, she ended up falling on her Tkachev.
Basically, the second she stepped out on her first floor pass, she decided what kind of day she was going to have, letting that vibe carry over from one routine to the next. There is a ton of pressure on her in this comeback, way more than she ever had as the underdog in 2012, and she’s stated numerous times how nervous she’s been coming back. If only she could just trust herself and find the confidence that made her the most decorated U.S. medalist three years ago…she has the skills but it’s the mental edge that scares me.
At any rate, a fall in the first routine in the lineup puts pressure on the rest of the team going forward. Everyone did a fantastic job, and then Dowell – already visibly shaken up after her floor routine – just completely lost it mentally. She seemed slow and tentative from her mount, but when she missed the Tweddle to Ezhova connection I thought, okay, just take an extra swing and don’t connect. But she took several extra swings and repeated the skill, connecting the two, expending even more energy in an already super long routine. A fall after her Church caused her to then repeat that skill into the pak, and by then she was so far gone it wasn’t surprising to see her peel off on the van Leeuwen. The routine was truly heartbreaking to watch knowing how well she’d been hitting in training, but the pressure seemed like it was too much for her.
Finishing on beam is no easy feat even on a good day, but thankfully there the team got it under control, hitting four of their five routines (Douglas fell on her standing full). There were definitely mistakes…Raisman missed several connections which took her start value from a 6.5 down to a 5.8, while Biles had a scary near-fall on her wolf 2.5, and overall I’m just shocked to see how weak this team is yet again on what was once their secret weapon…but they made it through and still came out on top.
In a way, a day like this was necessary. The U.S. women have been virtually untested since 2011, even when using their B team at competitions like the Pan Am Games. They’re still not really being challenged by anyone, but learned in qualifications that even without any real competition, they still have to keep the focus – otherwise their own minds are going to bring them down.
It’s similar to the meet everyone had on the first night of nationals, where the vibe was bizarre and everyone was a mess. Now we can only hope that they use Saturday’s competition to show up on fire tonight. A three-up three-count situation narrows the gap between them and Russia ever so slightly, and while it’s still not enough to really give the Russians an edge, if they count the mistakes they were lucky to scrap in qualifications, it’s going to be close (unless Russia has an equally bad day, of course).
If the U.S. had a bad day, it was nothing compared to China’s breakdown of epic proportions. They actually have an incredible young team this year, and should have done well even without Yao Jinnan at the helm.
Like the U.S., the Chinese women began on floor, and while Chen Siyi, Wang Yan, and Shang Chunsong got them off to a good start, they went on to count a fall, as Mao Yi – who has a routine that could have been in finals – landed her 3.5 to punch front out of bounds and then crashed her 2.5 to punch front and Tan Jiaxin sat her 2.5 to punch front. There was a lot of talk about China really upping their tumbling this year, and while it’s incredible that they have two gymnasts doing the 3.5 to punch front pass when no one else in the world is even doing a 3.5, it seems like they’re just chucking things without paying much attention to the routines as a whole.
Though vault warmups featured crash after crash, the team managed to stand up four DTYs in the competition, though Chen’s was terrifying and she probably would’ve scored similarly with an FTY.
Then came the worst bars rotation ever. If you told me a week ago that the forward skills that define the Chinese on bars would be their downfall, I would’ve laughed in your face. But Wang lost herself on her Weiler half which, combined with her inherent form mistakes, got her an 11.8; Tan – who has a 6.8 when fully hitting – peeled off wildly after her Ono to front giant full, though still earned a 13.666; and Chen peeled off on her Ono to Healy for a 12.8.
Even with their hit routines, the Chinese didn’t manage to reach 15, as Shang managed a 14.666 and the young Fan Yilin pulled in just a 14.966 for her lovely routine. There’s actually been some controversy about Fan’s score, as she posted just an 8.1 in execution despite relatively clean work. There is reportedly some drama with the head bars judge – which you can read about on Tumblr – purposely underscoring the Chinese gymnasts, and there’s also a great post that compares the execution of the top three bars finishers with Fan’s that’s actually pretty damning. Hopefully the judges will be more consistent with their deductions – or lack thereof – in finals, but either way, the team did count two falls, so it just wasn’t something they could really get over at that point.
Finishing on beam, Chen made some nervous mistakes, Fan fell on her layout, Shang fell on her bhs loso after a six minute wait for Fan’s score, and then Wang saved the day with a routine that had only one big wobble. Mao was supposed to finish things off, but she’s not known for her consistency there so rather than put her up, they opted to count their two falls.
The bad juju in the arena that caused so much drama for the Americans and the Chinese had odd effects on the Dutch women. They did have some mistakes of their own, and had to count a low score after a fall on beam, but they were otherwise so consistent and so technically perfect, they ended up edging out Brazil for the last spot into the team final…and their first Olympic team bid since 1976. Oh, and their qualifications score was eight points higher than it was in 2014. No big deal.
Beginning on bars, the Wevers twins Sanne and Lieke had exceptional routines, with Sanne earning a 14.1 even after some tiny mistakes at the beginning and Lieke posting a 14.4 for her Church to pak and a great double front. The rest of the team also looked clean, with even their weakest set a hit one.
Beam is where this team is epic, and while the first two in their rotation were a bit messy with Mara Titarsolej falling twice, the Wevers again killed it alongside Eythora Thorsdottir. It was Sanne who really stood out here with her gorgeous work and near-perfect execution, finishing with a 14.766 to qualify second into the beam final. They also have some of the most beautiful floor routines in the world, with tons of perfect pirouette work and lovely dance elements…and they really need to teach an official FIG class on artistry and expression. Lieke’s routine is quite possibly my favorite and has been since the trials for the European Games. Just…*sobs*.
Finishing up on vault, the team had all low difficulty sets but they were on fire and determined to pull out a team final finish. The ladies mostly showed FTYs, with Lisa Top – a specialist here – finishing up with a tucked tsuk full, earning a 14.3. Their finish led to lots of screaming, crying, jumping, and celebrating as they watched their nation pop up over Brazil on the scoreboard. Well-deserved. It’s amazing what they can do when they’re not all ridiculously injured…and if they can get gymnasts like Celine van Gerner and Noel van Klaveren back next year? They’ll be unstoppable. Nothing but a happy heart here watching them. It was like watching the U.S. women win the team final in 2012.
Oh, and can we talk about how Lieke qualified sixth into the all-around?! Bananas.
The French women didn’t have the best possible meet, but they still had a solid tenth place finish, showing that with a little consistency they could also be on the level at which we saw the Dutch. Though compared to a year ago, they looked incredible, their qualifications score this year coming in five points higher than in 2014.
Beginning on beam, they counted a low 12.966 from Louise Vanhille after a fall from Valentine Pikul, and then were forced to count another fall as Marine Brevet – typically stellar here – missed her Y turn, a mistake that also kept her out of the all-around final. Claire Martin, a Euros medalist this year, also had some issues that limited her full potential, so in all it was just a rough way to start out.
The ladies did some great work on floor, though, with Martin looking gorgeous and Brevet getting revenge for her beam error, opening with a huge stuck double layout to post a 14.133. Vault was also super clean, though like the Dutch, they are lacking in difficulty which limits what they can do overall, and then they finished on bars with a decent but not stellar rotation. Vanhille, a potential bars final candidate, had a fall here, though first-year senior Loan His stepped it up to post a 14.466 for her excellent set, missing the final by a single spot.
I was very happy to see the Belgian women finish 11th with the excellent team they’ve put together this year. Imagine what they can do with 2000 babies Axelle Klinckaert and Nina Derwael at the test event?! They posted a score five points higher than their team managed a year ago, bumping them up considerably to make them contenders for an Olympic team spot next year.
Even with injuries limiting Julie Croket and Laura Waem, both of whom were out nearly all year, the team looked impressive, especially on beam and floor. Like France and the Netherlands, they too have easy vaults but show beautiful work across the board, and they also have excellent artistry and presentation on floor, where new senior Rune Hermans had an especially spectacular set for a 13.966. Lisa Verschueren was also great there, posting a 13.933 for her brilliant routine that got the crowd clapping along.
On beam, Croket had a couple of near-misses that limited her score, but the rest of the team looked solid enough, especially Waem coming in clutch with a 14.0. They did count a fall on bars, however, as both Waem and two-time Olympic veteran Gaelle Mys had falls, though Cindy Vandenhole put up some nice work for a 14.033.
With Mys’ error, she was unable to challenge for an all-around spot, though both Verschueren and Hermans managed to make it in, a great testament to the depth of talent in this program right now. As I said, it’s only going to get deeper in 2016, so watch out for this team. After they came so close to making it in 2012 only to be bumped by Brazil at the last second, I think next year will absolutely be their time to shine.
As great as it was to watch the above three teams make such incredible strides compared to last year, Australia had an unfortunately rough day, finishing four points lower than they did a year ago when they defeated Germany as underdogs to sneak into the team final. This year, they’re in 14th, so they’ll still get to the test event where they’ll hopefully have a better showing, but for now they’re definitely a bit disappointed and heartbroken.
Beginning on floor, the team saw some great work from everyone, especially Georgia Godwin. There were no major errors, though big routines – like those from 2012 Olympians Emily Little and Larrissa Miller – had just enough minor mistakes to limit their overall potential, with Little showing some form issues and Miller nearly sitting her double Arabian. The team came together for some good vaults, including a gorgeous FTY from Godwin and a big DTY from Little, posting a pretty solid 56.6 to end there.
But bars was where things began to go wrong, sadly, with both Mary-Anne Monckton and Kiara Munteanu having falls early in the rotation. Miller posted the team best of 14.166, though even she had uncharacteristic form issues and wasn’t able to capitalize on her lovely difficulty to make the final. Finishing on beam – the curse of the day, it seems – the women saw falls from Monckton and Godwin, with the remainder of the routines mostly scoring low; Munteanu’s 13.233 was the highest, unfortunately, and she had a relatively solid one minus being a bit shy on a few leaps. The highlight was a real fight for the stick on her double tuck dismount.
It was definitely a rough day for the Aussies, but they’ve surprised before and if anyone can come back from this, it’s them!
Elsa Garcia was injured during training this week. With her unable to compete at all and only five available for Mexico, the team nosedived in the rankings compared to 2014, finishing six points lower and placing only 21st, meaning they will not have a full team at the test event.
Hong Un Jong of North Korea qualified into the vault final five hundredths behind Maria Paseka with the same exact vaults. Simone Biles, with eight tenths lower difficulty, finished above Hong by a tenth. So basically, this vault podium is going to be an epic battle, especially as Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber also has the potential to make it in. And actually, all qualifiers are within about a half point from one another. Insane.
Speaking of Steingruber, the European champion qualified SECOND into the all-around final. SECOND! WITH A FALL. That’s ahead of Gabby Douglas by about a tenth. The two both had falls, so they could definitely go head to head for a podium spot on Thursday. Steingruber’s fall came on beam, though she killed it on vault with a 15.5 and nailed her floor for a 14.533…and while bars isn’t her best event, she actually had a pretty stellar routine there, considering.
Yamilet Pena of the Dominican Republic failed to make the vault final after sitting her Produnova. She also didn’t qualify to the test event as an all-arounder, meaning her Olympic journey ended in Glasgow.
Dipa Karmakar of India did make it to the vault final, showing the strongest Produnova of the three we saw in Glasgow in addition to bringing a 6.0 vault to the table. She did NOT get an all-around spot at the test event, however, so if she doesn’t medal in Glasgow, her Olympic dream will also end here.
Sofi Gomez of Guatemala had some major mistakes in her competition, placing a shocking 65th after falls on both bars and beam. She did still manage to earn an all-around spot at the test event, however, so she should be able to hopefully clean up enough there to make it to her second Olympic Games.
Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey also hit well enough to make it to the test event, finally hitting every single pass on floor after falling so much throughout the season. She struggled with bars, but otherwise had a pretty great day, including looking mostly solid with her 5.9 beam routine.
Phan Thi Ha Thanh of Vietnam didn’t compete two vaults and didn’t impress well enough to make the final on beam, though she too is another with a test event spot. The same can be said for Marcia Vidiaux of Cuba, who got a zero for one of her vaults and placed last there when she should’ve been a shoo-in for the final. But she’ll get another chance to qualify in April, as she secured an all-around spot for her country.
Vasiliki Millousi of Greece had an upsetting day, falling on beam – her best event – as well as floor. Her country finished last as a team, about seven points lower than last year, though they still received two individual spots for the test event.
Farah Ann Abdul Hadi of Malaysia didn’t have the best day, though still managed a 51.965 which was enough to make it to the test event alongside Danusia Francis of Jamaica, who hit four-for-four to score a 51.999 and make it in as well. Her teammate Toni-Ann Williams was slightly behind with a 50.531 after mistakes on a low-difficulty bars and on floor kept her from being able to challenge better. Fellow collegiate gymnast Houry Gebeshian of Armenia also made it through with a 51.965, her best elite score to date even with a fall on beam.
Sadly, the South African women were unable to earn a spot after mistakes from top gymnast Kirsten Beckett, though with Africa a beneficiary of the universality rule, they will place an athlete in this way, as only one gymnast from Africa made it to the test event and the universality rule says two must attend the Games.
The Hungarian women finished 18th with a 209.552, a bit better than last year though beam was a veritable disaster and it kept them from getting near a team spot at the test event. Even Dorina Boczogo struggled there, though they did see a great DTY from new senior Boglarka Devai and some excellent work all day from Noemi Makra, who posted a huge 55.732 to qualify 15th into the all-around final.
Article by Lauren Hopkins