With Douglas placing fifth at national championships, it was difficult to market the two in this way, but after qualifying as the second American behind Biles on Saturday it’s shaping up to be the story of the quad…and probably U.S. gymnastics history in general. Forget Kim vs Shannon or Nastia vs Shawn. While these rivalries are legendary in the U.S. women’s program, nothing can compare to the reigning world champion battling it out with the reigning Olympic champion less than a year before the 2016 Olympic Games.
Except it’s not really as exciting as it looks. Biles is leaps and bounds ahead of Douglas at this stage of the game, in her difficulty, her execution, and her performance value. She has the potential to hit scores of 15 or better on all four events, and on her two best events – vault and floor – she’s flirted with 16 as well this year, earning a 15.966 for her floor routine and a 16 on her Amanar in prelims.
Biles is virtually untouchable and almost single-handedly responsible for the U.S. domination this quad. If you were to replace her in the team final with the next best option on each of the three events she competed, the team’s lead over China would’ve narrowed from five points to just two. Take away China’s fall, and that’s one point separating first and second, not exactly a safe bet. She led the all-around field in qualifications by four points, and that was with mistakes on beam. Yes, it would’ve taken one fall on each event to put her on equal ground with her “peers.” She is absolutely without competition at this meet, and should somewhat easily bring home her third world all-around title in a row, something that has never been done (the only other gymnast with three world all-around titles is Russian legend Svetlana Khorkina, though hers are sandwiched around Maria Olaru’s win in 1999).
The only gymnast to come close to her was teammate Maggie Nichols, who didn’t make the bars lineup in qualifications and therefore couldn’t contend for an all-around spot on the team. Brenna Dowell, who had looked much stronger on the event in the two weeks leading up to the championships, was given the anchor spot instead, a decision national team coordinator Martha Karolyi stands by, as she was the right one for the job based on training. But after Dowell’s falls in qualifications, Karolyi replaced her for the team final with Nichols, the only U.S. gymnast to compete on all four events on Tuesday night. Her combined score of 59.232 would’ve put her second in qualifications, about two points behind Biles and two points ahead of Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland.
With Biles in a league of her own, Douglas’ actual competition includes reigning European champion Steingruber, reigning Pan American Games champion Ellie Black of Canada, and last year’s world silver medalist Larisa Iordache of Romania, 16th after qualifications but who would’ve been in this top group had she not fallen on bars and beam.
The podium should definitely include some mix of these women, but they’re all so close it’s impossible to say who will make it or where they’ll end up. Steingruber and Douglas each counted falls on beam in their qualifications performances, and are neck and neck right now, separated by just a tenth with Steingruber with a 57.64 and Doulgas with a 57.516. If they both hit to the best of their ability, I’d give Douglas the edge, as she was also pretty heavily docked on bars in qualifications, bringing in five tenths less than she managed in the team final. She could go 59 or better with an exemplary day, and I don’t think anyone else in this group can outdo that.
Steingruber in qualifications was at her best everywhere but beam, so where Douglas can make up about a point and a half if she’s on, Steingruber really only has about a point to gain. Iordache, meanwhile, can gain two points from her falls and then at least five tenths on floor if her landings look clean, putting her just about on equal ground with these two. Black doesn’t quite match up, as her qualifications performance was excellent and there’s not much she can add to her 57.299 aside from a few tenths on vault and floor.
But that’s the fun of gymnastics and why this battle will be so close. I do think Douglas, Steingruber, and Iordache have the biggest chances at reaching the podium behind Biles, but as always, I have to preface these predictions with if they hit. None of these women hit in qualifications, so it’s impossible to say for sure how they’ll look today. Might I remind you of last year’s all-around final as an example? Aliya Mustafina of Russia seemed to be a sure shot for at least a bronze medal while the United States’ Kyla Ross didn’t stand a chance, but falls pushed Mustafina down to fourth while a consistent Ross snuck in to take the medal by three tenths.
Aside from the five I’ve mentioned, I don’t think anyone else will put up a podium challenge. Lieke Wevers of the Netherlands was at her best in qualifications to finish 6th with a 56.733 and I don’t see her doing much better than that, and while Seda Tutkhalyan counted a fall on beam and mistakes on floor in her qualifications performance, historically she hasn’t done better than a 57.4 on a good day…and good days are rare for her, as she almost always makes at least one glaring mistake. Again, you never know, but it’s probably not going to happen.
The same can be said about Shang Chunsong of China, who qualified in 12th after a fall on beam. She’s at a disadvantage due to her FTY on vault, but if she hits her other three, she’s good for around a 58 or so. It’s just rare that we see everything come together for her at once…and we actually did see this in team finals, where she looked incredibly confident, especially on bars and beam. As with Tutkhalyan, I wouldn’t totally rule her out, and could see a solid top five finish, but I’m also wondering if we got the best out of her when it mattered for her team on Tuesday.
There are a couple would-be all-around podium contenders missing the final due to the two-per-country rule. Most notably, two-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman of the United States – who finished 5th in qualifications less than a point behind Douglas – will be absent, and it’s funny because it’s exactly the reversal of what happened in 2011 when Raisman made it in and Douglas sat out, also having qualified in 5th behind two of her teammates. Of course, she went on to win Olympic gold the next year, so should we start congratulating Raisman now?
Raisman was nervous in qualifications, beginning with several uncharacteristic errors on floor that brought her score down about half a point behind her potential. This led to more nervous mistakes, including losing about six tenths on vault for her two big runs forward out of her landing, a point off on bars for a fall on her Tkachev, and a few tenths for missed connections and sloppy form on beam. Her 56.798 could realistically be around a 58.5 on a good day, putting her right in the medal mix, but unfortunately once again the two-per-country rule rears its ugly head.
I’m just as disappointed to not see Ellie Downie of Great Britain in the mix. She seemed to be gearing up for a huge meet after winning a bronze medal in the 2015 European Championships all-around contest and sweeping the golds at a friendly meet in the Netherlands earlier this month. She was absolutely her country’s best shot at the podium, but a devastating bars performance in qualifications got her just a 12.133 there – she’s capable of over two points higher – causing her to finish less than a point behind two of her teammates, British champion Amy Tinkler and Ruby Harrold, the latter of whom is a big surprise, returning to the sport just a month ago after an injury kept her out for a year.
The others competing today include Asuka Teramoto and Mai Murakami of Japan (a fun story, as Murakami was originally the second alternate for her team but due to numerous injury circumstances, ended up not only competing but finishing as the best all-arounder for her team!), Lorrane Oliveira and Flavia Saraiva of Brazil, Pauline Schäfer and Elisabeth Seitz of Germany, Carlotta Ferlito and Tea Ugrin of Italy (Vanessa Ferrari actually qualified into the final with Ugrin getting two-per-country-ed out, but Ferrari’s injury meant Ugrin was allowed to take her spot), Wang Yan of China, Noemi Makra of Hungary, Lisa Verschueren and Rune Hermans of Belgium, Laura Jurca of Romania, and Isabela Onyshko of Canada.
The competition begins today at 6:45 pm GMT, which is 2:45 pm EDT. The competition will stream live, brought to you by USA Gymnastics if you’re in the U.S., the FIG on YouTube if you are basically anywhere but the U.S., and on the BBC iPlayer if you’re in the UK or use a VPN.
Article by Lauren Hopkins