Great Britain’s Entry into the Big Four

WORLD-bronze-girls

Last year I got really excited at the prospect of someone breaking into the big four. After Romania’s lackluster qualifications performance, I crossed my fingers for Great Britain or Italy pulling in during team finals, but then they had problems of their own and Romania managed to squeak out an attack on Russia, nearly coming in to make the podium.

I thought this was the closest we’d get to an upset, especially with Romania coming back this year with a podium-worthy team. And then everyone got injured and then everyone else fell apart, the women defeated by their own lack of depth and inability to perform under pressure. With Romania out of the team final completely, my dream of a broken big four was going to become a reality.

Little did I know at the time, however, that not only would we see a new nation jump into the big four, but also non-big four podium upset. How much greater can life get?!

Not if you’re a Russian fan, of course. After their truly inspirational qualifications performance, easily the strongest out of any team competing, the women – mostly veterans – fell apart when it counted. They had no chance at gold even if Team USA counted falls, but they should’ve been in the running for silver against China. Alas.

I actually think Russia was the more talented team and probably “belonged” in second if everything went according to plan, but falls from their entire beam rotation and an additional fall on bars (because why not) meant not only would they lose silver to China, but also that they’d lose bronze to Great Britain, on the worlds podium as a team for the first time in their nation’s history.

Of course, you have to give Great Britain some credit. Sure, they wouldn’t have made it to the podium without relying on mistakes from Russia. That’s a given. Russia finished only four tenths behind the Brits, meaning three falls and they still would’ve been safe. But the Brits also counted a fall on bars, so really the teams weren’t that far apart in a three-up, three-count situation. With everyone hitting, the Russians had a huge edge on bars and beam, the Brits had the edge on floor, and vault was close, with Russia taking this one thanks to Maria Paseka‘s newfound Amanar prowess.

But even if Russia had hit everything and made it to the podium, the British women should have been incredibly proud of fourth place. They have grown immensely as a team since last year, with much stronger lineups on all four events, especially considering they used a team of just five women in Glasgow, opting to sit Kelly Simm out due to her not breaking the top three on any event. They raised their team score by nearly four points, so while the outcome of getting on the podium was partly due to Russia’s falls, it’s not something they could’ve achieved a year ago had the situation with Russia and Romania been similar.

With their disastrous team finals performance this year, Russia actually managed to score half a point higher than last year, which shows how much better this year’s team is. Half of Russia’s 2014 team was Valentina Rodionenko scraping at the bottom of the barrel thanks to injuries and setbacks from other stars, and if Aliya Mustafina hadn’t been available, the team would’ve been lucky to make the final. The women did show this year how much stronger they are as a team, and I think perhaps got a little too comfortable in their perceived dominance. Even as they fell repeatedly, they smiled, high-fived, and played to the camera, not expecting anyone to take their bronze.

Compare this to last year when the weaker team knew they had to fight for their medal after a fall on beam and another on floor. They were on a mission as they moved to vault, simultaneously watching the Romanians as they finished on beam. It wasn’t until Stefania Stanila fell that they knew they would make the podium, and even then it was only by half a point. The teams could’ve gone either way – neither was a real underdog – but both had to push to get in for bronze and in the end after mistakes of their own, Russia had to rely on a last-minute fall from their competition.

Russia did actually try to fight on floor a bit. Seda Tutkhalyan had the angriest routine I’ve ever seen, and what do you know, she actually hit all of her passes somewhat well. Paseka had some stumbles but who can fault her after everything else she’d done for the team, and Ksenia Afanasyeva did good work, though not her best…she saved that for the event final (an interesting characteristic for the Russian women who in recent years have all seemed to fight harder when their individual reputation is at stake).

Considering floor is the weakest for this team, it was a decent outing, and perhaps they really did think they saved themselves from past mistakes. Perhaps they didn’t expect three solid DTYs from the British women. Or perhaps they knew they were done for and just didn’t care. They certainly took fourth place much more gracefully than they took second in 2011, so perhaps their teetering performances since winning gold five years ago has finally taught them how to lose?

Either way, their finish was disappointing given their talent and I actually wish we saw them angry at not putting up a fight. Whether they assumed they were a shoo-in for the podium or didn’t care that they missed it, their reactions were unsettling, especially from the veterans. Russia is basically made of scowls and rage tears, so I was almost bummed to see them so complacent in their loss. Whether they learned to lose gracefully or tried to put on a brave face for the cameras or just straight up didn’t care, it was disappointing to see a team so talented looking blasé as they fell to fourth in one of the greatest team upsets this sport has ever seen.

But back to the Brits, because their reaction was everything Russia’s wasn’t. This team was all emotion and fight and grit from the second they mounted the bars. When poor Ellie Downie fell on one of her strongest events right off the bat, she immediately broke down, assuming she’d ruined it not for herself but for her team. She was comforted by older sister Becky Downie, who had every reason to wallow in the wake of missing out on what was likely her best shot at a bars medal this quad, and who then went on to hit a solid – albeit tamed down – effort of her own to get her team back on track.

Never known for their beam work, the British women still managed the third best score of the day on this event with three hit routines. Their overall difficulty was weak, but compared to previous team finals efforts where falls on this event led to their downfall, the women remained calm and composed as they moved to their strongest events.

The new seniors – the younger Downie and Amy Tinkler – were shining stars on floor with the rotation capped off by Claudia Fragapane, who catapulted to superstardom in this very arena a year earlier, and then these three brought it home on vault, punching each DTY with an exclamation point to climb above Russia for the title. One step over the line or a slightly larger hop could’ve been all it took to keep Russia in the lead, but I’d like to think at this point they would’ve won no matter what as long as they hit.

No one likes to see a team fall and laugh their way to the podium the way Russia would have, judges included, so even if there were cries of “overscored!” for a couple of the British routines, at the end of the day the ranking was right. The British women dug a hole at the start of their day, but crawled out and fought back like never before while the Russians shoveled their own hole deeper and deeper without bothering to bring a ladder. The little fight we did see – poor little Tutkhalyan really did look so upset with herself and you could tell she wanted to make things right on floor – just wasn’t enough to fix what they’d broken.

Talent only takes you so far, which is why the team that should have won silver was left in the dust. Without Mustafina in the picture to handle the grunt work in the way she was forced to do in 2014, I really believed the others would pick up the pace. After qualifications, I was thrilled to see them really take on that responsibility with pride, which is why it was doubly disappointing to watch them keep their cool while floundering just days later. It wasn’t so much their performance that made me mad, but rather how they responded to it. Instead of their meager finishes in the past couple of years lighting a fire under this incredible team, just the opposite is happening, and it’s depressing to watch.

But for everything that can be said about Russia’s lack of fight this year, the opposite is true for the women of Great Britain, who proved that sometimes a little bit of fight is all you need to stand up to the big kids on the playground and make history while doing it. If anything, Russia should go back and rewatch the final this year not to see what they did wrong, but to see what the Brits did right. An epic comeback next year will lie not in their talent or big skills or impressive routines, but rather in the heart and fire they put into their performance. Great Britain didn’t get the bronze just because Russia fell. They won the bronze because they fought from start to finish and had that extra fire that separates the champions from everyone else.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

10 thoughts on “Great Britain’s Entry into the Big Four

  1. I’m ecstatic that Britain finally pulled the medal off. I’ve been waiting for this moment for nearly a full quad now. With that said, I really hesitate to sit up and declare that the Big Four is broken now (or even that it’s the Big Five); the history of those four teams as the dominant powers in WAG goes back as far as the 1980s, and until we’ve had a few more years of results to prove this wasn’t a one time thing like Australia in ’03, I’m not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon. (But I hope it is – more competition and a wider field with a shot at the medals will be great for the sport, though I would prefer it came more from the new faces continuing to improve and less from Russia and Romania finishing their currently-underway implosion and leaving the door open)

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  2. I am so happy about this medal – these girls (AND the guys, possibly more so!) are completely great. I have to also say that taking nothing away from their awesome performances, they are lucky to be GB gymnasts at the present time.

    Their success is in part the result of a few years of unprecedented investment in the sport which, probably rather like Australia in 03 actually, is part of a programme which started as an investment plan for the home Olympics, to ensure that there would be home grown talent who could compete internationally.

    The grassroots programme has gone really well, with juniors coming through, and there seem to be real hopes that this is the beginning of something real, with structures now in better shape than they used to be, and the right support for he gymnasts. I just hope that the investment doesn’t disappear and that this is the future, not a blip! 🙂

    I don’t mean this to be a negative post saying it’s all about money – but I believe it does have something to do with it in this case.

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  3. Lauren, I’ve been an avid reader of your blog (both this and your personal) for years and this was not a blog about GB. This was another one about Russia. I get the Russia was part of the story with GB but legitimately had to scroll back up to see if I had opened the wrong story. I wish you would have done GB a little more justice than this.

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    • This was actually a blog about GB *and* Russia. It was meant to tell the story of why one got bronze over the other, and wasn’t dedicated to either of the countries. It was about how Russia should have been the bronze medalists, but failed at making this happen because of their lack of commitment, which is exactly what the British gymnasts showed they had – commitment, fight, passion, and heart. This wasn’t “another” blog about Russia – it was the only one. The only teams I’ve discussed in blogs of their own have been the U.S. and China. Because bronze truly was a fight between GB and Russia, I felt the story of bronze was better told with both teams in the story rather than just one or the other. The title is related to GB because they were the ones to get the bronze, but the story is about both teams and why one prevailed but the other didn’t. The excerpt on the front page mentions that it’s about both teams and their fight to the podium. My goal was to talk about each team in context of the other…the Russians who *should* have made it but couldn’t pull it off, and the Brits who weren’t expected to get on the podium but pulled through because they had everything Russia lacked, despite being the weaker of the two.

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        • I appreciate your feedback but as I said, the article wasn’t about GB. It was about the fight for bronze between two countries. GB factored into the fight as did Russia, which is why the article was about both teams. Had the article been about GB and I spoke only of Russia, your feedback would make sense.

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      • I only provided that feedback because you have a post completely devoted to USA and completely devoted to China. This one seemed like it was going to be completely devoted to GB by the title and the other two posts dedicated to the other medal winners. It’s 100% your blog. Your content. And I understand that completely. The title is misleading. I guess that really should have been my point here because I get the GB bronze doesn’t happen w/o Russia falling apart. But from your other two posts, I was expecting a more in depth analysis of GB and not of the two. I guess I just wanted to clarify a little bit further but I’ll drop this now since it’s one blog post and not even that big of a deal.

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  4. I’m sorry but I have to agree with Vanessa! I love reading your blogs but this one I got very frustrated about! GB clearly trained harder &were better prepared than Russia & totally deserved this medal so not too sure why you kept referring back to Russia & trying to work out how they lost the medal??!!

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    • Because as I’ve mentioned, the article was about BOTH teams, not just one or the other. At the end of the day, Russia is the stronger team. Had both teams hit all events, Russia would’ve defeated GB by at least two points. GB and Russia trained equally hard and both were prepared; Russia in qualifications actually looked much more prepared than GB. But Russia didn’t come into the team final at their best and GB did. Russia still could’ve defeated GB with multiple falls, but they didn’t and that was a testament to GB’s passion and determination. Had this article been solely about GB and I kept referring to Russia, then yes, talking about Russia would’ve been misplaced but this article wasn’t about one particular team. It was about the fight for the bronze medal between two teams.

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  5. I’m not sure why people are surprised this article is about both Russia and GB. Last year it was between Romania and Russia for the bronze fight. This time it was GB and Russia. The other two articles was only about USA and China because no one else was close to them. USA is in their own world and China was something like 3-4 points ahead of where GB and Russia was so even if they fell on their last 3 routines, they still would have gotten bronze. GB was great but there needs to be talk of both and why they were able to make their way into the medals.

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