Rifda Irfanalufthi wasn’t a name even the most savvy of elite gym fans knew until last summer.
The Indonesian gymnast, born and raised in Jakarta where she still trains today, became a senior in 2015. She had an under-the-radar debut at the World Challenge Cup in Doha where she didn’t make it past qualifications with scores somewhere in the low 11 range. Prior to this, Rifda didn’t have experience beyond domestic competitions, which she always dominated thanks to her polish and style, though the international elite stage was a different animal and would definitely take some getting used to.
Rifda competing on floor at the National Student Games at 14
Then, at the Southeast Asian Games in June, Rifda became one of the most talked-about gymnasts of the competition, showcasing a knack for beauty, elegance, and artistry on beam and floor. Her difficulty wasn’t through the roof, but she showed such excellence in her performance in addition to fantastic precision in everything she did, it was no surprise when she immediately catapulted her way to the top of everyone’s lists for favorite newcomer of the year.
While low difficulty – especially on bars, her weakest event by a long shot – and some mistakes kept her out of the all-around race (she finished fifth with a 49.6), Rifda left Singapore with the silver medal on floor, a huge accomplishment for the girl from a country with only a handful of gymnasts at the international elite level in program history.
Rifda’s silver medal-winning floor routine in Singapore
Rifda went on to compete at the Asian Championships in Tokyo, performing only her two best events there to get in some practice before worlds. In Tokyo, Rifda made a few mistakes on floor, but still managed to qualify to the beam final, placing sixth behind international notables Fan Yilin and Wang Yan of China, Asuka Teramoto and Sakura Yumoto of Japan, and Phan Thi Ha Thanh of Vietnam.
Firmansyah Wahid, a teacher who has dedicated his life to young athletes in Jakarta and now heads the province’s Department of Youth and Sport, was instrumental in the decision to send Rifda to worlds after she won the all-around title and an additional two event gold medals at Indonesia’s National Student Games in Java in September. “Rifda has so much potential,” Wahid said of the talented girl. “She deserves to be sent to international events.”
And so Rifda and her head coach and choreographer at Persani DKI, Eva Novalina Butar-Batar, set off to Glasgow on October 16, the evening of Rifda’s 16th birthday, with low expectations but big dreams.
“She is still very young and needs more experience, so we don’t expect a medal. But if she is able to win one, it would be outstanding,” Butar-Butar told the press the day before their trip.
Rifda with Firmansyah Wahid and Eva Butar-Butar.
“I’m just very happy to get the chance to try my routines on the world stage,” Rifda said. “I will try not to be nervous, because the other gymnasts [in Glasgow] are world-class flying far above me. But this event will give me important experience for the future.”
In Glasgow, Rifda ended up placing 126th in qualifications, held back a bit by a somewhat nervous performance that put her at a 48.332 all-around. With some messy form on her front tuck half on vault, a fall on her clear hip half on her low-difficulty bar routine, another fall on her flight series on beam, and a couple of stumbles on floor, it wasn’t her best performance, but it also wasn’t bad considering her lack of experience.
Rifda on beam during qualifications at the 2015 World Championships
Unfortunately, Rifda missed qualifying to the Test Event for the 2016 Olympic Games by about two points. It’s always a bit of a bummer to look at the numbers and think “if only,” because “if only” she hadn’t fallen twice and stumbled out of her opening pass on floor, she would’ve been among those headed to Rio this April.
But it’s useless to dwell on the past. While things could’ve been better, so many positives came out of Rifda’s experience in Glasgow. 191 gymnasts competed in the all-around during qualifications, most with considerably more experience than Rifda, and she still nearly made it into the top half. She also stuck her double pike on floor and her front layout full beam dismount cold, was graceful and precise in her dance elements, had a ton of fun with her performances, and left each podium with a big smile on her face, proud to walk away as one of the best gymnasts her country has produced.
By the time the next Olympic Games roll around, Rifda will be 20 years old and will have several opportunities to qualify, thanks to the new rules that make World Cups and Challenge Cups eligible as qualification events. As she continues to gain experience and grow in her skill level and ability, Rifda has incredible potential and should without a doubt cement herself as a gym nerd favorite in the coming quad. We can’t get enough of her style, perseverance, and straight up love for the sport, and can’t wait to see what she can accomplish in the future.
Article by Lauren Hopkins