Following today’s men’s competition at the 2016 Olympic Test Event – where Germany, Ukraine, the Netherlands, and France qualified to this summer’s Olympic Games – the women will take the stage during four subdivisions tomorrow to determine the final four squads returning in August.
The host team Brazil is coming into this meet as the team on fire, and should definitely impress in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. With veterans Daniele Hypolito and Jade Barbosa leading the way ahead of a super-talented young group that includes Flavia Saraiva, Rebeca Andrade, Lorrane Oliveira, and Carolyne Pedro, the Brazilians have a super well-balanced group with the potential to not only outscore the rest of the teams here, but also to challenge for a team finals spot at the Games.
Competing in the second subdivision, Brazil will start on beam, the event they ended on at the test event in London four years ago. Hypolito, who hasn’t had the strongest start to her year with a few misses earlier on, will provide set-up routines on all but bars, normally a weak event for Brazil, though Andrade has quite the set this year and should cap off their day with a stellar set to make the crowd go crazy.
In addition to Brazil, the Germans are also looking superb, especially now that Tabea Alt and Pauline Schäfer are back from minor injuries that limited them early this season. I was actually on the bus back to the hotel with the team this afternoon, and while the mood was quiet and somber for others, the Germans were loud and giggly, having a great time after a session in the training hall, which could bode well for them tomorrow.
In addition to Alt and Schäfer, the Germans have Leah Griesser, Pauline Tratz, Sophie Scheder, and Elisabeth Seitz on hand, all of whom have done great work so far this spring, with Scheder winning the Stuttgart all-around world cup title while Seitz placed second after her world cup performance in Glasgow. Griesser has reportedly been struggling a little this week, so she’s out of the beam rotation and they’re likely hoping to drop Tratz’s score there, but otherwise it’s a great group. They do have the misfortune of starting on beam, which can be a bit nerve-wracking, though they can afford a mistake and ending on bars could be great for them, given the relatively stacked line-up they boast there.
Belgium and France are my favorites to secure the final two team spots, even with the recent injuries that tousled the line-ups. When Nina Derwael, the most promising senior gymnast Belgium has seen in years, injured her hand in training nearly a month ago I didn’t think the team could do it without her, but thankfully they had a whole crew full of strong reserves. Fellow new senior Senna Deriks will step up to the plate on bars, and has been putting up big numbers internationally this year, and Julie Croket – who earned a spot at the 2012 Olympics but had to withdraw due to injury – was also added to the roster on all four events despite not initially even being named alternate (she replaces Cindy Vandenhole who struggled at Belgium’s friendly meet earlier this month).
Two-time worlds finalist Laura Waem, 2015 worlds all-around finalist Rune Hermans, standout first-year senior Axelle Klinckaert, and two-time Olympian Gaelle Mys round out the field, and the women start their day on vault, which could definitely benefit them. They have a host of beautiful FTYs, are reliable enough on bars, and really stand out with gorgeous choreography on floor. Beam can be worrisome, especially if they all decide to fall on the same day, which has happened before…but most of their rivals here in Rio have problems of their own, so while they can’t necessarily afford bigger mistakes, they’re not totally done if something happens.
The same can be said of France, in the fourth rotation along with their neighbors to the east just to make things interesting. They do start on beam, which is definitely scary, but they’ve added the phenomenal Marine Boyer to their senior ranks this year, which means nearly a 15 if she hits her super complex routine. In addition to Boyer, they’ll have Louise Vanhille, Loan His, Marine Brevet, Anne Kuhm, and Oreane Lechenault.
Lechenault is a last-minute addition to the team after an injury to vaulter Camille Bahl, and she’s definitely feeling the pressure. She was actually looking like she’d make the team for real, but nerves made her a risky option, as she was struggling to hit her routines in training leading up to the competition. But with Bahl out, they have no other option. Lechenault is good on bars and her floor is creepily gorgeous, even if it is a bit light on the difficulty. Her teammates generally perform quite well, so hopefully their experience will carry her through.
These are my four favorites when it comes to making it to the Games, and yes, I’m aware you’re likely curious as to why I didn’t include Romania. Basically the above teams are coming in the most prepared, even with any setbacks, and can field mostly strong line-ups on each event. Romania…can’t.
Romania is dealing with two major injury losses in Larisa Iordache and Laura Jurca, and the team they have here in Rio is barely holding on, with Ana Maria Ocolisan and Catalina Ponor both literally just getting over injuries of their own and Maria Holbura and Dora Vulcan coming in with almost no experience. Silvia Zarzu and Diana Bulimar are the other two who will compete, and both are looking okay at the moment, though with Ponor on the team, the team will need to put up Zarzu on bars – their first event – which is almost like not fielding a full rotation, given that she typically scores in the 10-11 range, though she has been known to get in the 12s at home on a good day.
With bars, even if they do put up four scores in the 13s, they’d have a tough time at making it in if only because they lose SO much on this event compared to other teams and with a weaker team overall, they can’t really make it up like they could if they had Iordache or Jurca on the roster. Sure, Ponor can get a mid-14 on beam and Bulimar should touch the 14s on beam and floor if she hits, but that’s about it. Ocolisan is still so newly back from injury, she has zero competitive experience since last summer and it’s unclear what amount of difficulty she’s been able to bring back, and both Vulcan and Holbura have extremely low difficulty (though I do enjoy Vulcan on bars). Zarzu has a DTY, but it sometimes gets FTY-esque scores, and while she’s great on floor, she lacks the execution to make it a standout routine.
Overall, the problems with Romania aren’t something I feel comfortable saying wouldn’t exist had Iordache not been injured. It’s not her fault that this program has been run into the ground over the past decade and has only short-term solutions when what they really need is a better developmental program. But losing Iordache’s scores certainly hurt, especially as so many of the teams here could potentially be very close, so the extra points she could’ve added really would have made a difference. Add the loss of Jurca’s steady hand, and you have a team that realistically will not be a frontrunner.
That said, I love an underdog (who in a million years would’ve ever thought I’d be calling Romania an underdog?!) and I love their attitude throughout this whole trying process. Their self-invented hashtag is hilarious, Ponor is taking on a whole new motivational mama bear role (even more so than before), and they clearly really want this. If they get it, and if they make it to August with a fully-functioning team, they become a podium threat, so it’s crazy to be sitting here now debating whether they’ll get to the Games at all…but with such a lack of depth, that’s where we stand. I would love to see a renaissance from this program tomorrow morning, but with so many tears in the fabric, I’m going to expect at least a few mistakes, and hope for no major meltdowns. They also have the misfortune of starting on their worst event and going up in the first subdivision, meaning they’ll have nearly twelve hours of nail-biting before finding out their fate. It’s not going to be an easy day for these ladies, but I hope their team spirit shines through and they enjoy the experience, even if it doesn’t work out in their favor. They certainly are fighters.
The other early morning session team is Australia, which is in a similar – nearly identical, actually – predicament with injured top athletes (Mary-Anne Monckton, Georgia Godwin) as well as a fledgling developmental program that had lots of promise for this quad but didn’t exactly deliver. The team crashed and burned on bars at the Pacific Rim Championships last week, but the benefit of sending their full team to both that event and this means they can figure out what went wrong and play around with it, hoping to improve on their mistakes here in Rio.
With 2012 Olympians Larrissa Miller and Emily Little headlining the field, the team has a solid foundation, and Georgia-Rose Brown and Kiara Munteanu also come in with some great experience (even though they don’t always have the competitions they hope for). Munteanu was actually originally the alternate, but replaced an injured Emily Whitehead last weekend and ended up looking better than anyone, so hopefully the memory of her excellent meet will carry over to this one.
Emma Nedov and Rianna Mizzen are the other two on this team, and both have tremendous potential – Nedov on beam and Mizzen on bars – but still need to prove that they can be dependable options, as both struggled at Pac Rims.
I do think Brazil and Germany are all but locks unless they have major meltdowns, so like fellow borderline program Romania, Australia is likely going to rely on mistakes from Belgium and France in addition to hitting at their best if they want to get in, because they’re somewhat lacking in difficulty compared to the other programs. Missing out on Rio isn’t a done deal yet, and I don’t want to count them out, but it’s definitely going to take some big heroic moments similar to Brazil’s in 2012 to make it in.
In the way Brazil and Germany are clearly leading the pack, I don’t have much hope for Switzerland or South Korea. Switzerland will get great work from Giulia Steingruber, who actually has a pretty solid chance at winning the all-around, but the rest of her team is a bit weak in comparison, with Ilaria Käslin and Caterina Barloggio capable of some good scores on their pet events, but the rest – Stefanie Siegenthaler, Laura Schulte, and new senior Thea Brogli – just don’t have the difficulty to match other programs.
South Korea is missing some of their top performers, including Heo Seon Mi, who was a couple of spots away from making it into the all-around final at worlds last year. It’s a young and highly inexperienced team comprised fully of gymnasts competing in their first quad. A couple have been to worlds, but for the most part, unless a lot has changed between October and today, it’s just not a very strong group and they’ve also been looking a little off in training. You never know what could happen in a sport like gymnastics, but I just don’t see them making major waves here.
Outside of teams, there should be about 34 or 35 spots open for about 37 individual competitors, so the odds of getting to the Games are pretty good. Teams that don’t qualify full teams will get one non-nominative individual spot apiece (meaning the spot belongs to the country, not the gymnast) whereas individuals earn their spots for themselves, and if they have to forfeit their spot for whatever reason, the FIG gives it to whoever’s next on the reserve list.
Most notably absent since the start of the week is Elisa Hämmerle of Austria, who suffered an Achilles injury. Her teammate and reigning back-to-back national champion Lisa Ecker should qualify no problem, but Jasmin Mader has arrived to take Hämmerle’s spot just in case. There’s also yet another drama with Trinidad & Tobago replacing Thema Williams early this morning. She was reportedly not doing well on her ankle in training last night, falling six times and skipping out on her final event because she could no longer handle the hard surface landings, so the T&T federation made an executive emergency decision this morning to fly Marisa Dick in and give her the spot. Not only does it suck for Williams – who was willing to risk her ankle if it meant finally getting to go to the Olympics after missing out last quad – but it also is kind of a pain for Dick, who missed out not only on podium training but also on all training gym sessions and won’t have her coach with her, so she’s kind of going in blind. Coach John Geddert is attempting to work both with the federation and with legal counsel to reinstate Williams as the country’s competitor, with emails flying back and forth today, but it’s unclear as to whether this can happen, as final line-ups were due earlier today.
It’s hard to say who will be the gymnasts that won’t make it in, because while Dipa Karmakar of India and Catalina Escobar of Colombia are coming in as reserves following North Korea’s withdrawal, you never know – Escobar, her country’s strongest, missed out on worlds last year and absolutely has a chance at qualifying, while those who did qualify directly to this event could have a rough day. So instead of making predictions as to which handful I think won’t make it, I’ll share who in each subdivision is my favorite to get in.
The first subdivision has the Hungarians Noemi Makra and first-year senior Zsofia Kovacs, who has a super powerful DTY and a great all-around set, essentially coming in at the last minute to snag the spot from Dorina Boczogo, who was looking good to make her third Olympic team for the majority of this quad. Poland has a similar story, with favorite Marta Pihan-Kulesza sitting out after a rough start to her year while Gabriela Janik (she has a fabulous vault) and Katarzyna Jurkowska (her beam is to die for) compete instead.
For Croatia, Ana Derek is in, though she’s only been doing bars and beam so far this year and hasn’t had the easiest time with either…but her floor is a fan favorite and a must-watch. China also has two first-year seniors in the mix, including Gong Kangyi and Zhang Jin, though as China has already qualified a team, they’re here more for the experience.
Finally, Escobar and Karmakar are both in this rotation, as is the “fake Belarusian” Kylie Dickson, who earned the spot over AOGC teammate Alaina Kwan after reportedly upgrading a ton this year. If she hits, Belarus should definitely get the Olympic spot they’ve gone out of their way to attempt to secure over the past year.
Subdivision two has a massive rotation featuring Marina Nekrasova of Azerbaijan, Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia, Angelina Kysla of Ukraine, Farah Ann Abdul Hadi of Malaysia, Jessica Lopez of Venezuela, Ailen Valente of Argentina, and Houry Gebeshian of Armenia. All of these women have a lot to bring to the table, and from what I’ve seen in training and in earlier competitions this season, are looking good, though Abdul Hadi did struggle a bit at a couple of meets.
There’s also a rotation with Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, going for her seventh Olympic Games. She needs to compete all four events here, as only all-arounders can qualify as individuals, but so far this year she’s looked great in the all-around and is capable of scores in the low to mid 50s when she hits, which bodes well for this field. She’ll compete alongside the Greek women Vasiliki Millousi and Argyro Afrati, with Millousi expected to earn the spot, though Afrati did great work in Doha to make nearly every final at this year’s challenge cup.
This rotation also includes the British gymnasts Becky Downie and Gabby Jupp in addition to the Netherlands’ Sanne and Lieke Wevers. None of these three will compete all four events, but are here rather to get more experience on the events that will make them contenders for their respective Olympic teams – bars and beam for the Brits and Sanne, while Lieke will do beam and floor.
Rotation three will see Spanish gymnasts Claudia Colom and Ana Perez, Emma Larsson of Sweden, Marcia Vidiaux of Cuba, Courtney McGregor of New Zealand, Ariana Orrego of Peru, Ana Filipa Martins of Portugal, Ana Sofia Gomez of Guatemala, Simona Castro of Chile, Phan Thi Ha Thanh of Vietnam, and the aforementioned Dick, stepping in at the last second to replace her teammate. For Spain, I think Perez is the strongest all-arounder and should get in, though I love Colom on bars and floor…and the rest all have great work to offer. McGregor has shown so much growth this quad, Martins has been a mainstay with some excellent work, Gomez has been going strong now for two quads and brings a bit more maturity and experience than she did in 2012, Phan should be back from some injuries that limited her at last year’s worlds, Vidiaux vaulted onto the scene last year with huge difficulty to shock the world after literally no one had ever heard of her, and Larson, Castro, and Orrego continue to get better each time I see them. There’s not one in this mix that I don’t consider a true contender.
Finally, there are a couple of “just here for the practice” gymnasts in subdivision four, including Canadians Isabela Onyshko and Victoria-Kayen Woo as well as Italians Giorgia Campana and Lara Mori. Onyshko doesn’t necessarily have anything to prove, as she’s been one of Canada’s best and most consistent next to Ellie Black so far in 2016, but the rest here are all still working on earning their spots and this competition will act majorly in their favor should they do well.
Those still needing to qualify include vault phenom Teja Belak of Slovenia, Ellis O’Reilly of Ireland, Toni-Ann Williams of Jamaica (who is missing out on Cal’s first NCAA Championships in 24 years to make this dream come true), Irina Sazonova of Iceland (the Russian import has accomplished great things so far for her adoptive country), Mexican gymnasts Alexa Moreno and Ana Lago (they’re both pretty equal contenders, so this one could definitely go either way), the Austrians Ecker and Mader, and then Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey, who stands out with her big difficulty on beam and floor but never manages to be quite consistent enough to hit either as well as she’d like. Farah Boufadene of Algeria is also in this subdivision, but will compete only on beam. Because of the universality clause stating that all continents must be represented by at least two gymnasts, Boufadene is an automatic Olympic qualifier who secured her spot at worlds.
We’ll be reporting live from the arena all day during the four subdivisions, so watch our website for quick hits and updates!
Article by Lauren Hopkins