Since Australia missed out on qualifying a full team to this summer’s Olympic Games, the big question on everyone’s minds has been how the federation could possibly pick just one athlete to represent them. While fans – and likely the decision-makers as well – were hoping this weekend’s national championships would help clear things up, if anything, this meet only showed just how much depth there is, and how impossible this choice is going to be.
2012 Olympians Emily Little and Larrissa Miller remain the top two choices for the Games, though an incredible performance from 16-year-old Rianna Mizzen is shaking things up quite a bit. A year ago, Mizzen was only able to compete on bars, and while she won the event title at nationals, she didn’t have enough to offer the worlds team. In 2016, Mizzen had a fall on bars at Pac Rims, and while she hit that event at the Test Event, she unfortunately went on to fall on beam, their second of the rotation. No one considered her a contender for the sole Olympic Games spot going into nationals. At all.
And yet, what she did in Melbourne made her one. Mizzen became the national all-around champion with a 55.125 total, short of the 55.875 she earned to lead the field in qualifications as well as going on to win the bars gold with a 14.25 after nailing her awesome toe full to Maloney to clear hip to Ray to pak in addition to hitting a van Leeuwen and a stuck full-in. She’s an incredibly clean vaulter with a DTY in her back pocket for the future, and her bars is especially promising, while she currently has passable routines on beam and floor. She did have a little bit of a struggle on floor in the all-around final, though the rest of her day was strong enough to pull her through.
A bit of luck did go into Mizzen’s multiple wins, with all-around favorite Little not strong enough in her return to the uneven bars and then counting a mistake on beam in the all-around final, and then Miller, who was looking to win the bars title by a huge margin, looking a little off in the final, a form break on her stalder full at the end of her routine causing her to hop off twice. Mizzen did a good job to take advantage of these mistakes and to then swoop in as the underdog for both titles, though even though she was so good in her performance, she would not be an international threat for a medal or even a final, and her lack of experience could work against her at such a major event. While you could justify Mizzen as the future of the sport in Australia as the gymnast poised to lead the country over the next quad, others would argue that this year’s Olympics need a well-known face and name who could bring results in an apparatus final or two.
Little and Miller are these names. Despite some iffy routines at this meet, both are capable of big results in Rio, with Little capable of making the all-around and vault finals while Miller could make it in on bars and possibly floor. With her mistakes in the all-around final, Little still managed the bronze medal with a 53.875, and she rocked vault all week long, winning the title with a 15.012 average, getting multiple 15.1+ scores for her DTY and also showing clean work on her tsuk full, which she’s hoping to upgrade before the Games.
With big tumbling on floor, Little managed a silver medal there, hitting a huge full-twisting double layout (landing out-of-bounds), a tucked full-in, a double tuck, and a double pike for a 14.0. She also picked up the silver on beam with a 13.925, performing some of her strongest work of the quad there with her punch front pike, switch to back tuck, front aerial to sissone to wolf jump, bhs layout, and a near-stuck double pike.
So all mistakes aside, I’d say Little had a confident week overall, and I’d say she’s still fully in contention, and the same can be said for Miller. Miller only competes bars and floor, and she’s typically the country’s strongest on both. She actually did a great job bouncing back from her bars falls to win the floor title with a 14.175, performing a huge stuck front layout to double front, a front full to front double full, a double arabian with a hop, and a 2.5. It’s easily the country’s best, and with a little clean-up work, she could sneak into the floor final in Rio the way she did at worlds in 2014.
What she also has going for her is her consistency in getting high scores. Five of her seven bar routines have gone 14.2 or higher, with her best three at 14.65, 14.675, and 14.875, and after crashing her last pass in her debut performance at Pac Rims, she hasn’t missed a mark on floor yet. She’s the kind of gymnast you know will bring it when it counts, as is Little. And with their street cred as 2012 Olympians, the country sending either to this year’s Games would be a bonus.
Speaking of street cred, Little and Miller’s London teammate Lauren Mitchell made a triumphant return this week to throw her name into the mix, and even though she’s not quite at the same level as the rest, her name and popularity in Australia could be enough to make her worthy of the plane ticket. If a medal isn’t really a sure thing for anyone in the mix, it technically doesn’t matter who goes, which is why Mitchell could be a politically attractive option.
Mitchell didn’t have the greatest meet in qualifications, earning a 12.4 on beam after a fall on her flight series and a 13.725 on floor. Her beam included her eponymous triple wolf turn as well as the 2.5 version known as a Humphrey turn, but otherwise had some short jumps and a balked dismount, looking a bit questionable overall. Floor was better, with a piked full-in, a double tuck, and a double pike looking solid if not exactly thrilling.
Her beam looked much better the rest of the week, earning a 13.625 in the all-around final and then a 14.025 in the apparatus final to win gold. The routine she showed there was out of a huge 6.2 d-score, and she hit everything, including her bhs bhs layout flight series and a good double tuck dismount, though some leaps were again short and she botched her wolf turns a bit. Considering she’s back from her millionth injury of the quad, it really wasn’t a bad effort, and given the bananas beam finals we’ve seen throughout this quad, with some clean-up work it could be a finals-worthy routine. She’ll only have about a month to get it under control, but crazier things have happened. She also hit her floor routine again in finals, though it’s definitely a much weaker routine than beam.
These four are definitely the four who will be in contention this summer, though there were others with solid efforts this week, including international regulars like Georgia-Rose Brown, Kiara Munteanu, Georgia Godwin, Emma Nedov, Madelaine Leydin, Alexandra Eade, and Emily Whitehead. Olivia Vivian also returned, though her difficulty was a bit weak and she had a horrifying fall on bars in the all-around final, catching her ankles on the bar during her piked Jaeger to fall backwards and land right on her head and neck (thankfully, you could see she did a fantastic job of bracing with her arms before her head hit the mat, cushioning the blow a bit, and she was mostly fine, later remarking to the press that she was sorry if she made anyone need a change of underpants).
Brown had a great week with the silver all-around medal after one of her best overall performances for a 55.075 total, and she went on to place fourth on floor as well as fifth on both bars and beam, all hit routines. Whitehead, who was injured while training for Pac Rims, was able to return on bars and did a fantastic job to win the silver apparatus medal with a 13.775 for her solid routine, while Godwin got bronze there with a 13.625 in addition to placing fifth all-around with a 52.1.
While Nedov looked like she might be one to watch in the race for Rio after an immense 14.9 beam routine and a 54.9 all-around in qualifications, she didn’t manage to repeat that success later in the week, placing eighth all-around with a 50.975 after a disastrous floor, though she came back with a mostly solid beam routine in event finals to win bronze with a 13.8. The routine was on its way to winning gold, but a botched full turn wasn’t credited in her d-score, dropping her to a 5.5 down from her usual 6.0 to put her about two tenths behind the gold medalist rather than three tenths ahead of everyone else to win the title.
Munteanu placed fourth all-around with a 52.95 in addition to capturing vault silver with a 13.912, placing fourth on bars, and finishing seventh on beam. Darcy Norman was sixth all-around with a 51.35 and Yasmin Collier was seventh with a 51.2, and then down in ninth behind Nedov was Madelaine Leydin with a 50.575 after some bumps and bruises on bars and beam.
For those who didn’t compete all four events, Eade showed her strongest overall work in qualifications with great performances on vault (14.275), beam (13.5), and floor (13.55), and then went on to place fourth in the beam final with a 13.6 and fifth on floor with a 13.4 for her effortlessly powerful tumbling. Naomi Lee also needs a shoutout for her fantastic Yurchenko 1.5 on vault. She likely would’ve gotten the silver medal there rather than the bronze, but her second vault had a fall and she finished with a 13.612, three tenths behind Munteanu.
With so much depth shown at nationals and no clear frontrunner for the individual spot, the lack of a full team at the Olympic Games is all the more gut-wrenching. In my mind, the choice should still be between Miller and Little, but I can see why Mizzen would make a great representative and could understand the decision behind Mitchell as well. I’m awed at the amount of talent the senior women’s program has, and I don’t envy the selection committee right now, as they currently have the most difficult job in all of gymnastics.
For a quick aside about the junior competition, Talia Folino and Jade Vella-Wright ran the show there. Folino was ahead of the all-around field in qualifications with a 52.6, while Vella-Wright’s mistakes on bars pushed her to third with a 48.65. Vella-Wright came back strong in the final, however, posting a 50.725 to surprise for the title after an especially excellent floor set, while Folino was close behind in second with a 50.475, showing rough performances on beam and floor. Eadie Rawson, meanwhile, was the bronze medalist with a 50.175.
Folino and Vella-Wright also went back and forth in event finals, with Folino getting gold on vault (13.062) and bars (12.15 with a fall) while Vella-Wright won gold on beam (13.225) and floor (13.525 with a super promising routine). Folino took beam bronze (12.875) with a fall on her super difficult routine and floor silver (13.225) and Vella-Wright, who didn’t compete in vault finals, got an 11.075 with falls on bars to get bronze there.
Rounding things up, Cassidy Ercole won vault silver (12.85), Elly Bayes won vault bronze (12.262), Lily Gresele won bars silver (11.1 for a hit but easy routine), Shannon Farrell won beam silver (12.95), and Rawson won floor bronze (12.725).
Full results from this year’s Australian Championships are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins