Italian Team Will “Go Big or Go Home”

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After two days of competition at this weekend’s national championships, Italy has finally named its Olympic team, which includes Carlotta Ferlito, Vanessa Ferrari, Erika Fasana, Elisa Meneghini, and Martina Rizzelli with Lara Mori as the alternate.

The decision came as no surprise to many, as this is the team with the maximum potential in terms of d-scores, though there was actually a bit of doubt about the fifth spot. The spot was between Meneghini and Mori, with the former ahead in terms of difficulty while the latter has the edge in terms of consistency, but eventually Meneghini won the spot and will travel to Rio.

The Italian national team director Enrico Casella explained his choice following event finals, stating that Italy had two main options with this year’s team. They could follow a safer route, taking no risks to ensure a good placement at the Games, or opting to take the risks and throw all of the difficult skills even if it meant there might be more mistakes.

Adopting a “go big or go home” mindset is what Casella went for, stating that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if Italy finishes seventh or 12th. It’s obvious that Italy doesn’t have a realistic shot at a team medal, and he doesn’t want the girls held back from potential individual finals just to seal a qualification to the team final. Their main purpose is to make as many finals as possible, no matter how hard or unlikely it is.

From this point of view, Meneghini is the right choice for the team, as she can provide a huge d-score on beam as well as solid d-scores on both vault and floor. And although she often falls on beam, she is in a similar situation to Russia’s Seda Tutkhalyan, where her difficulty is so great she can earn scores in the high 13s even with a fall, which could still be higher than a hit routine from one of her teammates.

Mori still deserves an acknowledgement for her credits. She’s worked a lot, even struggling with several injuries, in order to be selected for the Olympic team, but at least the alternate spot is her consolation prize. She will train with the team in the coming days, but will not travel to Rio, as the Italian federation finds it pointless and expensive. An alternate can’t stay in the Olympic Village nor train with the team, so she would need an additional coach and a gym in Brazil. Consequently, Italy – as many other teams do – prefers to rely on a built-in reserve in case of injuries.

Ferrari sealed her third Olympic berth with her seventh Italian national all-around title, scoring a 57.65 without bonuses. She has her DTY back on vault, where she earned a 14.8. On bars, she hit a giant half to giant full to piked Jaeger, Healy to straddled Jaeger, bail to toe shoot, and a full-in for a 13.8. She also upgraded her beam with a bhs bhs tuck full combo, earning a 14.75.

On floor, she surprised the audience with a change of music. She decided to bring back her “Nessun Dorma” music, with which she won her world all-around title in 2006 (though the cut is the one she had in 2008) to bring her career full circle, as Rio will probably be her last competition before retirement. She has her Silivas back (though landed out-of-bounds), in addition to a solid double layout, full-in (stuck!), and a double pike. She also attempted a Memmel but didn’t complete the second rotation.

Since her tendinitis continues to cause her great pain, which has increased after her performance in Anadia last month, she opted to scratch floor in the event finals, thus performing only on bars and beam. While she improved her score on the former (14.2 with a 5.8 d-score) to earn the silver medal, she fell on her tuck full on beam, and then had issues with her switch half, earning a 13.25.

Ferlito had one of the best all-around performances of her whole career, posting a 57.1 to earn the silver medal. On vault, she delivered a solid Yurchenko 1.5, though she was a bit tucked in the second rotation, to earn a 14.5, while on bars she scored a 13.8, replacing her usual double arabian dismount with a full-in.

She was mostly solid on beam, performing a front aerial to sheep jump (with a slow connection), bhs bhs layout, switch to back tuck (with a small adjustment after the leap), full turn to split jump, sissone to side aerial (she was a bit off, but saved it pretty well), a switch ring leap, and then, despite the scary fall she suffered in Jesolo, she hit a double pike dismount stuck cold, earning a 14.55 (5.8 d-score, a bit lower than usual due to the missed connection and possibly a devalued layout). On floor, she finally performed her new double layout upgrade, which looked good, though went out-of-bounds with a step back. The routine also included a full-in, Memmel turn, and a double pike for a 14.25.

On Sunday, Ferlito scratched from the bars and floor finals, opting to rest her body as much as possible, but she couldn’t miss the beam final – her pet event – where she took home her fourth Italian title, tied with Meneghini. Her performance was solid again, except for a big balance check on the landing of her layout, though she was able to save it. She also had a step back on her double pike landing, though she still managed to score a 14.4 (6.0 d-score).

Fasana showed strong performances on both days, despite a minor elbow injury that held her back in the week leading up to the competition. In order to not stress the injury, she kept her focus on beam and floor. On the former, she delivered a switch to back tuck, L turn, full turn, and Y turn, aiming to connect them all in the future to join the exclusive Wevers beam spin club. She also had a switch half (not at 180 degrees), front aerial to split jump to wolf jump, and a double pike with a couple of steps back, scoring a 13.85.

She continued on floor without her most difficult tumbling, opting to open with a double layout and then hit a full-in, Memmel, Ferrari, and double pike, earning a 14.35 (5.8 d-score). She wasn’t clean on her landings in event finals, earning a 13.95, worth a bronze medal in event finals. After the meet was over, she said she’s playing it safe for the moment in order to be in her best shape in time for Rio. She said she’s also training her full difficulty on floor, meaning her floor passes will be upgraded at the Games.

Rizzelli competed on every event but beam, without major issues throughout the two days. Her DTY on vault is still a bit messy (she usually has a significant leg separation on her block, and her twisting form isn’t the cleanest), though she still managed to score a 14.6. On bars, she hit her 6.2 d-score routine that included a Ricna to pak, Maloney to bail to stalder full to Ray, and a stuck full-in dismount, worth a 14.55. She also performed on floor for the first time after her injury (a broken foot), suffered prior to 2015 worlds. She hit an almost-stuck double layout, a full-in with a step, a Memmel, a double tuck, and a double pike with a deep landing but hit nonetheless, for a 13.65 (5.7 d-score).

In the event finals, she won the Italian bars title scoring a 14.45 and earned the silver medal on vault with a 14.1 average. With such a solid and difficult bars routine, in addition to her DTY, she was a shoo-in for a spot on the Olympic team, as Italy needs to maximize its potential on its weakest event.

Meneghini had a solid competition overall, aside from a fall on bars on day two (though she wouldn’t be used on this event in Rio anyway) and a fall on beam on day one. She doesn’t have the best hitting rate on the latter, especially on her layout full, though her huge d-score she can reach when she hits every connection – a potential 6.3 – couldn’t be overlooked for the team selection.

Aside from the layout fall, this routine included a double turn with a tiny wobble, straddle 1/4, side aerial, sissone to wolf jump, side somi, switch to back tuck (leg up), front aerial to split jump, and a double pike with a big step back for a 13.5. She hit her bars routine to earn a 13.7 (5.4 d-score) and scored a 14.4 for her Yurchenko 1.5 on vault, landed with a step forward.

She also didn’t have major issues on floor, delivering a stuck double layout, full-in with a hop, whip whip double tuck (one foot out-of-bounds), and a double pike with her chest low and a step forward, for a 14.05 (5.7 d-score). On day two, she finally hit her layout full on beam as well as the rest of her routine, though her double turn wasn’t credited. Nevertheless, the routine was worth a 14.3, placing first in a tie with Ferlito for the title (though notice without the domestic bonus, Meneghini would’ve placed second). She also took home the floor title with a 14.25.

Mori had a good competition overall, aside from a significant mishap on bars in the all-around, earning just a 12.05 (4.8 d-score). She showed her best work on beam, with a routine that included a switch to back tuck, Y turn (wobble), bhs loso loso, switch half (not at 180), side aerial, split to wolf jump, switch ring leap (low rear leg), and a 2.5 dismount, earning a 14.25 (5.8 d-score). On vault, she earned a 14.0 for her FTY, while on floor she scored a 13.8, delivering a full-in (hop), Memmel to illusion turn, a stuck triple full, a double tuck (low chest), and a double pike. In the event finals, she earned the bronze medal on beam with a routine worth 14.1.

Among the event finals medalists, there were two juniors, Giorgia Villa and Asia D’Amato, who respectively won the silver medal on floor (13.9, 5.5 d-score) and the national title on vault (14.65 average, including a 15.0 for her great DTY). Both of these young girls look very promising and will be a key part of the Italian program looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Article by Valeria Violi

10 thoughts on “Italian Team Will “Go Big or Go Home”

  1. I get what Casella is saying, but does it really make no difference to the Italian team whether they make TF or not? Seems an odd notion to me. I would have thought the gymnasts themselves would by far prefer to qualify into TF than otherwise! This isn’t me criticising Meneghini’s placement on the team, I just thinking coming 7th is a lot better than being 12th. Making TF is nothing to slouch at with the level of competition for some of the spots.

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    • On the one hand, you’re right, qualifying would actually matter, because it would be a statement of the program’s high level worldwide (and this might brought more fundings for the federation I suppose, though I’m not so sure). And yet, it’s also true that a placement isn’t a medal. In Italy, just the gymfans would know that coming in 7th or more would be a great result for the team, whereas the media would completely overlook it. We, as fans, know that placing 7th in London was the best result ever for the Italian team at the Olympics, but the media didn’t report it. Consequently, it’s possible that the federation wouldn’t receive a single euro for a good placement either. In case you aren’t Italian, believe me, you have no idea of what a boost would it be for the Italian program if one of the girls could grab a medal, so from this perspective it makes sense to “gamble” on Meneghini’s beam rather than opting for Mori’s not-as-difficult routines. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the minor sports in my country, with few fundings, few sponsors and almost no media coverage.
      Then, it’s obvious that the girls will try to qualify, that’s one of their aims in Rio. The point is that Casella doesn’t want them to hold back anything just to secure a spot, which actually wouldn’t be guaranteed with hit but basic routines either, especially if teams like Japan, Germany, France, Brazil, the Netherlands and Canada hit their full difficulties. In my opinion, playing it safe wouldn’t guarantee a spot in the final, so it would be better to try even the risky skills.
      Moreover, Casella has many times stressed out with the girls the need to raise their d-scores throughout this quad, because the team couldn’t rely forever on execution and hit routines. It’s coherent with the decision of rewarding bonus scores for the difficult skills in domestic meets. From this point of view, it would be contradictory to ask the girls to take out the difficult skills in Rio just to be sure to hit, because then why have they worked so hard to include those skills in their routines for years? He’s raising the bar, and he’s also trying to teach them a sort of fearless competition mindset. He actually didn’t mean to underestimate the level of the competition nor the value of a good placement outcome, that isn’t his point; he just want the girls to be brave and give it all in Rio, with no regrets if there are mistakes. The growth of the program relies on the improvement of the level of skills performed, so I understand his point. Though, I see that maybe the translation could sound a bit harsh, actually in Italian it was clear to me that he just meant to motivate the girls to do their best and keep their heads up if they don’t make the TF.

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  2. I didn’t disagree with Meneghini’s placement on the team. I actually do think it makes sense to go all out. I just thought it was a bit of a funny statement. I know he didn’t mean they wouldn’t pleased to be in the TF rather than not as well.

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  3. Not sure if Lauren is reading this, but are you planning to do a preview of the Olympics at all? I would be very curious to get your take about favorites in each event to medal, and also which teams are likely to make team finals. It seems there are many strengths to just about every team competing, so I would love some insight into which strengths are likely to win out. You’re just very smart at all of this, but if you’re too busy obviously we would understand. Don’t expect it, but hopeful!

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  4. This is totally unrelated but i didn’t know where else to ask you, when is your next book coming out? I’m dying to read it!!!
    And of course, thank you for all your amazing articles and for giving coverage of less known teams, i think you write more about the italian team than all the italian media put together, and for sure your content is more valuable.

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