I want to start out this preview by apologizing for being a bit MIA this week. As many of you know, I started working for NBC’s “The Daily Dismount” as well as for the live stream which has been difficult and time-consuming but AMAZING and I’m loving every second of it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t leave me with much time to write, but our very own Joe Rinaldi should be able to live blog the women’s sessions and my thoughts as always are all over Twitter.
You deserve a women’s preview, however, and so at 1 in the morning, just seven hours before the first subdivision at the Olympic Games, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
In terms of the teams, I’ve already shared most of my thoughts as to how each woman best fits her team on the team announcements, all hosted here. So I won’t use this time to talk about team decisions, but instead I’ll go into what I think each team can make happen at the Games.
Now, it’s pretty clear that the U.S. women are going to come out on top. It was clear prior to podium training, and now that we’ve seen how everyone else looks, it’s even more obvious. China has tons of difficulty, but looks a bit weak at the moment, and I don’t think they’ll see that difficulty translate into high scores, at least if they struggle with consistency and execution the way they have all week. The U.S. team rocked their podium training with nearly flawless sets, and all three all-arounders – Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman – look at their best.
I won’t go super into the whole “why not Laurie Hernandez?!” drama because frankly, it was pretty clear to me after trials that Hernandez was never going to be in the all-around. No matter what broadcasters said, she made the team for beam. She is not quite the bars gymnast people make her out to be, and overall this year has been shaky and tentative on the event, making mistakes on half of her routines and consistently falling in training. It’s not the reliable kind of bars routine Martha Karolyi wants in that lineup, and despite her over-the-top scores at trials, she was never going to be a bars gymnast for this country.
Douglas, meanwhile, has been solidly sitting in second place on that event among those who made this team. They absolutely were going to use her bars in qualifications, which automatically put her in the all-around whether you like it or not. With Madison Kocian sitting out all but bars, the other four must all compete vault, beam, and floor, and so as the second-best bar worker on this team, Douglas automatically gets an all-around spot, even if she proved to be weaker at nationals and trials.
If anything, the final all-around spot was between Hernandez and Raisman, who showed in podium training why the decision came down to Raisman. Frankly, Raisman looks more than ready. Hernandez doesn’t. Whether that’s due to injury or nerves or whatever else might be going on, Raisman was clearly the stronger of the two and has been stronger all summer.
Furthermore, many who want Hernandez in the all-around are basing this on her trials scores and ranking while in the same breath saying Douglas doesn’t deserve to be on the team based on past results. No U.S. Olympic or worlds or even Jesolo lineups are determined by a competition that happened a month earlier. The whole point of an extended training camp followed by the on-site training is to gauge who is most ready when the time comes, and Hernandez showed in podium training that she’s not ready. She looked iffy everywhere but beam, the event she is expected to help out on most, and where I hope she is able to contend for an individual medal. But I fully agree that she shouldn’t be in the all-around, and think that her performance this week showed why.
Again, it’s not like she was getting scores of 61 while Douglas and Raisman were in the 58s. She was getting an inflated mid-60 while Raisman and Douglas on good days were capable of scores in the high 59s. They’re all on the same page, and the decision came down to who looks best when it counts. Unfortunately for Hernandez, trials isn’t when it counts.
Beyond Team USA, I still think the Chinese and Russian teams are capable of coming in as the front runners for silver and bronze. Great Britain is close behind, and then you also have the Canadian, German, and Brazilian teams all super capable of sneaking in as surprise contenders if those two make mistakes, which – as we’ve seen a thousand times before – is more than possible. If all goes according to plan, China and Russia are operating with the greatest overall difficulty behind the United States, and as Russia proved at worlds last year, it took four falls to bring them down behind Great Britain in Glasgow. While not as strong as the 2012 team, on a hit day, they’re capable of scores similar to Russia’s 2012 team final finish where they counted several mistakes, and that’s more than some of the up-and-coming countries can manage on their best days.
But I do think Great Britain, Canada, Germany, and Brazil will end up in the team final. As for the final spot, my gut says Japan, but I could also see Italy sneaking in depending on how everyone performs and whether they let mistakes take them down.
Based on their test event performances, I’m not sure Belgium or France could pull off a team finals spot without mistakes from the other countries, and while the Netherlands made it to the top eight at worlds last year, so many of these teams are SO close in terms of scoring, they’re now in the same situation as their European neighbors. They can thank Germany and Brazil for that, mostly, as both of these countries have ramped up their performance levels in the past year, going from non-team final contenders in 2015 to huge threats in Rio.
The German team is my special favorite, though I do worry about their consistency under pressure. They’ve never once made it to an Olympic team final in the history of their program, always coming close but flubbing things when it matters. But they have their best team ever at the moment, one of the strongest bars fields in the world, and solid lineups covering the bases on all four events, making them a silent but deadly bunch. They also looked fabulous at the test event, where their score would’ve had them in sixth at worlds qualifications last year.
In any case, you should expect things to be close. It’s been the name of the game at most major competitions over the past year, including European Games last year and European Championships this year, both of which saw several teams finish within tenths of one another.
What about on the individual side of things? While the U.S. is the obvious top team contender, I don’t think I have to mention that Biles is best in the all-around and should make that final no problem. The Douglas/Raisman fight will be a close one based on how they looked in training, with the all-around qualification race setting up to be a more exciting competition than the all-around final itself. I have a strong feeling about Raisman this year, but I’ll never count Douglas out. Her podium training was on fire this week and she always brings it when she needs to.
Beyond that, things get interesting. From Russia, you have Angelina Melnikova dealing with a hamstring injury and Aliya Mustafina making big mistakes at the Russian Cup and then in training. If Mustafina taught us anything at Euros, it’s that like Douglas, you shouldn’t judge anything she does until it comes down to the final test. It’s possible we can see her get another all-around medal, which would be a true testament to her ferociousness considering she could barely piece together a floor routine two months ago. But Seda Tutkhalyan could pull off a trick or two and get in as well, especially if she actually hits beam. She had one day at the Russian Cup where almost everything fell into place and it was a phenomenal performance. I wouldn’t count her out.
For China, Shang Chunsong has been sick with the flu and hasn’t been able to train fully. She’s my secret hope for a bronze, but in addition to her illness, she’s of course held back by a weak FTY on vault, which could again be the difference between a medal or none. Wang Yan will also compete the all-around, and like Tutkhalyan, she could show up as a surprise.
My non-big three favorites for top ten all-around spots are Isabela Onyshko and Ellie Black of Canada, Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland, Ellie Downie and Claudia Fragapane of Great Britain, Sophie Scheder and Elisabeth Seitz of Germany, Eythora Thorsdottir of the Netherlands, and Flavia Saraiva, the host country darling who will absolutely become Brazil’s answer to Dominique Moceanu the second she steps out onto the floor. The whole crowd will lose their minds not only because she is adorably charming on floor, but because her beam is STACKED and she’s been killing it there all year, with a potential beam medal absolutely on the table.
Beam is always the most difficult final to predict, because gymnasts who have some of the best routines are always the ones who somehow manage to make mistakes in qualifications. For the U.S., I think Biles and Hernandez will get in, and then I’m also betting on Sanne Wevers, Seda Tutkhalyan, and Shang Chunsong in addition to Saraiva, if they all hit. Catalina Ponor, Romania’s sole competitor, could also get in, as could Germany’s Pauline Schäfer, and then Black and Onyshko as well, with their super difficult sets. I’d also love to see Marine Boyer of France surprise there, as well as Vasiliki Millousi of Greece, who is putting every ounce of her focus into competing just this one event.
For bars, I need a final that includes Becky Downie of Great Britain, Shang and Fan Yilin of China, Daria Spiridonova and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, Madison Kocian of the United States, and the German ladies, Scheder and Seitz. This would be the absolute best final we could ever possibly hope to see in Olympic history and if any of these ladies has an issue in qualifications, I’ll be inconsolable. HOWEVER, Nina Derwael of Belgium recently uploaded a video of her 6.5 bars routine hit PERFECTLY in training, and if she does that in competition, she could knock out any one of these. With her injuries, she hasn’t been as strong as she’s capable of in competition, but a confident routine from her could be huge. As more outside shots, I love Loan His, Louise Vanhille, and Oreane Lechenault of France and Larrissa Miller of Australia.
Vault is insane because you have Biles set to win gold by a million points with her killer Amanar and Cheng combination, something shared by Hong Un Jong of North Korea and Maria Paseka of Russia, though neither of them is capable of matching her in terms of execution. However, if Hong busts out her triple Yurchenko, the difficulty alone could be enough to push her ahead of Biles, which is how she’s bested the American at the past two world championships. I actually wonder if she’ll do the Amanar in qualifications and then save the triple for finals, to ensure she makes it to finals, because in training she’s been landing most of her triples to her knees. But all it takes is one hit, and the adrenaline of competing at the Olympic Games can be all she needs to kill it.
Then we have Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan with a Produnova and Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland, who may or may not reveal a handspring double full, though even if she just does the Rudi, she’ll be in the final for sure. Sae Miyakawa of Japan is also packed with power, as are Alexa Moreno of Mexico, Ellie Downie of Great Britain, Marcia Vidiaux of Canada, Dipa Karmakar of India, and Shallon Olsen of Canada, who attempted an Amanar at podium training but sat it down. It has potential to be one of the craziest vault finals ever with so many big tricks and levels of difficulty never before seen by a group of women this large, so I’m excited to see how it ends up working out and whether massive difficulty could outdo solid efforts.
Biles could win a floor medal with a fall, so with a hit routine, gold will be a period, not a question mark. Raisman has the most potential in this field to earn the silver medal, and I think realistically, the bronze should be up for grabs between Steingruber and Fragapane. Still, I wouldn’t count out Miyakawa or her teammate Mai Murakami, who missed out on the 2012 Olympic team and was named second alternate for the 2015 worlds team, though she’s since blown up and is doing incredible things on this event.
The superb Chinese twister Mao Yi is also a phenomenal floor worker, while her teammates Shang and Wang both have sky-high difficulty to get them in this final. While beam is the best of Ponor’s events, the floor final could absolutely happen for her, though beyond these women, I think the floor finalists could be surprises. I personally would love to see one of the Dutch girls – namely Thorsdottir or Lieke Wevers – get in so the world can see their fabulous artistry, and I’d also pull for Miller again, as well as Erika Fasana of Italy, who has been dealing with injury but who could make this her comeback glory story.
So that’s my quick take on the 2016 Olympic Games, but as we know in gymnastics, anything can happen. Thanks for checking in, and be sure to follow the site all day tomorrow for quick hits as well as my Twitter for random thoughts and whatever other nonsense may come into my head throughout the sessions.
Article by Lauren Hopkins