It was pretty clear after the Sydney Games that something needed to change for the U.S. women’s program. Drastically.
Between the team gold in 1996 and finishing off the podium four years later, the U.S. women struggled on the international level, resulting in the beginnings of the camp system at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas. The problem was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen and none of them really knew what they were doing, and so they traveled to Sydney as a group of individual gymnasts with individual goals and no cohesion that would help them perform well as a team.
With Bela Karolyi out of the picture and Martha taking over the reins in 2001, she made crucial changes that turned the program around, putting an emphasis on teamwork over anything else. Coaches now have the opportunity to learn from one another, the gymnasts forge relationships and friendships that go beyond their monthly meetings, and while there are still dreams of all-around and event medals, nothing is more important than team gold.*
With a total of nine medals in Rio, the “Final Five” — a name chosen by team members Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, and Laurie Hernandez to reflect their standing as the final Olympic team to be coached by Karolyi — earned the most medals for any country at a single Olympic Games since the Soviet team brought home ten in 1972, and the most ever by a U.S. team (the maximum currently up for grabs in women’s gymnastics is 11). Karolyi will go out with a bang, and the team dynamic she designed will continue to forge toward a level of dominance once seen by the Soviets and Romanians.
Beginning with qualifications, the U.S. women were about as good as we could have expected, finishing ten points ahead of the second-place team, taking the top three all-around spots with Biles and Raisman qualifying over Douglas into the all-around final, and qualifying two gymnasts into every event final except vault, where only Biles competed the two vaults required to advance. If the two-per-country rule didn’t exist, the team would’ve had three gymnasts in the all-around, Hernandez would’ve reached the floor final (she qualified fourth to Biles and Raisman’s first and second), and all four who competed beam in qualifications would have made it, as Raisman and Douglas tied for seventh with matching D and E scores. In other words, they killed it.
Results aside, the U.S. women were calm and confident, with even the weakest gymnast on each event performing routines that would’ve been among the top routines for most other countries. If there were nerves, no one showed them, with Biles looking perhaps a bit more serious than she would at any other meet, though she had four years worth of expectations on her shoulders.
Biles followed through beautifully, doing her job to lead in every field but bars, her “weak” event, if you can call a 14th place finish in the most stacked bars field ever “weak.” She’s gotten so good there, in fact, that she was ultimately tapped to perform on the event in the team final, something Karolyi had never done.
While an injury to Hernandez was the official reasoning, I honestly believe Biles is actually a better bars worker than her young teammate when it comes to consistency. Though she’s gorgeous there, Hernandez has shown all season that she’s not the most reliable on the event, fully hitting only about three of her seven routines performed prior to the Games. Because her form is so solid, she covers up well, but at the Olympic Trials less than a month before Rio, Hernandez had a costly mistake in one set and left out a skill in another, lowering her start value by four tenths.
With the Olympics her first major international competition, Hernandez had enough to deal with, and risking her on bars was never going to be an option. As we saw with the U.S. women’s qualification performance at worlds in Glasgow a year ago, one mistake can have a domino effect, and while nothing could’ve really threatened the team’s massive lead, it still sets a poor tone for the meet, and that’s not something Karolyi wanted to happen in her final Games before retiring.
Competing bars in the team final meant Biles would be the team’s only gymnast to perform on all four events in the team final, just as Douglas did four years earlier. Like Douglas, Biles tackled the challenge like a pro, leading the team once again on all events but bars, where her 14.8 — a good score given her comparatively low difficulty there — was the lowest the team would count in the final. Aside from that and Hernandez’s 14.833 on floor, every other score surpassed 15.
In the team final, Douglas and Kocian performed only on bars, but still managed to prove their worth by nearly reaching 16 on the event with their excellent execution, while Hernandez and Raisman were their opposites, going up on vault, beam, and floor. I was a bit surprised to see Hernandez on vault, to be honest, if only because her DTY can look a bit short at times…but she showed in qualifications that she could outscore Douglas, even if just by a tenth.
Beam was Hernandez’s standout, as predicted, and she also put up clean work on floor. For such a young gymnast — Hernandez turned 16 this summer — she performed admirably and without letting the pressure get to her, enjoying the ride and smiling bigger than anyone when she stood up on the podium with the gold around her neck.
Team leader and veteran Raisman put up the second-highest vault and floor scores, her Amanar landings continuing to improve as the meet went on. Remember Jesolo, when she sat this vault and fans begged her to downgrade? Somehow, somewhere, Raisman somehow got complete control over the mental aspect of the sport in just a couple of months, building with each meet until she got to Rio and dominated.
In the all-around final, the silver medal was Raisman’s to lose. Even with a comparatively weak bars set and a wobble on beam, Raisman had a fabulous day to finish 1.5 points ahead of bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina, the Russian she tied for bronze in 2012 but then lost out on a medal due to a tiebreaker decision. That decision and an elusive all-around medal was Raisman’s biggest reason for coming back, and at the end of the day, she delivered.
After missing out on all-around medals at worlds in 2010, 2011, and 2015 in addition to that Olympic medal in 2012, the fifth time was a charm for Raisman, who burst into happy tears before she’d even finished her final pass on floor. At 22, Raisman, who always competed for her team first and put her best performances on the line when a team medal was at stake, was finally going to stand on the podium with an all-around medal around her neck, an achievement that was hard-fought and well-deserved.
I expected tears from Raisman, but was shocked to see Biles — who was always so cool and nonchalant about her achievements in the sport — begin to cry when she saw her name go up in the gold medal position. Even though she was unbeatable, winning the title by more than two points, that moment of finally realizing her dream must have been such a rush of emotions, from pride to relief and everything in between.
Competitively, it was one of her best all-around performances. I am often very “ho-hum” about Biles as a gymnast because she is so good, you get used to her unmatched level of excellence, and really the only time things get interesting is when she makes a mistake…and then still wins. But there were no real mistakes in this final, and with an all-around gold at stake after casually walking through this quad with all-around titles at every world championships since 2013, this was the culmination of everything we wanted from Biles since she emerged on the senior scene.
With two golds already under her belt, Biles went into event finals as the favorite on three events, and came away with two more golds to tie the world record for most gold medals by a female artistic gymnast at the Olympic Games, joining legends Agnes Keleti of Hungary (1956), Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union (1956), Vera Caslavska of the Czech Republic (1968), and Ecaterina Szabo of Romania (1984). She also smashed the domestic gold medal record, which to this point was set by several U.S. gymnasts at two golds in a single Games, last held by Douglas and Raisman in 2012. Biles’ four golds doubled what any American had been able to achieve prior to Rio.
On vault, Biles won by over seven tenths thanks to her clean and solid efforts on her Amanar and Cheng, the latter a vault she waited to unveil until this year, opting for the easier Lopez at previous world championships. Her combined difficulty level came up behind two of her competitors and tied two more, so she really proved how important it is to come in with clean execution.
My favorite thing about her vaults was that she actually looked consistently better on her Cheng than on the Amanar, where she has been taking several large hops on the landings. The Cheng may be the more difficult of the two, but the landing is a bit easier to spot, and Biles nails it almost every time. Her execution score on the Cheng actually outscored her Amanar execution score by 0.033, so I hope if slash when she returns to competition, she makes that her all-around vault.
Biles also got gold on floor, which was probably more of a sure thing than her all-around gold, if that’s even possible. Coming into the competition, Biles was a half point stronger than Raisman on this event, and a full point ahead of literally everyone else. Because she’s so perfect at literally everything, I always get on Biles about her landings, and that was really the only issue she had in this final, but given her degree of difficulty and just how solid and confident she was with the routine, I think I can forgive them. She was awesome, and secured her spot in history with this final win of the Games.
Beam was the one event I thought would be where Biles would struggle, based on the fact that when she’s tired or a little nervous, beam is where she makes mistakes. It happened a couple of times this summer, and it’s happened at worlds in the past, so after making it through her wolf turn and barani, normally the skills she finds tricky, I assumed she was in the clear. Perhaps she did as well, or maybe she was understandably exhausted, or most likely, she’s a 19-year-old human being who isn’t going to be perfect at everything she does.
Either way, after putting her hands down on her punch front, Biles still earned a 14.733 for her routine, locking up a bronze medal. It wasn’t the five golds she was expected to reach, but Biles didn’t really care, telling the press that this was her first Olympic Games and she was leaving with five Olympic medals. “I think you guys wanted the five golds more than I did,” she joked, alluding to the pressure put on her months before she was even named to the team.
In addition to Biles, every U.S. woman earned event finals spots and all but Douglas brought home hardware. On bars, Kocian gave one of her standard robotically beautiful routines to earn a 15.833, less than a tenth away from gold behind Mustafina, who was slightly behind in execution but had a tenth in difficulty over Kocian after adding back her eponymous dismount. Still, Kocian couldn’t have done better if she tried, proving repeatedly this summer how good she is there, and she was more than happy with the silver.
Douglas was consistently leading the field in bars execution at the Games, but in her final routine, a muscled handstand out of her toe full got the best of her, and she finished seventh. Douglas did a great job to get the mistake under control and continue on with no issues, but because everyone was so close in this final — the expected D scores were all within the 6.5 to 6.8 range — Douglas would’ve needed perfection to medal, especially coming in with the lowest D score in the bunch.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen for her, but she made it through these Games with her head held high, not easy when people are criticizing every single thing about you. Douglas went to Rio with people questioning her inclusion on the team, and while there, she was under fire for everything from her hair to not holding her hand over her heart on the podium to not standing and applauding her teammates, choosing to sit while clapping instead.
What people aren’t talking about, however, is how graciously Douglas accepted her defeat when it mattered. After missing out on the all-around final due to the two-per-country rule despite finishing third in the world, Douglas was the first to congratulate Biles and Raisman. She did her job in the team final, putting up a 15.766 on bars. And when she didn’t win a medal on that event in finals, she congratulated Kocian and her fellow bars competitors with a smile on her face.
I am admittedly not the biggest fan of Douglas’ gymnastics, and I still personally wouldn’t have added her to my team if I was in Martha Karolyi’s shoes. But I do recognize that Karolyi could’ve justified literally anyone she wanted for one of the team spots. The U.S. women finished so far ahead of everyone else, the lowest-ranked all-arounder at Olympic Trials would’ve been a viable option. The hatred toward Douglas for every little thing she did or didn’t do has been disgusting, based on nothing but bias against her for how she’s painted in media portrayals. Like her or not, she did what she could for the team under tremendous pressure as the returning Olympic all-around champion, a historic achievement in itself. Her comeback maybe wasn’t ideal (you know, world all-around medal and Olympic team aside) and based on what her mom has said, she also has some personal stuff going on that has limited how she was able to enjoy her experience this time around. But either way, Douglas rose to the occasion and deserves way more respect than people give her.
In addition to Kocian’s silver, Hernandez and Raisman would add another silver each with Hernandez placing behind the Dutch gymnast Sanne Wevers on beam with a 15.333 and Raisman finishing second to Biles on floor with a 15.5.
The baby of the team, Hernandez handled her Olympics like a true pro, and the beam final was no different. She’s so solid on this event aside from a couple of the tiniest adjustments possible, and while she did have the potential to go for gold after Biles’ mistake, Wevers had an extra two tenths in difficulty, which was ultimately the deciding factor.
Hernandez did submit an inquiry to attempt to get an extra tenth missing in her D score. Though she typically received a 6.5 at home, the judges rewarded her with only a 6.4 in all three of her Olympic beam appearances, and I’m assuming it’s for the slow punch front to wolf jump connection though I could also see her switch ring possibly devalued? The petition was denied, but either way, she wouldn’t have come in ahead of Wevers. Still, Hernandez seemed thrilled with the medal and was more than happy to hug and congratulate Wevers, telling her how much she enjoyed her routine.
I remember seeing Hernandez compete at the 2011 WOGA Classic, back when she was just ten years old. At the time, I was writing for The Couch Gymnast, and emailed my editor regularly, following Hernandez’s career as she fought to reach the junior international elite level. I found one of those emails from June 2012 after Hernandez competed at the American Classic, and I figured I’d share it with you because it showed how even then, before she had big difficulty, something about her suggested future star.
“I’m obsessed with this one kid I saw at the WOGA elite qualifier last year, Laurie Hernandez of Monmouth…she’s ELEVEN and hit around a 54 at yesterday’s qualifier! Super strong beam and amazing floor…unfortunately she fell and didn’t qualify to nationals, but I’m hoping she makes it through at the U.S. Classic! I am doing a little blurb about her anyway in my recap because she definitely seems like one to watch…and she’ll be turning 16 literally weeks before the Olympics in Rio. Yes, I’m already playing the 2016 guessing game!”
I was wrong about almost every other choice I made for 2016 (brb crying about Katelyn Ohashi forever), but seeing Hernandez go from a kid who struggled to make nationals to an Olympic champion and beam silver medalist has been one of the highlights of my gymnastics watching and writing career. With Hernandez, you just knew she’d get there, and seeing her enjoy such a fabulous Olympic Games after the ups and downs of her junior career brought everything full circle. I hope we can hold onto her for the coming quad as well.
Finally, Raisman’s silver on floor was probably one of my favorite routines of the Games. Yes, she has some form issues here and there and she’s not the most artistic gymnast in the bunch, but if you think a low back leg on a tour jete half should automatically disqualify you from a medal on floor, I have some serious issues with you. For me, Raisman exemplifies passion and hard work. Never the most naturally gifted, Raisman has spent most of her entire career working to improve, fully acknowledging her faults and weaknesses while trying to make them better.
I think this floor routine was the best she’s done it since her comeback, with a special focus on her landings and the overall value of her performance, which really had the crowd involved and loving everything she did. That’s the definition of artistry. She can connect with people in a way most gymnasts can’t, so while she’s not a ballerina princess and while there are always issues with flexed feet or bad leaps, she owns what she does and puts forth so much effort to showcase her strengths while embracing and working on her weaknesses.
Raisman is now a six-time Olympic medalist, the most decorated female gymnast in the United States aside from Shannon Miller, who earned a collection of seven between her two Games in 1992 and 1996. She still hasn’t ruled out 2020, and based on how well she came back this quad, if anyone can do it, Raisman can.
The U.S. women will stay in Rio through the closing ceremony before traveling home, where they’ll land in New York City for interviews and appearances as a pit stop on their way home. With nine medals between them, they will return as the most decorated U.S. women’s gymnastics team of all time, just 16 years after the team walked away empty-handed (though they later were rewarded with team bronze after the Chinese team was stripped of its team medal due to age falsification).
It’s the “started from the bottom now we here” aspect to their story that illustrates not only how strong this team is, but how much has gone on behind the scenes of the women’s program, and the two stories can’t be told separate of one another. The Final Five will go down in history as Karolyi’s last — and best — Olympic team, but the U.S. women’s program will continue on long after Karolyi’s retirement thanks to the efforts made to take them from a random collection of talented individuals to a true team. That is Martha Karolyi’s legacy, and why the U.S. women will continue to excel beyond her.
*I meant this earnestly back when I wrote it in 2016 in the sense that the team medals were more meaningful to the U.S. program than individual accolades, but now looking back several years later in the wake of thousands of allegations against coaches and other authority figures in the sport both in the U.S. and abroad, it’s clear that “nothing is more important than team gold” also included the welfare of the athletes. While the system Martha Karolyi built created opportunities for medals, this was made possible largely through a culture of systemic abuse where medals were valued over the physical, mental, and emotional health of athletes in the sport.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
48 thoughts on “The Final Five Continue the Legacy”
Great article; very fair. Poor Gabby, she’s been through too much this Games (and she’s not my fave either, but dayum.) These girls must be SO proud of their accomplishments.
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Yeah, I started out being annoyed that she was on the team and then feeling so bad for her because of all of the crap she got from people. Lawd.
Same! Seriously, I was pissed when she made the team, and even more so when her being there knocked Laurie out of the all-around. But the hysterical Gabby-bashing — I mean, one person I saw was howling that she was a “disgrace to the United States” and that if he were Marta, he’d yank her out of the bars finals and replace her with Ashton, as though that’s allowed — got me all angry and protective. I don’t think Gabby’s biggest fans could have done anything more effective than the Gabby haters to get me on her side.
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I agree with all three of you… I didn’t want her on the team initially, but she handled everything with grace and really showed up on bars. People can disagree with me, but the way she has been treated is the definition of sexism and a double-standard. No hate to Michael Phelps because I love him, but he can sit there with a frown on his face and gets turned into a beloved meme, while people attack Gabby for not having a smile plastered on her face 24/7? Ridiculous!
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Olivia, I agree, it’s definitely sexist. And I’m sure racism plays into it too.
@Maggie Oh, I’m sure! It’s crazy that they’re world-class athletes, and people are like “smile!”
I agree as well. I also was hoping Laurie would get the AA spot and felt Gabby may have been given an extra grace period to reach peak that other gymnasts weren’t given (Maggie, probably could have used a few extra weeks coming back from injury). But I think a lot of people took their disagreement and anger at Marta’s decision out on Gabby. Gabby isn’t responsible for Marta’s decision’s, and Gabby’s comeback, even if it was perfect, was still amazing. Her qualifications AA score was still top notch. And her bars scores were incredible in quals and team final. I wish she could have had the bars routine of her life in finals, just to end on a fantastic note. But it’s a long competition, and neither Aly, Biles, Aliya, Seda, etc, etc, etc had a completely perfect competition, either.
I’d hate to be in the spotlight like that. Some people are more quiet and reserved, and might naturally cheer their teammates on in a quieter fashion, and that should be ok. And Aly said Gabby was up the morning of the AA asking Simone and herself needed anything and helping them prepare. She supported her teammates, she supported her competitors. I just hope she still enjoyed her experience, and can put the seriously angry criticism behind her. I hope she also realizes that there are fans out that, that appreciate what she did and support her.
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Great article, thank you!
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Has Aly ever acknowledged why she doesn’t do two vaults? she would’ve easily medaled in the vault final.
I think she was training a front handspring vault last year but ended up not doing it so she could focus on the AA.
AH! I would absolutely love to see Aly do a Rudi!!!!
I don’t know about Aly specifically, but many gymnasts with one strong vault don’t do a second because they feel their training time can be better spent elsewhere. Learning and then maintaining a vault from a second family — and especially one difficult enough to medal in major competitions, where so many gymnasts are doing Chengs for their second vault — is a major undertaking. You aren’t necessarily going to be successful at it just because you’ve managed to nail down an Amanar. To do it, Aly would have had to spend less time training on the other three events. Not to mention it creates another opportunity for injury.
Maybe for 2020 Aly will focus on a specialist spot and just door floor and vault. For her sake, and her parents’ nerves, I hope she will drop bars if she does decide to come back again.
Thank you Lauren! Again, a fair, measured acknowledgement of who these women are and what they have achieved. I appreciate that you too experience emotional moments or attachments to these athletes and that you don’t always nitpick each and every person/skill. Thanks again for all of your work during these Olympics!
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Excellent article. I remember Laurie when she was about 12 and said the same thing- a star to come. I like Gabby and hate to see all the hate coming her way. She did handle it like a pro, wish she had medaled on bars.
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The article I read in the official USA gymnastics site said they would name Martha’s replacement within a month. Who do you want to see in the position, and who is in the conversation? I’ve heard Valeri Liukin and Rhonda Faehn.
Faehn’s constant presence by Martha’s side in Rio made me think it would be her. I hope so. I love that the team is headed by a woman. Particularly given the media’s tendency to entirely credit male coaches, fathers and spouses for the performance of female athletes.
I’m sure Valeri Liukin would do a great job though.
I like the idea of Faehn for a number of reasons. First, she doesn’t own her own gym which helps reduce potential bias. Second, she knows what first hand disappointment and unfair blame feel like and has managed to not only continue with the sport she clearly loves but thrive in it, and she has had years of experience putting together successful teams from an assortment of different athletes while helping design routines that play tho their strengths.
Thinking of Katelyn Ohashi and Kyla makes me sad 😦 They both seem really happy now but I really wanted to see them in Rio!
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Any 2020 predictions? I bet I’ll find this in four years and be like: retired, NCAA, retired, injuries, NCAA, etc. Four years is such a long time but I’m really hoping for Ragan and Laurie to come through atleast through middle quad years. I’d love for both of them to have great individual success.
I’ve always had a good feeling about Morgan Hurd. I don’t know why. I just do.
This isn’t a prediction so much of a wish– I really want Norah and/or Victoria Nguyen on the team! I know Norah is committed to UCLA but I’m not sure if she’s going to defer until after 2020? Who knows, I just love her and was brokenhearted she didn’t really compete this year 😦
Laurie has to stay because she went pro.
I really think Ragan and Laurie can do big things this upcoming quad. Jordan Chiles has some pretty impressive difficulty so if she can just get her consistency together, she could be a factor. I like Trinity Thomas and Morgan Hurd, too. I’d love love love to see Simone come back in a couple of years because she doesn’t even have to be better than she is now to be a significant factor….who knows what she’ll do, though.
I wish the men’s program would do a similar restructuring. They seem to have the skills and fitness but can never perform up to their potential. It’s so frustrating!
Sorry, I know this blog doesn’t focus on MAG but I just had to let that out.
As Nancy Armour pointed out, all USMAG medals came from people who don’t train at their training center. They are too close. Also look at their attitude after finals. It was pretty much “oh well we tried”. They get tight because they don’t train how to compete. Argh. Yes I definitely agree. And people need to seriously stop with all the BS about how MAG is more competitive. It’s so sexist. Like yes no team dominates MAG like the US women dominate WAG, but that’s because virtually all teams count falls or other major mistakes in team final situations in MAG.
So did all the women from the US team earn an individual medal? Has any US team done that before?
Four out of five. Gabby Douglas made the bars final but didn’t medal.
All the women in the team qualified for an individual final. And I believe this is a first. For the US and any other country (whether at Worlds or the Olympics). Please correct me if I’m wrong.
It’s crazy that they got 1st on all 4 events. even on their supposedly “weakest” event bars. Which is like not even their lowest scoring event. Even if you give china back 1 point from the fall, US would still be on top there. US top bars D score still can’t compared with RU or china top but I would argue that the top US bars workers are as clean as anyone else out there. There are several US bars with 6.5+ so it can’t exactly be considered a weakness anymore.
I think gabby got more “punishment” then she has deserved. She did accomplish her primary goals: showing her best AA performance possible and delivered the needed ub routines in qual and TF. Seeing that she killed it on ub during qual and TF I almost thought she could had given a competitive showing in EF even if it’s unlikely she would have the needed d score to make it. But again just like in 2012 she couldn’t deliver on it. But that is just a 2nd objective. Primary objectives definitely accomplished. She should be proud of it!
I also want to give the 3 alts the credit they deserved. Maybe lauren could write a small postscript on them? 😉 I actually think they deserved more for what they went through. Keep on training in top shape even while knowing there’s 99% chance you won’t be called? They did great and I was glad to be able to see some routines from them in rio and glad they had a good experience too. Skinner could ve taken silver or bronze had she competed. Ragan would have probably outdone simone after her mistake (like in us trial). Seeing what Maddie got for her ub score, ashton would have been very competitive in the EF. at least 4th place would have been very doable. I am glad that ashton is going to stay around for at least a few more years. She would be US top bars worker going into 2017. I just so hope she can upgrade another 0.2-0.3 and still be perfection. Can’t wait to see ragan back. she and Hernandez look to be the top beamers. with norah, key, foberg, and everyone else and more upcoming jrs, I think US will continue to have depth and new faces to again dominate another quad. Not to mention the possibility of superwoman simone back for 2020. I could definitely see simone back with laurie in 2020.
Was gonna add that I would have use gabby for vt in TF over Hernandez. That one tenth better in qual was just a one time thing in all these competitions where gabby has pretty much consistently score better on vt. The judges didn’t take off the 0.1 that she should’ve gotten. I was hoping Hernandez would do vt b/c she got the green light to do AA (like Maggie) in TF and maybe show that US do have the top 4 AA but since she wasn’t going to be put on bars, I would ‘ve put gabby on vt.
Seems like nbc fixed their stoplight scoring scale? Saw the replay of fan ub in TF. She got the green light with a 15.7+ score with over 1.1 point e score deduction…. whereas in vt china getting 14.8 on vt with same amount of e score deduction correctly give yellow…
Lauren you finally put some sense into them? 🙂
this is a brilliant article! I got goosebumps reading it. So happy for Aly in particular after missing out on an AA medal in 2012. She proved any doubters wrong 🙂
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I was so incredibly happy for Aly. Typically, people love her personality and are nice, but can be kind of harsh when discussing her form or because they see one style as artistic. She is an incredible athlete and gymnast. She put the team first time and time again. After every individual disappointment, she didn’t change that. She didn’t hold back in tf to reserve something for the AA. She worked harder. She didn’t give up. After quals last year at worlds, I was so crushed for her and thought that that was it. And she came back stronger and better than ever. She was an incredible leader this whole year, but she set an incredible example for the younger ones at this Olympics. I was so happy to see her finally get that AA medal, but what impressed me the most, was her leadership and attitude. (I would say something similar about Mustafina as well, but this post is about the US 😉.)
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Marta has created the best gymnastics machine in the world. The American success is also juxtaposed against a lull in the rest of the gymnastics world. Why is the rest of the world so weak right now? I can’t figure it out.
Congratulations on the Final Five. They were as great as we thought they would be. It’s tough to win when everyone expects you to. The girls delivered.
China: I do not believe China is very far off its historical average. They were fantastic in 2008, but they didn’t medal in 2004 or 2012, and had never seriously challenged for gold prior to 2008. I believe the Chinese are hindered by their entire system. A centralized system where you take children from their families from ages 4/5 can work in a poor, communist country, but such a system is going to be limited as said country becomes wealthier and more open. Such a system also misses talent that does not fit preconceived notions of what body types work in the sport, or talents that emerge later in life. Furthermore, by limiting the number of competitors groomed to make the team, the system does not foster intense competition or meritocracy the way the American system does. Ultimately, I think China’s emphasis on body type and selection from a young age really limits them, and I do not think the country will consistently be able to challenge the US until it changes its selection system.
Russia: The problem with Russia is the Rodionenkos. Alexander Alexandrov was a tremendous coach who, if he had been given the chance, probably could have built a machine to challenge the US. He was actually emphasizing physical conditioning in his athletes and seemed to be fostering competition and meritocracy. It took Martha 3 quads to win her first olympics. Alexander only got one quad before he was fired for not winning team gold, despite having Russia’s most successful Olympics ever, arguably (since USSR). In his absence, Valentina has stymied all of that progress, relying on worn out old stars and essentially telling all of the juniors years in advance that they won’t make the Olympic squad. The Russians’ conditioning has regressed as well, which has killed them on floor exercise. Nonetheless, while Russia could be better, they really weren’t terribly far from their historical level this Olympics, although they were far from it for most of the quad.
Romania: They destroyed their system, plain and simple. They don’t give juniors a chance. They don’t spend enough time developing their juniors. I’m not sure the resources are there that they used to have. Romania hasn’t been a serious threat for gold since 2004, but they are so far back now that it’s hard to imagine them getting back to the top for at least 8 more years.
USA: Not since the soviets has a team gone 6 years without counting a fall. The US is unquestionably far above its historical level, and that is the result of Martha’s system working well.
The rest of the world: Contrary to your statement, I think the average level of gymnastics has gone up considerably in the past 4 years. With the vacuum left by Romania, I believe other teams really feel they have a legitimate shot at a medal for the first time ever, maybe. Consider that the gap between the US and 8th place was actually smaller than the gap between US and 5th place in London. Germany, Great Britain and Japan legitimately could have medaled in Rio, and Great Britain probably could have done it on its own wind, i.e. by hitting 12/12. We will have to see what develops over the next two quads, but I genuinely believe GB especially is well positioned for future success.
My understanding is that China is instituting more rec programs throughout the country to try to catch the talent they miss in their selection process and counteract some of the issues you mentioned that result from that. I’m not sure where I got that, though.
I’d agree with Matthew that, while the rest of the Big Four aside from the US has declined, the rest of the world is actually improving wildly. Last quad, there were four very strong teams that dominated and then a big gap between the best and the rest; this quad, it’s more that there’s one extremely strong team and then a small second tier and a decent-size third tier very close behind. Personally, I’d far rather watch the Rio TF where the US dominated with no real competition but silver and bronze were legitimately up in the air than the London TF where there was more competition for gold but only four teams that could legitimately walk away with anything.
I’m all the more annoyed at the Gabby bashing that people seem to forget that without the two per country rule, she would have no doubt gotten at least a bronze medal in the AA final. Third best gymnast in the whole wide world! Not bad at all I should think!
I respect that she got the physical, mental and emotional strength to risk all the glory she got 4 years ago to come back. It takes some guts. She had nothing to prove and no ‘unfinish business’ , like Aly.
You don’t need to be a die hard fan to respect her a lot for that.
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No bashing from any hater can take away her legacy of being one of the Olympics AA gold! I do feel a little sad for her that she never got any EF medals at world or Olympics though, I think that was probably one of her unfinished business if we can even call that. The other business was another individual medal and she did that in 2015 with silver for AA.
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I agree. She got so much shit this Olympics it’s crazy. Even though I’m a die-hard Gabby fan. Despite the mishap on floor, she had the best meet of the year and her bars in Quals and TF were near perfection. She received a lot of criticism in both Olympics, and I feel like that pressure got to her head, which could explain why she didn’t deliver in event finals for both 2012 and 2016. I was overall pleased with her performance, even though I was kinda nervous for her prior to the Games because of her shaky performances at Trials and P&Gs.
Thank u Lauren,,,,,, very good detailed report I like it
is anyone else unable to see or write comments on the pages for the olympic posts? I went the last several days and I’m not seeing anything. Do I have a setting wrong or something?
I’m think they were disabled. There was one, possibly more, person posting hateful things.
Extremely well written article! Highly enjoyable read and very fair. I’m so glad I found this blog and will follow! Looking forward to reading your 2020 predictions…!
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Thanks so much!
Wow. aly is saying now she’s committed to making it to 2020? that’s incredible! i wonder if gabby will too.