British Team Fights Back to Historic Finish

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After winning the bronze medal as a team on British soil at last year’s world championships, Team GB was under a lot of pressure to make the magic happen once again.

They had the big difficulty across all four events, they had the consistency the Russians lacked, and they had tons of experience between the five women, each of whom had not only competed at a major international meet, but all of whom had reached individual finals at one point or another.

Still, it wasn’t going to be easy. The team defeated the Russians in the three-up three-count qualifications at European Championships, once again taking advantage of Russia’s mistakes. While talented and fierce in their own right, the Brits weren’t quite matching the top teams in terms of overall difficulty or execution, but their secret weapon was the ability to come in as the underdogs and finish at the top.

But in the team finals at Euros, the British women had consistency issues of their own, while Russia missed only one routine. With a fall on bars and then multiple falls on beam, the Brits were still able to hold on to silver, but ultimately finished five points behind Russia that day. It was a tough loss, and showed that when the Russians were on their game, they weren’t going to be easy to beat.

The pressure stayed high, however, with fans hoping the team — featuring veteran 2008 Olympian Becky Downie alongside Ruby Harrold, Amy Tinkler, Claudia Fragapane, and Ellie Downie — would be able to carry over the historic worlds performance in 2015 over to Rio, where the women would be the first to win a team medal for their country. As Euros proved, it wasn’t going to be easy, but they’d done it before and knew they could pull it off again.

Qualifications unfortunately didn’t go as smoothly as they probably hoped. Becky Downie, the biggest medal contender for the team as the reigning European champion on bars, whacked her feet during her routine to miss the final by less than a tenth before falling on beam. They were able to drop her beam fall, but Fragapane also fell there and on bars, causing her to miss the all-around final by two tenths.

Then Ellie Downie, in the midst of an otherwise fantastic day, had an awkward landing on her 2½ and yet continued into the punch front, landing horrifyingly on her neck. She looked like she was going to try to continue but eventually stopped the routine, looking dazed before being taken off the floor to get checked out by the on-site medics. She heroically came back out onto the floor and vaulted one rotation later, performing a solid DTY to contribute a top vault score for Great Britain.

These dramas aside, Harrold had a good day, hitting bars and contributing a 13.633 on floor, where she was expected to be the dropped routine but they ended up counting her with Downie’s fall. And Tinkler had the best day of all, hitting the crap out of all three of her routines to finish with the high scores on vault, beam, and floor.

A decision that confused me going into the meet was the one made to keep Tinkler out of the all-around, favoring this year’s national champion Fragapane instead. With two bars specialists in Harrold and Becky Downie and then Ellie Downie taking a third bars spot as the gymnast with the best all-around potential and strongest bars among the remaining ladies, the Brits were in a predicament similar to that of the United States. Laurie Hernandez was clearly the stronger bar worker in that situation, and yet Aly Raisman got the all-around spot, with Martha Karolyi willing to put up a lower-scoring routine in qualifications because she felt Raisman was the better all-arounder of the two. This is exactly what went down with the final British all-around spot, and though Tinkler was the better bars worker of the two, the spot went to Fragapane, notoriously rough on that event, leaving Tinkler to perform only on three apparatuses in qualifications.

In hindsight, with Fragapane falling twice and missing the final while Tinkler had one of the greatest performances of her career, it wasn’t a good decision. And because they only used two all-arounders in qualifications, it meant with Fragapane missing out, one of the top teams in the world only qualified a single all-arounder into the final. Every other country there with a full team aside from Belgium qualified two all-arounders.

Ellie Downie making it in with her fall on floor, where she was able to compete only about 75% of her routine, was a testament to how strong she was elsewhere. In the end, she and Tinkler were the only individuals to reach finals, with Tinkler earning a spot on floor over Fragapane, who was the favorite to do so. (Fragapane actually earned the same score of 14.333 as finalist Erika Fasana, but missed the final due to the tiebreaker rule that favored Fasana’s execution score, a tenth higher than that of Fragapane’s).

Still, even with the disappointments that struck the team on the qualifying day, the team finished with a 174.064, one of the top scores the women have ever earned, and only six tenths behind Russia. The only fall they ended up counting was Fragapane’s beam fall, while the Russians finished their qualifications counting two falls, so the teams were almost equal and went into the final with the notion that anything could happen. It wasn’t over yet.

Overall, the team final was nearly perfect, with some of their strongest work ever across all four events. Becky Downie hit both bars and beam, Fragapane proved herself with the top beam score for the Brits in addition to hitting both vault and floor, Tinkler continued upping her game with brilliant work on vault and floor, and Harrold contributed the second-best bars score.

As for Ellie Downie, she showcased excellent work on three of her events, but unfortunately fell on her risky standing arabian on beam, the team’s only error. With the Russians in the same rotation group also counting a fall on beam from Angelina Melnikova, the two teams were on equal standing, and Great Britain actually gained some ground on floor, outperforming the Russians by seven tenths.

But it then came down to vault, where Russia had their secret weapon in Maria Paseka’s Amanar, and they were able to outscore the Brits by a full point there. That plus their superior bars rotation, which gave them a one point lead at the very start of the day, pushed them up to the silver medal position while Great Britain finished fifth, a little over two points back with a 174.362.

In the end, it didn’t matter that Ellie Downie fell on beam. Russia and China both also counted a fall, and so the silver and bronze medals in Rio were decided by a team’s difficulty. If everything else went as it did that day with the exception of Downie hitting beam rather than falling, the British women still wouldn’t have reached the podium without another fall from either Russia or China. The fall did allow the Japanese team, with an almost perfect day, to finish fourth, just 0.009 (yes, that’s nine thousandths) ahead…but Great Britain simply wasn’t going to medal without relying on large mistakes from the heavy hitters.

Even with the fall, even though it was “only” fifth place, the British women had their best Olympic team final finish in history, and bested their 2015 World Championships team score by two full points. Like the Japanese, they may not have earned a medal, but it was still a major victory for the program, which has made heaps of progress in the last decade.

Prior to 2012, Great Britain shockingly hadn’t competed in a team final since 1984, and that was only because most of the strongest nations boycotted the Los Angeles Games due to the Cold War. In fact, the first time they qualified a full team to a fully-attended Games in the modern era was 2000. They qualified in tenth there, in 11th in 2004, and ninth in 2008, always coming so close yet so far until they beefed up the program in preparation for the London Games, where they placed sixth, one spot up from their seventh-place finish in 1984.

The pressure may have been on the women for a medal this year, but fifth place is still one spot better than sixth, making it an historic finish no matter what (Great Britain did win bronze in the team final the first time women competed in gymnastics at the Olympic Games in 1928, but the sport’s events have changed so much, so this year’s finish was the best in the modern era). The women proved that they are fighters, fixing so many errors between qualifications and finals, and then not letting a single fall in the team final bring them down. So it wasn’t the best team final or competition overall that Great Britain was hoping for, but it still surpassed what so many teams before them had been able to accomplish.

In the all-around final, Downie unfortunately struggled again. She had a large mistake on her pak on bars and took her double layout to her knees, but still managed a 13.783, and then she put her hands down on her Patterson dismount on beam for a 13.7 there, though had great work on vault and floor, and still finished 13th with a 56.883. She would have been a major contender for bronze without the mistakes, so it was a bummer to see her not live up to her potential, but she’s only 17. If she’s anything like her sister, she will hopefully have years left to grow and get even better than she is right now.

The biggest moment for Great Britain came with Tinkler’s fantastic finish in the floor final, where she stood out in a very close-knit field to win the bronze medal with a 14.933, the best floor score of her career by over three tenths. She did have some little errors here and there, but capped it off with a stuck double pike and showed clean form and mostly solid landings throughout, giving her an edge over fourth-place Vanessa Ferrari, who had the advantage of going last but took too many steps on landings to surpass Tinkler’s score.

Like the women’s team finals finish, Tinkler’s bronze also has an historic shine to it, as she is the first British woman to medal on floor exercise and only the second British woman in history to earn an individual medal in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games after Beth Tweddle got bronze on the uneven bars in 2012.

In British gymnastics, there are definitely areas where the women can grow, and their shortcomings in comparison to the top teams were evident here. However, at the same time, they also managed to show just how far they’ve come in a super short amount of time. Their trajectory has climbing rapidly, and it’s a momentum they can keep up going into the coming quad. These past few years have showed that the British women can hang with the big dogs, so now the goal will be to cement themselves in that position. It won’t be easy, but they showed in Rio that they’re well on their way to making the dream come true.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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26 thoughts on “British Team Fights Back to Historic Finish

  1. I felt for Ellie. I think she was just getting so much pressure to deliver. I was fairly certain going into Rio that Amy would miss out on a shot at the AA with Fragapane being the National Champion. I really thought that she would be solid and could contend for that AA if given the chance, but she just killed it! Looking back, it seems like she was absolutely the better choice, but you never know what will happen. Tinkler had the best meet of hey life at the Olympic games. That’s the dream. It reminded me a lot of Raisman in 2012. Obviously, there were expectations, but it wasn’t the same amount of pressure as some of the others. She was able to come in as the underdog, focus completely on just doing what she knows she can do, and was able to deliver big time! I was so happy to see her medal. She absolutely deserved it. My heart ached for Ferrari, coming so close, yet again, but I do think that it went to the right person. And really, it came down to Ferrari’s landing on her last tumbling pass. I thought, wow, she could do it, it will be close, but she could, and then her last landing was just a bit messy. She still posted a fantastic score though. I was wondering about Becky’s bars score. I missed her feet hitting, and the cheetahs I watched, one commentator says she thought she had, but then the other wasn’t sure, and they never really confirmed it. And then they said that she had done her ‘easier’ routine. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I did really want to see her in the bar final. Fragapane really had a solid floor routine in quals. I have hated the Olympic tie breakers for awhile, but now I’m bitter and despise them. Even though we didn’t see as much drama from them as we did in London, I hate them more and more every time.

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  2. Great writeup. Very proud of and happy for Team GB–what a worthy addition to the Big 4! Here’s to many more medals on the World and Olympic stage!

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  3. With Alexander Alexandrov stating during the Olympics that he was leaving as head coach of Brazil and looking for a job, if I was GB’s gymnastics federation, I’d be scooping up Alexandrov to help coach the British women. Look what he did for Brazil! The Brits are so good and almost there, but they need some refinement on their skills. I think Alexandrov would be a perfect fit to do that. And think of what he could do for all the talented British juniors coming up the ranks.

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    • Wait whaaaaat?! Why is he leaving brazil? Btw did anyone notice he and Aliya were sitting together during beam finals? Sooooo adorable!

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      • I’m assuming because the country is basically bankrupt and he wants job security. I selfishly want him to coach the US men, but UK women would be next best thing. US needs some competition long term, and Alexandrov is the only coach with a proven record to pull it off.

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  4. Dear women gymnasts, please watch amy tinkler floor over and over again.
    THE MUSIC made the whole difference in her case, the crowd went NUTTSS when they figure out the music was the theme from “pretty woman”. ( And i must assume that i hate that edit)

    For a split second it look like she was a brazilian competing! Defenitly she got 0,2 extra for beeing a crowd pleaser!

    For years i’ve been hoping someone will do a comedic act ( laurie is the nearest) or even a themed floor routine. Or even a tribute routine, using bits of iconic routines in a mashup style!

    The ukranian girls in RG literally “VOGUED” during competition, ( althought i don’t really understand RG rules/code of points), but that was insane!

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    • You would love Axelle Klinckaert’s floor routine from 2015…she did a frog routine and performed it so well, it didn’t matter WHERE she was performing – the crowds loved her. She was a comedian with the routine at times, which was so much fun to watch.

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      • Indeed!!!

        Julie Croket was one of my favourite performers, that girl could really dance and put on a routine. Gotta love those Belgium waffle girls! Too bad she never got the medals she deserved =/ ( altough she did xtina stupid song, she lost points with me)

        I would like to mention one of the most unusual floors i’ve ever came across was from aisha gerber ( CAN), to the guitar of Dire Straits, was hers saadi or davydova choreo?

        Also I never minded khorkina getting overscored on floor, she almost always delivered a show.

        I think we should do a list with the most unusual floor routines, perhaps the gymnasts and coaches that read the portal be inspired!

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        • Lisa ( <3) had an awesome choreo. I wouldn't put it on my "unique" routines list though, It falls on the "great choreo" imaginary list.

          Just for clarificaton on Amys, I don't think her choreo neither tumbler were out of this world, but her song choice made the big difference, feel happy that she could "take advantage" of the situation.

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    • The crowd might have liked Tinkler’s music choice, but it made me cringe repeatedly. Oh, how I loathe that movie. A young woman performing to the theme of a movie where the ‘pretty woman’ in question is a hooker makes me extremely uncomfortable.

      That being said, I was really happy for Amy. One of my favorite things about Rio was that basically every medalist, MAG and WAG, was thrilled to be just where they were on the podium. Nobody was salty b/c they “only” got a silver or bronze.

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      • I got your point and I can understand that, altough that idea does not make me feel unconfortable.

        Regarding the podium you are absolutly correct, it was a matter of getting A MEDAL not the color of the medal. It doesen’t seemed that Vanny Ferrari was all that upset. ( I’m acutally really proud of her tbh, I felt a bit for her for not getting a medal). Maddie and Lauries silver seemed alright to them, they wanted the top spot but didn’t looked upset at all with their silvers, they seemed more acomplished than anything else.

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  5. I’m sorry, but GB is just a disgrace to women’s gymnastics! Their gymnastics is just UGLY — they epitomize everything that’s bad in the American School of Gymnastics. Wang Yan was robbed of the bronze medal on FX. All hail my sister, Gymnastics Queen!

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    • Did it ever occur to you that some people don’t like what you would consider artistry and actually appreciate the athleticism required to do modern gymnastics? I, for one, love the British team. I can also appreciate the Netherlands. I think contrasting styles is fun. It certainly isn’t a disgrace.

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  6. I have to admit, I thought that after Wang Yan finished her routine in floor finals, that she was going to score close to a 15. I mean she did have the slight dip in the chest on the Silivas and double pike, but she stuck every landing, and with the exception of those two chest issues, was extremely clean and polished. And I actually found myself enjoying her choreography. When Amy finished i didn’t think it was as good as Wangs, but scored almost half a point higher. And with Ferrari I was just so sad, I didn’t think she should have gotten bronze given the performances, but it still really sucks to be injured in Beijing, while she was getting back to her prime, tie break in London caused her to miss out and now in Rio, just barely missing out. I could be wrong on Wang and Amy, but the judging during this entire olympics was so weird. Vault was pretty good in terms of judging, and they really cracked down on split legs, out of bounds, and shape in the air. On bars, the judges were tripping on acid or something, they pretty much gave anyone who did a solid routine an 8.7 to 9.1. In what world does Raisman do her normal messy bars set and score a 14.7? And the same goes with Kocian and her string of 15.9s. Aliya got over scored too, and I remember how Daria did a toe on Maloney at the beginning of her connection and still got a 6.7 when it should have been a 6.5 start value. Fan Yilin missing out on bars finals when she definitely did better than some of those that qualified was bull. The beam judges were so harsh on the Chinese and all of subdivision one for microscopic, and at times, almost unnoticeable errors and then they cared less and less and less as the qualification day and then the week went on. Saraiva and Biles missteps in finals would not have scored anyhwhere near mid to high 14s had they done what they did at the start of the first day. My giant sadnesses coming out of the games: Flavia Saraiva and/or Rebeca Andrade not winning medals (I was really pulling for an AA podium of Simone, Aliya, Rebeca in that order), and I really wanted Flavia to take the 3rd spot on beam behind Wevers and Hernadez. I was also daydreaming a scenario in which Flavia qualified to floor finals and somehow winning gold, even if her difficulty wouldn’t even allow her to win even if she were to get a 10 in execution. Vanessa Ferrari is my other huge sadness, along with Team Canada not qualifying, although Shallon doing an Amanar was such a pleasant surprise. Shang Chunsong not getting her individual success. Angelina Melnikova and Ellie Downie not performing to people’s expectation or their potential. Major Hapiness during the games: Team USA slaughtering everyone in the team final. Team Russia (for the most part) stepping it up. Seda Tutkhalyan hitting 8/10 of her routines. Aliya Mustafina defending her bars title. Sanne Wevers winning beam with her original and graceful routine. As a closing note, my biggest hope for this next quad is a level playing field, where the all around champion goes back to winning by tenths and sometimes hundredths margins instead of points.

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    • Something that annoys me is the scores difference from early sessions to late sessions.
      It never seems fair, and this way I don’t think it will ever be.

      One thing that always gets me is that someone might have an amazing time during the whole quad, but during that olympic qualification they are not on their day.

      I used to like the World Cup super finals, because of the “campaing” each athlete would get and kind of be rewarded during that 2 years time. Although I understand that some might think is a bit controversial.

      I wish there was a “Diamond League” in gymnastics like in Track and field, and better money prizes (sorry, but i really think the money prizes should be way much higher)

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    • Aly’s qualification bars routine was perhaps overscored, but it was not her “normal messy routine”. There were significant visible differences. It was, to me, unquestionably the best bars routine I have ever seen Aly do.

      I finally got around to watching Fan Yilin’s qualification routine, and I really don’t understand where all the outrage is coming from. It was not a clean routine. She missed two handstands by over 30 degrees and had a few other noticeable form breaks. Her routine in team finals was noticeably better.

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      • Alys bars set still had almost all missed handstands and some form on transitions as usual. For Fan Yilin; yes she had noticeable errors on her handstands but it was still better ( when you combine difficulty and execution) than Shang and Jessica who both qualified over her.

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        • J-Lo was squeezed in after the judges mistakes in some past world champs! It was a career reward!! Hit it and you will get it!!

          She totally deserved though!!!

          Everybody loves J-lo! LOL

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