I have to hand it to the Dutch team. I assumed the women from the Netherlands, who fought so valiantly to earn a team spot at these Games back at worlds in 2015, would be happy enough to compete together in Rio, with the team final a bonus, not a given.
Just making it to the Olympic Games as a full team was huge for the Dutch women, who hadn’t accomplished this since 1976, where they placed 11th. After finishing eighth in the team final at worlds with both Germany and Brazil on the rise this year, I assumed the Netherlands could possibly get in, but it was more likely to see them go 9th or 10th in qualifications, right on the border and within a point or two of making it.
But they totally proved me wrong, defeating two of last year’s higher-ranked teams in qualifications by scoring a 171.929 thanks to hitting nearly all of their 16 routines incredibly well. They didn’t come in with the most difficulty, but they showed how important it is to focus on execution, a strategy that worked especially well on bars, where they averaged an 8.8 E score among their four routines. The team was nearly perfect, aside from a few mistakes, like a sat 2½ from Eythora Thorsdottir on floor (who performed brilliantly otherwise, still managing a 13.633 for her triple full to punch front, double tuck, and brilliant turn sequence with a double L to double pirouette to double Y to illusion).
In the end, their clean performances helped them come in ahead of two favorites for the final, Canada and Italy. Both of these teams came in at an advantage several points ahead of the Netherlands with their difficulty, with Canada at an impressive five-point difficulty lead. But neither could execute anywhere near as well as the Dutch, with Canada counting a fall on beam and several other low scores throughout to finish not even two tenths behind the Dutch, while Italy had a disastrous beam rotation and showed weak routines on bars as well, allowing the Dutch to finish over two points ahead of them.
The team final for the Netherlands, who called themselves OrangElegance with a nod to the country’s royal color as well as the women’s gorgeous stylistic interpretation of the sport, was about as perfect as they could’ve ever dreamed, giving them a seventh-place finish with a score of 172.447, improving on their qualifications score by over a point, defeating the host team of Brazil by a few tenths, and reaching their best Olympic team final ranking since 1948. Thorsdottir did have a few form breaks and went out-of-bounds in their first rotation on floor, but that aside, everything was executed beautifully, with vault averaging 8.978, bars averaging 8.855, and beam averaging 8.627, some of the highest collective E scores in the competition.
Sanne Wevers was a standout on both of her events (bars and beam), Vera van Pol — brought in specifically for her Yurchenko 1.5 in the absence of vaulter Lisa Top — got her job done there, Celine van Gerner (in her second Olympic appearance after flying solo in 2012) made up for low difficulty with perfect performances on bars and floor, Lieke Wevers put up consistent work on beam and floor, and Thorsdottir — competing all four events — proved to be the best vaulter with her improved DTY as well as the top earner on bars, where she made so many efforts this year to grow as a gymnast.
Moving onto the finals, Thorsdottir had what I believe was the best all-around finish ever for a Dutch gymnast, placing 9th with a 57.632. It wasn’t her best day — she saved that for the team final, where she had a 58.199 — but she did show some phenomenal work with only a few minor mistakes. A year ago, she failed to make the all-around final and was consistently scoring two to three points lower than she did in Rio, so it’s clear how far she’s come. Thorsdottir has always been a gorgeous gymnast and a tremendous performer, but her difficulty boost in 2016 has also made her one of the top competitors in the world, and it was great to see it all come together for her when it counted.
Lieke Wevers was the second all-arounder for the Dutch team, and placed 20th with a 55.865 in the final after a fall on beam on an otherwise excellent day. Normally a fall isn’t such a big deal and can still guarantee you a strong finish, but this year’s all-around field ended up being insanely talented, making it difficult for anyone with large mistakes to finish anywhere near the top ten. Wevers did look gorgeous on bars and floor, though, with an 8.733 e-score on the latter getting her to a 14.133 for her breathtaking and emotional piece.
Her twin sister Sanne Wevers was the country’s sole representative in apparatus finals with her appearance on beam. Wevers didn’t perform her full difficulty in qualifications, not wanting to risk some of her more difficult elements in order to ensure a finals spot, but she went nearly all-out here, reaching a 6.6 D score for the highest in the field while performing tricky elements like her full-twisting back handspring mount, a side aerial to side aerial acro series, a triple spin followed by an L turn to full turn to double turn to split leap combination, switch leap to full-twisting back handspring, and a Steingruber dismount with a small hop for a 15.466.
Simone Biles, who led the beam field after qualifications and who captured the beam titles at both the 2014 and 2015 world championships, faltered here, putting her hands down on the beam to earn a much lower score than anticipated. Going up just before Wevers, the 24-year-old Dutch woman immediately scrapped her plans to attempt her 7.0 beam set, deciding a 6.6 D score was more than enough to get her where she needed to be, and it ended up being the right choice, as no one else was able to defeat her.
She did have some competition for the gold medal, though no one who was able to match her, as it turned out. Laurie Hernandez came close thanks to her clean execution but at the end of the day, this title was meant for Wevers, the girl who had been fighting for an Olympic spot since 2008. In her first year eligible for the games, Wevers came close with a second-place all-around finish at nationals, but ultimately was not selected, and in the subsequent quad, she dealt with too many injuries — an elbow, a shoulder, a foot — that kept her out of contention for 2012.
For Wevers, the medal was extra sweet, both for everything she’s overcome to get here, and because it’s only the second time women have medaled in the sport throughout the country’s long history. Their first and only medal prior to this was the team gold at the 1928 Games at home in Amsterdam, the very first time women’s artistic gymnastics was represented at the Olympics. It may have taken 88 years for gold to happen once again, but Wevers got it done and looked like a queen while doing it (which is fitting, as the Dutch royal family was there to cheer her on all the way).
Again, I don’t think Rio could’ve gone any better for the Netherlands even if they tried. Similar to the Germans, they managed to pull off everything they had hoped to do, from making the team final to qualifying two gymnasts into the all-around final and then getting Wevers’ beam gold as a special cherry on top. The beauty in this program is mesmerizing and I’m glad the four-year crowds who don’t watch obsessively were able to get a taste of another side of the sport.
Article by Lauren Hopkins