As the host country, Brazil was under a ton of pressure to perform well in many sports at these Games, and with gymnastics on the rise there over the past decade, lots of fans turned out to see what their girls could do.
It’s appropriate that this team saw Daniele Hypolito as its leader. Before Hypolito came on the Olympic scene as a 15-year-old in Sydney, Brazil didn’t have much going on in the gymnastics sense. With a first appearance in the sport at the boycotted 1980 Games, Brazil saw a series of individuals make attempts, but it wasn’t until Hypolito arrived that the women began to get international attention. Her 20th place all-around finish in 2000 inspired a whole generation of gymnasts to follow, and four years later, Brazil had a whole team of gymnasts at the Games, with Hypolito besting her all-around finish by coming 12th there while teammate Daiane dos Santos, a Brazilian legend in her own right, came fifth on floor.
The team spent the next decade steadily rising through the ranks, though they always seemed to be held back by injuries and other drama, including Jade Barbosa, who has Brazil’s best ever all-around finish at 10th in 2008, being left off the London team due to endorsement disputes. Already shattered by injuries, the 2012 team could barely scrape by to qualify in last place in London, with no athletes reaching a single final, a devastating finish after earning five finals spots and an 8th place team finish in Beijing. Would they even qualify a full team to the Games they hosted?
But a combination of promising new talent alongside the insight and instruction from former Russian coach Alexander Alexandrov led to a revival this quad, with the nation fielding its best women’s team of all time, a team that would hold its own in one of the deepest Olympic fields in recent history.
Though the team failed to qualify directly to the Olympics at worlds last year, the Brazilian women were on the same level as several of the teams that did make it through, like Canada, Italy, and the Netherlands. At the start of 2016, Alexandrov and team coordinator Georgette Vidor selected a core group of five gymnasts most likely to make the team — the veterans Hypolito and Barbosa, 2015 Pan Am bronze medalist Flavia Saraiva, 2015 national champion Lorrane Oliveira, and Rebeca Andrade, the once-promising junior who spent most of 2014 and 2015 recovering from injuries — and sent them off to Jesolo as well as a few smaller individual meets to get them prepared for the test event. After the disappointment in 2012, there was now no question whether they’d qualify, and the women handled the competition with confidence to finish first in that field of eight.
The next challenge was making the team final, which the Brazilians were a favorite to do if they hit. In the end, they managed to qualify fifth with a total of 174.054, just one hundredth of a point behind Great Britain and within about a half point from the top three, making them a potential podium finisher if everything came together in finals; a stretch, but a possibility nonetheless.
Andrade, whom it seemed would never get over the injuries plaguing her throughout her career, was exactly what you’d expect her to be on this day, competing her Amanar for the first time in over a year, looking incredible on bars, and hitting both beam and floor, the events that took the longest to get back and which she didn’t start competing again until late spring. With a 58.732 in the all-around, Andrade posted the best score of her career to qualify fourth into the final (third when you take the two-per-country rule into account). It was a tremendous day for the 17-year-old, who more than lived up to the expectations set for her when she was just a junior.
Also performing well was Saraiva, who didn’t hit bars as well as she could have, but she still managed to qualify second into the all-around final for Brazil, finishing 19th overall that day with a 56.532 to edge out Barbosa by a tenth. Brazil would later opt to swap Barbosa into the final in an effort to save Saraiva for the beam final, into which Saraiva qualified third with a 15.133, directly behind the two Americans who would later medal. Her performance there was nothing short of brilliant, with both her bhs-loso-loso and her roundoff layout series looking sharp and everything else hit precisely as well. Finally, her floor — while not the most difficult routine in the pack — was a crowd-pleaser, and also tied Andrade’s 14.033 for Brazil’s highest score on the event.
As for the veterans, Barbosa contributed scores everywhere but beam, helping especially on vault with a DTY and on bars, where a 14.266 for her cleaned-up routine was the second-best for the team, helping her to a 23rd place finish overall for the day. Hypolito competed only on beam and floor, and while her beam was about as good as you can expect (capped off with a stuck double pike dismount), her brand-new Brazil-flavored floor routine got the best of her, as she sat her 2.5 to front layout and then went out-of-bounds on her 1½ to front full for a 12.4, which they thankfully dropped.
Oliveira balanced out Hypolito’s beam and floor with strong sets on vault, with a clean DTY, and on bars, which she hit cleanly for a 14.158. Earlier in the year it seemed Oliveira might be a standout for this team alongside Saraiva and Andrade, but she seemed to regress a little as time went on, especially on floor, where she was once capable of huge skills and big potential. Sadly, this didn’t pan out for her and Barbosa became the third all-around option, though Oliveira did exactly what she needed to do in this competition on her two best events.
Without the luxury of dropping the couple of falls the Brazilian women had in qualifications, their score dropped by two points in the team final, counting two falls into their 172.087 total, putting them in last place. Even without the falls they wouldn’t have reached the podium with both Russia and China outperforming their own qualifications routines, though I’m sure 8th place was a bit of a sting in front of the home crowd, especially after their fifth place finish two days earlier.
The first fall came from Barbosa on beam, getting them off to a weak start, and then Andrade fell on floor in the second rotation, landing her final pass — a double pike — to her knees after an otherwise solid effort. Though these were the only big mistakes, a few other smaller ones also brought down their overall score, like a wobblier-than-usual beam set from Saraiva and a step out-of-bounds from Andrade on her Amanar.
Otherwise, though, the women did some of their best work. Barbosa came back from her fall to nail floor, drill her DTY, and perform one of the best bar routines I’ve ever seen her do. Hypolito hit her always steady leadoff beam routine, Saraiva was outstanding on floor, Andrade had yet another brilliant bars set, and Oliveira contributed a nice routine on that event as well. It wasn’t a perfect day and the combined mistakes took them from a potential fourth place finish to the very bottom of the barrel in what ended up being a super tight field, but overall the team still showed an incredible fight, with 8th place tying their best-ever team finish, something the women also achieved in 2008.
Things only got disappointing from there, sadly, with Barbosa crunching her ankles on floor and then leaving the arena in a wheelchair, in tears in front of a supportive crowd. Andrade also had a rough day, with some rough handstand work and close releases on bars, a couple of big wobbles and a bailed switch ring on beam, and then some small landing errors on both her Amanar and on floor. Without the precision and perfection showed in her qualifications performance, she finished only 11th with a 56.965, a bummer when you come in as one of the leaders and especially when you realize that her qualifications score would’ve gotten her the bronze medal.
Even Saraiva, the only one to make an event final, didn’t have the day she hoped for, even if her fifth-place finish was the best Olympic final finish for a Brazilian woman on beam. With the advantage of going up last in front of a home crowd, Saraiva clearly felt the pressure in this competition, and landed her roundoff layout series with a huge wobble before going on to make many other costly landing deductions on several of her skills to finish with a 14.533, over half a point behind her qualifications score and two tenths behind the bronze medalist. Coming in, Saraiva’s beam had the biggest medal potential, so it’s a shame she wasn’t able to make it happen after doing so well on this event for the majority of her career, but if I can be selfish for a moment, hopefully it means she’ll stick around for another quad or four so she can one day capture the medal that eluded her in Rio.
The individual mistakes in the latter half of the Games don’t cheapen Brazil’s overall Olympic efforts, however. The big goal here was making the team final at home in front of thousands of homegrown fans, and they did just that, making a whole nation proud.
Article by Lauren Hopkins