Devastated Canadians Still Make History

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Over the past four years, whenever I’ve spoken to Canada’s Ellie Black, she’s refused to talk about herself. Since becoming a leader for the Canadian women, every ounce of her heart and soul has been dedicated to her team, with any personal achievement nothing more than an afterthought.

This year, after she won the bronze medal at the American Cup, I made a comment about how great it was to see her all-around abilities consistently improving and said she must feel some amount of pride for her individual accomplishments. Did she really have no individual goals going into her second Olympic Games? Nope. Because Ellie Black is refreshingly, annoyingly selfless. Her personal gains simply mean that she’ll be able to help the team even more.

Brittany Rogers, Black’s 2012 teammate and a fellow leader in Rio, comes from a similar place after just finishing up four years of NCAA competition at the University of Georgia this past spring. At the NCAA level, all notions of individual are drilled out of your brain so that everything you do in the sport is shredded down to “what does it mean for the team?” Individual finishes get nothing more than a brief mention at season meets and even nationals, and so even had Rogers made the bars final (she would’ve been close without her fall) or the vault final (she qualified ninth, one spot and less than a tenth away from the final), neither would have mattered to her if she felt in any way that she didn’t do enough for the team.

That’s why it was devastating to see the Canadians miss out on the team final by less than two tenths of a point. Even though Black went down in Canadian gymnastics history with the best all-around finish for the country ever after placing fifth in the final, you just know her pride for this achievement is dulled with the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing they would’ve made it as a team if only she hadn’t fallen on her tuck full on beam in qualifications. And even though Rogers, up last on beam, got the team back on track to hit her routine after the two falls before her, you know this is dampened by the fall of her own that came later on bars.

Black’s beam and Rogers’ bars fall weren’t Canada’s only issues on the first day of competition. Rose-Kaying Woo also fell on beam, meaning Black’s fall and Rogers’ low score from a few wobbles would both have to count in what is typically a low-scoring event for the Canadians in general. They made it through floor, but with low difficulty, scored only a few tenths higher there than they did on beam, took some sizable execution hits on vault (Rogers’ second vault actually outscored her DTY by just enough to qualify them into the final had she competed the Mustafina as her first vault), and then while Black and Isabela Onyshko both made valiant efforts to bring in great bars scores, Rogers had her fall and Woo’s difficulty was too low to help them out, meaning they had to count Rogers’ 14.266 instead of what could’ve been a finals-worthy 15+ score.

On days like these where everything goes wrong, where the difference between happiness and devastation is a foot out-of-bounds or an ankle separation on bars, you can’t point to one glaring mistake and call it the reason for failing. Every gymnast on every team made deductions costing 0.168 on every event. Black’s fall on beam and Rogers’ fall on bars caused them to miss finals just as much as a slight pike down on Onyshko’s otherwise excellent FTY did.

No one was perfect just as no one was solely responsible for what went wrong. These days happen, and it sucks to see them happen when the competition is the most important meet they’ll see in a four-year period, but when you’re talking about tenths of points as the difference-makers, the small mistakes are just as costly as the big falls. That’s gymnastics.

Even though they missed the team final, the Canadian women still had reason to celebrate. In fact, the 171.761 that got them to ninth place in Rio surpassed any other Canadian team score under this code of points, including the score they posted when they placed fifth at the Games four years ago. The depth among the teams fighting for this year’s final was so great, it didn’t matter that this was Canada’s strongest Olympic team ever. But the fact remains that it was their best squad, and even if the ranking wasn’t their highest, they still showed a tremendous improvement from any year in the past.

The team also had some great individual success, with three of the five qualifying into individual finals and Rogers coming close to two. Onyshko was tenth going into the all-around, reaching a 57.232 in qualifications with a pretty excellent day, and even with her fall on beam, Black qualified 13th in the all-around with a 56.965, proving just how incredible she is. Unfortunately, Black did miss the beam final due to that fall, but Onyshko made it in to become the first Canadian woman to reach an Olympic beam final, and first-year senior Shallon Olsen‘s power and difficulty on vault helped her reach that final, following in the footsteps of Rogers and Black in 2012.

In the all-around final, Black had about as perfect a day as she could have hoped for, reaching the best all-around score of her career at 58.298 to finish fifth, the highest Canadian finish in history. Her big skills were appreciated by the judges, including her Downie and Shang releases on bars and her tuck full on beam, which she hit well on this day.

Onyshko also had a good day, aside from a few form issues on bars taking her score down a little bit compared to what the judges gave her on day one. Otherwise, she hit her remaining events well, earning a 56.365 to place 18th in this deep field. Unfortunately, Onyshko’s one real mistake of the Olympics came with the spotlight on in the apparatus final, where she came off on her tuck full, a skill that has been the toughest for her to hit since she added it. She came back from the fall with a nice attack to hit everything else, but as the only gymnast to come off the beam in the final, she ended up placing last with a 13.4.

In the vault final, Olsen also placed eighth, though not really due to any major fault of her own aside from having one of the lowest combinations of difficulty without the strong execution to match. She debuted Canada’s first-ever Amanar in qualifications with some heavy form issues, and brought it back in the final with some equally rough problems, with crossed legs and a slight under-rotation causing her to take a few steps forward with her knee slightly dragging against the mat, earning a 14.966.

Her tucked Cheng, also known as a Khorkina, was better in the air and had a better landing, though her chest position was horizontal when her feet hit the ground. She got a 14.666 for this attempt to average a 14.816, finishing one one-hundredth behind Oksana Chusovitina, who had a fall on her Produnova but her difficulty combination made up for it, allowing her the higher ranking.

Canada could have had a much better Olympic experience, to be frank. They had potential to match or surpass their best-ever fifth-place finish from 2012, and though they showed improvement on every event and earned their best score, the women couldn’t pull off making the final. However, the improvement in itself is a big deal, as is the fact that Black and Onyshko both earned Canadian bests with Black’s fifth-place all-around finish and Onyshko making the beam final.

Little improvements like these help teams get even better in the future, and even though things didn’t go as they’d hoped, this will hopefully inspire the women for the future and help them become one of the world’s leading teams.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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17 thoughts on “Devastated Canadians Still Make History

    • I didn’t even realize I wrote tsuk?! Or that I wrote what her vaults were hahaha. Wow. I don’t even know where I would’ve gotten that because I didn’t even see her vaults…that’s hilarious. I must have been sleep-writing. Thank you!!

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  1. My major fear going into these games was realized: the Canadians, whoever is on the team, generally are at their best on the second go-round. The second event is often better than the first; the second day of competition almost inevitably so. That was true in London. There were two beam falls in prelims, but in finals, the team went 12 for 12. Based on Ellie’s performance in AA, I suspect it would have been true here. Although some fans considered them to look “under-trained”, I don’t think that this could have been the case. Perhaps they over-trained, or perhaps they under-competed, or maybe it’s just a psychological problem. Whatever it is, it will have to be fixed.

    On a more positive note, one of my favourite moments in the whole competition was Shallon Olsen’s face after her Amanar in prelims. She practically exploded from sheer joy. I wish that more videos had caught that moment, and Dave Kikuchi calming her for the Khorkina.

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    • And to give credit where credit is due: Ellie Black and Britt Rogers have every reason to be proud, upping their bars difficulty so incredibly quickly – and with good form. Britt especially deserves kudos for holding it together on beam and pulling out some very difficult vaults. Isabela shows small signs of nerves and some issue no doubt attributable to her wrist injury, but did give up some very pretty – and joyous – gymnastics.
      Rose Woo also showed great fortitude in managing to get back to Olympic form while recovered from (IIRC) herniated disk. Neither her difficulty nor her form were quite up to their previous standards, and perhaps all in all in might have been advisable to put in Megan Roberts or Madison Copiak. However, I’ve been waiting for Rose’s Olympic moment since she was a novice, and was over-joyed to see her get it. She’s still so young, I hope she sticks around until Tokyo.

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      • I’m glad someone else noticed that perhaps the selection team should have considered a different fifth gymnast (Roberts or Copiak), especially considering the inconsistency issues with the top 4. It’s all good and done, now, however.

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        • I wrote multiple articles before the selection camp saying Woo would probably be chosen for her “potential” despite underperforming all season in comparison to Roberts and Copiak. Her father actually angrily emailed me saying “Rose is better than Shallon, Brittany, Megan, and Madison and will be on the team.” I said I respected his opinion but she proved this season that she wasn’t ready for the Olympics. As it turns out, she was the only member of this team who didn’t contribute a single score to their overall total, with her bars, beam, and floor scores all the dropped scores in qualifications. They could’ve taken a four-person team and performed just as well as with Rose on the team. Nothing against Rose, but it was pretty clear that she was nowhere near the level of the other girls on the team. Madison only missed a couple of routines all year and made more sense as the leadoff for bars and beam. Rose had a ton of potential as a junior but her injury this year led to her regressing on every single event and she shouldn’t have been on the team due to past results or potential.

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        • I’m not saying that the team would have been better off with someone else, because there’s no way of saying that Madison or Megan would not have fallen. Beam is Madison’s weak event.
          It’s also the case, that Rose won that spot on the team fair and square, based on her ability to pull it together and place top 3. She did it at nationals end of May and again at Olympic selection. She was 3rd-4th AA at Elite Canada. Gymnastics Canada had good reason to believe she could deliver, and maybe they thought that if the team made finals she would settle down and produce scores in the high 13s, low 14s as she had done in the past. However, as I noted below, it’s a dangerous thing to think that there will always be a second chance.

          (I actually managed to find and look up the results of Canadian nationals and Olympic Trials before writing the above, and kudos to me for being able to do it. Gym Canada needs to get their act together when it comes to make results available or at least easily findable. This year’s been a mess).

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      • I think your not the only one who felt like it would be great to see Rose on the team, but you should never pick someone because of sentimental reasons, it should be based on how well they are doing at the time and not on how well you did in the past. Rose is a great gymnast, but she was always going to be a high reward, high risk option. If you look at her on the first day of both the Nationals and Trials she did not do that well, she did however do much better on the second day of those events. That being said it is always easy to second guess after the fact, they took a chance, rolled the dice and unfortunately it didn’t work out. It is disappointing, this team had so much potential, it was definitely not one persons fault, whether you had Megan or Madison in there instead of Rose, who knows what the outcome would have been. The Worlds should be very interesting.

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  2. I’m very optimistic about this time. Past teams who are/were on the rise (Australia, Great Britain, Brazil and now Japan) have all needed a host nation olympics to begin to build a threatening team and even then three of the four are dealing with problems now, with Japan being the only one who’s been steadily building to really maintain. But Canada doesn’t have a known host olympics coming up, with 2028 being the soonest that could happen, and the bidding hasn’t even really started yet. This team has a perfect blend of gymnasts, two Olympic veterans, one breakout star and two brand new seniors, all perfectly balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses across the four apparatus. And they still have Padurariu and Chrobok coming up from the junior ranks and who knows who they will come up with after? I’m rooting for Ana and Shallon to get medals in Montreal next fall. Beautiful city too, I think the teams will have a lot of fun.

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    • At the junior level, there’s also possibly Victoria Jurca from Gym-Fly in Montreal, and maybe Haley de Jong of Flicka. I seem to recall that Montana Fairburn is a powerful vaulter, much like Shallon Olsen. At the Novice-Youth level, Quinn Skrupa has won AA two years in a row. She’s from the same club as Isabela (Brandon Eagles). Jade and Ana are coached by Yelena Davydova, of course, as is senior Meixi Semple. She and Laurie-Lou Vezina have been injured. Meixi is the same age as Rose Woo and Shallon Olsen (born in 2000) so she could still be a factor in Tokyo.

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  3. These games weren’t like London or Beijing where i would watch only the big 4, there were too many talented teams this year, more than 8, that I wanted to see. It’s sad that Canada and Italy didn’t make it, but I wouldn’t want to miss Netherlands and Brazil either …
    I wonder was Peng Peng Lee ever part of the conversation? She missed London because of injury but my impression is that she stayed in amazing shape at UCLA, did she try for an Olympic spot?

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    • Peng Peng did say that she wanted to try to Rio, but then things happened. First, the graft for her second ACL tear was functioning properly, then she injured her hand, and then there’s the whole UCLA thing. They’re no UGeorgia, who backed Brittany Rogers to the hilt. From what I understand, they kind of scuttled Danusia Francis’s bid, and I suspect that had Peng been well enough to compete, they would have scuttled that too.
      However, I still hope that Peng Peng and her gorgeous bars and beam will be around for Montreal Worlds, or even Tokyo.

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      • That’s not entirely true. UCLA didn’t scuttle Danusia’s bid. The Jamaican Federation gave the test event spot to Toni-Ann Williams, who has competed for them longer. UCLA wasn’t in the position to decide that.

        As for Peng, she had said in interviews that she wasn’t not able to contend for a bid due to numerous injuries. She had set up new goals and had moved on in peace. Unfortunately, it seems she will retire after he final year of NCAA eligibility.

        The coaches at UCLA were very supportive of their attempts for a bid. There were videos of the coaches teaching Danusia and Peng new Elite skills (like the Ferrari leap for both and the Church release for Peng). I have no doubt UCLA would have supported them (as Georgia did for Brittany), had either been in a position to contend. After all, UCLA backed Kate Richardson in 2004 into becoming the first Canadian Olympian who was also competing in NCAA.

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        • I’m glad to hear that UCLA would have been supportive, but I couldn’t assume that 2016 would be the same as 2004. A lot of things can happen in 12 years.
          Where did you hear that Peng Peng was planning to retire after this year?

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        • Kate Richardson made much more history than just being the first to do college and elite simultaneously. She is the first Canadian women to ever compete in an Olympic event final.

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  4. Kristina Vaculik was competing elite before London, and was at Stanford, but, if I recall correctly, had taken a year off to concentrate on getting ready for the Olympics. I thought that Kate Richardson had done something similar. Brittany competed all through the NCAA *and* international elite seasons. Was Kate at any Worlds while at UCLA? Commonwealth Games was in the summer before Kate began UCLA in 2002;
    But Kate was not the first Canadian woman to compete in an Olympic event final in artistic gymnastics. That was Kelly Brown in 1984.

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    • I’ve just checked gymn.ca
      According to that site, which is usually very reliable, Kate Richardson decided to forgo competing in the 2003 World Championships – and, I note, had also missed 2002 Worlds. She seems to have competed only at Olympic Trials before going to the Olympics in Athens.
      Brittany competed at 2015 Worlds and Pac Rims 2016 before qualifying for Rio, and a full NCAA schedule.

      However, gymn.ca notes that Richelle Simpson beat both of them to the punch by competing at both 2003 Pan American Games and 2003 Worlds in the midst of her NCAA career. She probably could have been at the 2004 Olympics as well, but for a knee injury. *That* was a statistic I didn’t know.

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