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