Beam Defeats Italy’s Veterans


Italy’s national coach Enrico Casella chose his Olympic team this year with one thing in mind — difficulty.

In a way, the plan worked. Olympic veterans Vanessa Ferrari, Erika Fasana, and Carlotta Ferlito were the three locks for the team’s selection, so the two who truly benefited from the selection policy were Martina Rizzelli and Elisa Meneghini, who struggled with consistency all season but who had more to offer when they hit, with Rizzelli the country’s best on bars and Meneghini capable of big numbers on beam and floor. Casella was taking a risk with both.

But these two, both new seniors this quad with Meneghini turning 16 in 2013 and Rizzelli following a year later, ended up being vital contributors to the Italian team after all three veterans had falls on beam.

It was actually bizarre to see these uncharacteristic falls from Fasana, Ferrari, and Ferlito all in a row. Instead it was Meneghini, last up, who hit her routine, and who hit it incredibly well under a ton of pressure. Opting to scrap her testy layout full, she nailed her layout series and everything else, looking clean and confident aside from a few wobbles. She followed it up with one of her best-ever performances on floor, nearly sticking every pass, including her double layout, full-in, whip whip to double tuck, and a double pike for a 14.233.

Unfortunately, Meneghini’s difficulty on both events was too low for her to factor into either of the finals, especially as teammates Ferrari and Fasana both beat her to the punch on floor. But it was a tour-de-force from Meneghini, who has never had anything come together quite as she did in Rio. It was a shame we didn’t get to see her more than in that one qualifications performance, but she did everything she could to help her team and was a true surprise standout for Italy.

Rizzelli too had a good qualifications day, hitting her DTY and her difficult bars set to count two hit routines. Her form is quite messy on both, but as vault tends to go in general, a messy DTY from Rizzelli is more valuable than a hit Yurchenko full or 1½ from anyone else, and so a 14.533 there was a very strong number for this rotation, tying Ferrari’s own messy DTY for the top vault scores for the team.

Aside from the beam catastrophe, Fasana, Ferlito, and Ferrari each performed well enough to make finals elsewhere, with Ferlito and Ferrari both sneaking into the all-around final in two of the final spots (neither would have made it without the two-per-country rule, actually) and then both Ferrari and Fasana reaching the floor final as well.

In what will likely be her final competition ever due to the injuries that have plagued the last few years of her career, Ferrari made it through vault and bars relatively unscathed and then had one of the best floor performances of her career, earning a 14.866 to put her in the hunt for a medal. Ferlito, coming back from her scary fall at Jesolo, had a super rough DTY, but performed well on both bars and floor, and Fasana, also returning from injury and thus not competing vault (a bit of a bummer as she’s probably the best vaulter in this bunch), posted the top bars score and the second-best floor score. All three were able to make up for their beam falls in other ways, then, but at the end of the day it didn’t matter. The women counted two falls and finished just over two points behind the last team to qualify into the team final. The damage was done.

So Italy took a risk with bringing two young gymnasts with tons of difficulty and it paid off, only to have beam take down the veterans who typically excel there, with both Ferrari and Ferlito having made world event finals there in the past. It was a shame to see them not reach the final after fighting so hard to get the top three back from injuries in time. In 2012, the women made their first top eight team appearance in 56 years, making enormous strides that quad and the quad before to take the program from irrelevant to one of the best in the world, so hopefully this step back will just lead to two more steps forward in the future.

In the all-around final, Ferlito ended up placing 12th with a 56.958 while Ferrari placed 16th with a 56.541, both going four-for-four with solid work throughout. Both fixed up their DTYs a bit, hit beam, and sailed through bars, while Ferlito also had a great exercise on floor, getting a 14.125 including an 8.525 in execution, one of the better E scores there that day. Ferrari did have some mistakes on floor, with her double double going out-of-bounds and a few other landing errors throughout, but overall it was a much better day than her qualification performance, and her focus was more on the event final anyway.

Ahh, the floor final. The bane of Ferrari’s existence, the Olympic medal that has always eluded her. After qualifications, it looked like Ferrari might actually make it happen, after missing the final in 2008 and then tying for bronze in 2012 but losing out to Aliya Mustafina in the tie-breaker. Her qualifications routine was promising, and had she performed it that way in finals, I think it could’ve been her year. She thought so, too, bringing back the music she used in 2006 when she became an international star in the sport to pay homage in what was likely the final competition of her career.

It was close. With just a small hop on her double double, a stuck landing on her double layout, and a slightly underrotated tucked full-in, it all came down to her final pass. On the double pike, she took two steps back, and earned a 14.766 total, less than two tenths behind Great Britain’s Amy Tinkler to once again finish fourth. Without those steps, which — as the last piece of her routine — left an impression on the judges, the medal would’ve been hers, but Ferrari thinks she deserved it even with the mistake, bursting into tears when she saw the final result.

“It’s the same as in London,” she told the Italian press after it happened. “In 2012, they stole [the medal] from me. Here [in Rio] it could have gone either way and they decided the other way. More or less, it’s the same thing. I knew I could have performed the routine in a better way, but it was still good. I had hopes up to the very end because it was still possible to receive the medal.”

She continued talking about coming back from injuries and dealing with so many physical issues yet always doing her best. “In Beijing, in London, here in Rio, at worlds in Glasgow where I could barely stand on my feet and yet still helped qualify the team…I did everything I had to do. It’s a huge disappointment as it had been in London. In sports, some win and some lose, and the latter happened again to me. But I did my best. I couldn’t have done anything more.”

Casella seemed more realistic about her chances with the errors on the final pass, though. “I told her right away that the step at the end would cost her dearly,” he said. “This time the judges did the right thing. You can’t repay injustice [missing a medal in London] with another injustice [getting rewarded here for mistakes].”

It was definitely disappointing to see her miss out yet again, but I do think Casella is right. It was a great routine, but so was Tinkler’s, and in comparison, Tinkler had no mistakes as glaring as Ferrari’s. It could’ve gone either way, but it went Tinkler’s way because she gave a better overall impression.

Fasana ended up placing sixth for her own routine, improving on her qualifications performance by a great deal, showing only minor errors here and there, including a low chest on her stuck double double, a hop forward on her double layout, and a hop forward on her double pike. As someone who wasn’t a medal contender and who came into the final in last place, this was actually a great finish for her, and so there was really nothing to complain about on her end.

So it wasn’t a great Olympics for the Italians, and they didn’t get the team or individual results they’d hoped for, but I think going forward they’ll now know to make consistency as much of a priority as bringing in the most difficulty possible.

Also, If Ferrari does end up retiring, it’ll be interesting to see the direction the program takes. It’s no coincidence that the success of the program began right alongside Ferrari reaching the senior levels, and Italy still has a long way to go in terms of building up the next generation of gymnasts. They have promise, but they always seem to have promise. A lack of promise isn’t the issue. The issue is getting gymnasts to fulfill that promise, which is what they’ll need to figure out going forward if they won’t have Ferrari to save them.

Article by Lauren Hopkins


13 thoughts on “Beam Defeats Italy’s Veterans

  1. I think Italy is going to take the same route China did in 2008 and Romania in 2004 which is really milk the new seniors for results. They already have three three contributing scores in Maggio, Vila and Basile, and if those three stay healthy and progress steadily they may be locks for the next worlds and olympics unless they have other crazy juniors come up or veterans who turn out to be late bloomers.


  2. My heart broke for Ferrari because she just seems to get so unlucky at the Games. However the bronze rightfully went to Amy. I do believe Ferrari will retire and the only way she would come back I think is if Italy really needs her. But I think they’ll be fine!


  3. Totally off topic, but please Lauren, don’t hate me for asking this, but when is “When It Counts” coming out because I have been dying to read that book!!


  4. Italy owes a lot to Vanessa Ferrari. She is the Beth Tweddle of the Italian team. She put Italy on the gymnastics map. I will miss her tremendously. Vanessa has been a mainstay in elite gymnastics for over a decade. Also, I loved her leotards!! She should have a major floor medal, but the judges always loved Aliya more than Vanessa. They are two very different gymnasts and there are a lot of subjective aspects to judging. Different judging panels may have felt differently than the ones that were present in London 2012 and Nanning 2014.

    I think Italy has some great young gymnasts. I love Meneghini’s beam routine. She’ll get more consistent with time (knock on wood). I hope Ferlito gets her act together to put a solid beam routine together at a major competition. She has podium potential on beam.


  5. “steps……as the last part of her routine – left a impression on the judges…”

    I hear this a lot in gymnastics and it’s nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.

    Do you think that with a messy dismount, judges go back and additionally mark down the earlier part of the routine because of the finish?

    Judges mark deductions in real time during the routine. By the time the gymnast gets to the dismount, everything in the routine up to that moment has already been judged. They do not go back and change deductions on earlier skills in the routine depending on how the dismount went.


    • That’s not what people mean when they say it left an impression. No one goes back and takes off earlier deductions, but when they’re putting together the final score, it’s not all about just adding up tenths and that’s done. They do something called RANKING. If a routine gets a 15 and then someone goes after with a similar D score and more large and noticeable mistakes but still ended up with a 15.1, they will likely end up bringing that score down a bit because rankings-wise, that routine doesn’t deserve to be ahead of the similarly-difficult one before it that had no major mistakes. Subjective scoring sucks in general, but in a way, this is the beauty of subjective judging…in the end, even if all scores are crazy and out of whack, for the most part, relative to one another, the scores work and the rankings make sense. It’s impossible to do this on a qualifications day, which is why some session scores are crazier than others (i.e. Aly Raisman getting almost the same E score on bars as Fan Yilin) but in a finals day, the judges are all about ranking, ranking, ranking. Vanessa up until the steps at the end was likely going to win bronze. But those steps counted heavily against her compared to Amy’s routine, which had no major landing issues, and so Vanessa’s was rightfully ranked behind Amy’s. The scores don’t matter at all. The ranking does.


  6. I have loved Ferrari for years. I have mostly tried to ignore her comments about judges robbing her of medals, but she makes them all of the time. There are a few times when I thought the scoring wasnt fair, but not just towards her, other athletes as well. And i think all of the tie breakers at the Olympics are unfair. But she constantly makes comments saying that the results are decided ahead of time, the judges intentionally score her lower, etc, etc. It is so frustrating. I so get that coming in forth sucks, or and that having that happen over and over again makes you want to sob uncontrollably and rage smash every judges computer and chair. And the tie thing, i just can’t even talk about. (Even though it’s super unrealistic, I don’t just think the rule should be changed, I think they should go back and give the athletes the medals they weren’t given. Though I know it has much less meaning when it’s done later.) But there gets to be a point when you need to learn how to be a more gracious “loser,” (I use quotes because consistently doing that well is amazing) and realize that your comments, while not directly about the other gymnasts, do come across as if they are sometimes. At this point, you can’t say, she’s young, she’s new, she doesn’t know how things work, etc. I dunt see anything wrong with disappointment or even saying that you think the judges got it wrong. But when you say they decided ahead of time and it didn’t matter what you did, it doesn’t come across well.


    • I remember Vanessa ranting after the London results and though it wasn’t pretty she did make a very good point. Ponor was favored in qualifications as she missed a hand (going into her triple full I think) and she didn’t complete the skill and still made finals. I wasn’t following the gymternet back then so I don’t know if people pointed that out or not but she shouldn’t have been in finals, of course they wanted a beautiful floor final with the major celebrities and it seemingly wouldn’t hurt to sneak her in but it did. She did great in London, she doesn’t have Aliya’s form, her feet only point so far and her tendons don’t hyper extend but that’s her body structure and that’s pretty much it about it.
      If she’s doing to be penalized for it then yes, the battle will be lost before even starting it.
      There was a famous case in Italy over this issue, it was a dance competition and one girl called Agata Reale (beautiful name isn’t it?) had amazing dancing skills but feet that are inappropriate for a classical dancer, coaches would ask her to point her feet and it seemed like she was taking a piss because really they didn’t point that much, she was constantly losing and that seemed to be decided beforehand because she couldn’t change feet for the occasion


      • To play devil’s advocate because I see this argument about various gymnasts a lot, how is that any different from someone like Shang getting penalized because she doesn’t have the power other gymnasts do? I’m pretty sure Shang could water down all her tumbling and her tumbling would still be low in comparison to others, and it’s part of the reason why she scores so poorly on floor because the deductions for insufficient height are big. Or Nastia would be another example, since Valeri said how hard it was to build up her strength – but she still couldn’t manage more than a 1.5TY on vault and it’s unlikely she’d be as competitive an AAer under today’s code where bars scores were fixed to be in line with the other events. Ferrari doesn’t have this problem and she doesn’t get the .3 height deductions someone like Shang does.

        But I agree Ponor probably shouldn’t have been in that 2012 final, she should have scored lower than Mustafina/Tweddle and that would have kept her out. I think it’s one of those outcomes that people didn’t get too upset about because her finals routine was so great and that’s the one everyone remembers. It happens sometimes, just like it’s questionable whether Jessica Lopez should have knocked Fan out of bars finals this time around, but I doubt in a few years many people besides China fans will rewatch that final and say J.Lo shouldn’t have been there.


  7. Not into that tie breaker rule, but just suck it up, Ferrari, you could’ve done better this time.

    Gymnasts should really learn to shut their mouth sometimes (i.e. Gabby, Ferlito, Ponor, etc).


    • Yeah I’m not going to pretend I’ll miss Ferrari lol. Rewatching that final I don’t even think she should have been 4th.

      I do hope someone can fill her shoes going forward though, or Italy might take a step back.


      • If anyone can it would be Erika Fasana. She has so much potential but going into the Games injured isn’t exactly the best case scenario. She’s powerful on Vault and Floor and actually has a pretty good bar set considering it is Italy and her beam is ok


  8. Ferrari is basically the Italian Mustafina, she’s the rock of the team.
    And honestly she’s the only medal contender on a world stage, Fasana and Ferlito are pleasant to watch and they make finals but the issues that haven’t been addressed on the Italian development program (lack of flexibility on splits, lack of toe points) are very noticeable on those 2.
    I also blame the lack of ability to upgrade as a huge Italian problem, Francesca d’Aggostini was so promising, Tea Ugrin is so beautiful to watch but they have basically the same difficulty level since they became seniors.
    Without Ferrari I see darkness, Rio was a casualty because they had a Mini Russian style Glasgow beam meltdown on qualifications but it also happened that some teams improved a lot, Netherlands and Brasil didn’t make it to TF in London, Japan and Germany were present throughoutthe last quad but they weren’t as strong as they are now


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