For some women’s programs, the objective is a medal. For others, just making the team final is more than enough. And for France this year, with the team final likely not going to happen given the relative depth among the majority of these programs, the women made the most of their situation, fighting back from a couple of falls to finish well and have a blast while doing it.
With the horrifying injury to Samir Ait Said on the French men’s team, the women decided to dedicate their performance to their fallen brother, the warrior who fought back from a similar season-ending injury that caused him to miss the Games completely in 2012 only to crash vault and shatter his leg in front of a crowd when he finally made his Olympic dream come true. As a long shot for the team final, France did everything it could to reach its best performance of the past two quads, and they had more fun than anyone else there while doing it.
The team placed 11th in qualifications, counting a fall on bars in the very first rotation, but otherwise getting through the rest of their routines well. Bars is undoubtedly the team’s strongest event as a whole, with three huge routines from Loan His, Louise Vanhille, and Oreane Lechenault in the rotation, and even with the falls it ended up being their highest-scoring of the day.
Leader Marine Brevet was first up in the rotation with a fantastic lead-off routine, posting a 14.333 for a set she was thrilled about, especially as bars tends to cause the most trouble for her. The score was actually the highest for her this quad, and she jumped up and down after receiving it, getting the team off to a great and happy start.
Unfortunately, nerves got the best of Lechenault, with the first-year senior off on her very first skill, what was supposed to be an inbar full. She had to muscle through the first half of the pirouette and then came off, unable to pull it back together. She repeated the skill just fine the second time around and went on to hit the rest of her routine well, nearly sticking her double front. It was a great recovery, and she looked happy with the exercise overall, though it’s hard to not beat yourself up over such an uncharacteristic mistake within the first second of your Olympic debut.
Vanhille followed her with one of her strongest bars sets of the year, hitting her Chow to Hindorff, hop change to huge Jaeger, Ricna, and stuck double layout dismount for a 14.866, the team’s best score at the Games. But unfortunately, His — who was there only for bars — couldn’t finish them off with a hit routine, getting just a 13.9 for what could’ve been a finals contender routine after a fall on her huge Church, on which she caught the bar with her finger tips but couldn’t get her dowel over. She got it the second time around, and the beginning of her routine prior to the fall was awesome, including a Seitz to pak (YAS!!!) and a big straddle Jaeger. After the fall you could see she was getting a little rushed and sloppy, just wanting to finish her day, and she did look a bit upset at the end, but she’s been dealing with an ankle injury this summer and hasn’t been able to train at her full potential.
Following bars, the rest of the day went smoothly, for the most part. Vanhille, Lechenault, and Brevet all hit beam well enough before handing the stage over to first-year senior and beam goddess Marine Boyer, who qualified into the beam final for her strong work. Everyone also hit floor well, where the difficulty there is far too low for them to make waves, though Brevet had a crowd-pleasing routine with her Pink Floyd set entertaining the crowd and done well, especially with her opening stuck double layout.
The team finished on vault, where Lechenault started them out with a crashed Yurchenko full, though the rest of the gang — Vanhille, Brevet, and Boyer — all hit nicely. Boyer has typically competed a double this year, but stuck to a full, likely knowing a double wouldn’t be enough to get them into the team final while also wanting to save herself for beam. It was a good decision, as the vault was about as perfect as we’ll see, with gorgeous form and a great landing, earning a 14.2 to finish things up for the day.
When all was said and done, the team celebrated as if they’d just won gold. It wasn’t the perfect day, but even had His not fallen on bars, they weren’t going to make it into the final without major mistakes from other teams. They were good, but the field was deep, and it just wasn’t in the cards for them this time around. It was also a much better showing than the team had in London four years ago when France was heavily depleted by injuries and unable to send many of its top gymnasts, including Brevet. Their score this year was four points higher than it was in 2012, so this year’s qualification performance was a victory.
In addition to the team finish, France also qualified three gymnasts into finals, with Brevet and Vanhille reaching the all-around final and Boyer getting in on beam. This is the first time since the country’s gymnastics heyday back in 2004 that they’ve had at least three move on from qualifications, showing a big step forward in their program’s progress under the open-ended code of points.
In the all-around, Brevet finished 15th, also a record since 2004, finishing up her gymnastics career on a high note going four-for-four with a 56.599 total, one of the best scores of her career. She announced putting her elite career “on pause” as she began physical therapy school in the weeks following the Games, leaving the sport on a high note at 21, fighting hard to get back to a world-class level of gymnastics after injuries that held her back in the early part of her career. We’ll miss her as a leader of the French program, but the national team ranks right now are stacked with young seniors and promising juniors who will carry it forward.
Vanhille had a few little mistakes, finishing 21st with a 54.666 after a form break on her toe full on bars (which she covered up super well, actually, and continued like nothing went wrong!) and getting heavily devalued on beam, where she was a bit too hesitant with some of her connections. It was actually a pretty routine, capped off with a stuck gainer layout dismount, but she was given just a 4.9 D score, down at least half a point of what we normally see. Vanhille is one I can see maturing like a fine wine in this sport, getting her bearings in her younger years this quad, but really running the show as she reaches her late teens and early twenties.
Finally, Boyer — first French gymnast to ever make it to the balance beam finals and the first to reach apparatus finals since 2004 — placed fourth there with a 14.6, just over a tenth shy of the medal podium. Going up second-to-last and having seen mistakes from Simone Biles and Catalina Ponor leading up to her own set, I really thought either she or Flavia Saraiva would get the bronze. Boyer came so close, but a wobble on her side aerial and some uncredited connections held her back. Her coaches submitted an inquiry, though it was rejected and she was unable to take advantage of Biles putting her hands down, a mistake that probably should have taken her out of contention for medals but the rest of her routine made up for the mistake, making her hard to beat either way.
Overall, France had far more to celebrate than to bemoan, and as I’ve said, the strides they’ve made this quad compared to 2008 and 2012 were enormous. Once a gymnastics program on the rise to becoming a world power team, the new code of points in 2006 derailed them a bit. The team is still a bit behind in difficulty on vault and floor, but as they’ve shown this year, they can manage world class routines on par with some of the world’s best on bars and beam, and are on track to continue their rise in the years to come.
Article by Lauren Hopkins