Olympic All-Around Finals, Ranked

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In our Post-Olympic Depression, we love to continue to live in the past, and so welcome to a fun little journey into the past three decades of all-around finals. Erika Petersen watched every final from 1984 to the present and used her expert opinion to rank them from worst to best. Don’t agree? Let us know in the comments what your favorites and least favorites are!

2000 — Svetlana Khorkina vs. Andreea Raducan vs. The Vault vs. Cold Medicine

I almost want to skip this year because the entire thing was such a mess, but it happened, so here we are. Russian goddess and gym fan favorite Svetlana Khorkina had qualified first to the final by nearly three tenths of a point, but was immediately out of medal contention after a crash on vault. Not just a fall, but a full-on crash — the vault had been wrongly measured and set incorrectly, not to be reset until the third rotation.

Gymnasts who had already competed the apparatus in the first and second rotations were given the option to redo their vaults, but since Svetlana was so emotionally compromised, she fell on bars as well. It looked like Viktoria Karpenko, the reigning world silver medalist at the time, would step in, and she led the competition until the last rotation when she landed her first tumbling pass beautifully but then stubbed her toe as she stepped into a lunge, causing her to trip and fall out-of-bounds, dropping to 11th.

Andreea Raducan magically landed both vaults in the first rotation despite the vault’s incorrect setting, averaging a 9.706. Raducan forged on ahead to receive the gold medal, only to have it stripped and handed to Simona Amanar shortly after the competition when she tested positive for a banned substance found in the cold medicine she was taking, pseudoephedrine, which was removed from the banned substance list a few years later.

GRADE: F- (It’s like that episode of Jersey Shore where Snooki gets punched in the face. At first you’re like “ugh MAJOR DRAMA gotta see this!” and then at the end you just feel really bad for everyone. Basically the only good thing to come out of it was the introduction of the safer vault tables we see today that debuted at worlds in 2001.)

2008 — Nastia Liukin vs. Shawn Johnson

I love looking back at the start values from the first Olympics under the new code of points. I mean, Nastia had a 7.7 start value on bars and Shawn’s 15.875 on vault was under such scrutiny for being so low. CAN YOU IMAGINE?!

The Americans spent all of 2007 and 2008 alternating gold and silver at both domestic and international competitions, so going into the all-around, it all came down to who had the better day. Nastia won out with impeccable routines, all scoring through the roof in execution, with her only real error coming with a step on her bars dismount. Shawn had the edge with her difficult Amanar vault, but with form errors and a step on the landing combined with her lower bars start value, Nastia had just enough room to cruise by and score a massive 63.325, winning the second consecutive all-around gold medal for the United States.

The only challenger who came close to upsetting either of them was China’s Yang Yilin, who had the highest score of the day on bars with a 16.725, but in the end she came a tenth behind Shawn, taking home the bronze.

GRADE: C (It was exciting when it happened as I live in America and USA! USA! and all that, but it really can’t hold a candle to the drama, depth, and unpredictability of the earlier quads.)

2016 — Simone Biles vs. Herself and Literally No One Else

Honestly though. Simone Biles entered the 2016 Games having swept gold in every single competition she entered this quad aside from two back in the early half of 2013. FOUR YEARS of domination. She already made history by 2015 when she was the first woman to win three world all-around titles in a row, but because Simone is Simone, she couldn’t stop without an Olympic title as the cherry on top. With her high start values on every apparatus and impeccable execution, no one could come close to touching her in Rio.

Earlier this quad, the real fight was for second place, with some good battles especially at worlds in 2014 and 2015. This year the only real question we had was which American would qualify to all-around finals to secure the silver (spoiler alert, it was Aly Raisman, who cried like she was just reunited with her family after 17 years lost at sea). But what would an all-around final be without even a tiny bit of drama, even if we have to dig deep? After vault and bars — her best events — Aliya Mustafina of Russia was atop the board, causing me to sweat as I’ve never seen Simone anywhere but first place. But deep down, we all knew what was coming.

Aliya does this thing where she changes her beam routine every time she does it because she’s a badass, and she can usually throw something together that can score decently. However, this time, she straight up didn’t do a flight series taking her start value way down. That coupled with her painfully low start value on floor meant no hopes for silver let alone challenging Simone, and by the final rotation, Simone was back on top with an astounding two-point lead.

After Simone’s very last pass in her floor routine, she took the biggest breath and sighed the biggest sigh of relief I have ever seen anyone sigh, proving that it was truly Simone against her own body and mind. As long as she did her job, she came in knowing she was going to sweep every major international all-around title this quad, something no female gymnast has ever done before. Guess what? It all worked out. The rest is history.

GRADE: B- (Okay, A+++++++ for watching so much history made in one final, but a D for just about everything else, including predictability, the least competitive field probably ever, and the fact that Aliya ended up with a bronze medal after a beam routine with no flight series over Shang Chunsong of China, who had an outstanding day but was hammered by the judges for her execution.)

2004 — Carly Patterson vs. The Return of Svetlana

After a devastating loss in Sydney, Svetlana Khorkina returned to her third Olympics as the reigning world all-around champion and hoped to finally take home the gold. Unfortunately for her, the newly-reformed U.S. program had produced Carly Patterson, the first in what would turn out to be a legacy of top all-around contenders. While Svetlana delivered her trademark elegance and contributed excellent routines, in the end she was no match for Carly’s difficult routines performed about as well as she could have hoped.

After watching 20 years of Olympic gymnastics prior to this, the 2004 all-around stands out as kind of the dividing line between generations. For one, it was the first Olympic all-around final to crack down on the number of gymnasts per country, cutting it down to two after the Romanian sweep four years earlier. It was also the last Olympics to use the Perfect 10 scoring system while simultaneously being the first to really crack down on the deductions — a super weird mix of the old and new codes. The code this year made it more difficult to reach a 10.0 start value, the commentators noted that it was almost impossible to compare scores, and routines that may have previously reached the 9.9s were scoring 9.5s and lower.

Of course, this caused some drama, as Svetlana was unhappy with her vault score, which was clearly too low, earning a lower score than she did in qualifications despite a technically superior vault. But at the same time, her bars score was unusually high, and even in recalculating her vault score, she still wouldn’t have won. Either way, this as well as some major drama over on the men’s side caused the FIG to switch to an open-ended code of points super quickly.

GRADE: Solid B for effort (Exciting to see Carly’s almost robotically perfect performance, and bittersweet to see Svetlana’s swan song floor routine and watch her finally get an all-around medal even if it’s not the one she wanted. Bonus? Baby Anna Pavlova!)

2012 — Gabby Douglas vs. Viktoria Komova

The height of the drama for this all-around competition actually happened days before the meet even started. In qualifications, Jordyn Wieber of the United States failed to qualify for the final despite placing fourth due to the two-per-country rule (teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman secured spots instead). The media immediately spun into a frenzy — could the once inconsistent Gabby stand up to Viktoria Komova, who qualified in first? Would she keep the U.S. all-around gold streak going?

In most of the competitions this quad, what the Russians lacked in their vault scores they could make up for on bars, and vice versa for the U.S. women, so the champion would be decided by beam and floor. Gabby got through her first two events with no problems, giving her just enough to stay in the lead all night long after Viktoria faltered her Amanar landing, taking one, two, and then three steps to finally salute off the landing mat, an error that ultimately cost her the title.

GRADE: B+ (Mostly for the amount of sparkles. How many sparkles had to die for these leotards?? It also gets points for Aliya Mustafina’s eye roll after a fall on beam, but loses points for sweet Viktoria basically walking off the dang podium — and away from her shot at the gold — on vault.)

1984 — Mary Lou Retton vs. Ecaterina Szabo

A dramatic all-around showdown up to the very last routine. Media darling and the first big Karolyi-produced American gymnast Mary Lou Retton had undergone knee surgery only five weeks prior to the Games. She only just barely recovered, inciting speculation that she wouldn’t be able to come through on vault and floor. Ecaterina Szabo of Romania led for the first two rotations, but Mary Lou surpassed her after her outstanding crowd-pleasing floor routine scored a perfect 10.

[Sidebar: Judging has changed SO MUCH since then. It seems like there weren’t many actual deductions and like judges decided scores by feelings rather than any sort of technical code. Like, “well, if it looked pretty good, just throw out a big number, no one is PERFECT, we’re all human!” as several “perfect 10s” at this and other meets had bobbles and steps. Today, judges are like “her fingers were two millimeters apart on her back handspring, I’m taking a tenth” so it’s really fascinating to watch someone enter a vault with bent legs, block with bent elbows, twist in a piked position with separated and bent legs, FALL on the landing, and get a 9.3. OKAY.]

In the final rotation, Ecaterina scored a 9.9 with an excellent bars set, but also had a small step on the landing. Mary Lou needed to score a 10 on vault if she wanted the gold. A 9.95 would tie Ecaterina, so much of the coverage between their routines focused on Mary Lou pacing alongside the podium in anticipation. Under this code, each gymnasts got to vault twice with the highest of the two counting. Not only did Mary Lou score a perfect 10 on the first vault, but then opted to go again, getting another perfect 10 just to rub it in.

This was the first all-around gold for the U.S. women. People who find fault with everything like to say Mary Lou only won because of the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Games, because it was hosted on her home turf, because she was over-scored…but you know what? She won. It’s been 32 years. Get over it. Haters to the left.

GRADE: A (For drama, excellent gymnastics, wild scoring, and lots of shouting from Bela Karolyi)

1996 — Lilia Podkopayeva, Gina Gogean, Simona Amanar, Lavinia Milosovici, Mo Huilan

I will admit, despite living through this at the peak of not only my adolescent interest in gymnastics but at the height of media attention for the sport as well, I could not for the life of me recall any details from this final other than no Americans medaling and Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine taking the gold in her country’s first year in existence as an independent state.

Upon rewatching the entire broadcast, WHAT A WILD RIDE!!! After winning a historic team gold medal days before, Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller of the U.S. led the pack in first and second place through the first two rotations, bars and beam. This meant something in the days of the perfect 10; with the open-ended code, there is such a variation in scores across the apparatuses, it really doesn’t mean anything if you’re in first or third or eighth in the first rotation. But back in the day, it meant everything to get that early lead. The gold was all but yours to lose.

Unfortunately for the Americans, both Dominique and Shannon had uncharacteristic steps out-of-bounds on floor, dipping back to ninth and 14th places, leaving the door wide open and the podium up for grabs. Heading into the last rotation, Mo Huilan of China was in first place with Lilia in third. Lilia posted the highest score of the night after a nearly flawless floor routine, earning a 9.887. Huilan needed a 9.857 to take the gold, but stepped out on her second tumbling pass, a 2½ to punch front. The gold went to Lilia, with the rest of the medals going to the Romanians, including a tie for bronze.

GRADE: A+ (Especially for the broadcast. Great content, maximum fluff, emotional highs and lows — highly recommend.)

1988 — Yelena Shushunova vs. Daniela Silivas

Ughhhh the first time I saw Daniela Silivas of Romania, my heart got all fluttery like it was my middle school crush sitting in front of me in English class. The elegant lines, the toe point, the difficulty, the pile of red hair like she had to rush from every competition straight to performing on Broadway in Annie…what’s not to love?!

Then I saw the Soviet Yelena Shushunova and was blown away by her insane tumbling. This competition really could have gone either way, and in the end it came down to missteps and minuscule mistakes. If you thought the scoring was insane in 1984, hold on to your sky-high perm cuz errbody gettin’ 10s in this quad! In fact, the competition was so tight that it came down to the prelim scores.

This was the last Olympics before the FIG ushered in the “new life” rule in 1989, and so the all-around qualification scores — which added the compulsory and optional scores together and then cut them in half — combined with the final score to determine the winner. Even though Daniela had the better all-around score, she came into the final at a 0.05 deficit behind Yelena, who won out with a combined score of 79.662 to Daniela’s 79.637. Did you do the math on that yet??? She missed gold by 0.025, which is one-fortieth of a point!!!

Both Daniela and Yelena scored perfect 10s on floor, with Daniela’s routine featuring her trademark balletic lines, difficult tumbling, and the robot while Yelena had her dynamic and innovative passes. But what would an all-around final be without controversy? On Daniela’s first of two vaults, three judges gave her 10s, two gave her a 9.9, while the Soviet judge only gave her a 9.8. She did not contest this in the end, as the highest and lowest scores from the judging panel were dropped with the remaining four averaged, so even if the Soviet judge had tossed her a 9.9, it wouldn’t have made things any different.

Though Daniela didn’t win the all-around, she did manage to walk away with the gold medals on bars, beam, and floor and the bronze on vault in event finals, so in all, it was a successful Games for both her and her Soviet rival.

GRADE: A++ (Fabulous gymnastics, a code of points featuring originality bonuses, crazy 80s hairdos, and a bonus first Olympic appearance from gym legend Svetlana Boginskaya, who placed third!)

1992 — Tatiana Gutsu vs. Shannon Miller

The media publicized the all-around final this year as 1991 world champion Kim Zmeskal going head-to-head with the Unified team’s veteran Svetlana Boginskaya, but it was Shannon Miller and Tatiana Gutsu who ended up in the running.

The biggest drama this year actually came from team finals, where Tatiana fell on her beam mount, knocking her out of the running for one of the all-around final spots. Her teammate Rozalia Galiyeva qualified above her, but the Unified team pulled her citing a knee injury she didn’t actually have so Tatiana could take her place. Now when you hear someone say “she was Galiyeva’ed,” you know this is where it comes from.

As the first Olympics with the new life rule, none of the scores from either compulsories or optionals carried over into the final. Though not as bananas as 1988 when it came to scoring, the field was still extremely tight with only two tenths separating first place from SEVENTH place, so this was another year decided by small hops on landings and barely noticeable form breaks.

Both Shannon and Tatiana had nearly flawless competitions, so the podium came down to Tatiana’s final vault. Shannon had vaulted earlier in the lineup with a gorgeous FTY, scoring a 9.975. Tatiana performed the same vault but had noticeable form issues on both attempts — her legs were separated on the entry and she piked down the landing. It was up to the judges to decide if either of her attempts were worth more than a 9.95 to put her in the lead, and in a controversial move, they sure did! Tatiana took home the gold, winning by the closest margin in Olympic history, just 0.012 ahead of Shannon.

Fun fact, Oksana Chusovitina was on the gold medal-winning Unified team this year in what would be her first of seven Olympic appearances. She is still competing today, coached by a member of that same team, good old Svetlana Boginskaya. SUPER BAD ASS. YOU GO, CHUSO. Another fun fact? Kim’s step out of bounds in an otherwise flawless floor exercise earned her a 9.775, which in such a deep field was considered a “devastating” mistake, putting her in 23rd place. Say what you will about the open-ended code of points, but this is absolutely ridiculous.

GRADE: A+++ (Gorgeous gymnastics, lots of originality, so many solid rivalries, a million stuck landings, and fantastic fluff pieces about the friendship between Boginskaya and Gutsu.)

Article by Erika Petersen

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10 thoughts on “Olympic All-Around Finals, Ranked

  1. Awesome!! This was the most fun blog post I’ve read – EVER. Loved it!! My favorite was 1996 because it was also the height of adolescence for me, and I watched every competition from 1992 to 1996 maybe fifty times. (Our VCR almost broke, or at least those old VHS tapes did!) Fantastic depth at that time and great execution. The combo of difficulty and execution was perfect, I think. Next up was 1992, then maybe 2008. I actually haven’t seen the 84 or 88 AA films, so I can’t judge those. Worst for me was definitely 2016 because it was such a snooze, then maybe 2000 for the heartbreak. 2012 wasn’t all that great, either – just not as exciting as the golden 90s!

    Btw, love the writing style. Very entertaining!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m still sad that Mo Huilan didn’t medal. Her beam routine is my all time favorite.

    92 was good because everyone was focused on Kim Zmeskal and Shannon Miller just swooped on in. I love it when that happens. Predictable is boring.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this article! It was fascinating and so well done!
    One correction, I believe it was Dominique Moceanu, not Dominique Dawes, who competed in the all-around in 1996?

    Like

  4. I think every AA final since 1996 has been meh, honestly. Sydney was a disaster, Athens was a very weak field & overall unmemorable competition (love Sveta but she was a shadow of herself on every event by 2004), & since then it’s just been too obvious who was going to medal coming in. The open-ended system and 2-per have seriously narrowed the field at the very top. We only had 3 who were capable of hitting 60 in the Rio AA and maybe another two (Ellie Downie, & possibly Shang but I think getting sick hurt her floor a lot) who could go 59+. 2012 had one extra gymnast in that top-scorers range, but was even more disappointing for me since Iordache and Yao Jinnan could have made that a 6-way fight and both had injuries by London. I feel for Yao especially, I think it’ll be awhile before China has another AAer as good as she was.

    Maybe the switch to the new 4-member team format will help since countries will have to make developing AAers who are actually usable on all 4 events their biggest focus? IDK how China would have even handled a 4-member team this year.

    Anyway I completely agree that all the best AA finals were 1996 and before. And I’m also still sad about Mo!

    Like

  5. So much fun!! Loved this! I especially enjoyed ranking based on factors such as 80s hair, shouting from Bela Karolyi, and fluff pieces. And oh my gosh, the vault scoring in LA! Every now and then I’ll see someone be like “But MLR’s vault totally wasn’t perfect!!!!” and I’m just like “Actually watch the final and see the crap that was getting 9.9s.”

    This made me so depressed about the unfulfilled potential of Sydney and Rio. Sydney could have had the best final if it weren’t for the stupid vault and Rio could have had such an amazing battle for bronze if half the field hadn’t fallen apart.

    Liked by 1 person

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