Which Countries Have the Best Shot at an Individual Olympics Return? Part One

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Georgia Godwin hopes to lead Australia to a team berth for the 2020 Olympic Games, but if that doesn’t happen, she’s practically a shoo-in for an individual spot.

At this time next week, in addition to knowing the teams that will qualify to the Olympic Games, we’ll also know the majority of the individuals who will make it to Tokyo, through both the all-around competition and event final qualifiers.

This is one of the most exciting aspects of this world championships for me. Though teams will be named, we won’t actually know who will be on those teams until next year, but all of the individual spots awarded in Stuttgart will be nominative, meaning gymnasts will have their dreams come true — or end — next weekend.

Here, I’m going to profile all of the countries that earned individual spots in 2016, showing a look at those that will be most capable of returning to the Olympic Games and discussing the gymnasts I think could make it happen. In an upcoming post, I’ll also take a look at the countries that missed out on sending gymnasts to Rio, and see if they’ll be able to come back from that this year.

ALGERIA

In 2016, the French-trained gymnast Farah Boufadene got the opportunity to compete in Rio thanks to one of the continental representation spots, after South Africa turned theirs down. Farah has now retired, but Algeria has had a few French gymnasts represent them this quad, and 2018 Youth Olympic Games competitor Sofia Nair will be the one hoping to book a ticket to the Olympic Games this year.

Nair has competed a few times this year, most recently making event finals on beam and floor at the African Games, and she also competed both of these events at the Paris Challenge Cup a couple of weeks ago. Her all-around potential is around a 46-47, which I think will be below the cut-off for those who qualify, but if she doesn’t get in this year, she’d have a pretty decent shot at qualifying through next year’s African Championships, so I’d consider Algeria’s chances about 50% safe.

ARGENTINA

Though Argentina has a full team at worlds, I think they’re a bit too far behind for the team race, though they’ll easily qualify an all-arounder this year. In 2016, Ailen Valente —now retired — reached Rio by the skin of her teeth, making it as the final gymnast from the test event qualifier.

This year, Argentina has several strong options, but Martina Dominici will be the one to watch. A standout since her junior days, the 17-year-old has looked fantastic in recent competitions, finishing fifth all-around and qualifying into three event finals at last month’s Pan American Games. Her scores have been good enough to make her a borderline threat for the all-around final in Stuttgart, so qualifying to Tokyo will be a cinch for her.

If for some reason she doesn’t qualify, Argentina has two first-year seniors — Abigail Magistrati and Luna Fernandez — who could also make it happen, and if the veteran Ayelen Tarabini ends up comping all-around in qualifications over one of these two, she’s in that mix as well. It’s been an incredible quad for Argentina’s gymnastics program, and it’s about to pay off for them in Stuttgart.

ARMENIA

The incredible Houry Gebeshian made history when she earned an Olympic spot in 2016, and she continues to work hard to grow the sport in Armenia, visiting the country earlier this year to work with young gymnasts, and she’s also served as a mentor to several gymnasts with Armenian heritage in the U.S.

One of those gymnasts — Anahit Assadourian, a level 10 from Paramount Elite — will follow in Gebeshian’s footsteps by attempting to earn an Olympic spot in Stuttgart next week. Her elite scores haven’t been super high — she had a 37.550 at EYOF in 2017, and a 40.832 at last summer’s Euros — but while I think it might not be possible for her to earn an Olympic spot this year, Gebeshian also didn’t get to the Games on her first try, and perhaps with another four years of experience, Assadourian could also make it happen.

AUSTRALIA

After not qualifying a full team to the Olympic Games in 2016, Larrissa Miller ended up earning the individual spot, making her second trip to the Games. Miller toyed with a comeback this quad, but while she ultimately decided to retire, the Australian program has grown a lot in the past couple of years under Mihai Brestyan, and they’ll be hoping to be back in the mix as a team this year.

Unfortunately, two recent injuries to Emily Whitehead and then her replacement Breanna Scott will limit the team quite a bit, but if they don’t end up qualifying a full team, Australia will have several chances to get individuals back to the Games, and among all of the countries that may not send a full team to Tokyo, Australia is one of the most likely to send multiple individuals.

In Stuttgart, Georgia Godwin should be the top all-around contender for the country, having looked incredible over the past year, reaching the final at worlds in 2017, winning Commonwealth Games silver in 2018, and then finishing third at the FIT Challenge this year. She’s also this year’s national all-around, vault, and floor champion, and she was the top competitor at the recent Australian Classic, making her almost a shoo-in to reach Tokyo.

We’ll also have Georgia-Rose Brown and Talia Folino as back-ups, and assuming Australia doesn’t qualify a full team, these two — plus a few others — could also be in the mix to earn a continental spot next year. Finally, Emma Nedov is also incredibly likely to earn a spot thanks to beam whether she makes the apparatus final here or wins the apparatus world cup series, so that’s potential for at least three individual spots.

AUSTRIA

Last quad, Elisa Hämmerle looked like she was working toward an Olympic spot for Austria, but a knee injury at the test event took her out of contention at the very last minute, and her teammate — the now-retired Lisa Ecker — ended up qualifying to Rio instead.

Hämmerle, 23, laid low for most of this quad, favoring bars and beam over the past two years to keep her knee safe and healthy, but at a friendly meet last month she returned to the all-around for the first time in over three years, getting a 50.567, which is a score that could absolutely finally get her to the Olympics.

She’ll have a bit of competition, though. Jasmin Mader — who flew to take Hämmerle’s place at the test event in 2016 — has been killing it this quad, improving so much, though her all-around scores on a good day end up in the 48–49 range, which is a bit below what we saw from Hämmerle in just her first meet back. There’s also Marlies Männersdorfer, who is capable of scoring similarly to Mader, though I think it’ll be Hämmerle or Mader who end up qualifying.

BELARUS

Last quad, Belarus had a couple of gymnasts on the roster to qualify for Olympic spots, but when AOGC stepped in with two American gymnasts who would be willing to compete for Belarus — Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson — and who would be likely to get higher scores, the Belarusian federation scrapped its original contenders and let the Americans compete at worlds in Glasgow, with Dickson ultimately qualifying to Rio.

This quad, the Belarusian program has improved immensely, and will send two actual Belarusians to worlds this year. Anastasiya Alistratava is a bit of a nervous competitor, which can sometimes limit her all-around scores, though she had two really strong performances at the European Games this summer with scores that would make her a top individual all-around contender for Tokyo, and since her bars are so good, I think she has a really strong shot at making that apparatus final in Stuttgart, which would be a back-up plan if her all-around competition goes awry.

Belarus also has Hanna Traukova competing, though she’s not quite as strong as her teammate, especially in that she lacks a standout event to give her potential all-around scores a boost…but it’s nice to have another option, and on a good day, Traukova could get close.

CHILE

Simona Castro, the 30-year-old who made history in 2012 as the first Chilean WAG athlete to make it to the Olympic Games and then earned a return spot in 2016, will be hoping for a third trip this year, and it’s definitely possible.

Her all-around scores this year have been in the 48-49 range, which should be above the cut-off, but she’ll have a teammate to contend with this year, with Franchesca Santi boasting a Yurchenko double that could up her all-around chances. Santi has struggled on beam this year, however, with her all-around scores hovering in the 45-47 range, and I think side-by-side, Castro is the stronger of the two…but Santi on a good day could make things interesting.

COLOMBIA

Last quad, after attempting to qualify for the Olympic Games for eight years, Catalina Escobar finally made it happen, earning a spot in 2016 at the age of 25. Escobar’s career ended on a sad note, though, with an injury on floor in the Rio qualifications forcing her to withdraw before the competition was done.

Escobar has since retired, and though the Colombian team had a ton of super promising gymnasts this year, unfortunately none of them are going to be at worlds, which could make a return to the Olympics pretty challenging. Colombia is sending two first-year seniors — Nataly Rodriguez and Maria Villegas — as well as Angelica Mesa, a dancer who began competing in elite gymnastics last year at the age of 24.

Mesa’s story is super cool, and she’s fantastic to watch on floor. Her all-around scores could be a bit risky when looking at the cut-offs, with her top international total just a 47.633. Rodriguez’s potential is slightly stronger, but whether she reaches that potential will come down to if she can hit under pressure, while Villegas is more or less out of contention.

CROATIA

The beam and floor standout Ana Derek earned an Olympic berth in 2016 with a strong performance at the test event, though a balked vault in Rio qualifications earned her a zero, putting a damper on her experience there.

Derek, the sole Croatian gymnast competing in the women’s field in Stuttgart, has stuck to just beam and floor for this entire quad, but a return to the all-around at last month’s Israeli Open Championships showed that she’s serious about an Olympic redemption story. Not having that experience on vault and bars could potentially hurt her performance there, which would obviously affect her qualification chances, but hit routines on her strong events could carry her through, and I’d say she’s about 50-50 for making it back to the Olympic stage.

CUBA

Last quad, it looked like Yesenia Ferrera would be the star Olympian for Cuba, but an ill-timed injury coupled with the explosive debut of first-year senior Marcia Vidiaux in 2015 changed everything, with Ferrera out of competition for two years while Vidiaux made it to Rio and beyond.

Vidiaux struggled on vault in Rio, and she’s been hit-or-miss on the event this quad, so when Ferrera returned to competition this year with a solid all-around performance and vault silver at the Pan American Games, it looked like Vidiaux might have some competition…but then Ferrera mysteriously dropped off Cuba’s nominative roster, reportedly due to problems related to a coaching situation.

Based on her scores at Pan Ams, Vidiaux is looking pretty likely to qualify to her second Olympic Games, and she even has some wiggle room in her scores to afford for a fall (or possibly even two).

EGYPT

Three-time Olympian Sherine El Zeiny, who trains alongside Eythora Thorsdottir in the Netherlands, was hoping to go for a fourth Games this quad, but she started things out on a sour note with a knee injury at world championships in 2017, and she’s been struggling to come back since then, keeping her out of the picture for Tokyo.

Egypt will actually have a full team in Stuttgart, and they have several gymnasts who are capable of earning all-around spots. Farah Hussein, who turns 18 next week, is the country’s best shot. The African Games all-around champion has scores that should make her on the higher end of those hoping to qualify, while Farah Salem and Mandy Mohamed, another Dutch-trained gymnast on the squad, have also scored within a strong enough range to contend, should Hussein falter.

GREECE

The Greek program has qualified WAG athletes to the last six Olympic Games, but with Vasiliki Millousi — who earned three of those spots, in 2000, 2012, and 2016 — now recently retired, this year could be the end of their lengthy stretch.

Three gymnasts will attempt to qualify this year, but national champion Ioanna Xoulogi‘s scores have hovered in the 45-47 range internationally, first-year senior Elvira Katsali‘s have been even lower, and Argyro Afrati hasn’t competed all four events in more than two years, so things are looking pretty dicey.

When Afrati was competing all four events, she was at a level that could’ve made her capable of solid potential to qualify, so I could see her getting in if she returns to the all-around and has a great day, but if she doesn’t end up being capable of returning to all four, I could see one of the others maaaaaybe sneaking in. Maybe.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

2 thoughts on “Which Countries Have the Best Shot at an Individual Olympics Return? Part One

  1. Pingback: Around the Gymternet: A very stable genius | The Gymternet

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