Zsofia Kovacs has a strong shot at a return trip to the Olympic Games for Hungary.
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.
In 2011, Guatemala’s Sofi Gomez became a fan favorite for her lovely gymnastics, and it was no surprise when she had an incredible performance at the test event to earn a spot at the Olympic Games that year, where she ended up finishing 22nd in the all-around final. She made a return trip to the Olympics in 2016, and while she toyed with a comeback this quad, she eventually retired, leaving the future of the Guatemalan program in the hands of a new crop of young contenders.
Most likely to earn an Olympic spot for Guatemala is Ana Palacios, a 17-year-old who has seen some excellent success since she made her international debut in 2017. Though she’s not as much of a lock for a spot in the way Gomez was, her all-around scoring potential is absolutely high enough to allow her to contend.
The federation is also sending Marcela Bonifasi and first-year senior Kimberly del Valle, though both tend to score around the 42-43 range and wouldn’t be able to get in, so the country’s hopes for continuing at the Games lie fully with Palacios.
As a first-year senior in 2016, Zsofia Kovacs began putting up incredible scores to beat out several Hungarian veterans for a trip to the test event, where she beat out Noemi Makra for a spot. This year, the Hungarians have a full team in Stuttgart, with both Kovacs and Makra the top two all-arounders at nationals earlier this month expected to lead the team and to once again be the top two contenders for an individual spot.
Though Hungary might be a little too far back to qualify a full team, they should have no problem at the individual level, and in addition to Kovacs and Makra, they’ll also have two-time Olympian Dorina Böczögö in the mix. For Hungary, it’s less about “will they qualify an individual” and more about “which one will qualify,” and while Kovacs probably has the best shot thanks to her higher overall difficulty, Makra has looked great in recent weeks and I could see it coming down to the wire between the two.
Irina Sazonova, a Russian-born gymnast who moved to Iceland to both train and coach, ended up outperforming most of the Icelandic veterans last quad to earn the country’s first WAG Olympic spot. Now 28, Sazonova is married and had a baby just nine months ago, but she made training for 2020 a priority and was able to return to competition just two weeks ago to earn a spot at world championships. Nothing like cutting it close!
Though Iceland was originally planning on sending three contenders to worlds, in the end, both Sonja Olafsdottir and Margret Kristinsdottir were dropped from the nominative roster, with Sazonova sealing the sole spot after a fifth-place all-around finish at last week’s Northern European Championships. Sazonova’s scores have been in the 47-48 range with room for improvement, which should be just around the cutoff line, giving her a pretty solid shot at qualifying, but of course being that close will come down to how well she performs relative to everyone else, so I’ll give her about a 50% shot at making it based on this information.
Sadly, after dealing with injury on top of injury this quad, Dipa Karmakar — who made history in 2016 as the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympic Games and who became known across the world for her death-defying Produnova on vault — was unable to get healthy in time to contend for 2020.
This is particularly sad knowing how much work Karmakar did to improve her ability not only on vault (she dropped the Produnova and added a more technically challenging high-level vault instead), but in all of her events, and it’s a shame knowing she won’t get the chance at a return this time around. Three of her teammates — Pranati Nayak, Pranati Das, and Aruna Budda Reddy — will compete at worlds instead, though all three generally score far below the threshold the Olympic hopefuls will have to reach this year, and I don’t think we’ll be likely to see India back on the Olympic stage next year.
Ireland is another country that had its first-ever WAG athlete at the Olympics in 2016, thanks to Ellis O’Reilly‘s strong test event performance qualifying her to the Olympic Games. Though O’Reilly retired shortly after Rio due to a pretty serious back injury, there has been lots of strong up-and-coming talent this quad, and it seems likely that the country will be in the mix once again.
The biggest hopeful for a spot is last year’s Youth Olympic Games standout Emma Slevin, who quickly became a fan favorite thanks to her clean and consistent routines in Buenos Aires. Though she’s had some time off this year and hasn’t scored quite as well, she’s still managing about a 48.9 average, which could put her in a pretty solid place in terms of qualifying to Tokyo, though she wouldn’t really be able to afford any major mistakes or falls.
Also competing for Ireland are Megan Ryan and Kate Molloy, a last-minute replacement for Meaghan Smith, the Canadian-trained gymnast who was looking like a threat until an injury took her out of contention. Molloy’s scores are a bit too low to make her a serious threat, but Ryan’s all-around potential should be right on the edge of qualifying should Slevin struggle.
Another country, another 2016 milestone! Last quad, Toni-Ann Williams became the first Jamaican woman to earn a spot in gymnastics at the Olympic Games, something she did while a competitive NCAA gymnast at Cal. Williams returned to her collegiate career following her Rio performance, though she’s unfortunately dealt with injuries over the years, including an NCAA career-ending Achilles rupture earlier this year.
This injury did not end Williams’ dream for a second Olympics, however, and she was able to return to bars and beam at this summer’s Pan American Games just six months after her injury. She’ll be at worlds hoping for another shot, but she’ll have some major competition from fellow NCAA alum Danusia Francis, an alternate for Great Britain’s team in 2012 who followed up that achievement with a stunning career at UCLA in addition to beginning a journey to represent Jamaica internationally.
Francis has been scoring incredibly well this year, and should be a lock for the Olympic Games. I don’t think Williams will be back at quite a strong enough level to challenge her, and the third Jamaican we’ll see in Stuttgart, Kiara Richmon, is also a bit behind with her overall scoring potential, but she has made great improvements since making her elite debut a year ago and it’s great to see this up-and-coming country with a solid squad.
The Mexican team is one of my favorites to sneak in for an upset of one of the top 12 teams, with tons of top veteran talent in addition to a few newcomers who train in the United States to add depth to their program. But if they don’t end up able to qualify a full team, they’ll have several individual athletes who could make it both as all-arounders and as specialists.
2016 Olympian Alexa Moreno, who made history for Mexico with her vault bronze at last year’s world championships, could qualify as either an all-arounder or through her finish in the vault final. I hope someone qualifies above her in the all-around, however, because that would make her eligible to qualify through vault and it could mean two individual Olympic spots for this program instead of just the one, and with the level of talent on this team, it’s something I really want to see happen.
Last year, Frida Esparza — who has been injured this year and only competed bars at a trial event for the Games — finished as the top-ranked all-arounder for Mexico, and we’ve seen fantastic all-around performances this year from 2012 Olympian Elsa Garcia, 2012 and 2016 alternate Ana Lago, and newcomer Anapaula Gutierrez. All of these ladies have the scores to qualify as all-arounders, leaving Moreno eligible to earn a spot of her own through vault.
No matter what happens with Mexico, I’ve been utterly stunned by their growth this quad, and hope they have a killer qualification round that makes them a legitimate contender as a team.
Courtney McGregor became New Zealand’s Olympian in 2016, qualifying a spot for the country for the first time since the year 2000, and I’m so excited to see her back again this year to give it another shot.
McGregor is going into her senior year at Boise State, where she’s a key member of the gymnastics program, and she also managed to return to elite in 2017, competing at world championships in Montreal before returning to Idaho to begin her sophomore year. Since it’s been about two years since we’ve seen McGregor, it’s hard to say where she’ll stand at the elite level in terms of scores, but one thing that has been incredibly clear about her collegiate performance is just how fantastic her consistency has come, so if she can build on that experience and bring it with her to Stuttgart, I can definitely see her in the mix for Tokyo.
New Zealand is also sending Isabella Brett and Maia Fishwick this year, both of whom competed at worlds in 2018. I think overall, McGregor has the highest scoring potential of the three, and internationally, I haven’t seen scores from Brett or Fishwick that would meet the assumed cutoff of around a 47…but hopefully with all three in contention, they’ll have a good chance of at least one surpassing that standard.
Though North Korea’s biggest star over the past decade, 2008 Olympic vault champion Hong Un Jong, retired after the Olympic Games in 2016, the country has a wealth of young talent on the rise, with several capable of qualifying as individuals this year. The country is sending a full team to Stuttgart, but while I don’t think they’ll be capable of reaching the top 12, they have the potential to get an all-arounder to the Games if all goes well next weekend.
Kim Su Jong is the program’s strongest all-arounder in recent history, and unlike many of the dry routines we often see from this country, she’s super entertaining and should score well enough to be in the top half of those with the potential to qualify to the Olympic Games.
Also competing for North Korea are first-year seniors Kim Son Hyang and An Chang Ok, Ri Su Ryon, who made her elite debut in Doha last year, and Kim Won Yong, the veteran of this team at age 20. I’m not sure any of these has the scores to upset Kim Su Jong…though I think Kim Won Yong could get closest on a good day.
Missing from this year’s team is Pyon Rye Yong, a really strong vaulter who finished 8th in the final last year, where she attempted an Amanar debut alongside her Rudi. It was a weak final for her, but if last year acted as the Olympic qualifier, she still would’ve punched her ticket to Tokyo, so it’s unfortunate to not see her on the roster this year.
Isabella Amado made history as the first Panamanian woman to qualify for the Olympic Games, earning her spot through the tripartite invitation, though when she competed in Rio she proved to be one of the strongest among the individual all-around gymnasts, finishing 44th with a truly great performance.
Though Amado is now retired from elite, she continues to compete alongside fellow 2016 Olympian Courtney McGregor at Boise State University, where she’s going into her senior year, and Panama will be sending two young newcomers to compete for a spot this time around, with Cloe Godoy and Laura Rodriguez both on the Stuttgart roster.
So far in their careers, neither Godoy nor Rodriguez has scored well enough to make them serious contenders for Tokyo, and Panama is not eligible for the tripartite invitation again this year, so I think we’ll see a miss for this federation…though it should be noted that both of this year’s competitors have received little or no support from their federation and are funding this trip via their parents and a sponsorship from a local company, with Godoy recently telling the press that she is “invisible to Pandeportes,” the country’s sports institute. We wish them the best of luck in their quest and hope for better treatment of Panamanian gymnasts in the future!
The Peruvian federation has a super talented assortment of gymnasts this year, with 2016 Olympian Ariana Orrego — the first WAG athlete from her country to qualify for the Olympic Games — back in action alongside veteran Sandra Collantes and first-year senior Fabiola Diaz.
Collantes is a veteran of both elite gymnastics in Peru as well as NCAA gymnastics, having competed as a star performer for Boise State University. I love that she and fellow 2020 Olympic hopeful Courtney McGregor have gotten to train together in the lead-up to their competition in Stuttgart, forming a mini-team to help them prepare.
Both Collantes and Orrego, who also has ties to NCAA as a current junior at Iowa State, looked incredible at the Pan American Games, hosted in their home country of Peru in front of a super supportive and enthusiastic crowd. The pair qualified with strong scores into the all-around final, and Orrego also made the beam final, and both gymnasts have the scoring potential to earn a spot in Tokyo, so it could just come down to whoever has a better day next weekend.
Diaz also made the beam final at Pan Ams, finishing fourth, and though her all-around scores have been a bit behind those of the Collantes and Orrego, I see her as an incredibly promising talent, and even if this year doesn’t work out for her, she could very well be a big deal next quad.
In 2016, Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska had a very strong showing for Poland at the Olympic Games in Rio, and thought it looked like she wanted to try for a second Games this quad, she ended up opting to retire earlier this year, leaving qualification in the hands of fellow veterans Gabriela Janik and two-time Olympian Marta Pihan-Kulesza, who retired last quad but returned to competition in 2018 after having a baby.
Unfortunately, following an internal test, the Polish federation deemed Pihan-Kulesza “not up to their standard” for attending world championships, and they dropped her from the roster, leaving just Janik on the list.
Thankfully for Poland, Janik has been looking fantastic this quad, with some of her strongest all-around performances coming over the past three months. She has been scoring well above the cutoff range, and she should be on the higher end of individuals likely to qualify, keeping Poland safely in the mix for an Olympic spot again this year.
Filipa Martins has been a godsend to the Portuguese program over the past five or so years, quickly becoming a success as she began making major international finals (including two world championships all-around finals) and showing major strength on the world cup circuit (she’s amassed a total of 12 world cup medals over the years).
It was no surprise to see Martins as a top contender for a spot at the Olympic Games in 2016, and she’s kept up a super high level in the sport post-Rio, continuing to dominate at home with three all-around titles this quad while remaining a major threat for a second Olympics berth.
Portugal is also sending Mariana Pitrez and first-year senior Beatriz Cardoso to Stuttgart, but neither comes all that close to Martins’ scoring potential. Both are enjoyable to watch, however, and I think Cardoso has grown leaps and bounds in terms of her potential, so hopefully this year will provide her with some invaluable experience so we can see her as a contender in the next Olympic cycle.
Article by Lauren Hopkins