Which Countries That Missed Rio Can Get Back to the Games?

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Yamilet Peña

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 have sent gymnasts to the Olympic Games in the past, but missed out in 2016 and are hoping to get things back on track this quad.

BOLIVIA

The last time Bolivia made it to the Olympic Games was in 2004, which was also the country’s first and only appearance. In Athens, Marie Jose de la Fuente finished 61st in qualifications, and the federation didn’t return to world championships until 2015, where a couple gymnasts competed, but fell short of making it to Rio.

One of the 2015 competitors, Dianne Soria, will be back this year alongside Kaylee Cole, a current Stanford senior who hoped to compete in Glasgow four years ago but ended up withdrawing due to injury.

Soria, who was close to the bottom of the pack in 2015, has improved a bit, but she’s still only at around a 40 all-around on a good day, and though Cole is a solid and dependable collegiate athlete, she’s only competed two elite routines in her career — bars and beam at Pan Ams in 2015 — so it’s virtually impossible to say whether she’ll be in the mix this year, though I’m going to say it won’t be super likely.

BULGARIA

The Bulgarians are hit-or-miss with gymnasts, occasionally showing up to international competitions with really promising young talent, but the well has been a bit dry in recent years after a few of the country’s strongest juniors last quad have fallen off the map.

Bulgaria had a pretty strong track record between 2004 and 2012, and overall the program has qualified to 14 Olympic Games since debuting in 1952. Last quad, the top Bulgarian gymnast at worlds came within about three points of qualifying to the test event, but this quad, they’ll get much closer if Laney Madsen can do what she’s capable of.

Madsen missed worlds due to an injury last year, and she had a rough European Games this summer, but her performance at European Championships was actually quite good, with her score about a point above the expected cutoff, with room for improvement. A solid day in Stuttgart can be exactly what she needs to get Bulgaria back on track.

CHINESE TAIPEI

After qualifying gymnasts to compete at the Olympic Games in 1964 and 1968, things have been quiet on the front for Chinese Taipei, though not for a lack of trying. In the late 80s, the federation began sending gymnasts to world championships nearly every year, and though their athletes have come up short, the program is now quickly on the rise and I think we can expect to be impressed by what they could achieve this year.

Last year, Ting Hua-Tien made a huge splash when she nearly qualified for the beam final at worlds. Ting, who turned 16 during worlds, continued to impress this year, especially at the Asian Championships, where she won the beam title to secure a spot on the worlds team.

The other two gymnasts named to the team, Lai Chin and Fang Ko-Ching, placed first and second, respectively, at a trial meet last month. Lai, a first-year senior, is another kid with an excellent beam set and the potential to get around a 50 all-around internationally, and Fang, the veteran of this team, showed a solid performance at Universiade this summer.

Though Ting is the strongest on an event, I think Lai and Fang would be most likely to challenge for an individual spot, but the fact that this little country has a host of gymnasts who can potentially qualify — including some who were left at home — is huge for them, and I can see them on a major upswing in the next couple of quads.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Since the Czech Republic became a thing in the post-Soviet world order, the country attended every Olympic Games between 1996 and 2012, and prior to that, as Czechoslovakia it qualified to every Games from 1936 until its dissolution in 1992, skipping only 1984 due to the Cold War drama.

This vast history in the sport made the country’s miss in 2016 all the more painful, especially as top 2015 competitor Veronika Cenkova finished only about a point back from the test event qualifiers.

Things are different this year, though. The country went from not qualifying an individual to the Games last quad to qualifying a full team to worlds this year, a massive accomplishment especially when you consider that some of the team’s biggest up-and-comers as juniors have since retired.

Led by all-arounder Aneta Holasova, who made her world championships debut in 2017 and then returned with a four-point improvement last year to almost make the all-around final, the team is looking good even without real depth enjoyed by other squads, with only Dominika Ponizilova, Lucie Jirikova, and Sabina Halova generally healthy enough to compete (thus the return of Anna-Maria Kanyai, who retired to attend Bowling Green for a season, and the addition of Hana Ricna’s daughter and David Jessen’s sister Sandra Jessen, with her surname slavicized to Jessenova on her FIG license).

Though the team itself doesn’t really have a shot to qualify to Tokyo, Holasova — who swept nationals this year before winning silver on floor at the European Games, where she also finished 10th all-around — is one of the biggest sure bets for an individual spot in Tokyo. Essentially, the only way Holasova doesn’t make it is if Ponizilova — consistently second-best to Holasova at home and abroad — sneaks in ahead of her, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say Holasova is a shoo-in.

DENMARK

Despite a strong history of attending world championships, especially over the past 30 years, the Danish federation hasn’t sent a gymnast to an Olympic Games since 1968, and unfortunately, it’s looking like that trend is going to continue.

Had 2004-born Camille Rasmussen — the reigning four-time Danish junior champion and this year’s Nordic junior champion who typically scores around a mid-48 or higher — been eligible to attend worlds this year, or had the qualifying meet been held in 2020 when everyone age-eligible was actually eligible to contend, Denmark would have had a pretty excellent shot at a return, but because the qualifying rules are terrible and limited, she won’t get a chance to try, and Denmark is stuck.

The country is sending its top three seniors — this year’s national champion Victoria Gilberg alongside Victoria Kajø, and Emilie Winther — to Stuttgart, all three tend to max out at scores of around 42–45, which will fall several points short of the expected cutoff. All three have lovely qualities to their gymnastics, but with their difficulty a bit behind what we see in some of the other small programs, their overall scores obviously also end up being low.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Yamilet Peña was one of the biggest surprise stars of the 2012 quad, competing a death-defying Produnova to grab the attention of fans, and though she often stumbled or fell on the vault, its sheer difficulty allowed her to outscore many vaulters with excellent landings and technique.

This vault helped Peña become the first WAG athlete from the Dominican Republic at the Olympic Games back in 2012, so she kept it last quad, but with a fall on the Produnova at worlds in 2015 and then being unable to make up for that with weak scores elsewhere, she ended up finishing a couple of points back from qualifying to the test event.

This year, Peña has scrapped the now-devalued Produnova, focusing on technically improving elsewhere, and the work has paid off. On a good day, she’s capable of around a 48–49 in the all-around, but she hasn’t competed the all-around in over a year, so whether she qualifies could be hit-or-miss.

Also competing for the Dominican Republic this year are Camil Betances and Sandra Contreras, but both score in the 30s as all-arounders, effectively making them unable to contend for the Games.

FINLAND

After a 48-year drought, Finland finally returned to the Olympic Games in 2012 thanks to an excellent quad from Annika Urvikko, whose 41st-place finish at world championships in 2009 ties for the country’s best world all-around finish in history.

The Finnish program has since been on the rise, and with Urvikko back this year along with a handful of strong veterans and super-promising newcomers, the federation actually had quite a lot of options when it came time to choose the worlds squad this summer.

Urvikko ultimately didn’t make it, nor did the injured national champion, Ada Hautala, who was a fan favorite at last year’s Youth Olympic Games. But two veterans did — 24-year-old Rosanna Ojala and 23-year-old Maija Leinonen, both of whom have consistently been ones to watch over the past five years — as did one newcomer, first-year senior Nitta Nieminen, who finished third at nationals this year.

All three are capable of hitting in the 48–49 range as all-arounders if they hit their routines, so with three strong competitors in Stuttgart, Finland absolutely has a chance at making it back to the Olympic Games, but it’s going to be tight, and they’ll need to really work hard to get there.

HONG KONG

Like several of the countries on this list, Hong Kong is a “one and done” country, making an Olympic debut in 2012 with the legendary Angel Wong Hiu Ying, but then not returning in 2016. Hong Kong didn’t send any gymnasts to world championships in 2015, however, and this year they’ll have three gymnasts attempting to qualify, hoping to bring the country back.

Unfortunately, none of the gymnasts contending regularly compete in the all-around, and they’re unlikely to make apparatus finals and get in that way. Elizabeth Chan Tsz Sum is a vaulter who hasn’t competed any other event in over two years, Ng Yan Yin is known for her strength on beam, and Cheung Ka Wing is the baby of the group without a lot of experience.

It’s unclear if any of these gymnasts will compete in the all-around, but I think even if they do end up going that route, previous scores suggest that it’s not going to be likely for them to make it happen.

ISRAEL

Israel has made four appearances at the Olympics, last qualifying for London where the lovely Valeria Maksyuta was the first Israeli gymnast to reach the Olympic stage in 24 years.

This quad, Ofir Netzer was the biggest hopeful for Tokyo as the most competent all-arounder currently in the program while also being a standout performer on vault, having most recently made the European Games final in addition to winning the Szombathely vault title last year. Sadly, she re-injured her knee at Israeli Championships about six weeks prior to worlds, and she won’t get the chance.

In her place, we’ll see Gaya Giladi, a strong vaulter recently back from an injury of her own, though her all-around potential is a bit weak; Meitar Lavy, who made her worlds debut last year though again, her scoring potential isn’t quite where it needs to be; and first-year senior Lihie Raz, who has tons of potential — and scored close to a 48 internationally this year — but who is relatively untested and could find it difficult to maintain her composure under so much pressure.

LATVIA

After the Soviet Union broke up and Latvia became its own state, the country continued to enjoy some semblance of higher-level gymnastics thanks to some Soviet-trained leftovers, like Ludmila Prince, and they were able to qualify to the Olympic Games in 1996.

That’s been it for the women of Latvia, though. While they’ve sent gymnasts to worlds consistently since then, they’ve come up short, but this year they’re looking incredibly likely to make it through thanks to the talents of Elina Vihrova, daughter of Igors Vihrovs, who became the first Olympic gold medalist for independent Latvia when he won floor in Sydney.

Vihrova is incredibly talented, capable of scoring in the 49–51 range, which would make her tremendously capable of changing the course of history for the Latvian women’s program. She’s good on all four events, with floor a standout, and if she performs well in Stuttgart, I can see her pretty easily making it to Tokyo.

The other two competitors here, Anastasija Dubova and Marija Ribalcenko, are a bit more senior and likely won’t score high enough to challenge mainly due to lower difficulty, but it’s nice to see the program sending several contenders especially as they’re currently building the foundations of a healthy program with this group inspiring the future of the sport in major international assignments like this.

LITHUANIA

Lithuania always seems to have one or two really solid gymnasts at any moment, and since becoming an independent state, they’ve qualified gymnasts to three Olympic Games, with 2012 the most recent. In the 2012 quad, Laura Svilpaite was a wonderful standout for the program, and now she’s leading the future generations of the sport, having coached the talented first-year senior Egle Stalinkeviciute at last year’s Youth Olympic Games.

Stalinkeviciute, who hasn’t competed yet in 2019, is an incredibly underrated gymnast with a real shot at making it if she is looking strong after such a long break. There’s also Agata Vostruchovaite, who has lots of potential in terms of her difficulty levels, but because she’s always injured, she’s unfortunately never been able to bring her routines to fruition.

LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg has gone longer than any other federation in terms of when they last sent a gymnast to the Olympic Games. After competing in both 1956 and 1960, Luxembourg kind of disappeared off the map, even at world championships, where we haven’t seen a gymnast from this country compete since 2005.

This quad, Luxembourg has seen a handful of gymnasts compete, with Celeste Mordenti their one senior, and so it’s Mordenti we’ll see in Stuttgart this weekend. Though her scores are a bit low compared to the scores you’re probably used to seeing — she tends to end up in about the 45 range — she’s actually very clean and very consistent, but just lacks the difficulty to make her more competitive.

I don’t think she’ll have quite enough to realistically expect an Olympic spot, but as she’s a first-year senior, I hope she sticks around longer and grows with the sport to hopefully be a contender next quad.

MALAYSIA

For a country that didn’t begin competing at a major international level until 1999, Malaysia has had a whirlwind entry into the sport, qualifying a gymnast to the Olympic Games in its first attempt, with Yen Au Li competing in Sydney.

After Yen left the sport, we didn’t see much happen for nearly a decade, but then came the current crop of standouts — Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, Tan Ing Yueh, and Tracie Ang — who have become fan favorites thanks to their stylistic and entertaining performances, especially on floor.

Malaysia missed out on an Olympic spot four years ago, but got super close, and this year, I think — and hope — they can make it happen. Abdul Hadi has scored in the 49 range internationally several times this year, and while Ang and Tan have been a bit behind, a good day could get them close.

NORWAY

The Norwegian women have made four Olympic Games over a period of 40 years, but it’s been almost 30 years since we’ve last seen them in the Games. Had last year’s been the qualifier for Tokyo, Julie Erichsen — who is set to compete in Stuttgart — would’ve had more than a high enough score to make it, and though her scores have been slightly lower this year, she’s absolutely still capable of making it happen.

Also in the mix are Julie Søderstrøm, who has earned above a 49 internationally this year and could end up challenging Erichsen for the spot, and then Maria Tronrud snuck into the picture as a surprise this year, beating out many of last year’s top competitors for a spot in Stuttgart, and though her scores have been a couple of points lower on average, she’s also within range of the cutoff score, so if Norway has a successful outing here, I think they’ll be in a pretty solid place when it comes to qualifying.

PUERTO RICO

Puerto Rico has sent gymnasts to the Olympic Games twice, first in 1996, and then in 2012, where Lorena Quinones finished 54th in all-around qualifications. Though they missed out on coming back four years ago, the program is sending a few super talented options this time around, and all three have shown that they could potentially score well enough to reach Tokyo.

This year’s national champion Karelys Diaz has had the most promising all-around scores in 2019, including posting a 49 in qualifications at the Pan American Games to reach the final. Both Bianca Leon and Paula Mejias, also attending worlds this year, are a little bit behind her, with scores closer to the 48 range, so like several countries competing here, they have three shots to make Olympic qualification happen, and if even one of the three can prove to be on point, they absolutely have a shot.

SOUTH AFRICA

The situation with South Africa is an interesting one. In both 2012 and 2016, the women’s program didn’t qualify outright for the Games, but they got close, and with no other African gymnasts qualifying, they earned a continental representation invitation, but the Olympic committee turned it down, because they didn’t want to fund an athlete who didn’t earn the spot outright.

This quad, a couple of the African countries could have what it takes to earn outright qualifying spots, and South Africa is one of them. Last year, Caitlin Rooskrantz had a fantastic performance at worlds, and would’ve qualified using this year’s rules applied to last year’s rankings. She’s been injured this year, sticking mainly to bars (where her scores are consistently in the mid-13s), but I think if she can come back on all four events, she has an incredible shot at making it.

Naveen Daries, who won the national all-around title this year, and Mammule Rankoe will join Rooskrantz, and both have the potential to score above the expected cutoff, though I think if Rooskrantz is in the all-around, it’ll take a lot for them to get the upset over her.

SINGAPORE

The fantastic Heem Wei Lim has been legendary for the Singaporean program, which didn’t begin sending gymnasts to major international competitions until 2007! Five years after first sending a gymnast to worlds, Lim snagged a spot at the London Games in 2012, and though they missed out on repeating this feat in 2016, they have one gymnast this year who is hoping to make it happen.

Sze En Tan has long been a standout for the program in recent years, but when she made the move to Legacy Elite a couple of years ago, she began reaching even greater levels, at times scoring above a 50 in the all-around. Tan, who is a Stanford University commit, has been injured and has thus missed out on several big international opportunities that could’ve served her well in the lead-up to worlds, but nonetheless, a 48+ is well within reach for her, and if she can do well relative to other competitors here, I think she has a solid shot of contending.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

11 thoughts on “Which Countries That Missed Rio Can Get Back to the Games?

  1. A minor correction: the dissolution of the Soviet Union didn’t make Latvia and Lithuania gain independence. They REgained their independence.

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  2. Lauren thank you so much for these write ups! No one anywhere has outlined almost every country’s past present and future like you have. You’re like a gymnastics historian! Keep it up!

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  3. These pathetic former Soviet republiques fought so much against mother Russia, and look at what happened to their gymnastics programs: death. Ukraine, Belarus and Latvia used to have superior gymnasts to Russia at some point.

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    • Agreed. Skinner has made a lot of strides to get to this point. I wonder if she can ask to attend the World Cups? Although she doesn’t qualify under the current rules, she is still an individual world medalist and I think that should be good enough for her to earn the right to compete. (This is IF Jade decides to forego her individual points and try for the team)

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    • Thank you!! I follow everyone pretty closely all year so I actually barely have to research! And I keep all scores in a database so it’s easy to find that information quickly.

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  4. but the fact that this little country ……
    I must seriously warn you that Taiwan Province will always be an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China and that Taiwan is not a country!

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  5. Pingback: Get To Know The Gymnasts That Qualified A Nominative Spot at the 2019 World Championships – Gymnastics Cool Facts

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