After Giorgia Villa was injured while competing at Italy’s national championships this weekend, where she won her third all-around title, she met with doctors who determined her foot was sprained and that she would not be able to compete with the Olympic qualifications less than two weeks away.
18-year-old Villa has been a standout competitor in Italy since the first time she stepped onto the elite stage at 12. Hailed as “Italy’s next Vanessa Ferrari,” Villa dominated both nationally and internationally as a junior, winning her first national title on bars at 14 and her first all-around title a year later. Villa was crowned the all-around champion at both Euros and the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, and in her first year as a senior in 2019, she led the Italian team to bronze at world championships, Italy’s first medal on the world stage since they last won bronze in 1950.
To say Villa was the future of the sport in Italy was not hyperbole. Tokyo 2020 was all but a sure thing for the rising star, and even with the Games pushed back a year, it seemed Villa – who won the Italian all-around title in November of last year and then focused on bars and beam for most of 2021 to stay healthy in the lead-up to the Olympics – wouldn’t have a problem adjusting.
But back pain has plagued her throughout much of the season, leaving her unable to get back her Yurchenko double on vault, and while she looked strong overall in Saturday’s all-around competition at national championships, her work on floor was a noticeably a struggle. With short landings on both her first and last passes, it was the last that caused the sprain, and while she initially said she was fine and climbed onto the podium all smiles to take her gold, she withdrew from apparatus finals the next day, and instead watched from the stands, her foot propped up on a bench, crutches at her side.
Doctors said on Monday that she had “no hopes of recovery” before the Olympic Games, and so the Italian federation announced today that Vanessa Ferrari, who originally qualified to Tokyo by earning a nominative berth through the apparatus world cup series, will replace her on the team, while Lara Mori, the first reserve for the world cup spot on floor, will take Ferrari’s place.
While devastating for Villa, the news is incredible for Mori, who will celebrate her 23rd birthday in Tokyo. Mori has long been one of the hardest-working gymnasts in the world, taking on the selfless and often thankless “I’m there when you need me” kind of role from the moment she became a senior.
Often in the shadows in favor of flashier gymnasts, Mori missed out on making the world championships team on her first try in 2014, but she was later added at the last minute, and competed three events in prelims to help the squad make the final. She was also expected to be an alternate again in 2015, but she surprisingly made it again. This luck would run out in 2016, however, where despite finishing fourth all-around and third on beam at national championships, her consistency was overlooked in favor of Elisa Meneghini‘s difficulty, and so she was named the alternate for Rio.
In the first half of the current quad, Mori was one of Italy’s best, making nearly every major international team in both 2017 and 2018, reaching the all-around final at worlds both years in addition to making the floor final in 2017, and becoming the Mediterranean Games all-around and floor champion in 2018. But when the “Brixia Four” – Villa, Alice and Asia D’Amato, and Elisa Iorio – became seniors in 2019, Mori was again pushed to the background, and so knowing she would no longer be in consideration for the 2020 Olympic team, she set her focus on the apparatus world cup series, where she held the lead on floor for nearly all of it, until teammate Ferrari snuck ahead in the very last qualifying meet, leaving Mori again just shy of making it to the Games.
Seeing her make her Olympic dreams come true because of another athlete’s injury is bittersweet, and even Mori said in an interview with the federation: “This is not the way I wanted to make it to Tokyo.”
“Seeing your dreams fade when you’re so close to the goal is terrible,” Mori said about Villa. “I’ve been through it, so I can honestly tell her not to give up, the next Olympics are in just three years. She’s young and talented, she’s gonna come back even stronger than before. Look at Vanessa, she’s the perfect example.”
Now, Ferrari will lead the D’Amato twins and Martina Maggio in the team competition, though her biggest goal remains winning a floor medaI, and she plans on debuting a 6.0 routine in the final to help in her quest to finally stand on an Olympic podium with a medal around her neck. Mori’s goal is to make the floor final, and she may also compete on beam in qualifications, while the other three will be battling for spots in the all-around final.
The Italians should remain a favorite to make the team final, but any hopes of sneaking away with a team medal are likely very slim, though this would have been the case even with Villa still in the mix.
Article by Lauren Hopkins