Women’s qualifications start in less than 10 hours at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, so we’re talking about all of the teams in each subdivision to give you
SUBDIVISION 1 – Italy and Japan
Even without superstar Giorgia Villa, don’t count the reigning world bronze medalists out as one of the top teams outside of the big three. With the legendary now four-time Olympian Vanessa Ferrari stepping in to replace Villa at the last minute, Italy’s scoring potential will be more or less the same, and with Ferrari slated to compete all four events in qualifications, the team should have one of the best chances at making the final.
Of course, what happens in the team final will all depend on what Ferrari is able to compete there. With a floor medal her ultimate goal here in Tokyo, she and her coaches could opt to limit what she contributes, but if she’s feeling good and at full strength on all four events, her scoring potential is similar to that of Villa’s. She actually trained bars well in podium training, and I don’t think a performance there would take too much away from her individual goals.
As for the host country, Japan has a ton of potential, but beam has been known to give them trouble, so they’ll really need their key athletes there to knock it out of the park. Despite nearly missing out on qualifying a full team at worlds in 2019, I think they are now in a much better place, and don’t see them missing out on the final with the group they have in Tokyo.
Part of the situation in Stuttgart was due to injuries among the team there, though Murakami Mai not in as the leader was also key for them not doing as well as they’re capable of, and now that she’s back and looking to be in top shape, I don’t think there’s even a slight chance they’ll miss out, unless something goes drastically wrong.
SUBDIVISION 2 – Russia, China, and Great Britain
Both Russia and China looked incredible in podium training, and I think it would take a lot for either team to miss out on medals this year. Russia has its best team since 2010, with Angelina Melnikova leading the two young seniors Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova, while Lilia Akhaimova will fill in with crucial routines on vault and floor.
China has a team of top all-arounders in Tokyo, including 2019 world medalist Tang Xijing, 2021 national champion Lu Yufei, 2021 Olympic trials champion Zhang Jin, and 2019 junior world medalist Ou Yushan, which is quite the pedigree. There are areas where the team is a bit weak, with vault and floor especially notable, so I do think they have a bit of a disadvantage compared to a more well-rounded team like Russia, and though beam is a not-so-secret weapon for the team…it’s beam. A routine that could go 15 one day could get a 12 the next, so putting most of their eggs in that basket is potentially a risk, though it’s all worth it when they perform as beautifully as they’re capable of.
The British team, meanwhile, could be pretty hit or miss, though I still think they’ll make the team final regardless, as they have enough strengths to afford a few mistakes in qualifications, unlike some of the other teams in the mix. Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova have huge difficulty, and Jessica really proved herself among some of the best in the world at Euros this year, while Alice Kinsella is a beam standout who can also put up strong scores everywhere else, and Amelie Morgan is an excellent utility player who is usually very consistent, so despite a lack of difficulty as she returned from injury earlier this year, she still plays an important role and will be vital to the team’s success.
SUBDIVISON 3 – United States and the Netherlands
The U.S. women are here to dominate, and showed in podium training that a trip to the other side of the world didn’t affect them at all, as they all looked pretty incredible without any major mistakes. Even the weakest links on each event for the United States are still essentially world class on those apparatuses, so of course they’ll be nearly impossible to beat, especially of course thanks to Simone Biles and her impossible combination of difficulty and execution on every event.
The Netherlands, back with four who qualified to the team final back in 2016, are a bit worrisome and are teetering more on the side of not making the final this year in my opinion. They have some of the most beautiful and innovative routines on the planet, but they also have a lot of inconsistent skills and routines, and they also don’t have the difficulty on most events to be able to overcome bigger mistakes. We also can’t forget that they’re risking putting up only three athletes on both vault and floor in qualifications, as 2016 Olympic beam champion Sanne Wevers competes only two events, so if they have a miss on either, they’re out, for sure. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the team does make the final, but I’m not expecting them to based on everything we’ve seen.
SUBDIVISION 4 – Canada, France, and Spain
The Canadians have been one of the biggest team medal threats this quad outside of the usual three, though they’ve never seemed to be capable of pulling it off at world championships. Even though they’ve had to swap Ana Padurariu for her eerily similar club teammate Ava Stewart this year as Padurariu is dealing with injuries that have forced her to retire from elite gymnastics, Stewart’s strengths perfectly match what Paduariu brought to the team, making Canada one of the most well-balanced programs on the roster.
Led by veteran Ellie Black, Canada does have a few weak spots, and they’re also coming into the Olympic Games with almost no real competition outside of the virtual space since last March. Stewart, a first-year senior this year, became an elite gymnast only about 18 months ago, and the Games will be the first time she competes outside of her country, so the fear is real, though hopefully they won’t let the pressure get to them.
Much like Canada, the French women have also been a massive outside hope for a team medal at worlds this quad, though they’ve also had some struggles with making everything come together at once. The current crew is comprised of four of the most talented all-arounders over the past decade or so, with each gymnast pretty balanced in terms of her own program. Each all-arounder also has standout routines, so they’re always able to add a little extra on each event, and I think if all goes well, they’ll be a top-five team.
As the team that qualified last at worlds in 2019, expectations for Spain going into the team final are pretty low, especially as they lost two of their top all-arounders with both Ana Perez and Cintia Rodriguez dealing with injuries this year. But I saw so much great work from Spain in podium training, and I think there is always the potential to surprise. Just qualifying a full team to the Olympics itself was a surprise, so while I don’t think we’ll see them advance, I’d love for them to do what the Germans did in men’s qualifications today by delivering A-game performances on every event and not letting lower difficulty hold them back.
SUBDIVISION 5 – Germany and Belgium
I honestly don’t have huge team final expectations for either of these two programs. I think both are similar in that they’re full of talent, but are lacking in other ways that the absolute top teams are not. I’m not certain either way for both programs, but I’m leaning more towards no team final than I am towards thinking they’ll make it.
Germany’s team is made up of grown ass women in unitards, so they’re already winners in my book, but unfortunately while they’ll bring a few big numbers to the table, this is more a team of apparatus standouts who also happen to be decent all-arounders, rather than one of all-arounders with standout events. Each apparatus will have a big score or two, but the other scores won’t come close to matching, and that’s what could hold them back…but the same is true for the German men, and they had no problems making it, so the women will be hoping to bring that same magic to Sunday’s competition.
With 2016 Olympian Nina Derwael leading the young Belgian team, the group will have a great buffer on each event, especially as she’s upgraded vault and has been delivering consistently strong performances on beam and floor to go along with her medal-worthy bars. The younger athletes on the team all bring something to the table, and this is probably Belgium’s best vault lineup ever, but I’m afraid a lack of experience for two of the younger members of the team could affect the overall score, which could make it difficult for them to challenge. But again, I’d love a surprise, and if I had to bet on a bubble team to pull it off, Belgium is my pick.
I see the team final as having the United States, Russia, and China as absolutes, with France, Japan, Great Britain, and Italy the next most likely, while Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain have the most to prove in qualifications. But I also think almost any in the ‘no team final’ group would be capable of making it in if they have spectacular days and/or the more likely programs struggled…and since this is gymnastics, we know there will be a struggle, so I’m not going to count any of them out and think that we’ll see at least one surprise outside of what I’m predicting.
Article by Lauren Hopkins