Angelina Melnikova, Sunisa Lee, and Rebeca Andrade
All of the worries I had about the potential for chaos in the women’s all-around final were put to rest when the three contenders put together truly outstanding performances, ending with a win for Sunisa Lee of the United States narrowly ahead of Rebeca Andrade of Brazil and Angelina Melnikova of Russia.
Lee, 18, became the first Asian American all-around champion with her win here, as well as the first Hmong Olympic champion in history. She is the sixth woman from the U.S. to win an Olympic all-around title, and the fifth in a row, following in the footsteps of Carly Patterson in 2004, Nastia Liukin in 2008, Gabby Douglas in 2012, and Simone Biles in 2016.
As if competing in her first individual final wasn’t enough on its own, Lee also became the focus as the top all-around medal hopeful for the U.S. after Simone Biles withdrew, massively increasing the pressure on her in this moment. She handled it about as masterfully as she did anchoring floor in the team final earlier in the week, though, and while she said she felt her performances weren’t her best, especially on bars, what she did so well was fight back from mistakes that could have otherwise been disastrous. Her Nabieva wasn’t her strongest, but she still worked out her full difficulty bars set, and she had a couple of moments on beam where it looked like she’d come off, but each time, she took a breath, reset, and kept going.
Lee had one of her strongest performances on vault, and wrapped up the meet with a clean and strong floor routine, where she played it safe with three passes, focusing on quality over quantity to seal the gold. She showed a masterful control over one of the most difficulty programs in the world, and did it with beauty and grace under pressure.
Coming into the competition with the top all-around score from qualifications, Andrade was also under tons of pressure to perform here, and she did it beautifully, becoming the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic medal in the history of the sport.
Andrade worked with the same difficulty as Lee, and the two were nearly tied after two events, with Andrade standing out on vault while Lee stood out on bars. While beam is probably Andrade’s weakest apparatus in general, I found her routine pretty brilliant here, and was shocked when her execution came in under an 8.0.
Going back and watching a video more closely, though, I do see lots of little things that added up, like checks and adjustments on skills that I couldn’t see from the stands, body position deductions on several of her dance and acro landings, a low front leg in her split ring jump, and then there was that large step back on the dismount…Lee had a couple of more noticeable mistakes, but overall I think it’s safe to say that Lee has a fewer of those “little things” that Andrade has, and she’s also coming in with half a point more in difficulty, giving her what she needed to take over the lead going into the final rotation.
Floor was where Andrade had the ability to take that lead back, but unfortunately, it looked like she just came in with a bit too much adrenaline, going out of bounds twice to pick up four tenths in penalties, which put her 0.135 back from the lead, but Andrade didn’t care. She said later that she didn’t think there was anything she would have done differently, adding that she was so proud of the outcome.
“I don’t mind whether it’s gold, silver, bronze, or even if I did not have a medal,” Andrade told the press following the competition. “I had a great performance.”
Melnikova was more than a point back in difficulty compared to the top two in the field, so it’s a testament to how well she performed that she managed the bronze just over two tenths back from Lee and less than one tenth back from Andrade.
Between the three, Melnikova had the best execution on bars, beam, and floor, and aside from a small issue with her mount series on beam, she was fantastic, putting up top-four scores on every event. I thought after leading the Russians to gold in the team final two nights earlier could have potentially affected her in the final, but it seems becoming an Olympic champion only fueled her fire. As the baby of the team in 2016 who missed out on the all-around final due to a weak qualifications, it’s been incredible to see the work Melnikova has done to get here over the past five years, and I’m anticipating more great performances from her in the final.
Melnikova’s young teammate, Vladislava Urazova, was also fantastic here, also putting together one of the cleanest performances in the competition to finish fourth just a couple tenths back from the podium. Urazova, who had the best beam routine of the meet and who was also fantastic on bars, unfortunately just didn’t have the floor difficulty to contend with the rest of the field, but she showed that staying clean and consistent also matters, and I think this is just the beginning for her.
Rounding out the top eight were Murakami Mai of Japan in fifth with a 56.032, Nina Derwael of Belgium in sixth with a 55.965, Tang Xijing of China in seventh with a 54.498, and Jade Carey of the United States in eighth with a 54.199.
The comeback Murakami put on after a rough qualifications was fantastic. Finishing 23rd in prelims with a fall, Murakami came back and showed some of her strongest work on all four events to climb the rankings here to reach one of the best all-around scores of her career while also breaking the record for Japan’s best all-around finish in history, surpassing Tanaka Keiko’s sixth-place standing at both the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games.
Derwael was also very strong here, hitting a strong Yurchenko 1½ on vault as well as her typically strong work on bars and floor, but she was a bit shakier on beam than she was in prelims, holding her total score back a bit, though she recovered well within the routine to count a hit, and like Murakami, she made history as Belgium’s top all-arounder ever at the Olympic Games, breaking her own record from 2016, where she finished 19th.
Tang had a fall on beam, but made it through the rest of her routines well enough to finish in the top eight, and she hit her Yurchenko double full on vault, which she missed in the team final. Carey also fell on beam, but had a strong Cheng, clean bars, and mostly solid floor routine to finish strong.
Both German women had incredibly strong competitions, with Elisabeth Seitz placing ninth with a 54.066 while Kim Bui, competing in her first Olympic all-around final at 32, ended up 17th with a 52.998. I was also happy to see strong competitions from Carolann Heduit of France (12th with a 53.565), Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland (15th with a 53.366), and Brooklyn Moors (16th with a 53.299).
The Gadirova twins both had mistakes to hold back their total potential, with Jessica missing her flight series on beam, while Jennifer had a big break on a pirouette on bars. Still, the two placed 10th and 13th with scores of 53.965 and 53.533, respectively, and Jessica’s finish ended up being Great Britain’s best in history, breaking Becky Downie‘s 12th-place record set in 2008.
Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France was one of my podium hopefuls here, but she unfortunately looked a bit rattled in the competition, wobbling throughout most of her skills on beam, coming up short on most of her floor landings, and looking a bit out-of-sorts on bars. She did make it through without any falls, and it was great to see her fight throughout the evening, and she finished 11th with a 53.698.
Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary had a strong performance on three of her events, but fell on beam, and finished 14th with a 53.433, while Lu Yufei of China had a fall on bars, big wobbles on beam, and some iffy landings on floor to place 18th with a 52.799.
Both Italians also had some mistakes, though Martina Maggio did some of her nicest work on beam and floor, finishing 19th with a 52.565, while Alice D’Amato had several excellent passes on floor, finishing 20th with a 51.899. There was also a weird fall from Lee Yun-seo of South Korea, who fell onto the beam, but her bars were gorgeous as always, and she wound up 21st with a 51.632, tying 1988 team member Park Ji-suk as her country’s best Olympic all-arounder in history, and Roxana Popa of Spain had two falls on bars on top of a fall on beam to finish 22nd with a 51.533, but the majority of her bars was fantastic, and she was gorgeous on floor.
Jutta Verkest of Belgium finished 23rd with a 51.232, showing some excellent work on floor, while Lieke Wevers of the Netherlands, who came into the final as a last-minute replacement for the injured Ellie Black of Canada, had a shaky beam and a fall on floor, but a beautiful bars set to finish 24th with a 51.098.
Article by Lauren Hopkins