Photo Credit: Grace Chiu
The Rio Test Event team competition finishing over the weekend and what a competition it was! There was lots of excitement and heartbreak when the chalk finally settled. On the men's side, Germany was able to ward off evil pommel spirits (that landed them at the Test Event in the first place) to finish in gold medal position. They were followed by Ukraine who went from nearly 3rd in 2012 to nearly not in the Olympics in 2016. The team was able to rally led by a strong all around performance by Oleg Verniaiev. The Netherlands and France completed the list of teams that qualified a 5-member team to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The women's competition was full of drama. To the surprise of no one and to the elation of the home crowd, Brazil finished in first place. They were followed by Germany, Belgium, and France who will all get the chance to bring a team to the Olympics. The great surge in this group of finalists has to go to Team Belgium and Team Switzerland. Belgium just missed on qualifying a team to the Olympics in 2012 and now they come with strong all arounders and event final worthy athletes. To top it off, they were missing some members of their team due to injury or forced medical retirement. Switzerland, though they finished in 6th, also deserves praise for nearly making it. They were one of the teams that most people ignored and they surprised with their performance and how close they were to qualifying.
There was a lot of sadness in this final. Australia finished in 5th place with a 218.428, 2.441 points behind France and a team spot at the Olympics. This score was an improvement from their score at Pacific Rims but still wasn't enough to qualify a team. Romania finished in 7th place with a 216.569, which was actually less than their Glasgow 2015 qualifying score. One could argue the worlds team contained Larisa Iordache and Laura Jurca and the test event team had Catalina Ponor and Ana Maria Ocolisan but was missing Iordache and Jurca. Who knows if that would have made a difference or if it would have been enough to qualify. We could hypothesize forever.
Now comes the tricky part: Australia, Switzerland, Romania, and Korea can send 1 gymnast to the Olympics. For South Korea, 2 of their star gymnasts were injured and it's unclear if they'll be back in time for Rio. Switzerland will most likely send Giulia Steingruber. Australia and Romania are in tough situations. Romania will most likely choose between Larisa Iordache and Catalina Ponor - both with hopes of balance beam and floor exercise finals. Iordache has the benefit of an all around final and chance at the podium though we don't know the extent of her injury and when she can be back to full training. Australia will basically have a battle of former Olympians. In my opinion, it will be between Larrissa Miller (FX), Georgia-Rose Brown (AA), Emily Little (AA, potentially VT though they likely won't make event finals if not upgraded). AA athletes Kiara Munteanu and Emma Nedov also deserve a shout out for finishing first of the Australians at Pacific Rim and the Test Event, respectively. And these are just the athletes we've seen. Lauren Mitchell is recovering from ACL surgery and is back training. She's been well enough to attend recent national team camps. Olivia Vivian also seems to be training (though I'm honestly still not 100% sure). They actually have a ton of options for who to send to Rio.
Both teams will need to really look at their systems. Both have had star juniors that haven't quite made it at the senior ranks. For Australia, it seems mostly to be due to injury. For Romania, there is an injury component but also "lack of motivation" and former stars and European medalists being exiled to Romanian gymnastics Siberia. Romania is truly lacking in depth, as evidenced by 2 injuries, Iordache and Jurca, collapsing the entire team structure.
Then there are coaching issues. For Australia, I really can't decide how to feel about Peggy Liddick. The Australians have accomplished some great things during her reign, Lauren Mitchell's floor exercise gold, Larrissa Miller making floor event finals at 2014 worlds. But they've also declined to the point of not making the Olympics. We typically think of Romania but the Aussies are also a team that relies on their veterans. There's nothing wrong with relying on your veterans, it's just a problem when there isn't much depth to replace them.
The Romanian coaching situation is a disaster. If anyone wants to update me on why Nicolai Forminte left in 2010, I'd love to hear it. Maybe I wasn't totally attuned to what was going on but I remember thinking it was weird they fired him. Sorry, we have a 2008 team and floor exercise medal, some worlds and European medals, but you're done. Thank you! It just really didn't make sense. Now he's back coaching the juniors and they're showing promise. Belu and Bitang are basically having an on-again off-again relationship with their coaching role. Apparently the girls asked for them back but then were injured so they did not get to coach much. It bothers me most that they resigned just before the girls left for Rio. I thought this was weird. I didn't think it was because they had very little faith in the athletes they were trying to coach to the Olympics.
The biggest comment that has resonated with me about this whole Romanian situation was on rightful 2004 Olympic AA Champion Andreea Raducan's facebook. "...We could have the fate of Ukraine." She reminds us of the greats Lilia Podkopayeva and Viktoria Karpenko. A country that once had such pride and talent that is no longer on the gymnastics map. That really struck a chord. Will Romania be the next Ukraine or will there be changes made? There's a lot of finger pointing now but I hope that the RGF and the coaches come up with a plan to develop the program otherwise this disaster is only just beginning.
|Women's Team Competition|
|Men's Team Competition|