For as long as we can remember, the slogan/hashtag for Rio was Road to Rio. Great Britain's hashtag was #everyroadtorio and for the longest time, I couldn't understand it. It wasn't until I saw each gymnast compete at this Games and had time to reflect that I realized what it meant. Every gymnast, or athlete for that matter, has had a different path that brought them to the Rio Olympic Games. For some, their arrival at the Olympic Games seemed inevitable. For others, it was a fight to the last minute to earn their federation's spot. Some were returning Olympians, some were first time Olympians. They all ended up in the same place but each journey was different. I just wanted to take a moment to remember some of these athletes and their magnificent journey to Rio.
I'm not quite sure when I first noticed Giulia Steingruber but I did and I'm glad. She became a senior in 2011 and made event finals on vault at both the European and World Championships. At the time, she was vaulting a Rudi (front handspring 1.5) and a Tsukahara full. She finished 5th in vault event finals. Steingruber was selected as Switzerland's sole representative in London 2012 and knew she needed to hit big vaults to make the vault event finals and have a shot at a medal. She upgraded her second vault to a Tsukahara double twist which she unfortunately fell on and finished 9th, just outside of the top eight spots that make an event final.
But, yes, you read that right. A Tsukahara double twist. That vault was quickly abandoned and for 2013 worlds, Steingruber was back with a new vault. A double twisting Yurchenko. This vault is the favored vault of most gymnasts and if able, gymnasts can upgrade to the ever elusive Amanar or two and a half twisting Yurchenko. However, shortly after learning that, Steingruber suffered from a case of the "twisties." For unknown reason, gymnasts (and other athletes like cheerleaders or divers) develop this fear of twisting and loss of air awareness. Hoping for a few international vault medals, Steingruber was suddenly held back by this mental block. She would vault again but downgrade to a full twisting Yurchenko and suffered a few injuries at competitions sustained on vault.
With divine healing power and fighting spirit, Steingruber was back and dominant. She was training a new vault - a handspring double twist which is not currently in the Code of Points. Steingruber was also rapidly upgrading floor exercise to a difficult routine that would hopefully challenge for a medal.
Steingruber came to Rio with a solid chance for a high all around finish, and a possible vault and floor exercise medal. She decided not to show the new vault and made the vault final anyway. Even better, she showed two clean vaults, a Rudi and a solid DTY that has challenged her time and time again to earn the bronze medal. This was the first ever artistic gymnastics Olympic medal for Switzerland. It was a long road from upgrading vaults to switching vault families, having to deal with injuries and mental blocks, but Steingruber did it and has the medal to show for it.
Ellie Black is one of the returning Olympians from London 2012. She turned senior in 2011 and has just continued to improve since then. in 2012, she was given one of the largely contested spots for Team Canada. Her vault and beam routines are what helped her most compliment her teammates and earn that spot. In London, Black qualified to the vault final and helped Team Canada to their highest finish ever - 5th place. She later got injured after doing her first vault in the event final. Since then, Black has just continued to improve. She's attended Universiade Games, Pacific Rim and Pan American Championships, numerous World and Challenge Cups, and has steadily built her name to where it is now. In Rio, the team just missed out on the team final but Black was able to finish the all around final, which she did not make in 2012, in 5th place, the highest ever for a Canadian woman.
Sanne Wevers turned senior in 2007. Yep, 2007! She was eligible for the Beijing and London Olympics but missed out in 2008 and had injuries that essentially kept her out of the running in 2012. Sanne Wevers was always known as a great beamer. In 2013, she had one of the top scores on beam and was a hopeful to make the beam final at worlds. Unfortunately, she fell immediately on her round off full twisting back handspring mount and had several errors afterwards and did not qualify for the event final.
From there, the troubles continued. She remained one of the best beam workers in the Netherlands and in the world but was either unable to make finals due to poor performances or then fell in finals to miss out on medals at both European Championships and World Championships. The end of 2015 is when Wevers' luck seemed to change. At the World Championships, she won the silver medal on balance beam. She continued in 2016 with an upgraded routine that she was able to hit more often than not, both domestically and internationally. At the recent Olympic Games, to the delight of many, Wevers' won the gold medal on balance beam.
What an accomplishment for Sanne Wevers! She went from missing out on 2 Olympics to helping to qualify a team to the 2016 Games and winning the Netherlands first individual women's artistic medal.
Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey finished 10th in the all around at the Youth Olympic Games. She also made the vault and floor finals. If you've followed me, you know that I consider Yilmaz the gymnastics love child of Aly Raisman and Alicia Sacramone. She has that same level of attack and poise when competing and has very difficult skills, the highlight being her back handspring layout full on beam. I've wanted to send her to Brestyan's for training camp to work on her consistency but maybe she doesn't need it. After a long wait in preliminaries, Yilmaz had the beam performance of her life with all eyes on her. She nailed every single skill and dismounted with the approval of a roaring crowd. She finished with a 14.5 (6.3 D) and in 13th place on balance beam.
Seda Tutkhalyan was the all around winner at the Youth Olympic Games. She has since continued to show great potential but struggled with consistency. Tutkhalyan was initially not on the provisional Olympic team but with the confirmed absence of Ksenia Afanasyeva, Tutkhalyan was able to fill the hole. Despite earlier worries of consistency, Tutkhalyan managed to beat out Angelina Melnikova for the all around spot, coming in ahead of teammate Aliya Mustafina as well. She performed well again in the team final. Tragedy didn't strike until the all around final where Tutkhalyan, with a real chance at a medal, fell on her balance beam dismount and twice on floor. Despite the heartbreaking performance there, it is important to remember that Tutkhalyan was a rock for the team for both qualifying and the team finals, helping Russia to just beat out China for the bronze medal.
Ellie Downie has been a trailblazer for Team Great Britain. In 2015, she earned Team GB their first individual AA medal at the European Championships. At the 2015 World Championships, she helped the team to an historic bronze medal. At the Olympics, Downie was a favorite for the all around final and possible a few event finals. Unfortunately, Downie had a scary fall on floor exercise which took her out of the floor final. She then returned to the arena to finish on vault. Downie had done enough to make the all around final but just didn't have the best day. She did show an upgraded routine with a Patterson dismount on beam but fell. As the sole qualifier to the all around final for Team GB and after such a scary fall, Downie did an excellent job fighting for herself but also for her team. She finished in 13th place.
Flavia Saraiva helped Brazil to an 8th place team finish and earned a spot in both the all around and beam event finals. She withdrew from the all around to focus on beam where she finished 5th. In the team final, Saraiva contributed on both beam and floor helping her to become one of the darlings of this home Olympic Games.
Sae Miyakawa was a vault medalist at the 2014 YOG. She made the Japanese worlds team and helped the team to a fifth place finish. She also competed in the floor final where she tied for 4th. Miyakawa is known for her very difficult floor routine with tumbling difficulty that can rival that of Simone Biles. Due to an error, Miyakawa did not make the floor final. However, she did help Japan to a 4th place finish. Their highest finish in nearly 50 years.
Every athlete has had a different road to Rio, all worthy of celebration. Whose career have you reflected on after watching the Olympic Games?