Jesolo 2016: The Olympic Year is Here - Seniors
Below we have part 2 by Ele recapping the senior and event final competition! If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
The senior competition was less balanced in terms of winners, but in no way less exciting. The American gymnasts did not come to play games, and neither did Brazil or France. These two teams will soon be competing at the Rio Test Event to try and qualify a full team to the Olympics, and this was an important chance for them to test their level of preparation. Italy completed the roster of the competing teams, though with a heavily limited lineup of Ferlito, Carofiglio, Campana, Leolini, Mariani, and Ugrin, due to a long list of injured or recovering gymnasts (Ferrari, Fasana, Rizzelli, Busato, Marongiu, and Mori) and with Meneghini competing at the Stuttgart World Cup at the same time as the Jesolo competition. The US easily managed to win the team competition by a huge 13 points over silver medalist Brazil. Third place for Italy, who managed to lead over France thanks to a solid floor rotation, and fourth for France, who still posted fantastic bars and beam scores.
It was overall a very exciting competition, full of surprises and breathtaking moments. One of them was definitely Aly Raisman’s fall on her Amanar vault. She didn’t look convinced on this apparatus during warm-up and when the time came to compete, she sat it down. At first she looked put off and disappointed, but after a few words from her coach Mihai Brestyan, she quickly got herself together, like the champion we know her to be, and proved herself on every apparatus, making two finals, and winning a bronze (beam) and a gold (floor) medal on the following day. Some people read a lot (possibly too much) into this fall, claiming that it could jeopardize Aly’s spot on the Rio team. Personally, I think that this actually proved the opposite: mistakes happen all the time, but Aly is an experienced gymnast who knows this and knows how to not let a mistake influence her overall performance. The fact that she managed to leave that fall behind speaks louder than the fall itself, and Martha Karolyi seemed to agree while speaking to Aly at the end of day 2.
Gabby Douglas had yet another stellar competition, hitting all of her routines with great confidence both on day 1 and 2. She and Aly were fan favorites at Jesolo and the crowd cheered the loudest for them out of all the competitors, and Gabby’s stuck passes in her floor routine had everyone clapping and shouting at the top of their voices. She won the all-around competition and also won a silver medal on bars and a bronze medal on floor. Ever since her comeback, she has not taken a single false step, and this is a very important aspect that Marta will definitely keep in mind while drafting the perfect Rio team.
First year seniors Ragan Smith and Laurie Hernandez had a fabulous competition as well, showing that young age and relatively little experience mean next to nothing when you have confidence, skills, artistry, and a great deal of talent on your side. They respectively won silver and bronze AA. Ragan also won silver on floor and beam, while Laurie won gold on beam and silver on vault. Ragan has a new floor routine on a theme from The Addams Family and it is the perfect balance of cute and sassy. It is extremely entertaining, smartly choreographed, and executed with a great deal of attention to every detail. The tumbling is difficult and performed with precision, but what makes this routine stand out among so many others is Ragan’s ability to “sell” it so well. The audience already loved her as a junior, and this performance only reinforced those feelings. Everyone was clapping and enjoying the originality of her movements (you could even see Ragan’s teammates performing parts of her choreography alongside her while waiting for their turn). The audience was extremely excited after day one when they realized she had made floor EF, which meant they could watch her lovely routine a second time!
Everyone on team USA had a really good competition overall, including Ashton Locklear, winner of the UB EF gold medal and whose extremely precise lines left everyone speechless; Mykayla Skinner, whose execution has improved remarkably on all four events, excelling on VT where she secured herself a gold medal; Emily Schild, a gymnast who in a way flew a bit under the radar before this competition, where she came out with a very valuable and very well executed UB routine (very similar to teammate Locklear’s) that allowed her to make EF over other US gymnasts; and new seniors Sydney Johnson-Sharpf and Emily Gaskins, who despite not standing out on any particular event, still posted solid scores that would benefit any team in the world (but sadly, not the USA team, given their current insane depth).
It was really cute to see Brandy Johnson, Sydney’s mom and coach, beside her daughter, encouraging her and giving her last minute advice and hugs. All the coaches in general, and Marta most of all, paid very close attention to the girls and some, like Kim Zmeskal, literally went through the routines at the same time as their gymnasts, if only with their head and expression.
Team Brazil showed a very high level of preparation on all four apparatuses, thanks to the stellar AA performance of Flavia Saraiva who managed to end up in fourth place. She hit her difficult beam set with ease, she hit her upgrades on uneven bars, including her pretty piked jaeger, and she enchanted the audience with her new upbeat floor routine that she performed with her usual grace and flow. When I first heard that she had changed her previous music and choreography, I was a bit sad because I thought nothing could compare to the cuteness of that routine. But then I saw this new one and was sold from the start. She is an incredible performer and the Rio crowd is going to go absolutely crazy for her when she executes it at the Test Event and (hopefully) during the Olympics. But most importantly, Flavia whipped out her brand new double twisting Yurchenko on VT, a very important upgrade for her and her team, especially in view of the upcoming Test Event. She didn't get much height on the table (probably also due to her own limited height), but her form was absolutely neat and she landed it with no problems, for a huge 9.250 in execution.
The team was also helped by the comeback to international competition after a bad injury of Rebeca Andrade. She did not compete on floor, but her clean lines and her great power were remarkable. Sadly she counted a fall on bars during event finals, to which she had qualified with a beautiful 14.6, or she could have probably challenged for a medal, but this is not surprising after such a long time away from competition, and this is all good experience for her before her future, more important, assignments.
All the gymnasts in team Brazil had beautiful performances, including veteran Jade Barbosa and second-year senior Carolyne Pedro, who scored in the 13s everywhere. Daniele Hypolito was not as solid and reliable as usual, but still hit an important 13.750 score on bars. Sadly, Lorrane Oliveira did not get to compete, probably for some minor pain, but she was sitting with the audience, supporting her team with loud cheers.
Despite the unusual lineup, team Italy performed generally well. Enus Mariani had a fall on bars, which prevented her access to the final on her favorite event, but was otherwise solid everywhere else and showed a lot of confidence and dance moves in her new floor choreography.
Desirée Carofiglio, debuting here as a senior, showed her beautiful double front pike (Dowell) and double front tuck on floor, two very difficult and unusual skills for an Italian gymnast, a team that usually does not favor front tumbling. She had falls on beam and bars (where she landed her beautiful double front dismount though), but delivered a nice 14.550 on vault, with her 1 ½ Yurchenko. Her lack of experience was an issue, and it is why it is so important for her to compete internationally, especially in view of the next quad.
Tea Ugrin had barely recovered from a fever, and for this reason she was not in perfect shape. She downgraded her floor tumbling, opening with a double pike, but showed her new choreography to the music of Let It Go, from the Disney movie Frozen, which was very much appreciated by the audience and her teammates. She hit a clean UB routine, where her inbars looked beautiful, but sadly she fell on her dismount during EF. Hopefully she'll be able to get back in shape soon, as she is scheduled to participate in the Rio test event together with Lara Mori.
Both Alessia Leolini and Giorgia Campana had a clean competition with no falls, but their D scores on the low side compared to their teammates need some upgrading in order for them to be more competitive.
The most successful Italian gymnast of the competition was predictably Carlotta Ferlito, who ranked 8th in the AA, first among the Italians. She performed her 1 ½ Yurchenko with a much better form than in past competitions, and national team coordinator Enrico Casella mentioned that the DTY she has been working on for a while is now ready and she'll soon show it in competition. Her bars were mostly clean, just like her difficult beam (she only had a deduction for a low landing). On floor, she finally managed to complete her stunning Mustafina turn, and amazed once again the audience with her engaging choreography. She is one of the most popular Italian gymnasts and the crowd went crazy for her routines.
The following day she was supposed to compete on three event finals (FX, VT, BB) but she announced on Twitter that she had withdrawn from FX and VT due to exhaustion. She had in fact competed two weeks before at the American Cup, where the time zone change had taken a toll on her, and then had an intensive team camp in view of the Jesolo meet, after which she traveled straight to Jesolo. Keeping up such a high level of training for almost a month is not easy, and this is why she and her coaches decided to just have her compete on her favorite event. Carlotta is a professional athlete and when she went up on beam she hit all of her skills with confidence. However, looking at her face, it was clear that she did not feel she was on top of everything as she normally does. She looked very tense and it took her a longer time than usual to set up for each skill and series. She was also wearing her “unlucky” leo, aka the one she wore during Italian nationals last year and with which she counted three falls in the AA, making her lose the title of national champion that ended up being Tea Ugrin’s.
When the time came for the dismount, she completely missed her footing on the last back handspring, getting next to zero push from the beam itself to go into her double pike dismount. Everyone who knows a little bit about gymnastics immediately knew this was going to end up really badly. She still went for her double pike and landed it in the worst way possible: right on her neck. The time basically froze as the audience and everyone in the arena fell completely silent. She was resting on the mat, face down, holding her neck with her hands, and not moving. Only after a while she started crying really loudly and her coach and other people started crowding around her. They put a brace around her neck and carried her away to a stretcher and after a while she was taken to the local hospital to have a CT scan and an MRI.
It was a really scary fall and even her coach looked shaken when he informed the press of the situation. The girls who had to go up next on beam tried their best not to watch any of the happenings. Aly Raisman, Ragan Smith, and Laurie Hernandez kept warming up and going through their own routine to keep themselves “in a bubble” and trying to prevent the external world from penetrating and weakening their mental focus. This was effective as all of the remaining competitors hit their routines cold, including Enus Mariani, who had to go up right after this commotion and whose dismount was exactly the same as Carlotta’s. Resuming the competition after such a scary event was hard, and everyone kept waiting for news of Carlotta’s, but the show must go on, and so it did. Luckily, everything took a turn for the best and Carlotta’s medical exams did not show anything seriously wrong with her, not even her foot. Her neck was just sore and so was her ankle after hitting the beam in an awkward position, but hopefully she'll be back to full health in no time.
Witnessing such a scary event in first person was really hard and it seriously makes you realize how dangerous this sport can be and how incredibly good elite gymnasts are at what they do. They are so careful and train so perfectly that 99% of the times they make you forget about the dangers, but then an episode like this happens and the whole perspective suddenly shifts. On a different note, one that is considerably less important than Ferlito’s health, all team Italy supporters can't help being extremely grateful that Italy already qualified a full team to Rio during the Glasgow World Championships, because if they had to undertake the test event right now, against the high level teams that will compete this year, counting all of these injuries plus Ferlito’s, things would look extremely difficult.
The amount of concern Carlotta’s fall raised throughout the gymnastics world and especially her competitors during the Jesolo meet was, in a way, very heartwarming to witness. Once recovered from the initial shock, the audience cheered for her the whole time while she was being taken care of and carried out of the arena. She also received an overwhelming number of messages from fellow gymnasts, including a tweet from Aly Raisman herself, wishing her a speedy recovery on behalf of the whole team USA. Such sportsmanship displays are always lovely to see.
Before the Jesolo competition I had doubts about whether or not the French team had what it takes to qualify for Rio. Now I have even more respect for them and I can appreciate even more what a great competition the Test Event will be. They started out on bars, where they posted a series of amazing scores, all of them in the high 13s, with the sole exception of Camille Bahl who is a VT/FX specialist. Loan His scored the highest and proceeded to gain a bronze medal during EF, the only non-American who was capable of making a podium and thus preventing the US from making a clean sweep. The team was also very solid on beam, where new senior Marine Boyer scored an impressive 14.850 with a confident routine. Also remarkable was the AA performance of Marine Brevet, first ranking French gymnast who finished her competition in 10th place. Her lowest score of the day was a 13.450 on floor, so overall she had a really good day.
Speaking of floor, the team in general seemed to suffer on this event. No one had a higher D score than 5.2 and despite delivering mostly clean routines, this prevented them from reaching a higher team total. Lack of difficulty aside, Oréane Lechenault’s routine was really original and entertaining to watch. In her floor choreography she impersonates a puppet doll, replicating its mechanical and jerky movements in a very different and enjoyable way. Her leaps were also well executed and she had a lovely presence and smile.
Camille Bahl did not have a stellar day, counting a fall on both floor and vault, two events where the team was counting on her to lead. This does not bode well for her imminent future in the national team, especially since new senior Juliette Bossu (who was not at Jesolo), has a lovely floor with considerable difficulty and, if healthy, could challenge for a spot on the team.
At the end of the meet, on both days, the audience literally crowded around the barriers to get an autograph or a picture with the gymnasts. A lot of them had flags or handmade posters and their level of excitement was comparable to that of someone trying to get the attention of a movie star which was very cute to see. This goes to show how much the sport of gymnastics has grown in Italy in terms of popularity. The American gymnasts were the main focus of course, especially Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, whose presence at Jesolo has become something of a ritual. They were happy to comply, under the watchful eye of Marta Karolyi, who only allowed them a limited time with the fans, as their bus was already set to depart. Ashton Locklear, Emily Gaskins, and Laurie Hernandez were among the ones who spent more time signing autographs, for the utter joy of many young girls. Among them were also many of the junior gymnasts from Italy and Finland who had competed in Jesolo too, and who approached the seniors with the same level of deference as any “regular” person in the crowd.
Overall this meet did not disappoint the high expectations. It was packed with excitement, surprises and, most importantly, excellent gymnastics, and definitely raised the bar for the next few months leading up to the most important meet of the year: the Rio Olympic Games.
Thank you, Ele, for the wonderful recap. You can follow her on tumblr at elisaminimeneghini!