Monday, 23 July 2012

Are you a 4-year fan? A London guide

Unsurprisingly, gymnastics is the most watched spectator sport at the Olympics. This means lots of people don't have much of a clue who to watch and who are the favourites. While I don't enjoy the stream of complaints that Nastia and Shawn stars of Beijing won't be in London, casual fans don't annoy me at all, this title isn't snarky! It's how lots of people get into the sport either as fans or gymnasts- the Olympics coverage. And that's a great thing. So here's an easy to follow guide on who and what teams you should be looking out for.

This year, the team is smaller. Only 5 gymnasts are on each team, last time it was 6. The set-up remains the same though, in the team final, 3 gymnasts compete on each apparatus and all 3 scores count. So falls are disastrous, and other errors like landing out of bounds on floor and major wobbles on beam can be costly. Scores will be lower this time- you won't see any 16.9 on bars, because less skills count towards each score.  Each score is composed of a 10 for execution and a difficulty score added on to make up the total score. A 16.2 is the highest score we can expect to see, which can  happen in the case of one particular vaulter. In general, a score over 15 is good. Floor tends to be the lowest-scoring.

Three main competitions will be judged. Team Finals, or TF is first. As mentioned, 3 up, 3 count. America are the favourites here, but Russia, Romania and China are all right up there. A few months ago, America were the clear favourites as they will have 3 amanar vaults. This is a very difficult vault which carries a high d-score. (difficulty score) Only a handful were seen in 2008, but this time around it will be much more common. However, the other countries have caught up- Russia now have 3 amanars, Romania has 2 maybe 3, and China has one. Russia in particular are a big threat now, because they also have a big advantage over America- much better and much more difficult bars routines. But the other two can't be counted out of the race either. Barring falls or major errors, you can expect the following:

FLOOR
USA- Very strong, good scores. 2nd
Romania- The strongest, high scores. 1st
Russia- A bif of a weak point. 3rd
China- Not their strong point either 4th

VAULT
USA- 3 strong amanars, 1st
Romania- Second if they have all three with 6.5 vaults, otherwise 3rd
Russia- Bad form on 2 of these amanars, but will outscore Romania if Romania only have two. 2nd or 3rd
China- Only have one amanar, 4th

BEAM
USA- Strong solid routines but others have higher difficulty 3rd
Romania- Insane difficulty and solid 1st
Russia- Great routines but tend to be very wobbly 4th
China- Beautiful routines and high difficulty 2nd

BARS
USA- A weak point, but not near as weak as Romania. 3rd
Romania- 1 good routine, 2 weak. 4th
Russia- Their strongest point, 1st
China- They have higher difficulty than Russia, but tend to be a bit inconsistent here.2nd

USA's team consists of Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney. None of these competed in Beijing and the oldest is Aly, who is 18. Fear not, all have lots of experience, and all but Kyla were at worlds last year. Likely team captain is Aly, who was captain at worlds and was very good at it. Jordyn and Gabby are favourites in the individual all-around (where gymnasts compete on all four apparatus). Aly could qualify in her own right, but as it's only two per country and she has lower difficulty than the other two, it's unlikely that you'll see her there. Jordyn will also compete all four events in the TF.  Kyla and McKayla will be used as specialists on the team- McKayla is the best vaulter in the world (and is the owner of the 16.2 score above if she sticks her amanar!) and will take gold in the vault event final. Kyla has a very strong bars and beam which will greatly help the team, but not really the difficulty to get her into event finals. USA will show gymnasts in every event final. You can see a quick breakdown of USA's team here.

Romania have an interesting mix of veterans and newbies. Catalina Ponor competed at the 2004 Olympics! She won beam and floor there, and has retained excellence on both 8 years later. (Injured for Beijing). Sandra Izbasa competed in Beijing and won on floor. Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar and Diana Chelaru are all relatively fresh on the scene. Their biggest weakness is bars- only Larisa has a decent routine. This will hinder them bigtime in TF...but they have rock solid consistency, and insanely high beam and floor scores to help them out. Bulimar and Chelaru are going to help in TF, the other 3 will be the ones to watch. Sandra will have to fight with Cata and Iordache to qualify for beam and floor EF, Cata is almost certain to make both, as is Iordache. Iordache will do the AA and is one to watch, the second AA is not yet known, it can't be Cata. Izbasa or Bulimar most likely. Romania will show gymnasts in every event final except bars.

Russia have one veteran, Ksenia Afanasyeva. They also have two favourites, Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina. The team is rounded out by Anastasia Grishina and Maria Paseka. Paseka will only contribute on vault as she has an amanar. Grishina will be used on bars and beam and possibly floor. Vika and Musty could well be used on all four, Afan is there really for floor but can contribute on beam too. They have monster bars and have narrowed the gap with USA now that they also have 3 amanars. Unlike USA and Romania, they can be headcasey on beam. Russia will show gymnasts in every event final, although vault is a bit of a 'maybe'.

China have NO fresh faces! Unfortunately those who were new on the scene showed too much inconsistency. He Kexin of beating-Nastia-on-bars fame returns, solely for bars. She has the highest difficulty of ANY bar routine we will see. Deng Linlin is another returning veteran. Sui Lu and Huang Qiushuang have also been around a long time and were alternates in Beijing while Yao Jinnan exploded onto the scene only last year when she took bronze in worlds AA with a fall, and would have won gold without it. Yao is the best hope for an AA medal, but Huang Qiushuang shows great difficulty too, and has an amanar. Unfortunately she also shows great headcase potential. A strong team, but not near as strong and cohesive as their 2008 team.

Now for the AA, the all-around. The top 24 qualifiers after prelims compete for the most prestigious title, only 2 per country can qualify. There are several contenders but unfortunately nobody outside of the top countries has much of a chance. These top contenders are Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas of USA, Larisa Iordache of Romania, Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina of Russia and Yao Jinnan and Huang Qiushuang of China. ANY of the above have a chance, though the first 4 a greater chance than the others. Still close though. You can see a more indepth look here.

The final event after the AA is event finals or EF. The top eight gymnasts for each apparatus compete, again only two per country. Vault is the most diverse by far, and where we will see several gymnasts from outside the top countries. Bars is the most exciting, but beam and floor are hard to call too. Vault gold is already known! Here is a look at who we can expect to see in EF's.
Catalina Ponor and Larisa Iordache are favourites for beam, Iordache and Aly Raisman for floor, Viktoria Komova and He Kexin for bars, and McKayla Maroney for vault.

Prelims take place this Sunday, where all 98 gymnasts will compete in subdivisions. It differs from team finals slightly in that 4 from each country compete on each apparatus, and 3 scores count. The top 8 teams will qualify to Team Finals. The four mentioned above are a certainty. USA, Russia, Romania and China. Japan, Great Britain, Canada and Australia are likely to take the other four spots but Germany and Italy will contend fiercely too. The top 24 gymnasts who compete all 4 events (several will not do all 4) advance to the all-around final.  Prelims also decide those who qualify for event finals- the eight highest scores. Gymnasts competing outside of a team are placed in mixed groups with other individuals and rotate to all events like that. Individuals to watch out for are Natalia Kononenko of Ukraine on bars, Marta Pihan of Poland, Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland, Yamilet Pena of Dominican Republic and Ti Thanh of Vietnam- the latter three all on vault.

Happy watching!

Questions:

Kyla Ross has great bars and beam, why isn't she in the event finals?

Kyla is unlikely to make either, as she has lower difficulty. Stranger things have happened.

Why isn't Aly Raisman in the AA, she's one of USA top AA'ers?

Aly is unlikely to beat Gabby to become USA's second AA'er. This is because Aly's bars are quite weak, and she has lower difficulty than both Jordyn and Gabby. It's not out of the question, especially if Gabby messes up in prelims. Only two per country can be cruel.

Does McKayla Maroney only do vault? How come she got a place in such a small team?

No. She trains all four events. Her bars are very weak and her beam isn't that helpful, but a good back-up. She's most useful on vault and floor, her floor may be outscored by Gabby in prelims and not seen in TF but you will see that spectacular vault. She got the fifth place because no other gymnast vying for the the same place adds more tenths in a team sitaution than Maroney. Maroney also is pretty much guaranteed a vault gold.

Why isn't Catalina Ponor in the AA? She's awesome!

Cata no longer trains bars, so can't qualify.

Why is 'difficulty' so important?

It's so important that it's possible someone with a big error can win over somebody with a perfect, but less difficult, routine. In Beijing Cheng Fei took bronze on vault over Alicia Sacramone, even though she had a fall and Alicia showed great vaults. All of the top AA'ers have upgraded a lot so they won't get left behind difficulty-wise.

Why is everyone doing the amanar vault? It looks dangerous

Purely so they won't get left behind difficulty-wise. The amanar has a 6.5 difficulty, a huge 0.7 more than another very common vault, the DTY. The difference is the amanar has an extra half twist. You can see all of the amanars currently being competed here and judge for yourself.

How old is Oksana Chusovitina??

Oksana Chusovitina, competing for Germany (formerly Uzbekistan, Unified Team and USSR), is 37! This is her SIXTH Olympics. She will compete all-around in prelims but will only make vault EF. Yes, she began competing several years before most of her competitors were even born.

Beam routines look awful now compared to the old days, why is that?

Beam routines now have a lot of requirements. On top of fulfilling those, the quest for difficulty means that little time remains for artistry and choreography.

Why are all the beam and bar mounts so boring?

Either because they are too risky, or take up too much time.

Why aren't Jordyn Wieber, Larisa Iordache, Viktoria Komova and Gabby Douglas in the vault final?

To qualify each gymnast must compete two vaults from two different vault families. (Yes, there are families!) None of the gymnasts above train a second vault as vault is not their speciality and all of them concentrate on the all-around.

Where are Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson?

Both ARE in London, Shawn in a promotional capacity and Nastia for promotions and as the FIG (gymnastics governing body) representative. Shawn retired about two months ago, which was not a huge suprise. She has not been able to train due to an injured knee. Nastia made a comeback but it was far too late and she tanked at every competition this year. Yes, she was okay on beam but it wasn't needed- it was really her bars that were going to get her on the team. Even if both were in peak form, it's arguable that they would still not have made it- that's how deep USA are now. 

Where is the Ukrainian team?

Ukraine showed off their inconsistent streak by having a disastrous competition at Worlds last year, meaning they weren't even able to qualify a team to the Olympics. They were allotted a single spot instead. In a run of further bad luck their top gymnast, Mariya Livchikova, was injured for the Test Event and could not take the spot. Even though Mariya is totally fine now and won the Ukrainian Nationals- the spot goes to Natalia Kononenko instead. Kononenko has a great bars routine but we will miss Livchikova's beautiful floor routine.


TEAM USA


Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney

TEAM ROMANIA



Catalina Ponor, Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar, Diana Chelaru, Sandra Izbasa

TEAM RUSSIA



Anastasia Grishina, Ksenia Afanasyeva, Maria Paseka, Aliya Mustafina, Viktoria Komova

No photos of China as a 5 member team yet, will add when one is shown- they have just landed in London.


UPDATE: This post is still clocking up a lot of views. As is evident by now, it's tough to predict what will happen. Aly qualifying over Jordyn to the AA was not predicted by anyone, nor was McKayla Maroney falling. Top gymnasts Larisa Iordache and Yao Jinnan were injured and consequently underperformed. Though it was pretty much confirmed that Russia would have 3 amanars, they did not risk it. Other upgrades did not materialise, though some which were absent throughout the competition DID appear in event finals. The rest of this post is (or was) accurate at the time of posting and remains pretty accurate.






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