Saturday, 11 August 2012

All hail Aliya and Aly

Aliya Mustafina Aliya has gone home as the most decorated gymnast of the games, male or female- quite a feat given that men have two more medal chances. She also goes home as the most decorated Russian Olympian full stop. The queen took the gym world by storm when she dominated the 2010 worlds to take home the AA title, team gold and medals in three event finals, but tore her ACL on an amanar the following year. An extremely tough injury to come back from, many gymnasts are unable to regain their former brilliance. Aliya used the time she could not tumble or vault perfecting her bars, which although were never mediocre by any stretch of the imagination, have now improved immensely. Her first major competition did not bode well as she struggled on floor. Many wrote her off as a top AA contender for London, placing Grishina in her place to fight alongside Komova. Even at podium training, an accredited news source said 'she will only do bars in TF', despite clearly being at the top of her game once more. In the team final and in qualifications, she competed on all four events, the only one of her team to do so. She qualified to the AA and into two event finals, and in team finals posted high scores, faltering only on beam which was pretty wobbly. Her difficulty was kept at a manageable level and without high difficulty and an amanar, she was never fully capable of claiming the top spot. Even with a fall on beam, she took bronze in a tiebreaker. In bars she beat the huge favourite Beth Tweddle and the defending champion He Kexin to take the first gold for Russia since 2000. Floor was a surprise, her strong routine and execution made up for her lack of difficulty and she claimed bronze in another tiebreaker. 4 medals for someone who tore her ACL last year and was written off- even by one of her head coaches? Inspirational.

Alexandra Raisman Aly Raisman goes home as the most decorated US gymnast- male of female. Her haul of 3 medals is 4 in most people's minds, matching Musty's- as Aly lost the AA bronze on a tiebreak. Aly's victory is especially sweet as although she has been slugging hard as an all-arounder for several years now, she has always come second to Jordyn, and in the six months, third behind Jordyn and Gabby. Lambasted for not being balletic and for her lack of toepoint, Aly surprised everyone in prelims and podium training by hitting all of her leaps on floor, cleaning up her form and pointing her toes on bars. All in the space between Olympic Trials and prelims, which wasn't much. She qualified second to the all-around after the performance of her life in prelims, beating wunderkind Gabby AND Jordyn the favourite. Unfortunately this victory suffered a huge backlash as she was forgotten in the wake of the drama over Jordyn and seen as the one to knock Jordyn out under the two-per-country rule, when it was technically Gabby that knocked her out. She came back in fighting form for team finals, performing on her two strongest apparatus, beam and floor. Aly the team captain rallied her troops wonderfully well, and did well to calm Gabby down before the latter went up on beam. Her floor performance was the last routine of the competition- one in which she needed only 10.5 to win, 5 points down on her full capability. Her emotion and tears as she landed her last pass is a lasting memory of these games, as is her placing of her team gold medal around Mihai's neck. The AA was not as smooth for Aly, her high scoring floor and vault were not enough to cancel out her weak bars and her huge error on beam. The tiebreak was not kind, as she had to count her low score on beam versus Aliya's three clean routines. A crushing dissapointment to lose bronze on a tiebreaker, Aly came back fighting for event finals. Beam was a dissapointment, after several favourites faltered or fell, the door was wide open for her but she had a another wobble and lost the connection. The rest of her routine was solid as always but she she came fourth with a surprisingly low score. Luckily the Karolyi's had their wits about them and forced Mihai to appeal. The judges revised the d-score which led Aly into another tiebreak. This time she won, beating Catalina Ponor's extremely difficult but error-filled routine on execution. Fired up, Aly then went on to nail her floor routine, including the front layout punch front and sticking every pass. A well deserved gold closed out her Olympics- the first floor gold for USA. The gymnast who was always in the background, never the spectacular favourite, pulled out all the stops and comes home a hero. Aly has also received lots of attention from the Jewish community for her use of Hava Nagila and for her dedication of her medals to the Israeili athletes killed in the ambush at the Munich Olympics forty years ago. And all from a girl expected to contribute but not shine!