Under pressureThe London 2012 Olympic gymnastics competition is now well under way and so far there have been many twists and turns and ups and downs as the women have battled it out through the qualification rounds and the team final. There are some gymnasts who have excelled themselves so far, such as USA's Aly Raisman, Japan's Asuka Teramoto and the whole of the Canadian team. But for some, things did not go quite to plan. Has the pressure and the expectation been too much? Can they sort things out before the finals and go out and prove themselves?
Larisa has been hailed as the Romanian challenge for the all around title for some time now. A first year senior, she has been impressive throughout her junior career and made her mark as a senior at the 2012 European Championships by posting the highest all around score in qualification and helping her team to take the Gold medal. But just a couple of days before qualification the Romanian team reported that Larisa had an injury. She was suffering from plantar fasciitis which affects the foot and there was doubt as to whether she would be able to compete all around in the qualification let alone fight for the Gold medal. At the last minute it was announced that she would compete - it was obvious that Larisa was desperate for the chance to compete and qualify for the finals. In qualification Romania started on floor but it was not the best start for Larisa with an uncharacteristic fall in the middle of her routine. She continued on, with an excellent vault and a good bars routine, though bars is not a strong piece for her. She looked slightly nervy on beam but finished with an excellent triple twist dismount. Although it was not a bad qualifying session by many people's standards, Romania's golden girl qualified down in 9th rather than up near the top where she was expected to be. She only had one day off to recover before the start of the team final where she was put up on three of the four pieces of apparatus. Although she had a much better beam routine than in qualifying, her scores on vault and bars were much lower. With just one day off again before the all around final, and not having qualified to any of the apparatus finals, can Larisa Iordache perform to her full potential and give the American and Russian challengers a run for their money?
Yao Jinnan took the Bronze medal in the all around competition at the 2011 World Championships, even though she fell on beam in the competition. Many of us were really excited to see what she could bring to the Olympics and if she could challenge for the Gold medal as she did in the World Championships. Rumours of more injury came through though and it was reported that she was suffering from a strained thigh muscle. She was still set to compete in qualification though and would be competing on all four pieces of apparatus. Unfortunately for Yao, things started bad and simply got worse. On beam, she had some big wobbles and a fall and though her floor routine was beautifully expressive she struggled with the tumbling and had a fall. Her vault was no better, falling on the DTY which is usually easy for her. Her final piece was bars and this is where she showed us what she is truly capable of. She had an amazing bars routine and posted the 4th highest bars score to qualify easily for the bars final. All around it was a different story though. Qualifying in a lowly 22nd place and behind two of her team mates, she did not qualify to the all around final and will not get to challenge for the Gold. With a day to recover, she came out for the team final and competed on vault and bars. Her bars routine was again excellent but she struggled with her vault, having a very low landing and taking a big step to the side and almost off the mat. This is not the Jao Yinnan we were expecting to see and with the Chinese team finishing out of the medals in the team competition, can she hold her nerve and perform well enough to take a medal in the bars final?
Switzerland's Giulia Steingruber is an athlete that many people may have missed in the qualification rounds as she was the sole gymnast representing her country rather than being part of one of the big teams. She is a good all around gymnast and indeed she qualified to the all around competition, finishing 23rd overall. However, not only is that 23rd much lower than she would have hoped for, it is her vaulting that really let her down in qualification. Almost everyone expected Giulia to make the vault final as she is an exceptional vaulter and has many vault finals and medals to her name. Today was not her day though. On her first vault she had a deep landing and a big hop to the side and OOB. Her second vault was even worse, landing with her hands and her feet and taking a big step sideways off the mat. I have seen her vault so many times and all of them have been great to watch. Clearly the Olympic pressure was too much as she must have been hoping to get to the vault final and even challenge for a medal. With her chances in the vault final gone, can she now come out in the all around and prove herself?
So much has been said about Jordyn Wieber, and the other American girls, when she failed to qualify for the all around final. As one of the favourites to take the Gold medal it must have been heartbreaking for her to be denied the opportunity to fight for it. During her stay in London Jordyn is sharing a room with her best friend Aly Raisman, but with Aly being one of the girls who surpassed Jordyn in qualification many were speculating how it would affect them both. There was also a great many people wondering whether she would be able to come out just two days later and compete alongside these girls who had overtaken her as they attempted to get the team Gold. I was never in any doubt that Jordyn would prove herself to be not just a great team player but also a great friend, not just to Aly but to all the girls in this very close-knit team. What did surprise and really impress me though was just how much she proved this to be the case. You would never be able to tell from her performances, her reactions and her cheering that she had just suffered what must have been one of the greatest blows of her career. She showed everybody that she is indeed one of the best gymnasts in the world with her performances, and her floor exercise in particular was one of the best I have ever seen from her. When she was not competing she was on the sidelines, cheering on her team mates, her friends. USA did of course take the Gold and I am delighted that Jordyn has the Gold medal and the Olympic Champion status. With no all around final and only the floor final left to compete in, can she come out and take an individual medal to go with the team Gold?
With the all around finals and the four apparatus finals still to go in this London 2012 Olympics I really hope that all of the girls can come out and compete their best. Good luck to them all.