Monday 8 August 2016

Team Spirit

Rio 2016 Team Qualification

With 12 teams battling for 8 spots in the Team Final, the pressure was really on. Although the top 3 teams of USA, China and Russia could be expected to progress easily, let's not forget that Romania was once considered to be one of those guaranteed teams, yet they have not even managed to qualify a full team to Rio at all. It just shows that anything can happen - and in qualifying last night pretty much anything did happen!

Expected to dominate qualifying, nobody expected them to dominate by quite so much. Almost 10 whole marks ahead of everybody else, the US girls took an unheard of lead over the rest of the field. The exceptional standard of the American gymnasts was really on show last night. They pulled out all the stops and showed the world why they are the best. It does seem an insurmountable task to be able to beat them - it certainly is not likely to happen at these championships and is looking increasingly unlikely in the future as the US continues to exert its dominance. All 12 routines were hit to almost perfection and each of the girls should be incredibly proud of what they have achieved.

While the USA performed flawlessly, others faltered and China was definitely not at its best in qualifying. They took 2nd place by a mere 0.5 ahead of third place Russia (something which helps to put into perspective the sheer dominance of the USA team) but they will definitely be looking to fight back stronger in the Team Final and make more of an impact on the scoreboard. Capable of exceptional work, especially on bars and beam, they simply did not excel the way they usually do, indeed they only have one representative in each of those apparatus finals and they qualified to these in 8th and 6th places respectively. They will have to be at their absolute best on Tuesday if they want to hold on to second place.

Russia, quite simply, had an abysmal start to the competition. Their first two rotations, beam and floor, were littered with mistakes and falls leaving them far behind the rest of the competition. Vault helped them to recover but it was their final apparatus, bars, on which they excelled and crept back up to finish in third. I am quite sure that the determination they showed towards the end of qualifying will be back in force in the Team Final where they will hope to climb up the leaderboard and fight China for the Silver medal.

Great Britain
Everything that could possibly go wrong seemed to go wrong for the GB girls yet they kept calm and kept going, finishing in a very credible 4th place. Falls and mistakes kept many of the girls out of the finals they were hoping for, yet they pulled together through mistakes and injury to prove that GB is indeed a force to be reckoned with. I have no doubt that the mistakes in qualifying will fire them up to come out fighting in the Team Final, not just for a medal but for the first Olympic medal for a women's team.

The home nation were a delight in qualifying. Having had to go to the test event to qualify a team for the games, they seemed determined to give it their all in front of the appreciative home crowd and they certainly did. Qualifying in 5th to the Team Final, they performed with style, grace and sheer enjoyment. Mistakes were relatively few and they will be one to watch in the Team Final as they seemed to go from strength to strength and will no doubt continue to do so.

After a relatively quiet and lacklustre start on floor and vault, the German girls really went for broke on bars and produced some brilliant routines which pushed them right back up the table and in with a very good chance of making the Team Final. Their final rotation, beam, was not without its problems, but they held it together and scored highly enough to take them into the final in 6th place.

Japan had a steady start to the competition, working well on both vault and bars. Beam was not their best rotation, with mistakes and a fall, but they all worked incredibly well on floor to keep themselves in contention for the team final despite a fall from their top floor worker. Solid performances throughout saw them qualify in 7th place.

I am absolutely delighted to see the Netherlands qualify to the Team Final, taking the last spot in 8th place. This new generation of Dutch gymnasts has impressed many over the last few years and it is great to see them succeeding at this level. Although not always the most difficult routines, they are always exquisitely executed with wonderful artistry. It is great to see that this beautiful style of gymnastics can succeed at this level.

The four countries which did not qualify were Canada (9th), Italy (10th), France (11th) and Belgium (12th). Belgium were probably the team least likely to qualify, but France and especially Italy and Canada were all hoping to be in the top 8. All of the teams have some amazing gymnasts and some fantastic routines but unfortunately for them it was not to be their day. All four countries have gymnasts in the All Around Final though, and Canada, Italy and France are all represented in the apparatus finals, so it is certainly not the last we will see of these gymnasts in Rio.

It is hard to say what the podium will look like (with the possible exception of USA!) but there is no doubt that it will be very close and very exciting. Personally, I would love to see USA continue to impress, GB on the podium, Brazil to do well at their home Olympics and everyone to go clean. Fingers crossed!

The Team Final starts at 4pm local time in Rio, 8pm BST.

Monday 2 November 2015

15 FOR 15

15 favourite moments from Glasgow 2015

It has been really hard to pick only 15 favourite things from the 2015 World Championships. Although I only saw some of it in person (the WAG Team final and WAG All Around final) I have been glued to the television and / or the computer for the rest of the time. These Championships have been very memorable for so many reasons, and here are 15 of my favourites.
(I have tried to put them in some sort of order, starting with MAG then WAG, but it is a very loose and changeable order - except, perhaps, for my number1!)

15 - Manrique Larduet
For years now, the worlds best gymnasts have been trying to chase Kohei Uchimura up the leaderboard and most have failed spectacularly. Yet this year, along came an unknown face, a young Cuban gymnast called Manrique Larduet. Having never been seen before at a major international competition it would have been only too easy to write him off and look only to more experienced gymnasts such as Oleg Verniaiev and Max Whitlock as the main contenders to Uchimura. But after even the first coupe of rotations it became obvious that this 19 year old had other ideas. Finishing above the rest of the field, he was the closest to catching Uchimura on the night and bagged himself not only a very impressive Silver medal but also many new fans. I am sure that all of these new fans were delighted when finally, in his 3rd and last apparatus final, he managed to claim a Bronze medal on the high bar, thus earning himself automatic qualification to Rio next year.

14 - Kohei Uchimura
King Kohei really has lived up to his title these championships. A record breaking 6th straight world title cements him as one of, if not THE greatest male gymnast of all times. Yet he proved he is fallible these championships with falls on the high bar in both qualifying and the team competition. However, it still wasn't enough for others to be able to catch him and so the king retained his crown for another year. But not only that, he also took two other Gold medals - on the high bar and in the team final. It is this team medal that made me so pleased for him as he has been quoted as saying that he would happily swap one of his AA titles for a Gold with the team, and this year he and the rest of the Japanese team finally made it happen.

13 - Marian Dragulescu
It takes a lot for a gymnast to commit to making a comeback, especially one as renowned as Marian Dragulescu. Already four times a World Champion on vault, and with a very difficult and increasingly popular vault named after him, he nevertheless decided he still had more to give to the sport. And he certainly has given his everything this championships. Not only has he earned himself a Silver medal on vault, he has entertained the whole of Glasgow with his antics. From running round the stadium as an aeroplane, jumping up on to the top step of the podium after the medal ceremony and never going anywhere without his selfie stick, Marian is showing the world just how much he is enjoying himself and his sport and it is a delight to see.

12 - The British Boys
The British team certainly don't do things by halves, making history throughout the week. Firstly was their incredible Silver medal in the team final - GB had never won a team medal at the World Championships before, but they were not deterred by this fact and  took their place on the 2nd step of the podium. Later that week, Max Whitlock added another GB first by becoming the first British male gymnast to become a World Champion when he took the title ahead of Silver medal winning team mate Louis Smith on the pommel horse. It has been a very successful championships for these British boys and I can't wait to keep watching them go from strength to strength.

11 - The Beam Podium
On to the women now and one of the things I really enjoyed was seeing such a mix of countries taking medals in the beam final. Simone was undoubtedly the favourite for the title and did not disappoint, and Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands and Pauline Schรคfer of Germany gave fantastic performances to take the Silver and Bronze medals respectively. Others may have faltered, but these girls gave their all and delivered fantastic routines full of difficulty and style and were delightful to watch. It is great to see new faces on the medal podium and I sincerely hope we will continue to see them up there more often.

10 - The Netherlands
I  have already mentioned Sanne Wevers taking the Silver medal on beam, but the whole of this team impressed me and delighted me so much these championships they are definitely worth a mention. They surpassed even their own expectations by making it through to the team final and therefore earning The Netherlands a full team at Rio next year. They also surpassed the expectations of many viewers and fans with their grace and elegance on all apparatus. They were one of my favourite teams to watch these championships, as you knew you were in for a treat with each and every performance. I cannot wait to see more from this team in the coming years.

9 - Maria Paseka
Having never been a particularly big fan of this gymnast, I was surprised to discover how much I was enjoying her performances at these championships. She seems to have matured a great deal and tidied up her work a lot since seeing her last. She impressed me on all four apparatus, but the moment that stands out for me was her tears as the Russian National Anthem played for her victory on vault. This title clearly meant a lot to her and it was nice to see her letting her emotions show.

8 - The Bars Final
This has to be one of the strangest apparatus finals in the history of the sport. In a field of 8 finalists, half of them walked away with a Gold medal! It seems incredible, and the score of 15.366 I am sure will be etched on the minds of gym fans all over the world for some time to come. In this judging system, with D scores and E scores, it has become less frequent to have a tie, yet on this occasion equal marks were awarded to four gymnasts. It seems so unlikely, yet it did happen. Not everyone had the same D score and marks were taken off the E score for different things for each gymnast, yet when the scores were totalled it was 15.366 for all of them. Does this prove the case for having a tie break? In my opinion, no. Imagine scoring the top score of the day and ending up with a Silver or Bronze medal, or worse still end up in 4th place. No, each gymnast scored equally and therefore deserve to be rewarded equally, and thankfully they were. The medal ceremony was certainly amusing though, with three different National Anthems and no way of raising 4 flags at the same height!

7 - USA
You might ask why the dominance of USA only comes in at number 7 on my list? Partly as I said earlier, this is a very loosely ordered list, but also because the dominance is simply expected of these exceptional gymnasts these days. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't make their achievements any less incredible or noteworthy and this team of girls certainly wowed everyone with the depth of talent on show. They really are incredible gymnasts to watch, the sheer power and presence they exude is second to none and the level of their skill is simply phenomenal. They dominated qualifying and the team final in some style and have shown yet again that this team is not for beating.

6 - Danusia Francis
It has been absolutely fantastic to see this talented gymnast return to the world stage. Having competed for GB for years, she has spent three years competing in America for UCLA before deciding that she wasn't yet done with elite gymnastics. Heading to Glasgow as part of the Jamaican team, Danusia proved that her elite days are most certainly not over yet by earning herself a spot at the Rio test event next year. Great for Danusia and great for Jamaican gymnastics.

5 - Lieke Wevers
So far I have mentioned The Netherlands team as a whole and Sanne Wevers medal on beam, but Sanne's sister Lieke is no less exceptional. Her floor routine has had me mesmerised from the very first time I saw the video of qualification. I had the honour of being able to watch it twice in person, at the Team final and the All Around final, before seeing it again on TV in the floor final. It is simply beautiful, the music, the movements, the spins - everything comes together to create a simply haunting routine. It also emphasises the point that gymnastics doesn't simply have to be about the power - Lieke made the floor final with a routine that only has two tumbling passes in it, compared to the majority which have four. I have to confess that this fact hadn't even occurred to me until it was mentioned during the floor final as I simply get carried away every time with the beautiful dance. Lieke has certainly proved that grace and elegance can still take you places in gymnastics.

4 - Shang Chunsong
What an amazing gymnast this little Chinese girl is. She came out and gave her all the whole time and I was incredibly sorry to see her leave without an individual medal. Part of the Silver medal winning Chinese team, she finished 4th in the All Around, despite having a fantastic competition, but her FTY on vault simply was not difficult enough to compete with the medal winners. Even tinier in person than she looks when she is out on the floor, she took the time after the competition to sign autographs and have photos taken with anyone who wanted them, all with a smile on her face. I'm really hoping she can upgrade on vault and start challenging for medals soon.

3 - Larisa Iordache
So many gym fans were disappointed to see how poorly Romania did in qualifying. It has been a long time since they did not qualify a team to the final and it shocked many to see that they had not made it. I for one was looking forward to seeing the Romanian team compete, but had to settle for the fact that, despite mistakes from her, I would still get to watch Larisa in the All Around. I think everyone was willing her on that day, desparately hoping she could redeem her qualification disaster and get back to the top where she belongs. It was certainly nerve wracking watching her, but we should not have doubted. She was strong on all four events and I was over the moon to see her take the Bronze medal. A good fight and a well deserved reward.

2 - Simone Biles
It would be impossible to write any kind of recap of the event and not mention this incredible gymnast. Making history twice this week, Simone became the first woman to win three consecutive All Around titles and then went on to become the only woman to ever win 10 world titles as she took World Gold number ten in the floor final. She really is the most impressive gymnast to watch, though she did prove that she is only human this time round, with uncharacteristic mistakes on beam and floor in the All Around final. It still wasn't enough to allow any one to catch her though and she took her third title with some ease. It really is hard to see how anyone is going to beat her, especially if she conitinues to upgrade her routines. Yet she takes it all in her stride, seemingly unaware of just how incredible she is. She clearly loves the sport and that comes across in every performance and is one of the many things that makes her such a joy to watch.

1 - Team GB Bronze
It really was the most incredible experience to be in the arena amongst a home crowd when the GB girls made history by taking the Bronze medal in the team final. Having qualified in third, there was always that possibility, but with China and Russia both fighting hard for a medal it was never going to be easy. After two rotations it was becoming more and more obvious that China were going to be uncatchable, but Russia had already had one fall on bars (the same as GB) which meant that they were likely to be an easier target. Then the unthinkable happened and Russia had to count a fall from each of their three gymnasts on beam. With one rotation to go, Russia on floor and GB on vault, it was all to play for. GB were still behind Russia but with their highest scoring event still to come. Russia were up first on floor, and though their routines were good there were slight errors which opened the door that little bit more for the GB girls. Claudia and Amy vaulted first, both with excellent DTYs and very good scores. By this time, our whole row were looking intently at the scoreboard trying to work out if it was possible. We tentatively decided that if Ellie managed to score abve 14.700 on her vault, we would go ahead of Russia. Ellie vaulted, and it sounded as if the whole arena cheered her along the runway. The vault was close to perfect. We held our breath, knowing that that vault should take us ahead, but not quite daring to believe it. The score came up - 15.133! Tears in our eyes we turned for confirmation and sure enough, GB were ahead of Russia. Turning straight to look at the girls, it was clear that they hadn't yet realised. Slowly you could see realisation dawning and tears were in evidence throughout the arena as the team realised they had made history and won a team medal. It is a joy to be able to say that I was there to witness the day that British Gymnastics made history.