Saturday 18 August 2012

So Close Saturday

Closing the gap on the top four?

For a long time now the top four nations in women's gymnastics have been USA, China, Russia and Romania. They have dominated the sport for many years meaning that the best result that the rest of the world can hope for is 5th place. But who are the ones that are closest to the elusive top four and is there a chance they might be able to catch them?

Until recently, Japan have been the team to beat for the 5th place spot. They took 5th in Beijing 2008 Olympics and also at the 2010 World Championships. In the 2011 World Championships they qualified in 5th place but ended up placing 8th in the team final. In the London 2012 Olympics they struggled more, qualifying in 6th but finishing down in 8th. This is a shame as they have some great gymnasts on the team at the moment but they are starting to get more competition for that 5th place from some up and coming teams.

Great Britain
The British team have really started to make great progress in gymnastics in recent years. In fact in the London 2012 Olympic Games GB was the only country to win a medal other than the top four nations in any of the finals, when Beth Tweddle took the Bronze medal on bars. Things have been looking pretty good for the team as a whole recently as well. In the 2010 World Championships they qualified in 5th but eventually finished down in 7th, but at the 2011 World Championships they managed to claim that 5th place spot in the Team Final after qualifying in 8th. In the London 2012 Olympics they again qualified in 5th but were edged out in the finals to place 6th.

Canada were the most recent team to take the 5th place, in the London 2012 Team Final. They had qualified down in 8th but gave a fantastic performance to take 5th in the final. It was the first time they had qualified a team to an Olympic Final and they certainly made the most of it.

So can one of these teams actually close the gap and start rivalling the top four? Unfortunately it would seem not at the moment. Although all three of these teams are performing exceptionally well at the moment the difference in scores still seems that bit too high. In 2008 the gap between 5th and 4th was 3.925 and the gap between 5th and 1st was a massive 12.200. In 2010 the difference between 5th and 4th was 3.199 and 5th to 1st had a difference of 5.500. In 2011 the 5th to 4th gap was 2.742 and the gap from 5th to 1st was 9.741.1n 2012 the gap from 5th to 4th was 3.590 with the gap from 5th to 1st 12.792.

Why then are the gaps so big? What is it that makes the the top four teams so seemingly uncatchable? In my opinion it is partly to do with the fact that these four countries have managed to build a gymnastics presence that both their countries and their fans expect to see. Their continuing success in the sport breeds more success, with their countries perhaps more willing to fund a programme that is seen to be working. These top name gymnasts have become stars of their country, generating interest both within the country and worldwide and making the sport more popular and well known in their respective countries. In the USA in particular gymnastics is one of the most popular sports for girls, helped of course by the success of the USA gymnastics programme and its star gymnasts but which in return brings a wealth of new talent into the sport. This success also brings the talent of top coaches to help hone the skills of these athletes into top level, top difficulty gymnasts.

Hopefully the relatively new success of teams such as Britain and Canada can help to do the same for their countries, attracting revenue, coaches and young new stars into the sport to keep building on their successes and start challenging for the top spots.

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