Yesterday the women kicked off their Olympic experiences with an, all things considered, fairly uneventful day. The four top teams finished in their expected positions with the exception of Romania who seemed to have some uncharacteristic struggles. Romanian proclaimed "Future Olympic All Around Champion" Larisa Iordache was expected to be left out of the All Around due to plantar fasciitis but was thrown back in after a shitload of tape on her foot supposedly alleviated the issues. Apparently the tape didn't work its magic as Larisa qualified 9th in the All Around and failed to qualify for any event finals. Her teammate Catalina Ponor, the 2004 Balance Beam & Floor Exercise Olympic Champion, had some issues as well, bobbling significantly on beam and balking a tumbling pass on floor, although her scores were still high enough to qualify her for the event finals on both apparatuses. China just had a really shitty day, lead by the mistakes of 2011 World All Around Bronze Medalist Yao Jinnan who fell on three of her four events.
Japan & Canada both placed surprisingly well although Canada struggled with falls throughout the day. Regardless, they qualified the women for their first team final in Olympic History. Great Britain also seemed to rise to the pressure of competing on home turf rather than crumbling. Italy, who didn't qualify to team finals in 2011 yet placed 1st at the test event qualified to the team finals as well.
Russia and the USA will be the two major contenders for the Gold Medal with each team lead by 3 strong all arounders. Russia seems to be closing the USA's difficulty gap with upgraded vaults. Historically this quadrennium, the USA's had an advantage on vault that Russia had the potential to overcome with their Uneven Bar scores. While each team gets stronger on every event, the winner may come down to small performance errors.
Of course, the media portrayed the biggest story of the day as Jordyn Wieber's failure to qualify for the All Around Finals. I feel like people are making it a lot less cut and dry than it really is. It's been the rule since 1976 that a set number of gymnasts from each country are allowed into each final. (The number was 3 until 2004, now it's 2). You'd have thought that someone had murdered Jordyn Wieber with the way that people were talking. Phrases like "horrific" and "something she'll spend years coming to terms with" are the way that I hear violent attacks described. In reality, Jordyn was simply met with the same fate that many expected Aly Raisman to be faced with. People tend to forget that every member of the 2011 World's team would have qualified without the "2 per country rule" and that Gabby Douglas qualified just 1 place lower than where Wieber sits currently. Where were the cries of outrage then? I understand that Jordyn is the reigning World Champion and my heart goes out to her, but to be frank, I worry that the outrage is more about being bummed that a "favorite" is out than wanting actual "fairness" within the sport.
People keep saying "The Olympics is supposed to be the best gymnasts in the world competing." Is it? If that were true, the IOC wouldn't have 2 Egyptian gymnasts competing rather than extra gymnasts from the USA, Russia, Romania & China. Certainly had Alicia Sacramone made the team, she'd be in Vault finals. Fifteen American Seniors scored higher than the 54.232 needed to qualify for this year's Olympic All Around Finals this season. Some of those girls didn't even qualify for the US Olympic Trials such as Amanda Jetter, Brianna Brown, Mykayla Skinner and Abigail Milliet. It's just a fact that the Olympics are NOT simply the best in the world competing. Although many of the gymnasts are the strongest, the entire field is never present for every competition as there are injuries, politics, age limits and limits on team size which prevent that.
It's not just gymnastics. A competitive swimmer recently told me on Twitter that her freestyle times were faster than numerous Olympians. Yet, she wasn't even close to qualifying for her country's team due to its dominance within the sport of swimming. If the Olympics were just for "the best of the best", the USA would have 20 female artistic gymnasts and no rhythmic gymnasts. (Yet we seem to be celebrating Julie Zetlin's inclusion by the IOC.) I suppose It's important to ask ourselves what the reaction would be if Aly were the gymnast left off the All Around roster.
All in all, it's sure to be an interesting final. In my opinion, if the USA hits it will be difficult for Russia to catch them, but it's important to remember : This is gymnastics; anything can happen.
Pictures property of Grace Chui (1&2), NBC Sports (3) & Sports Girls Play (4)