“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” no more for Aly Raisman, who leaves these Olympics as the most decorated American gymnast including two shiny gold medals of her very own. In today’s event finals, Aly topped off her Olympic journey with a bronze medal on beam, and that very elusive individual gold medal on floor. Finally, Aly stood on top of the Floor Podium with a gold medal, where we all knew she belonged.
There were many tears of joy and moments of heartbreak throughout these Olympics. Aly had her fair share of both. Qualifying in as the first American to the All-Around finals produced both as she reached her ultimate goal and at the same time watched her best friend’s dreams crumble. She went on to lead her team to Team Gold with one of the most dominante performances in women’s gymnastics history. Tears of joy began to flow before she even saluted the judges as she was the gymnast to clinch the Olympic Team Gold. In the All-Around final, Aly was too much of a sportsman to let tears show, but I can only imagine the moment of heartbreak at missing a bronze Olympic medal due to a tie breaker (and an unusual mishap on beam).
Today was a different sort of day. After watching two incredible beam routines by Sui Lui and Deng Linlin of China, all the gymnasts following knew that they had to be perfect to beat them. Even fighting for a bronze medal would require a rock solid performance. And that is what Raisman is known for- giving rock solid performances. As it turns out, her performance wasn’t up to her usual level of perfection, but it was still great. An undervalued D score, which led to a protest, which led to a tie with Catalina Ponor, finally led to a tie breaker that Aly was on the right side of. She finally escaped the vice grip of fourth place and won a bronze on beam. What a beautiful moment.
But apart from a team gold medal, Floor Finals is what Aly came for. She went in to floor finals in 2010 and ended up in that ever present fourth place. In 2011 she upgraded her routine and went into floor finals as the top qualifier. Finally winning her first individual medal, she came away with a bronze. So entering this floor finals as the number one qualifier was a familiar place for Aly. What wasn’t familiar was the performance she gave.
Aly went out and did one of the best floor routines she has ever done in competition. She stuck every pass, did everything with incredible amplitude AND artistry. (For a discussion on what the code defines as artistry, and how Aly fulfills it perfectly, read here). She impressed us, she impressed the judges and she even impressed herself.
In the end, Aly walked away with the gold. After all the hard work, all the almost finishing on the podiums, Aly has a gold of her very own. Here’s to the spectacular, never say die Aly Raisman. We are so privileged to watch you!
The two per country rule in gymnastics has affected many gymnasts and countries over the past few years. Each country handles the repercussions from this rule differently. In America, where the achievements and performance of the individual reigns supreme, whoever earns the spot by their placement in the qualifications goes onto the finals. In other countries, where obtaining honor for the country supersedes the honor of the individual, it is not uncommon to replace an athlete who unexpectedly qualified with another gymnast who has better chances of winning a medal.
It happened last year at the World Championships when Viktoria Komova began to show that she would not be able to put in a great performance in the Floor finals. Shortly before the finals began, Russia pulled her. This allowed her teammate Ksenia Afanasyeva who was first reserve to go in her place. Afanasyeva went on to give the most brilliant floor performance of the entire championship and took home the gold.
Today it was announced that Diana Bulimar of Romania will be pulled from event finals. Once again, this will allow her teammate Larisa Iordache who is next in line to take her place. Iordache comes in to the Olympics with the most difficult beam routine in the world and had widely been considered the favorite for gold. Injury struck at just the wrong time, causing her too much pain to allow her to train as she would have liked the week before the competition. As a result, she scored much lower than usual during qualifications.
One of the beautiful things about the Olympics is learning that different cultures value different things and both are appropriate. So, in my opinion, arguing which approach is “right” is pointless. Values lead to actions, and different cultures value different things. What this calls attention to once more is the two per country rule. Bulimar only had the opportunity to compete in the finals because Kyla Ross of the USA and Anastasia Grishina of Russia were not able to compete due to the two per country rule. Now, Romania (or Bulimar herself) has decided to give Larisa the opportunity to go for gold but it leaves Bulimar in the unenviable position of missing her chance. Like Aly Raisman going into the All Around finals, mistakes would have to be made for Bulimar to have a chance at the podium. On the other hand, Iordache will be the one that will have to make mistakes to lose the gold. But Iordache (from a powerhouse country) is given the opportunity while Ross and Grishina must sit and watch.
Different countries, different reasons, different circumstances. But once again, the two per country rule has struck. As a side note, even with the two per country rule, not a single gymnast from a non powerhouse gymnastics country (Russia, Romania, USA, China) has qualified to the beam finals. In fact, the only person to compete in an event finals due to the two per country rule in all four events is KokoTsurumi from Japan on bars.
While I am delighted that Iordache will have her chance, and that we will have another chance to watch her amazing beam routine, I can’t help but continue to bemoan the unfairness and ineffectiveness of this rule.