Who’s Who in 2012: The All-Arounders

All-Around Champions Beijing, 2008. AP Photo

The all-around gold medal is the most coveted individual gymnastics achievement. When people refer to the champion, they mean the all-around champion. This Olympic year has an EXCITING all-around competition in store! Most years in women’s gymnastics there is a battle between two, maybe three gymnasts for the gold medal. This year, that is not the case. This all-around final will have five gymnasts who could win the gold medal. Who will end up on top is anyone’s guess. Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a wild ride!

Here are the contenders, in the order that they have “placed” based on their final meets of the season. These are the all around scores and start values they posted most recently (as best as I can find). Just remember, these scores were given in different countries under different judging panels at different points in the season. They give us an idea, but by no means are they reason to think anyone has this wrapped up.

Gabrielle Douglas, USA (62.050: Olympic Trials)

Gabrielle, or Gabby, has been a rising star this year. Last year, she was known for her high flying bar routine, but her mental game was just not strong enough for her to be an all-around threat. This all changed when she came roaring out of the gate as an exhibitionist at the AT&T American cup. She unofficially (her scores did not count as an alternate) ran away with the gold. Since then, Gabby has been inching away at Jordyn Wieber’s lead in every meet until she finally overtook her by .1 at the Olympic Trials.

Gabby comes in with one of the highest potential start values of the group. She has the physical ability to blow away the competition. What remains to be seen is if she can continue improving her mental game and hit the routines when they count. If everyone brings out their best and they all hit, Gabby most likely wins. However, Gabby has yet to really hit four for four in a competition. Is it likely that she can do it for the first time in the pressure packed Olympic All-Around Finals?

Jordyn Wieber, USA (61.650: Olympic Trials)

Jordyn is the current world champion. Though last year’s win speaks volumes for her gymnastics and competitive abilities, history is not on her side. Not since Lilia Podkopayeva has anyone won an Olympic all-around title the year after winning a World championship all-around title. Before her, it hadn’t been done since 1972. In other words, in the ever-changing world of gymnastics, back to back titles are rare.

Jordyn comes in with one of the lower theoretical start values of the group, but with the second highest actual all-around score. Jordyn is a focused, fierce competitor. She always seems to know how to put in just enough to pull out the win. Though she might have lower start values, her consistency and execution can easily put her on top.

Larisa Iordache (60.850: Romanian Friendly)

Larisa made her senior debut this year at the AT&T American Cup. Her junior showings made her highly anticipated as the Romanian all-around contender at the Olympics and she has not disappointed. Each meet she goes out and gets better, more consistent and more polished.

Larisa has a charming floor routine, one of if not the most difficult beam routine that will be performed at the Olympics, a solid vault and a very decent bar routine. She has been shown doing Amanars in training videos, which would increase her standings. She competes with a delightful childlike air about her and if she continues on the trajectory she has been on her entire career, she will easily be in the mix for the gold.

Alexandra Raisman (60.650: Olympic Trials)

Aly would most likely NOT be in the All-Around finals due to the two per country rule. However, if something goes wrong with one of the top two US contenders, Aly would swoop in. She was fourth at last years world championships with a horrible mistake on bars. Since then she has upgraded on every event and comes into the games with the fourth highest score. Aly is exceptional on three out of four events. However, bars keeps her from challenging for the top spot. Aly would need someone else to make a mistake to make it into the finals and onto the podium. But her rock solid, consistent performances make her a gymnast you should not count out. After all, anything can happen in the pressure of the Olympic spotlight.

Viktoria Komova (60.767:Russia Cup)

Gymnastics fans all over the world anticipate Viktoria’s entrance to the senior ranks last year. However, an ankle injury prohibited her training for much of the year, and she came into last year’s World Championships looking tired and was not up to performing with the level of difficulty and precision that she showed as a junior. Even so, she battled to the end with Jordyn Wieber and lost the gold by the smallest fraction.

This year, Viktoria has grown and gained in muscle. But her slight form still hides the incredible power underneath. She dances like a ballerina, vaults with power and grace, swings bars like she was meant to live life in the trees and tumbles on the beam as if she was light as a feather. If Viktoria is able to do her amanar vault as is rumored (which she has yet to do as a senior), she will come in with the highest theoretical start value. However, she will have to have a more consistent performance on all events than she has yet shown as a senior. This very well may happen, as injury has kept her from performing at the level she is capable of.

Aliya Mustafina (59.167: Russia Cup)

In 2010, Aliya was a star. In fact, it seemed she was on her way to becoming one of the gymnastics greats. Had we ever seen someone who could vault with the power and amplitude she attained and dance like a prima ballerina on floor? Someone who’s beautiful swing on bars was only outdone by her lightness and sureness on beam. Aliya won the all-around. She led the Russian team to gold. She qualified in EVERY event finals and placed on the podium in all but beam, where she had her only mistake of the entire competition. She looked unstoppable.

Unfortunately, an injury has put a serious roadblock in her path to glory. In 2011, she tore her ACL at the European Championships while performing her famous amanar. Her recovery has been difficult. She has grown. But she has continued to train hard.

Aliya has yet to show the level of gymnastics and performance she attained in 2010 this year.  But Aliya has a competitive drive, a fierceness and focus on the competition floor like few others. She has that undefinable quality and mental drive that propels her to the front. I would not be surprised at all if she ends up on the podium.

Yao Jinnan (58.598- from 2011 World Championships) 

Yao Jinnan placed third behind Jordyn and Viktoria at the 2011 World Championships. But for a fall on beam, she actually would have been first! Yao has not competed a lot this year, so it is hard to ascertain her current standings and level of difficulty. She is a long shot for gold, but it is definitely not out of the question if she hits her routines!

And here is a fun video highlighting these gymnasts and more.

Who’s Who in 2012: The Teams

USA WAG Team. Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics

The question I get asked the most often by my friends as we head into the Olympics is “How are the USA’s chances.” My answer, “Currently, it is theirs to lose.” But the key word is currently. Right now, we have one of the deepest, most dominant US teams ever assembled.

The USA comes into the Olympics as the reigning world championship team. Led by reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber, Olympic trials champion Gabby Douglas, two time world team member and world bronze floor champion Aly Raisman, rising star Kyla Ross and 2011 world vault champion McKayla Maroney. The alternates are Elizabeth Price, Sarah Finnegan and Anna Li. They have high difficulty, high scores and most of all, they are very consistent. They rarely fall, or even make major mistakes.

However, the other countries know this, and have been working hard to up their difficulty so that they can challenge for the team gold medal. And history is working against them. No team coming into an Olympic year as the World Champions have won the Olympic team gold since the dominance of the USSR.

The second question, “Is China going to wipe the floor with us?” Well, no. This quad, China has not been dominant. In 2010, Russia showed a brilliant team with lots of future promise. The USA dominated in 2011. And this year, Romania is proving themselves ready for the challenge. The USA’s main competitors are Romania and Russia.

Russia’s team is led by veteran Ksenia Afanasyeva, last year’s silver medalist Viktoria Komova, rising star Anastasia Grishina, 2010 superstar Aliya Mustafina and vault specialist Maria Paseka. Their alternates are Yulia Inshina and Tatiana Nabieva.

Romania’s 2012 European Championship team.

Romania’s team is led by 2004 Olympic team, beam, and floor champion Catalina Ponor, rising star Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar, 2010 world championship silver medalist on floor Diana Chelaru and reigning Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa. The alternate is Raluca Haidu.

China’s Team (plus alternates)

China’s 2011 bronze world championship medalist Yao Jinnan, 2008 Olympic team gold medalist Deng Linlin, 2011 world champion bronze medalist on bars Huang Qiushuang, 2011 world champion on beam and silver medalist on floor Sui Lu and reigning Olympic bars and team champion He Kexin may challenge for a bronze. The alternates are Jiang Yuyuan, Tan Sixin.

To give you a picture, here are the current scores and start values from the last meet each team competed at (USA Olympic Trials, Romanian Friendly, Russia Cup and Chinese Nationals). I almost gave up doing this, as the comparisons are hardly even worth making. These scores were obtained under different judges, at very different times in this last season. China’s were from the beginning of May and were never reported officially. These were obtained from a fan site. Some of the people placed on the team didn’t actually even compete. So please know, this is a very loose “guestimate” and PROVES nothing. But it gives us an inkling of an idea.

Vault 16.15 16 15.8 47.95 6.5 6.5 6.5 19.5
Bars 15.9 15.65 15.35 46.9 6.5 6.4 6.4 19.3
Beam 15.4 15.05 14.9 45.35 6.4 6.3 5.9 18.6
Floor 15.5 15.6 15.3 46.4 6.5 6.2 6 18.7
Total 186.6 76.1
Vault 15.05 15 15.1 45.15 5.8 5.8 5.8 17.4
Bars 14.55 14.1 13.95 42.6 6.1 5.7 5.8 17.6
Beam 15.95 15.7 15.4 47.05 6.7 6.4 6.2 19.3
Floor 15.3 15.1 15 45.4 6.3 6.2 6.1 18.6
Total 180.2 72.9
Vault 15.2 15.067 15.8 46.067 5.8 5.8 5.8 17.4
Bars 15.2 16.2 15.867 47.267 7 7 6.8 20.8
Beam 15.067 14.7 14.3 44.067 6.3 6.1 6 18.4
Floor 14.3 14.133 14.267 42.7 5.9 5.8 6.1 17.8
Total 180.101 74.4
Vault 14.5 14.1 13.8 42.4 5.8 5.8 5.8 17.4
Bars 15.65 13.85 13.5 43 7.1 6.5 6.2 19.8
Beam 14.35 13.85 13.65 41.85 5.7 5.6 6.2 17.5
Floor 14.15 14 13.75 41.9 5.5 5.7 5.4 16.6
Total 169.15 71.3

Looking at these scores, it is easy to see why for much of the spring, people only talked about who would challenge for silver. USA gold seemed basically locked up. But as we have gotten closer, the other countries are making their bid. A huge part of the US lead is based on competing three amanars, a vault with one of the highest difficulty rating. These vaults alone give the USA a 2.1 lead over most teams.

Lately, amanar rumors abound. Russia has one girl who competed one last month (Paseka) and there are training videos of Komova completing an amanar (first five seconds of this video). Here is what Valentina Rodionenko from Sovietsky Sport had to say (according to a translation from Rewriting Russian Gymnastics)

Currently, Maria Paseka performs this vault excellently. She was named to the team thanks to her vault. Vika Komova performs it in training. Aliya, who got seriously injured when performing this vault, will perform it in London. Of course, it’s possible not to run risks and perform 2 twists. But we think we have to run the risk, it’s justified”

Russia is not the only one with amanar rumors. There is a video of Larisa Iordache training an amanar and rumors have Izbasa and possibly even Ponor competing one too. China’s Huang Qiushuang also has a video making the youtube rounds of her amanar.

If these rumors all come to fruition, this would raise Russia’s difficulty to .4 AHEAD of the USA and would raise Romania’s difficulty to trailing the USA by .6 instead of almost 3 points. I will be honest. I WANT these teams to come in with clean, safe amanars. I have been looking forward to a three or four way show down for gold for YEARS. Ever since Russia dominated in 2012 and Romania brought back their old coach Octavian Belu I have been gleefully anticipating one of the best team and all around competitions in gymnastics history. The thought of a repeat of last years Worlds, where the USA won by over four points is actually not appealing to me. Yes, I am a US fan. But more so, I am a gymnastics fan and I want to see great gymnastics!

But if I have learned anything this year watching the US team come together, it is that what IS is what WILL BE. I named the current US Olympic team months ago, but anxiously awaited Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Chellsie Memmel and Rebecca Bross to show performances that matched their former glory. Training rumors and even videos abound with promises of what was to come. But it never materialized. And in the end, the gymnastics that I saw all spring was what won the day.

I am so hoping that in the end, it will be a battle to the last tenth. We will all be sitting on the edge of our seats, wondering what the final placings will be. That everyone will hit and beautiful and difficult gymnastics will take our breath away. But in the end, I think the USA will take the gold.

I have never seen a team so full of calm, confident, consistent competitors. I boldly predict that it will be USA, Romania and Russia. But I hope that the competition is very, very close.

The Rise of Romania

Romania Winning 2012 European Championships. Photo Credit: mediafax.ro

Can you climb to the top of the podium in one year? Romania sure thinks that you can. And you can bet, that just like every other Olympics, Romania will come out and kill it with consistency in 2012-  hitting every beam routine, nailing every landing and doing it all with beauty and grace. I have said it before and I will say it again- you can never, ever count Romania out in an Olympic year. Or as Stoi! so eloquently said  “Octavian Belu can never be ruled out in an Olympic year, never. There is only one certainty in gymnastics: he is cannier than you.”

Back in May, I wrote a post talking about how far the Romanians had come since bringing back their coach Belu in 2010. I thought that it looked very, very likely that they would challenge for silver. Now, just two months later, it seems possible that they can challenge for gold.

This weekend at a Romanian friendly meet, four gymnasts debuted their new floor routines. Ahh, a feast for the gymnastics aficionado that has seen every routing countless times. Four new routines at once! Three of these routines brought in scores over 15.

But what was really impressive was their killer beam rotation.

Catalina Ponor 15.7

Larisa Iordache 15.95

All total, they scored a team total of 180.2. This is almost EIGHT POINTS higher than they scored last year at worlds. A World Championships where they did not even win a single medal. In the world of gymnastics that is counted in tenths, increasing by eight points in one year is nothing short of phenomenal. What’s more, is that this beats the team winning score put up by the USA by eight tenths.

And the team gold isn’t all they are hoping for. Last year at Worlds, their highest event finals placing was 5th on beam. This year, they could seriously challenge for an event finals medal on vault (Sandra Isbaza has scored the 4th highest score of those who will be competing), beam (Catalina Ponor and Larisa Iordache are currently first and second) and floor (Ponor and Iordache are currently fourth and fifth). In addition, Iordache is has the fourth highest all around score posted of those that will be competing.

This year, the USA will be adding another amanar to their arsenal, as well as two upgraded bars scores, an upgraded beam score and two upgraded floor scores from last year’s Worlds. Difficulty wise, they will still come in as the favorites. However, Iordache is rumored to be adding in her amanar by the Olympics as well. Romania is definitely putting on the pressure.

Without a doubt, if the USA or Russia makes a mistake, Romania will be right there. They will be consistent, error free, and waiting to pounce. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile. Romania has broadcast loud and clear. Don’t count us out.