The Women’s All Around Final concluded Thursday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, confirming our expectations that Simone Biles would dominate the field, but perhaps exceeding our expectations when it came to the fight for silver and bronze.
Before we go on, exhausting the list of adjectives and superlatives used to describe the 2016 All Around gold medalist, let’s take a moment and simply admire how well Simone handled the pressure of this competition. Can you imagine walking into that Olympic arena knowing that everyone fully expected you to hit four-for-four and comfortably win the title? It wasn’t just her own hope, or her own personal expectations accompanying her on that walk; it was the expectation of the entire international gymnastics community and then some. It was unlike the expectation any gymnast in recent history has had on her shoulders. You could say she had proven her ability to handle this sort of stress before, and that would be true, but this is gymnastics, and if the rest of us had forgotten, I imagine Simone knew that anything could happen. The line between winning and losing (the gold, at least) can come down to centimeters in hip alignment. What she accomplished today was nothing less than extraordinary, and her tearful reaction confirmed it.
Beginning on vault, she performed a huge Amanar, and it was only her uncharacteristic landing (a big hop/step) that revealed a bundle of nervous energy. Moving on to bars, she confidently got through her toughest event (relative to the others)–release by release (great tkatchev’s) and transition by transition (Maloney, pak). On beam, she began with a sold 2.5 wolf turn (which is when I exhaled) , followed by a split jump to pike jump. She counted a little balance check on her barani but came back to absolutely nail her BHS + LOSO + LOSO. her full-twisting double back dismount looked like a walk in the park and at the end, she smiled, and with the rest of the world, appeared to realize gold was in the bag. She brought her all-around performance home with an epic floor routine, though it was nothing less than what we’ve come to expect from the prodigy. Double layout full-out, Biles, a double-twising double back STUCK, and a full-in sealed the deal. She held on to her signature final pose a while longer than usual, seemingly taking it all in. And that she should. What a marvel. And what grace we’ve all been given watching this young woman’s extraordinary gymnastics these last three years. I think her reaction was our own: tearful, celebratory but not in the way of a giddy teenager. It was subdued, mature, tired even, but deeply grateful.
Her total score was a 62.198.
Winning silver with a 60.098 was USA’s Aly Raisman, and certainly all gymnastics fans and a smattering of every-four-year fans will remember that Aly (22) tied for third place in the All Around Final four years ago—the Final she wasn’t even expected to make because of the two-per-country rule. Despite finishing with the same total score as Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, however, she didn’t receive a medal after a tie-breaker was enforced. It added the execution scores of each gymnast’s top-three routines, and Mustafina came out on top.
Aly has carried that disappointment with her these last four years and has spoken out about it’s injustice (it’s only at the Olympics and tie-breakers in gymnastics are enforced), hoping for a second chance in 2016. The year of her competitive comeback (2015) it was looking unlikely she’d nab the second spot in the All Around Final behind Biles, but this year she really sunk in to her routines, even improving on some of her performances from 2012. Her medal today is a redemptive one, to say the least.
Beginning on vault, she performed a dynamic Amanar, also betraying a bundle of nervous energy with a big hop forward. Moving onto bars, also her roughest event, she made the hearts stop when she missed a stalder full to Ray transition, but she managed her nerves in the moment and finished her routine well with a double front dismount. Balance beam is where it all came together for her, so unlike her beam performance four years ago. With a front pike to wolf, solid BHS to layout, switch leap to back tuck, and Patterson dismount, she was breathing easier by the time she saluted the judges. (And so were we!) On floor, she brought it home with her signature 1.5 to double Arabian to front layout, doubled piked Arabian to stag, DLO (no split jump) and double pike to end. She had to have known she did it at the end given the reaction. Emotionally-honest, overwhelmed, OlYMPIC.
Winning bronze with 58.665 was Russia’s Aliya Mustafina. The bronze medalist from the All Around Final four years ago, as well as the most decorated gymnast from the London Games, many wondered whether Mustafina (21) would be able to repeat her All Around success in Rio. She hadn’t medaled as an All-Arounder in world competition since 2013, with the lack of podium finish in 2014 leading a to a much needed coaching change. With the likely Russian team looking younger and younger as the touted veterans peeled off this last year, Mustafina’s game plan became less and less about All Around victory and more about sustaining her health so she could help the team and concentrate on her best events—uneven bars and balance beam. Even she downplayed the importance of individual medals heading into Rio, saying on more than one occasion that the inability to help the team would be the only thing she’d be seriously disappointed by. Following Tuesday’s Team Final where she led the Russian Team to a much-celebrated silver medal, she told the press: “I have reached my main Olympic target…done my most important job.”
But for anyone who paid attention to her All-Around score in that Team Final (a 60.024), it was clear that another target could be reached. She reached it tonight, though a poor showing on balance beam and some missed difficulty on bars didn’t allow her to break 60.
She began on vault with a solid DTY, clean and stuck, and on bars, her best event, she made up for the weaker event, performing an in-bar full to Maloney (supposed to be Komova II), to pak to Van Leeuwen; In-bar half to piked jaeger; and toe-on full to Mustafina dismount with a little hop. Moving on to beam, she had a repeat of the 2012 hiccup (though for different reasons). After completing her difficult double turn and switch split half to Onodi, she failed to make the connection between her front aerial’s, abandoning the second one completely, and thus finishing her beam routine without an acro series, an automatic .5 deduction. In the moment it seemed as though her all-around medal-chances were over, but rather amusedly, gym fans were reminded that a sub-par performance on one event almost never takes Mustafina out of the picture. She’s buffered elsewhere.
On floor, she ended her competition with a full-in, Memmel to double turn, double turn en attitude, 2.5 to full twist, Gomez turn, and double tuck. She had to wait quite a while to see if the score would keep up with the competition, but in the end it did. Today she became the first female gymnast to win back-to-back Olympic all-around medals since Romania’s Simona Amanar.
Finishing in the ever-frustrating fourth place was China’s Shang Chunsong.
Coming off a challenging qualification meet, which is why she wasn’t in the same rotation as the top All-Arounder’s, 20-year-old Chunsong began making headlines in 2013, when she placed second at the Chinese National Championships—a placement she improved on in 2015 and 2016, when she won the title. With her tiny physique (due to malnourishment as a young child), she is unable to perform a vault that’s on par with her closest rivals, but she more than makes up for it on the other three events, shining especially on balance beam and floor exercise. Chunsong has been in the rather frustrating position of just losing out on podium-finishes at major international competitions these last three years. Today she was heartbroken as she continued that streak, despite giving solid and at times beautiful performances. Her competition began on balance beam with one of the best of the day (BHS to BHS to Layout to split jump to straddle jump, BHS to LOSO, double turn. A step on the triple twist dismount was the only majorly visible error.) On floor she continued the brilliance with a stuck 3.5 twist to front pike and triple twist to punch front, precious tenths as she headed into her weakest event, vault, where she performed much lower-difficult FTY that was also a bit flat. She ended her competition with a great bar routine that included a Hidorff to pak and shaposh to Geinger for a 15.233.
Finishing with a total score of 58.298, Canada’s Ellie Black gave an historic performance for the Canadian team, an accomplishment even more meaningful considering Canada’s heartbreaking performance in qualifications when they failed to qualify to the Team Final. Black began her competition on uneven bars, scoring a solid 14.500, and then moved on to beam where she banged out the routine everyone knew she could hit: a front pike, layout, tuck full, and 2.5 dismount. On floor, she performed a solid 2.5 to double back, double twist (forward) to punch front, front layout-full and double pike; and on vault, she brought her awesome and redemptive performance to an end with a beautifully dynamic handspring full. She seemed delighted, as we were.
In addition to these incredible performances, other non-medalists gave beautiful and even historic-making performances. China’s Wang Yan placed 6th, Venezuela’s Jessica Lopez placed 7th, Japan’s Asuka Teramoto placed 8th, The Netherlands’ Eythora Thorsdottir placed 9th, and Switzerland’s Gilulia Steingruber placed 10th. In short, there should be a lot of gymnasts sleeping sweetly and peacefully tonight, and that’s always good to see.
Russia’s Seda Tutkhalyan, Great Britain’s Ellie Downie, and Brazil’s Rebecca Andrade are perhaps the most disappointed tonight; the latter certainly came in as the crowd’s favorite after a massively impressive qualification performance which she couldn’t reproduce tonight (nervy beam routine with a balked switch ring and form issues on bars); Downie also had trouble on bars, barely holding on after her pak and DLO dismount; and Tutkhalyan had disastrous beam and floor rotations, falling on her double pike dismount following an otherwise great beam routine, and either just hanging on or falling/putting her hands down on every pass in the floor routine.
Back to the happier note: this was an incredible All Around. It was historic, momentous, and massively more exciting than anticipated, which seems to be the theme of these Olympic Games. I’m already starting to go through withdrawal.
But first…on to Event Finals!
Article: Sara Dorrien-Christians