The journey of the Italian team from Antwerp to Rio has come to an end and there where both happy and sad notes. It is pretty clear to Italian fans is that while during all quad Italy looks strong, the team usually falls apart the year of the Olympics. Their performance was not bad at all actually, but the lack of upgrades during the last few years was decisive during the qualification round.
At the beginning of the quad, there are almost too many gymnasts to choose from and the team looked stronger than ever. Then injuries and retirements depleted the field, and the gymnasts still competing lost the ability to upgrade. But the people to blame are not the gymnasts. The coaches should recognize that maybe their planning dowsn’t have the desired effect on the outcome for the team.
Going back to the gymnasts – I think they did their job.
We couldn’t expect more from Vanessa Ferrari. She almost sat out all the competitions of the year due the pain in her tendon and clearly wasn’t in her best shape in Rio, but still managed to get a respectable 14th place in the AA and came the bronze medal on floor. I’m really sad for that 4th place. Firstly, because had she landed better the double piked, she would have won the medal that she had missed out on in London, and secondly because I think that landing will hunt her in the future days.
Carlotta Ferlito also had a nice experience. She finally unveiled the DTY, which was messy in qualifications but very well done in the AA, and has stabilized her worst routine, bars, where her scores ended up counting in the team total. Sadly she bombed beam, her best event, where all the team but Meneghini had a big meltdown. But despite what happened, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have made the final anyway, so it’s a relatively smaller disappointment. Her 12th place in the AA was also a huge improvement from the 21st spot she got in London. She’s one of the few gymnasts that, despite being “old” (-er) and during her second Olympic cycle, has shown that upgrading is still possible.
Elisa Meneghini’s performance was a big surprise indeed. She was the last gymnasts to grab a spot for Rio, and people were not too sure about the choice. She had been quite inconsistent, with many falls on beam, her key event, and bars, and considering her lackluster performance in Bern (at Euros), things weren’t looking so bright for her. Despite all that, Elisa managed to perform very well, with a sassy routine on floor, which in my opinion was way underscored compared to many other routines of the day, since she had the best landings of the field. After the surprising meltdown of the team on beam, Elisa, who was the last in the line-up and many predicted she would have surely fall, surprised everyone by hitting a very good set, even if not at full difficulty. She was the rock of the team, and I hope the confidence she has shown in Rio will be a sign for the next years to come.
Another surprise came from Erika Fasana, who unexpectedly qualified for the floor final and came in 6th. Erika has had many problems in the last year, starting with the injury she sustained in Glasgow and that hunted her until the Olympics. She wasn’t able to perform the most difficult routine due the pain in her elbow, but the tumbling was great, and what kept her from getting a bigger score was the lack of amplitude in the splits.
Last but not least, Martina Rizzelli hit the two events she was asked to compete. Her DTY still needs a lot of work but was well landed, and her bars were cleaner than usually despite being awarded a lower d score due a failed bail to handstand.
So, what sucks about the situations is that despite good individual performances, the team failed to qualify to the team final, the first time since Athens 2004 speaking of the Olympics ( at worlds the last time they did not qualify was 2011). The missed qualification was a huge letdown for the team, and it also has shown that while other teams have made huge improvements, Italy is stagnating. Most of the coaches aren’t able to work on the gymnasts’ strengths and weaknesses, and they create routines that don’t fit the gymnasts.
The Uneven Bars/ Vault problems: Italy not only lacks good bar workers, but lacks good uneven bars coaches, a similar situation to Romania. When all the girls got low 14s scores, all the country was proud of them, but then we realized that despite counting all hit routines, the team was ranked 12th on the apparatus. The routines of the entire team lack originality, good technique and good construction, and the best option I can think of, seeing how many nearby country like Germany and France have very good programs in this area, could be hiring a foreign coach or having some kind of “uneven bars consultant”, which I highly doubt will ever happen. The same thing can be said of vault. The 3 DTYs performed in Rio were messy, with no height or distance, and seeing how common this technique is, I have a strong feeling the coaches are not doing their best efforts.
Injuries management: Erika Fasana got injured in Glasgow in October, 10 months later she still was recovering from it. I know that healing is a long process, but if gymnasts from other countries can come back a couple of months after a broken patella, an Italian gymnasts should be able to do something similar.
Lack of upgrades: What I found to be the main problem of the team is the lack of upgrades of the gymnasts after the junior years. Lara Mori was a very promising junior gymnast, and you would expect great upgrades from 2012 junior Euros to 2016 Euros. Well, she had almost identical routines 4 years after her big debut, and this is the same fate many Italian gymnasts share. Enus Mariani, Francesca Deagostini, Chiara Gandolfi, Elisa Meneghini and many other gymnasts seem incapable to develop after becoming senior. I don’t know if they’re maxed out, if coaches are too conservative or if the lack of internal competition (to make the team) doesn’t push the gymnasts enough, but for sure this is a serious problem. We will have to see what is going to happen to gymnasts like Martina Maggio, Martina Basile and Giorgia Villa, who are very promising juniors right now.
Regarding retirements, most of the girls will go for another try. Rizzelli, Fasana, Ferlito and Meneghini are all continuing, even if their main goal is not Tokyo yet. Vanessa Ferrari hasn’t announced her retirement, and she’s probably not too sure about her future. After all the health problem she has had in the last years, I hope that if she desires to come back again, it will be after the resolution of her injuries, in order to avoid permanent issues. If instead she will choose to say goodbye to competitive gymnastics, I hope she doesn’t leave behind regrets, because despite everything, she’s the best gymnast Western Europe has ever had.
After a deserved break, gymnasts will be back for the World Cup circuit and to begin the new quad. I wish Italy can learn from this experience and that we are going to see a technically and artistically improved team.
Article: Giuly Holzer
Cover Photo: Nadia Boyce