Rio 2016 Women's Gymnastics Qualifiers: the Takeaways

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Gymnastics continued all day on Sunday with qualification for the women’s side. Like the men the day prior, all participants for future competitions — team, all-around and event finals — were decided by the scores on Sunday. Overall there were four subsessions during the day and when all was finished, eight teams, 24 all-arounders and eight gymnasts on each event qualified for the finals. Here’s some of the takeaways from the second full day of Olympic gymnastics.

The U.S. is unbeatable.

Entering the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was the favorite to win just about everything. After one day of competition, those expectations might not have been high enough. The U.S. finished first among all teams by almost 10 points. Second place China officially finished 9.959 points behind the U.S. in qualification, while the Chinese were only 7.441 points behind 12th-place Belgium in the 12-team field.

In 2012, the women’s team finished first in qualifying over China by just 1.434 — saying “just” with over a point difference in a team competition shows just how good this team is — before winning the final by 5.066 points.

Each women who competed for the U.S. did her part, just as Martha Karolyi had planned. They finished with the top score as a team on three of the four events, falling 0.017 behind Russia on bars. Individually, there’s an American on top of every event and the all-around. Simone Biles finished first in the all-around, while also adding the top score of the day on vault, beam and floor. Aly Raisman will join Biles in the all-around and in floor finals. Madison Kocian finished the competition with the top score on bars, the only event she competed, and she’ll be joined in finals by Gabby Douglas. Laurie Hernandez had the second highest beam score of the competition — only behind Biles — and she’ll compete in event finals there.

Two-per-country rule is well intentioned, but extremely flawed

The U.S. dominated the competition and laid the groundwork to dominate everything else for the rest of the Olympics, but it could have been even more. The two-per-country rule cost a few U.S. gymnasts spots in the event and all-around finals. The rule, set by FIG, the governing body of gymnastics, is in place to help spread gymnastics to all parts of the world. The intention of the rule is to discourage the monopolization of medals by a single country and to allow gymnasts from lesser known countries get an opportunity to make finals.

No team was hurt more by this rule than the U.S. Gabby Douglas will not be allowed to compete in the all-around final despite having the third highest all-around score of all gymnasts. Biles and Raisman finished first and second, taking the two American spots. Douglas also lost out on a spot in the beam finals, along with Raisman. The two tied for seventh on the event, and the top-eight are supposed to advance. However, Biles and Hernandez finished first and second. Hernandez also lost a spot in floor finals, where she finished fourth, but behind Biles and Raisman, who finished 1-2.

Douglas wasn’t the only gymnast to miss out on the all-around, though she’s the only one who would have had a chance to finish on the podium. Aiko Sugihara of Japan finished 19th all-around, but two teammates finished ninth and 12th. Angelina Melnikova of Russia and Jade Barbosa of Brazil finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively, which places them within the qualifying top-24, but Melnikova’s teammates finished fifth and sixth, while Barbosa’s finished fourth and 19th.

FIG should be trying to grow the sport internationally, but doing so at the expense of some of the best gymnasts in the world seems flawed. A simple solution could be to add a gymnast to finals for every third from a country instead of replacing them. There’s really no harm in having 26 or 27 gymnasts in the all-around final or nine or 10 in an given event final. It gives the best of both worlds, the lower tier gymnasts are allowed to compete and continue to get exposure, while the best in the world aren’t penalized just because some others in the same country are pretty good too.

The Dutch Do Well

The Netherlands squeaked into the team final with an eighth place finish, just 0.168 above Canada. This was the Netherlands’ first appearance as a team in the Olympics since 1976 and they placed 11th in the team competition. The last time the Dutch had a top-10 team in women’s gymnastics was 1972 when they finished ninth. Before that was a fifth place finish in 1936.

There will be three Dutch gymnasts competing in finals, on top of the team competition. Eythora Thorsdottir finished eighth all-around and Lieke Wevers will join her in the all-around after finishing 17th. Wevers will also compete in beam finals, where she finished fourth in qualifying.

Age is only a number

Women’s gymnastics is not a sport in which athletes get multiple chances at making the Olympics. Most of the women competing have yet to hit the age of 20. Aly Raisman is 22 and her teammates call her “grandma.” But there’s still some tremendous gymnastics done by women considered old for the sport.

One is Catalina Ponor of Romania, who at 28 years old is in her third Olympics. Ponor retired after the 2012 Olympics in London, but decided to come back in March of 2015. She’s medaled in both Olympics she’s participated in — gold in team, beam and floor in Athens and silver on floor and bronze in team in London. Romania did not qualify as a team for Rio, which left Ponor to qualify as an individual. She finished fifth on beam and will look to medal there for her third straight Olympics.

Then there’s the wonder of Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan. The 41-year-old is participating in her seventh Olympics for her third different country. Chusovitina qualified fifth on vault, and should be a threat to medal should she throw a Produnova, the hardest vault in women’s gymnastics — a front handspring double front.

Going Forward:

The women’s team final will take place on Tuesday with the individual all-around final set for Thursday. Event finals will begin on Sunday with vault and bars. The beam final will take place on Monday and the artistic gymnastics competition concludes with the floor final on Tuesday.

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