Please join me in welcoming a guest post from Laura, who was lucky enough to score tickets to the Olympic women’s gymnastics team competition yesterday. (Are you jealous? I am!) She has also forgotten more than I will ever know about gymnastics. Thanks, Laura!
What is the hardest aspect of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (or WAG as those in the know call it)? Perhaps it is making sure that every inch of the body is fully stretched and extended in every single movement. Perhaps it is using the strength in the core muscles to kill lightning-fast rotation and stick a landing. Perhaps it is completing moves that seem impossible on solid ground on a beam of wood no wider than a smartphone.
For spectators, the most difficult part is knowing where to look! In all events except the individual apparatus finals, all pieces of apparatus are used simultaneously. It is common to be watching one gymnast when a roar from the crowd indicates that you have missed something spectacular (or disastrous!) on another apparatus.
photo credit: Laura Daboo
The atmosphere in the arena, however, more than makes up for this frustration. Every team had supporters in the crowd though the majority did seem to be the very vocal Brits and Americans! The excitement at seeing the world’s greatest gymnasts in the flesh was tangible and the crowd seemed to ripple with anticipation.
Going into the Team Final, USA were the clear favourites to win, qualifying with a score of 181.863 ahead of 2nd place Russia’s 180.429. Each country is represented by 5 gymnasts and 3 are selected to compete on each apparatus. Every score counts so any mistake is costly. Gymnasts receive 2 scores- a difficulty score based on the components of their routines and an execution score out of 10. These combine to give their overall score for the apparatus.
The USA opened on arguably their most impressive event – vault. They were the only team to have all their gymnasts competing the Amanar vault. Also known as a Yurchenko 2 ½ twist, the gymnast cartwheels their feet onto the springboard, backflips their hands onto the vault and then completes a straight-bodied back somersault with 2 ½ rotations. Part of the reason for the 0.7 increase in difficulty score from the double twisting version is that the extra half twist creates a blind landing for the gymnast making it far more tricky to land cleanly. The USA team rocketed into the lead with 3 near-perfect vaults.
Russia came into the competition as the team who had the best chance of beating the American powerhouses, with a team including former World Champion Aliya Mustafina. However, their bid for gold was rendered extremely unlikely after a poor showing on floor exercise, with one missed tumbling pass and a fall.
The reigning Olympic champions China produced some beautiful, elegant work on beam and uneven bars but their lack of power on floor and vault left them out of the medals.
As an admittedly patriotic Brit, I was thrilled to see Great Britain following the men’s success and achieve their highest ever placing of 6th. The team was led by veteran Beth Tweddle who showcased her talents with impressively difficult floor and uneven bars routines. She had a few uncharacteristic form issues which left her with lower scores than Qualification but the team suffered only one fall, on the beam, and all were rightly proud of their performances.
As it came to the final routines, Aly Raisman was last up for USA on floor. Like her teammates before her, she pulled off a spectacular routine and, as the girls held hands waiting for the score to come through, the outcome seemed inevitable. Sure enough, the score flashed up, confirming that Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross were Olympic Champions. They exploded with joy and disbelief whilst a few tears were shed by the Russians. Soon though, any disappointments were forgotten and Romania, Russia and the USA received their coveted and much deserved medals.