Eeeee! I can’t believe we are already at this point of the year! It’s the weekend of the 2016 Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro making the 2016 Olympic Games feel that much closer. The Test Event will begin with Podium Training on Thursday, April 14th and conclude with event finals for both men and women on Monday, April 18th 2016. The action will take place in the Rio Olympic Arena in Barra de Tijuca, a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. The arena was originally built for the 2007 Pan American Games and hosted the Gymnastics event that saw the women of the United States triumph in the team competition, just a year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The team included Nastia Liukin, Ivana Hong, Shawn Johnson, Samantha Peszek, Rebecca Bross and Amber Trani.

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The Olympic Arena; Photo Credits; Lauren Hopkins Twitter

Although the United States had registered 2 women to compete at the Test Event, they will not send any women to compete here, not jeopardising their Olympic place as they did of course qualify a full team at the 2015 World Championships when they won the gold medal as a team.

This weekend will see teams who did not qualify at last years World Championships duke it out for a spot at the 2016 Olympic Games along with individual gymnasts who hope to qualify and also gymnasts from countries who have qualified a full team to the Olympics however are sending some gymnasts simply to gain experience.

With regards to teams hoping to qualify, teams ranked 9th-16th at last years World Championships can bring a full team of 6 gymnasts to the Olympic Test Event and attempt to secure 5 spots to the 2016 Olympic Games. The top 4 teams at the Test Event will qualify a full team to the Olympic Games.

With regards to individual gymnasts, each team that finished 17th-24th at the 2015 World Championships got 2 spots at the Olympic Test Event and it is up to the individual country who gets the spots. To round out the 40 gymnasts who will compete at the 2016 Olympic Test Event, after the 2 spots of the teams ranked 17-24th have been filled, gymnasts who competed as individuals ranked high enough qualify 1 spot for their country, and again it is up to the country who they will send to the Test Event. The top 24 gymnasts AA at the Test Event will qualify to the Olympic Games. Confused? I know it takes a while!

In addition to the 24 AA competitors, there is also a Tripartite position allocated and a host country position should Brazil not qualify a full team.

On top of all of this, teams who have already qualified are also welcome to send gymnasts. Hence why Great Britain are sending two gymnasts. Whilst both GB gymnasts, Becky Downie and Gabby Jupp have a great chance at medaling on events, this will not qualify them to them to the Olympics as their team have already secured 5 spots and it is now up to British Gymnastics who those 5 spots will go to. Jupp and Downie are simply competing at the Test Event for experience.

If this is all a little much Gymcastic have put together a wonderful chart which helps make sense of both Olympic Test Event qualification and Olympic Qualification: http://gymcastic.com/how-to-get-your-favorite-gymnast-to-the-2016-rio-olympics-a-flowchart/#.VxJc6np4vct

The FIG have also outlined the Olympic qualification clearly and concisely: http://www.rio2016.com/sites/default/files/users/rio2016_files/fig-artisticgymnastics-en_0.pdf

In the team final, which takes place for the women on Sunday, April 18th 2016, all eyes will of course be on Romania who have had a tumultuous year. After having a disastrous qualification round at the 2015 World Championships due to falls, nerves and losing team members to injury whilst in Glasgow, the Romanian team shockingly finished 13th, out of the top 8, out of the Team Final and heading to Rio in April for the Olympic Test Event hoping to qualify a full team. It still shocks me now that Romania are in this position. Once the holyland of Gymnastics, that produced Nadia Comaneci and the first perfect 10, once the ever dominant team we witnessed in the early 2000’s when they took the team title at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, once the team that had medaled as a team at every Olympic Games since 1976, is now witnessing a slump in it’s programme that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. It left many in tears, including team leader, Larisa Iordache who brought some light to the situation when she grabbed a bronze medal in the AA just two days later.

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Larisa Iordache

However, unfortunately due to rules, whilst every other individual medalist at the World Championships qualified directly to the Games, the AA does not carry this benefit, so Romania, although earning one medal at the World Championships still has no spots in Rio. This is something they hope to change this weekend. Whilst I would love to say this will be an easy task for Romania, it will be anything but. In early March, Romania’s luck seemed to get even worse when, during training Larisa Iordache injured her finger and announced that it would require surgery and she would miss the Test Event. This, leaving Romania’s Olympic dreams hanging very much in the balance.

However one must not fret, 2004 Olympic Champion, Catalina Ponor has come to the rescue and will step up and lead this struggling Romanian team. Diana Bulimar will also provide stability to this young team whilst Laura Jurca will be left at home in Romania. Whilst I would love to say Ponor’s presence will mean they will qualify, I can’t. She is still in the very early stages of her comeback, is only performing two events and Romania’s bars still make me more unsettled than I was watching MyKayla Skinner’s Scotland the Brave FX in 2015. So, whilst Ponor will bring leadership and a calming professionalism to the young team and is sure to hit her events and post very helpful scores, as a team Romania’s future is most certainly uncertain.

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Catalina Ponor

Other teams that are in the hunt are host nation of Brazil who, at the moment out of all the teams have the best chance at finishing in the top 4 and qualifying a full team. They finished just out of qualification in 9th at last years World Championships and are in an even better position than last year with top Brazilian, Rebeca Andrade back in action after missing the majority of 2015. Additionally, Flavia Saraiva, whilst struggling with nerves at last years World Championships, is looking stronger, better and more confident than ever, shining at the 2016 Baku World Challenge Cup earlier this year, winning three medals and at the 2016 City of Jesolo Trophy, finishing 4th AA with a huge score on the BB. The rest of the team, veterans, Jade Barbosa and Daniele Hypolito are sure to be strong and sturdy for Team Brazil and 2015 Brazilian National Champion, Lorrane Oliveira will bring style and elegance to a very strong Brazilian team. Their 6th member will be announced following Podium Training and is between Carolyne Pedro and Milena Theodoro. Either way, as host nation, Brazil will get one individual spot, however, they are looking on track to qualify a full team, should they perform well and not succumb to nerves.

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Rebeca Andrade

Germany also have a great chance, being led by 2012 Olympian, Elisabeth Seitz who can post a huge score on the UB to help the team, having scored a huge 15.366 at the DTB Team Challenge in Stuttgart in March, ahead of 2015 World Uneven Bars Champion, Daria Spiridonova of Russia. Additionally, Sophie Scheder coming off an historic win at the 2016 Stuttgart World Cup is also looking extremely strong and is capable of posting a huge score on UB, like Seitz. 2015 World Championships bronze medalist, Pauline Schafer, who has actually already earned an Olympic berth by earning that World Championships medal, will also be a big help in qualifying Germany a team spot at the Olympic Games. If Germany are to qualify, Schafer’s place will no longer be secure but rather the German NOC will be allowed select any 5 gymnasts they wish. New senior, Tabea Alt will also be a huge help to Germany in their bid for an Olympic spot.

Australia, who recently took the bronze medal as a team at the Pacific Rim Championships, are also hoping to qualify. Whilst once a strong nation in the gymnastics world, Australia displayed a lot of nerves at the 2016 Pacific Rim Championships and claimed the bronze medal simply as a result of a weak field and I expect will struggle to get into the top 4 at this weekends Olympic Test Event and have also lost two gymnasts, originally placed on the team to injury, Emily Whitehead and Mary-Anne Monckton.

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Sophie Scheder

France, after finishing 10th at the 2015 World Championships are bringing a really strong team and have a great chance at gaining a team spot, even without French standout and European Championships bronze medalist, Claire Martin. Additionally, Belgium, with impressive new senior, Axelle Klinckaert have a great chance at qualification, after recently taking top honours at the Belgian Friendly, ahead of Romania and Germany.

So that’s the team qualifications….so what about the individuals. Whilst Switzerland are attending with a full team, their team aren’t necessarily set to qualify, however European Champion and 2012 Olympian, Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland will more than certainly qualify as an individual.

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Giulia Steingruber

Other individuals to watch are the legend, Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan. Should she qualify this will be Chusovitina’s seventh Olympic Games for her third country. Incredible and historic.

Speaking of historic, Ellis O’Reilly of Ireland is set to make history this weekend as the first ever Irish gymnast to compete at the Olympic Test Event and should she qualify, she will be the first Irish gymnast to compete at an Olympic Games.

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Ellis O’Reilly

Other notable mentions must also go to Thema Williams of Trinidad & Tobago who is known, largely for the controversy that surrounded her selection for this event. Williams trains in the US with 2012 US Olympic Head Coach, John  Geddert, personal coach of World and Olympic Champion, Jordyn Wieber in Michigan. Whilst the criteria for selection between Williams and Marisa Dick, the other contender for this spot was whoever finished higher in the AA at Worlds, following the World Championships, it was announced that the spot was still not certain. Madness then ensued following a topless picture of Thema being sent to the Trinidad & Tobago Gymnastics Federation and her place at this event hung in the balance. Following mass support from the Gymnastics community, Thema was ultimately selected and will represent Trinidad and Tobago this weekend with much support behind her.

Another gymnast, that caused much controversy is Kylie Dickson who will represent Belarus this weekend. The 17 year old trains with McKayla Maroney’s coaches, Galina Marinova and Artur Akopyan at the infamous AOGC in Los Angeles, California. Akopyan and Marinova, the subject of much controversy as of late, came under fire last year after both Dickson and AOGC teammate, Alaina Kwan, both US born and bred were selected to represent Belarus at the 2015 World Championships after no tryout and being selected ahead of born and bred Belarusian gymnasts and after failing to even qualify to the P&G Championships in the U.S. Akopyan and Marinova, friends with Belarusian Gymnastics President, Nellie Kim negotiated this with the help of Kim and gained the two girls, who had never visited Belarus and had no familial ties to the country citizenship through a technicality. At the 2015 World Championships, both gymnasts, it was said by many performed no better than a Belarusian gymnast would have performed and it was thought that for the Test Event, the madness would end and a born and bred Belarusian gymnast would represent Belarus. However, to the surprise of many, Kylie Dickson was chosen and will compete this weekend, hoping to earn Belarus an Olympic spot.

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Kylie Dickson

Houry Gebeshian of Armenia is also a gymnast with an interesting back story. A gymnast who was born in the US with Armenian parents, she competed collegiately and began competing for Armenia after her college career was over, after her mother informed her of the possibility due to her Armenian roots. Now, after earning a Bachelor’s degree along with a Master’s degree, she trains for the Olympics whilst also working full time. If the Olympics are supposed to inspire, this woman should be there and I will most certainly be hooting for Houry this weekend.

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Houry Gebeshian

Toni-Ann Williams of Jamaica is also one that stands out. The 20 year old currently competes collegiately for the up an coming programme, the University of California, Berkeley, however has her sights on Rio to represent Jamaica, allowed to do so due to her Jamaican roots and will miss the NCAA National Championships being held this weekend in Texas, to which she helped her team qualify, in favour of potentially earning an historic Olympic spot for Jamaica.

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi is also set to make history this weekend, representing Malaysia, along with Dipa Karmakar of India who made history at last years World Championships by becoming the first ever Indian WAG gymnast to qualify to an event final, whilst also garnering criticism for dangerously performing the Produnova Vault, essentially putting her life at risk by not having near enough rotation to stand the vault up. However Karmakar needs the difficulty and she will more than likely perform it again this weekend in a bid to become an Olympian.

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Dipa Karmikar

Teams that have already qualified are also sending some of their Olympic hopefuls, simply for experience including Becky Downie and Gabby Jupp of Great Britain, both UB and BB specialists, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top and it will be crucial in relation to who makes that 2016 Olympic Team for Great Britain. Canada will aslo send two top Olympic team contenders, Isabela Onyshko and Victoria-Kaying Woo and likewise the Netherlands, who historically qualified a full team to the Olympic Games at last years World Championships will send sisters, Sanne and Lieke Wevers, top contenders for the Dutch Olympic Team and eager to gain experience in the Olympic Arena. Italy will send Giorgia Campana, in place of Tea Ugrin, originally slated to compete along with Lara Mori.

All in all, it will be an exciting and interesting weekend with a lot on the line for these gymnasts. It will make the Rio Olympics seem more like reality and we will get a hint at how the city of Rio will handle hosting this huge event that will see the world descend upon Rio with expectations of fun, inspiration, world class competition and history making moments.

Full roster can be found on The Gymternet: https://thegymter.net/2016/03/16/the-2016-olympic-test-event-team-master-list/

Full schedule can be found here: http://www.aquecerio.com/en/gymnastics/programme

More information can be found here: http://www.aquecerio.com/en/gymnastics/

Aaaand finally livestream is available here: http://www.tv-sport-hd.com/SportRo-Online.html

And here the FIG outline ways to follow the event including live scoring and highlights of the event of the FIG YouTube channel: http://www.fig-gymnastics.com/site/figNews/view?id=1511

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