With just 4 days until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games officially get underway, excitement is building amongst fans of every sport. Gymnastics fans included. The gymnastics competition, as always gets underway almost immediately with the first day of competition taking place on Saturday, August 6th, the day after the Opening Ceremony.
Men’s Qualification will take place on Saturday with Women’s Qualification following on Sunday 7th. The days following will see Team Finals, All-Around Finals and Event Finals take place and no other competition is more anticipated than the crowning glory of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, the Individual Olympic All-Around Final which will take place on Thursday, August 11th.
Whilst for many teams, such as the U.S, the team final is the most important event, ultimately the media darling of every Olympic Games, the face of Gymnastics following the Games and the true ‘Olympic Gold Medalist’ is the winner of the highest prize in Gymnastics, the Olympic All-Around Gold. It cannot be denied that the All-Around Olympic Gold is what every gymnast wants, whether that is a realistic goal or not. And given that there is just one lucky woman every quad who takes that title, for most gymnasts across the world, the Olympic All-Around gold medal is nothing but an illusive dream.
With Simone Biles almost certainly set to become that lucky woman on Thursday, August 11th in the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro and and the silver medal almost certainly secured by another American, whether that be Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman or Laurie Hernandez, the question remains, who will the All-Around bronze medal go to.
To medal at all in an Olympic All-Around final is prestigious, just look at Aly Raisman, so vexed that she missed out on her rightful All-Around bronze medal in 2012, she trained through another quad to make it back to the Games, hoping (even if it is a longshot) to make the All-Around final and get what is rightfully hers.
So with that, the race is on for that bronze medal. The field is weak and there are no real standouts in the pack, the All-Around bronze medalist from last years World Championships, Larisa Iordache of Romania will not compete and so really the gate is wide open for a consistent competitor with a high enough level of difficulty.
The question is, who will that competitor be? Of course, one must start with the Chinese, the team that will probably capture silver in the team final, given that Russia has falls on beam, which is most certainly a given at this point. Of the Chinese gymnasts, it is 20 year old Shang Chunsong who should be looked at as a contender for that bronze medal. A silver medalist with the Chinese team at both the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, Shang was just one place away from a bronze medal in both the All-Around final and the Floor Exercise final at last years World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. She has become a real favourite amongst gymnastics fans after the truth about her rough upbringing in China was made public earlier this year and an Olympic All-Around bronze medal would bring a smile to the face of most gymnastics fans and would be fantastic for Shang who has consistently been placing 4th in major competitions, just missing out on medals. I just hope that the trademark Chinese nerves don’t make an appearance and that she can compose herself on the biggest stage in the world.
Aside from Shang, Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland could also legitimately be in with a shot which would be a huge coup for Swiss Gymnastics. The star of Swiss Gymnastics, Steingruber has had a stellar 2016 thus far, competing all over the globe in World Cup and World Challenge Cup events, consistently bringing home hauls of medals. Albeit these events often consist of rather weak fields. However Steingruber has consistently shown that she can hang with the big guns, taking home gold medals at the 2016 European Championships in the Vault and Floor Exercise finals in front of a home crowd, becoming the 2015 European All-Around Champion and taking 5th place in the All-Around at the 2015 World Championships after qualifying to the final in 2nd place. I for one am in Giulia’s corner. She continues to make improvements on her form and performance value, her difficulty is among the best in the world and she is consistent in competition, making her a perfect contender to slide into that bronze medal position at the Olympic Games.
Another contender for me is Ellie Downie of Great Britain who became the first ever British female to take an All-Around medal at a European Championships last year in Montepellier in her first year as a senior gymnast. Her 2016 season has been nothing short of a dream, struggling slightly with injury at the beginning but coming back strong, historically taking home all 4 gold medals at the Osijek World Challenge Cup, taking third place All-Around at the 2016 British Championships and taking home three silver medals at the 2016 European Championships. Downie is most certainly in the mix for the bronze medal. Capable of scoring 59+ AA, Downie is actually quite consistent in competition and can score big on Vault and Floor Exercise. Her beam, when hit also has enough difficulty to score well and she can gets in the 14’s on bars.
Aside from these front runners, I could not discuss an Olympic AA medal and not mention a Russian gymnast. The Russian name on everyone’s lips is the new senior, Angelina Melnikova who took the All-Around title at the Russian Championships earlier this year and seems to be peaking at just the right moment. She can score big on beam and can swing bars like most Russians. Given she hits, Melnikova could squeeze into that third place spot. Although I would like to say little Seda could be in the running, sadly the little Russian prodigy who took the All-Around Gold at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and was touted at the next star in Russian Gymnastics just doesn’t perform well under pressure and I can’t see her figuring into the standings after just barely making the Olympic team thanks to well timed injuries and illnesses on behalf of her Russian teammates. Of course, one must not overlook Russian veteran Aliya Mustafina who at this point could surprise us all, show up and win a medal on every event, given she competes them all. Nothing would surprise me with Mustafina or with Russia and given she competes All-Around and has enough difficulty I would not cross her off the list of potential All-Around bronze medalists.
Really, that’s about it amongst a weak field of All-Around gymnasts. Possibly Flavia Saraiva of Brazil could be in the mix or possibly Ellie Black of Canada might figure into the top tier of the competition, however it should be interesting to see who manages to ultimately take home that bronze medal. With the top two spots almost certainly tied up by Americans, one could say sadly, the real competition that I will be watching is the competition for the bronze, which realistically could be taken easily by any of the Americans (minus Kocian maybe) if the two per country rule wasn’t in existence.