For the women, this year’s event finals saw the ultimate crowning of Simone Biles as one of the greatest of all time, as well as an increase in diversity among the finalists and the medalists, with each event having one medalist from a non-Big 4 country.
Starting on vault, this was definitely up to Simone Biles to win it or lose it and after missing out on Gold for three years due to lower difficulty, she finally stood atop of the podium after a great Amanar with just a small hop back and another amazing Cheng with a hop forward to take the title by over seventh to Silver medalist Maria Paseka of Russia. As the reiging World Champion, Paseka was obviously a strong contender but her competition status was uncertain until the last few days of training due to recurring back pain. She was eventually cleared to compete and vault was her only event, which in the end paid off as she took home a Silver medal after a stuck Cheng albeit with her usual crazy legs and landed with a foot out-of-bounds and a somewhat low Amanar with a big step back. In third place was 2016 European Champion Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland after performing her trademark Rudi with just a tiny hop and a solid DTY with a hop as well, opting to play it safe and not go for her new vault, a front handspring double twisting layout, which proved a wise decision as she eventually won the Bronze medal. Just outside the podium was History maker Dipa Karmakar of India after a quite solid double twisting Tsukahara with a small step on landing and a successful Produnova (aka landing feet first and not rolling out of it), finishing the first Olympic experience for an Indian gymnast with a very honorable fourth place that will surely inspire many other girls in her country to pursue the sport. In fifth place was Wang Yan of China with 14.999 after performing a double twisting Tsukahara with a bit of messy legs and a sizeable step on landing and a very nice Rudi with just a tiny hop forward, while in sixth was Hong Un Jong of North Korea after going for broke with her new TTY vault but sitting it down. Her vault was eventually downgraded to an Amanar as she was quite under-rotated and so the TTY remains to be officially performed and named in the women’s code of points. In seventh place was Canada’s Shallon Olsen after a somewhat messy Amanar, taking a huge step forward and touching the knee on the mat, and a nearly stuck Khorkina (tucked Cheng) albeit with some form issues in the air, followed by 41-year-old Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan in eighth after rolling out of her Produnova and stepping out-of-bounds on her double twisting Tsukahara. Chusovitina doesn’t seem to be planning on retiring anytime soon so hopefully she will have time to improve her Produnova or change it for the safer Rudi and still challenge for medals well into her 40s, making History year after year in the sport of gymnastics.
On the uneven bars final, the biggest contenders were reigning World Champions Daria Spiridonova and Madison Kocian, alongside 2012 Olympic Champion Aliya Mustafina of Russia who managed to put her best routine together in time for Rio after struggles in competitions as recent as the Russian Cup, just one month prior to the Games. In the end, Mustafina was able to retain her title with a 15.900 after a very clean routine, becoming the first back to back Olympic Bars Champion since Svetlana Khorkina in 2000 and 2004 and proving that you should never count Mustafina out when it’s time to fight for medals. The Silver medal went to Madison Kocian of the USA after an equally strong effort capped off with a stuck full-in dismount, with her lower difficulty (6.7 to Mustafina’s 6.8) making the difference between first and second as she scored less than a tenth behind the Russian gymnast after receiving a higher execution score. Surprisingly, the Bronze medal went to Germany’s Sophie Scheder who presented a very precise routine including her trademark inbar piked Tkachev for a score of 15.566 and managed to find herself on the podium after mistakes from others, edging out her teammate Elisabeth Seitz (who placed fourth) by just 0.033. In fifth place was Shang Chunsong of China with 15.433 after some short releases and a slight over-arched handstand, while in sixth was Jessica Lopez of Venezuela after some leg form issues on her Pak salto and some late pirouettes, making History as well as the first Venezuelan gymnast to make an Olympic event final. In seventh place was American Gabby Douglas with a score barely above 15 after having to muscle up a handstand and in eighth place was Daria Spiridonova of Russia scoring just 13.966 due an unfortunate fall on her Van Leeuwen. This was certainly not what Daria expected for her first Olympic Games but she hit for her team and help them reach an impressive Silver medal so I hope she still fells very proud of herself and continues to help team Russia in the next quad.
Moving on to the balance beam, we finally broke the splat fest trend of whoever stays on medals as there was only one fall among all the finalists. The Gold medal belonged to Sanne Wavers of the Netherlands after hitting her difficult turn combinations with great artistry and precision, finishing with a score of 15.466 to become the first woman to win an individual Olympic medal for Dutch gymnastics. Taking Silver was team USA’s youngest member Laurie Hernandez with 15.333 after a very solid routine that just didn’t have the difficulty to match Wevers even if she did score higher in execution. Top qualifier and two-time World Champion Simone Biles of the USA was the clear favorite for Gold but an unfortunate wobble on her front tuck caused her to grab the beam and nearly fall off the apparatus, bringing her score down to 14.733 and finishing in Bronze medal position. In fourth place, less than two tenths behind Simone, was French super star and 2016 European Silver medalist Marine Boyer after an incredible performance with just a considerable break on her side aerial and minor issues here and there, while in fifth was crowd favorite Flávia Saraiva of Brazil after some big wobbles on her layout and her side somi that gave her a score of 14.533. In sixth was China’s Fan Yilin with 14.500 after a shaky performance and a large step back on her triple twist dismount, followed by Romanian veteran Catalina Ponor in seventh after equally serious mistakes and Isabela Onyshko of Canada in eighth after a fall on her tuck full. This was not the beam final everyone was expecting for Simone as the press repeatedly referred to her winning five gold medals as a guaranteed fact but an Olympic Bronze medal is nothing to be ashamed of and Simone seemed really happy with the final result so hopefully the press won’t make it more about the gold she missed than the golds she did end up winning.
Finally, wrapping up this Olympic cycle for the women was the floor final with Simone Biles managing to add an Olympic title to all her World titles from 2013 to 2015, successfully defending her position as best floor worker all quad long. Biles didn’t have her most perfect routine with several landing issues but her form and her height were incredible enough to grant her a top score of 15.966. The Silver medal went to 2012 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman with a 15.500 after another excellent routine, nailing all her landings with just small hops on some dance elements to continue to prove she’s one of the best in the world on this event even if her form is not always ideal. Bronze once again belonged to a non-Big 4 country as Amy Tinkler of Great Britain managed to score a 14.933 after some very difficult tumbles such as a full twisting double layout and a double double albeit with form and landing issues. In fourth place, just like in 2012, was Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari with 14.766 after a deep landing and several steps back on her double pike dismount, finishing her career on a somewhat sour note after coming so close to a medal once again. In fifth place, a tenth behind Ferrari, was Wang Yan of China after a hit routine although with her usual issues, while in sixth was the second Italian Erika Fasana with 14.533 after low landings on most of her tumbles. Matching Fasana’s score but losing the tie-breaker because of lower execution was Japan’s Mai Murakami in seventh place, landing short on her full twisting double layout and falling out of her double wolf turn, followed by Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland in eighth with just 11.800 after a disastrous performance, falling on her double double and full-in but sticking her double layout in the middle of those two. It’s really sad that Steingruber’s routine wasn’t what she expected as she was a strong contender for the Bronze medal but she still has her vault medal and should consider this a very successful Olympic experience.
Overall, this was a good finish to an amazing Olympic cycle that will always be marked by the rise of Simone Biles’ talent, as well as the improvement of smaller programs who have managed to challenge for medals at the highest stage of the sport. At the same time, we witnessed the crumbling of a Historic program as Romania struggled to put together a strong team and missed out on qualifying to Rio for the first time since 1968. All this has changed the face of gymnastics and all evidence indicates it will continue to change in next quad as new teams get stronger and the competition gets more and more diverse.