The Olympics are close. Disturbingly close. Some might say panic-attack close. As such, it’s probably time to start previewing things. I’ll begin this multi-week previewing process (there’s a lot to get through) with a look at some of the major women’s teams vying for medals at the Olympics, starting with Great Britain.
You’ve come a long way, baby. 20 seconds ago, Great Britain was excited to qualify a team to the Olympics. 5 seconds ago, simply making the team final was a massive accomplishment. Now, Great Britain stands as the most likely heir to the big four to replace Romania (the queen is dead, long live the queen) and enters the 2016 Olympics with the sudden pressure and expectations that go along with being one of the top teams in the world. Simply qualifying to finals is no longer good enough. It’s expected. WE WANT MEDALS.
Becky Downie — two-time European bars champion, general resilient badass, the shorter one but the older one
Ellie Downie — 2016 European vault and floor silver, sliding into your podium finishes, the taller one but the younger one
Claudia Fragapane — 2015 European floor silver, 2014 Commonwealth everything, so energetic that you don’t care about her form, makes you really uncomfortable when she gets called “pocket rocket”
Ruby Harrold – 2014 Commonwealth AA silver, her bars composition is more important than your life, coming to make LSU the best bars team in 3…2…1…
Amy Tinkler – 2015 British AA champion, the one who isn’t Ellie Downie but who’s also making Great Britain good on vault and floor now, nicknamed “Tinkles” by just me
Projected Olympic Lineups
Vault: (Harrold), Fragapane, Tinkler, Downie
Bars: (Fragapane?), Harrold, E. Downie, B. Downie
Beam: (Tinkler), Fragapane, E. Downie, B. Downie
Floor: (Harrold), Tinkler, E. Downie. Fragapane
And by projected Olympic lineups, I of course mean what I would do. A.k.a., the correct answer.
Vault and floor are easy because Becky Downie doesn’t do them anymore. (Thanks, girl!) On vault, the team will have its pick from four viable DTYs in the team final. It’s a far cry from recent years of Imogen Cairns making teams because she had a 1.5. Fragapane’s vault is sloppy, but she tends to outscore Harrold, who can land chest down and take a larger lunge. On floor, the clear standouts are Tinkler, E. Downie, and Fragapane, who should all manage to score well into the 14s, the team’s best argument for challenging the likes of Russia and China.
Great Britain will, however, have some serious decisions to make on bars and beam as to who goes in qualification and who has a shot at the all-around.
On bars, neither Tinkler nor Fragapane are particularly happy to be there. Tinkler is the better bars worker, but I have Fragapane going in qualification to give her a shot at the AA since she is the national champion. You usually want your national champion going in the all-around. Maybe? Of note, however, Fragapane was kept off bars at worlds last year in qualification in favor of Tinkler, so GB may feel differently.
Beam is obviously terrifying for everyone, so the qualification spot should probably come down to who is the least fallsy in training between Harrold and Tinkler.
Right now, I have Ellie Downie and Fragapane doing the all-around and Harrold and Tinkler each on three pieces, but I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see GB swap in Tinkler on bars and go with Downie and Tinkler in the AA.
Or, they could just as easily swap in Harrold on beam for Tinkler, which would mean Downie, Fragapane, and Harrold all go in the AA. That may actually be the best option simply because THREE! EXCITING! QUALIFICATION FIGHT!
One of the interesting aspects of who goes up for GB in qualification will be judging whether the mindset is still “go safe, we need to make the team final” or whether it has evolved into “maximize our finals prospects.” That’s particularly the case regarding whether to use Fragapane on bars. In a Raisman-type situation, Fragapane is the weakest bars worker, but if GB is taking qualification as a given, they should still put her up on bars on the first day because she likely has higher overall scoring potential than Tinkler.
Britain shouldn’t really be worried about making the team final since it seems pretty inevitable, but that’s a relatively new way of thinking for this team. As things stand right now, Great Britain looks like a solid bet for a devastating fourth-place finish behind the US, Russia, and China. Congratulations. GB will take hope from the third-place finish at worlds last year, but they did finish just 0.400 ahead of a Russian squad that had a streak of four consecutive falls in the middle of the meet.
But of course, it’s Russia, so that’s probably going to happen again. Maybe Great Britain should expect a team medal after all.
The most significant aspect of Great Britain’s transition into a TF force has been increased competitiveness on vault and floor. While GB will give up a bit to Russia on vault by not having an Amanar, I’d say if a team medal is going to happen, GB needs to rank #2 in combined vault-floor scores.
This is somewhat counterintuitive because we tend to think of Britain as a bars team first. It’s not quite the same post-Tweddle, but this does remain a very talented bars team that could at least keep things somewhat close with Russia and China with hits. The main issue with bars is that the Downies are both total heartbreakers. (How many times has Becky Downie been favored for a bars medal and then fallen in qualification?)
But we can’t talk about consistency without talking about beam, Great Britain’s eternal nemesis. Exhibit A: Harrold won beam bronze at nationals this year with a score in the 12s. When simply looking at the Downies and Fragapane on beam, the presumptive TF trio, they have quite high scoring potential as a group, but the track record of hitting is rather bleak.
They’ll have to fix that because their competitors also look to have major consistency challenges on beam, with China having to use Wang Yan and Russia having to use Seda Tutkhalyan. All three of these teams will be putting up significant fall risks, so suddenly figuring out how to beam may be GB’s path to a top-three finish. Yikes.
Great Britain has never made much of a dent in the women’s AA race and will not necessarily be expected to medal at the Olympics in spite of the wide-open race for bronze.
Ellie Downie is the team’s best hope, especially after she made waves earlier this year with a four-gold performance in Osijek that would have garnered a 59.125 if it were an AA competition. That is a medal-at-the-Olympics kind of score if she can replicate that. If. Downie should at least be in contention to qualify in the top six and compete in that lead group.
We’ll have to see who else ends up doing the AA, but the rest of the team probably has some 7th-12th finishes in it assuming hit meets. 56s and into the 57s are more than attainable for Fragapane and Tinkler and perhaps even Harrold. Fragapane has been the recent AA star for the team and should bring a big floor number, though she probably does not have the E scores or bars total to challenge the Mustafinas and Melnikovas and Shangs toward the top of that bronze-medal race.
Vault – Ellie Downie performs two vaults (as does Fragapane sometimes) and did quite well to finish 4th on vault at worlds last year. The struggle for Downie is the increased depth on vault internationally, making it more difficult for a DTY/Lopez program to make it back to the final. (Upgrade rumors have been swirling for a year now for Downie, but show me the receipts.)
With Biles, Paseka, and Hong doing Amanar/Cheng, and Wang, Moreno, and Vidiaux doing Rudi/Kas full, and then Steingruber, and then the Proddies, Downie will seriously have to rely on her execution scores to get her back to the final, which she has done in the past. In 2015, she used those E scores to beat Wang, Moreno, and all the Butt-a-Prods. If anyone vaulting a 5.8/5.6 makes it back to the final this year, it should be Downie.
Bars – If Becky Downie hits bars in qualification and makes it to the final, she should be right in the hunt for a medal given her 6.9 peak D score, which ranks second behind only Fan Yilin. The bars final has the potential to be extremely tight (again) and offensively high quality, and the likes of Fan, Spiridonova, Mustafina, Shang, and Kocian make it impossible to feel assured of a medal for anyone, but Downie is certainly part of that lead group, with the most visually impressive and entertaining bars routine being done in the world right now.
I would say right now Becky Downie looks like GB’s best medal hope at these Olympics for the women, though team might be gaining if everything keeps looking so rough for Russia and China.
Beam – Don’t. Just…hitting is the goal. At some point. At any point. Don’t think about event finals. The beam final is notoriously made up of whoever hits in qualification and has a 6 D, but…don’t. Just hit.
Floor – Given the strength of Downie, Fragapane, and Tinkler and the relative weakness of floor internationally this year, Great Britain should be able to place at least one person in the floor final if not two. We’re going to see a whole bunch of FX 13s at the Olympics, so GB’s ability to inch into those mid-14s is quite the asset. Medals will be tough, but not completely out of the question. Biles and Raisman are the heavy favorites to go 1-2, with everyone else battling for third, including Steingruber, Murakami, Miyakawa, and Shang along with the Brits.