The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Olympic Floor Exercise Preview

One apparatus left to go. Over the last quad or two, floor has typically not been the deepest event in women’s gymnastics, but this year there is a slightly heartier crop of athletes contending for silver, and a whole bunch of people who could sneak in for a bronze medal depending on the day.

Rules – Each athlete will count her 8 most difficult skills, of which at least three must be acrobatic elements and three must be dance elements. Routines must also include a passage of two dance elements, an acrobatic twisting element, a double salto, and acrobatic elements both forward and backward.

Tier I

Simone Biles (USA)

Here, there is no question. Biles is so, so far ahead of the rest of the pack. Even with a Pride parade of going-out-of-bounds on her record this year and a full miss at Classic, Biles still owns a floor average more than half a point better than any other gymnast in the world. Even her 0.5 OOB routine from nationals outscored what anyone else has done this year (and if it had been correctly evaluated as 0.7 OOB, that would still be true). She’s going to be untouchable and in a tier of her own on floor.

Tier II

Murakami Mai (JPN)

The best hope for a home Japanese medal on the women’s side comes from Murakami’s floor routine. The 2017 world champion, she is the only non-American to have won a major floor title in the last decade (beyond Murakami, we’d have to go back to Afanasyeva in 2011), and she owns the second best floor average in the world this year, behind only Biles. Her tumbling is supreme, and as long as she gets credit for her difficult turns (a key area to watch), she’ll have among the very highest difficulty scores in the competition. There’s a lot riding on this routine, but she’s very capable of a medal.

Jordan Chiles or Sunisa Lee or Jade Carey or Grace McCallum or MyKayla Skinner (USA)

There will be two Americans in the floor final. The second one will be a medal favorite. The only question is…who? Chiles owns the peak score among the options with her 14.233 from the second day of Olympic Trials, and given her tumbling composition, that should make her the frontrunner for the second US spot. Yet, floor has been her least consistent event this year, and we’ve also seen those mid-13s that would be unlikely to get her into the final.

Lee is the defending world silver medalist, but I’d say she does need to add back full difficulty to place among the top two Americans in qualification and get into the final. Still, the 13.933 she recorded on the second day of trials while doing only three passes speaks to the level of 14ishness she might have here if her limbs fully cooperate.

Carey is the wildcard because we haven’t seen her do much in the way of full floor difficulty in 2021. But we do know that she has the tumbling to score well, is a world silver medalist on floor, and tied Lee in qualification at 2019 worlds, just missing out on the final because of the execution tiebreak. While Carey has a very different approach to scoring well on floor from Lee, she will nonetheless also have to pull out full difficulty to get her score into the rarefied 14s given the expected execution disadvantage. That full difficulty does not necessarily mean the layout triple double, which would have to look really good to be anything close to a code-savvy decision to put in the routine. But also please do it because that would be fun.

As for Skinner, her peak this year has been lower than the others, so I wouldn’t rate her as the most likely American to get into the final, but it’s certainly not out of the question if she has another Trials Day 1 in qualification. The same goes for McCallum. She has scored well on floor in the past, and also on the first day of Olympic Trials, but her numbers this year overall put her in last place among the US floor workers, so I’d put her in the longer shot category with Skinner. Perhaps that’s a little harsh on McCallum, but gaining more security on landings over the weeks since trials will be essential for her.

Angelina Melnikova (RUS)

There are very few athletes who have been able to maintain a floor average over 14 this year, and the defending world bronze medalist is among them, recording 14s not just at domestic Russian competitions but on two of three routines at European Championships as well. The rise of the new Russians has curtailed some of Melnikova’s individual medal opportunities, i.e. the all-around is a much longer shot these days, but floor—the event on which she has three-peated as Russian champion, including in 2021—remains her best medal chance.

Viktoria Listunova (RUS)

Listunova does have the routine composition and floor ability to score right with Melnikova and has done so on most occasions this year. Though not every occasion. We have also seen Listunova miss several times this year, with an emerging tendency to struggle on floor at the end of long competitions (both at the European Championships and Russian Cup), which is worth keeping in mind. That tendency has kept her floor average for 2021 behind that of her teammate Urazova, but there’s no ability-based reason why she shouldn’t be a medal contender on floor this year.

The 14ishness of Melnikova and Listunova means I would classify them as the clear favorites to make this final for Russia over the more mid-high 13 routines coming from Urazova and Akhaimova. If either of the favorites has a problem in qualification, Urazova or Akhaimova can very well knock them out, but if that’s the case, Russia might also be facing not having two athletes in the floor final.

Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova (GBR)

Jessica Gadirova scored the victory over Melnikova in the European floor final with a 13.966 at a non-domestic meet, which has catapulted her right into the conversation for Olympic floor medals. That kind of performance, along with her 14s at the domestic trials, allows Jessica to rate as a major contender, but Jennifer is capable of similar. She has been out injured and not at full strength on floor so far this year, but if she is back to 100% for Olympic competition, the DoppelGadders have twinning scoring potential on floor with a chance to keep up the Tinkler legacy.

Vanessa Ferrari (ITA)

The woman is in it to win it. I had considered Ferrari a fair contender to reach the floor final in her 4th Olympics should she make the squad, but the floor routine she pulled out in the Doha final for 14.233 was a step above anything we had seen from her in years. She has not looked that good on floor since the 2016 Olympics. That was not just sneaking-into-the-final level work. That was medal level.

Now that Ferrari is on Italy’s team of four and presumably expected to work all the events in qualification, it will be interesting to see whether that affects floor, which was the only event she had to deal with in Doha when she put up that 14.

Ou Yushan (CHN)

Ou has shown some of the highest floor scores in the world this year (only Biles, Murakami, Melnikova, and Listunova have done better), and perfection like she showed on her whip, whip, triple at Chinese Nationals would put her right in the medal picture. But, the fact that Ou did not perform floor at either of the final trials in an effort to preserve her physically for the Olympics is not ideal and cause for reasonable hesitation about how she might score and what content she might perform in Tokyo.

Flavia Saraiva (BRA)

Saraiva has been pretty MIA on floor lately so I’m not quite sure what to expect, but she was on a real roll on floor at the end of 2019, finishing just behind Melnikova in 4th place at the world floor final, recording the #2 execution score in the entire group, behind only Biles. Saraiva sometimes gets overlooked on floor because she hasn’t put up the huge difficulty scores over the years (she was at just 5.5 last time we saw her and most of the top medal contenders will be eyeing high 5s or even 6s), but she has also made the last two world floor finals and finished just one tenth out of the medals on both occasions.

Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos (FRA)

De Jesus Dos Santos is another whom we should not be surprised by if she shows up at the Olympics getting 14s, as long as she’s not in short-landing mode. She has gone 14s several times before and is almost always good for a high 13. DJDS finished 5th in the floor final at 2019 worlds for what was not even an ideal performance for her, including an OOB. In fact, if she had recreated her floor performance from the team final, she would have won silver behind Biles.

Rebeca Andrade (BRA)

There’s no question that injuries have curtailed Andrade’s entire quad quint—a quint where she could have been among the best all-arounders in the world—and nowhere has that been more apparent than on floor, where we have gone years without a single routine from her at times. But when we have seen her here, it has been excellent. Andrade has the entire tumbling and dance element repertoire, so don’t be remotely shocked if she shows up at the Olympics on floor with some big scores.

TIER III

Brooklyn Moors (CAN)

Is it sacrilege to put Brooklyn Moors in tier 3? Perhaps. But as much as she is human perfection on floor, her scores this year so far have been in the lower 13s, which is not going to get into an Olympic floor final. She’ll have to increase those scores, probably to a level even higher than the 13.5s and 13.6s she usually gets, given the increased quality of the field this year.

Still, Moors does have a thing for making floor finals. She is the only woman to have competed in all three world floor finals this quad, so it’s probably foolish to bet against her. And if the judges actually go all in on artistry deductions, she’s going to gain a solid five tenths on a lot of these other people just in that department.

Eythora Thorsdottir (NED)

It’s a very similar case to Moors, though I’d say Thorsdottir is probably a longer shot for the final. Thorsdottir’s is my most anticipated routine of any of the floors in Tokyo, what with using her own vocals as her music, but it’s also going to be quite difficult for her to add the tumbling composition necessary to score high enough to get into the final. She’ll have to use turn difficulty to make it close.

Lu Yufei (CHN)

I may be underrating Lu Yufei here. She has some of the most consistently competitive floor scores in the world this year and has been scoring better than several of the athletes in tier 2, averaging over 14 for her 2021 work. I’m just not sure I trust the floor landings to get her to an Olympic final, but if she manages to get all her turn credit, she can be a force on floor. And China will need that for the team score.

Giulia Steingruber (SUI)

Steingruber’s best medal hope certainly comes on vault rather than floor, but there’s no question she can crank out a huge floor number on her day. In addition to her tumbling, her leap amplitude is going to be nearly unmatched in the entire competition and allows her to pull around high difficulty dance elements, even if she professes to need a blessing from the dryad of leaps. Steingruber has not, however, made a big floor final since the last Olympics and hasn’t been over 13.633 at an international meet this quint. I expect the floor final cutoff to be higher than that this year based on what we’ve seen.

Roxana Popa (ESP)

Popa’s floor is the big hope for the Spanish women’s contingent at the Olympics this year. Popa reached the world floor final in 2019 after showing one of the best executed and most delightful routines of the entire competition in qualification, outscoring many athletes with higher difficulty scores. If she’s able to get her floor back to that level, she’s certainly a contender for the final.

Larisa Iordache (ROU)

I’m not sure it’s going to happen for the 2014 world floor silver medalist this time around because, like a number of her peers in this group, a solid floor day for her (that gets her where she wants to be in the all-around) is going to be around mid-13s, and there are too many people here who can get 13.8+. Iordache did win the 2020 European floor title, though. And we will not forget that.

Nina Derwael (BEL)

Derwael’s situation on floor is pretty similar to beam in that you kind of forget that she’s also competitive here. Really, if she had a vault vault, she would be a legitimate all-around medal contender every time. Derwael originally advanced to the floor final at 2019 worlds before withdrawing (allowing Moors into the final) and received the best execution score on floor of anyone in qualification despite quite a low difficulty score. We could very well see that kind of thing happen again. Case in point, Derwael came up just a tenth shy of De Jesus Dos Santos on floor at the FIT Challenge a couple weeks ago. And if nothing else, her Italian Pizza Robot floor routine will make some waves.

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