As we get news of the Dutch gymnastics delegation having a positive test in its midst just two weeks out of Olympic competition (all tests today were negative), I have decided to ignore that and start previewing the competition as if everything is normal.
Phase 1: The vault preview. Why? Because two vaults are required to advance to the event final, vault presents the least deep of the four events with the most predictable slate of contenders. (The beam preview is basically going to be a shrug emoji and we all know it.)
Rules — To both qualify for and participate in the vault final, gymnasts must perform two vaults, each from different groups among the five options (Non-salto, handspring, Tsukahara, Yurchenko, and Yuchenko 1/2). The two vaults cannot feature the same flight, so both vaults cannot be back layout double twisting vaults, even if they are from different groups.
Simone Biles (USA)
Biles enters vault—among others—as the heavy gold medal favorite. Her current plan is not to perform the Yurchenko double pike (6.6 difficulty) in the vault final because no warmup is allowed for event finals and it is not safe. Score another win for the gymnastics brain trust. But even Biles’ “little guy” slate of vaults with the Cheng (6.0) and Amanar (5.8) should tie for the most difficult pair in the vault final, and her superior amplitude, distance, and body position should see her execution score rise well above that of any other contender.
There is the chance that she could also pull out the Biles I (6.4), but since we haven’t actually seen that vault since she fell on it in the world all-around final in 2018, I have a feeling that one has long since been taken to a farm upstate.
MyKayla Skinner or Jade Carey (USA)
One of the biggest storylines of the US women’s qualification performance will be which athlete ends up joining Biles as the second and final American competitor in the vault final. Both Skinner and Carey have the same peak difficulty on vault with the Cheng (6.0) and the Amanar (5.8) and are likely to score about the same for them, with Carey perhaps enjoying a slight edge (all else being equal) because of her amplitude.
Carey played things conservatively vault and floor at nationals and trials with her Olympic spot already locked, so we don’t have a great sense of her current level on vault (particularly with the Cheng, which we haven’t seen since February) compared to Skinner, who has been excelling with both vaults at recent meets. When they did perform the same vault on the same day—both doing the Amanar on the first day of trials—Carey scored 15.200 for it compared to Skinner’s 15.133, pointing to a very close race.
They’ll even put some pressure on Biles if all three gymnasts perform the same difficulty, but Biles has such an execution buffer (really should be at least five tenths per vault, if not more) that the threat of Biles missing out shouldn’t come into play the way it did in qualification at 2019 worlds when Biles bounced to Mars for a 0.3 out of bounds deduction.
Giulia Steingruber (SUI)
Among those who should also contend for a medal, the defending Olympic bronze medalist owns very comfortable handspring rudi (5.8) with a predictable landing that can be relied on for very high scores that should outshine the other 5.8s in this tier. Her stumbling block has actually tended to be her theoretically easier DTY (5.4), which is what kept her out of the vault final at the last worlds. At this year’s European Championships, however, Steingruber’s DTY looked strong, helping her to an ultimately smooth gold medal finish. If she vaults like that again, she should be considered a frontrunner for the non-US medal.
Continue reading Olympic Vault Preview