(As with Euros, these are coming out in the order they’re finished. AA isn’t ready yet, so we’re jumping ahead a wee bit).
MEDAL CONTENDERS: McKayla Maroney, Oksana Chusovitina, Yamilet Pena, Sandra Izbasa, Thi Do Ngan Phan
OTHER EF PROSPECTS: Giulia Steingruber, Maria Paseka, Valeria Maksiuta, Erika Fasana, Ana Medina Moreno, Janine Berger, Anastasia Grishina
We originally started work on this post on 19th July. We opened it with the following:
It doesn’t take a genius to predict who’s going to win this one. The US have never won an Olympic vault title, but the only way they’ll miss out in London is if their reigning world champion is either injured or splats. The latter is not going to happen, and Stoi! fervently hopes the former won’t either.
Well, it appears that the former has. It’s now abundantly obvious that Maroney is not in the rudest of health. She has a sprained toe, which has been confirmed by just about everyone. Her training this week has been limited to vault only. Nothing but Yurchenko timers initially, followed by underpar (for her) Amanars and Mustafinas in podium training. It seems like a fair bet that she will be able to compete, at least. It’s not like the US have any viable alternate to replace her with anyway- one wonders what would’ve happened if Sacramone were here- so she’s probably still the favourite.
What it comes down to is this: Maroney should still win if she can compete. If not, things are rather more open. Assuming Marta isn’t up for any TF resting shenanigans, she only needs to do 5 vaults. Watering down prelims would be an option: although she hopes to compete an Amanar in TFs and an Amanar plus Mustafina in the final, a DTY and Lopez should be more than enough to make the top 8. And no arsing about trying to stick landings when it isn’t strictly necessary either. Protect the toe at all costs.
Her major competition is the reigning European champion and fellow tall person (for a gymnast) Sandra Izbasa. Excitingly, Izbasa has been working the Cheng in training this week. Apparently it’s decent but not totally polished yet. Which is a factor in Maroney’s favour: she can afford to let her form go a little bit on the Amanar and take a big step, because that’s probably what the main competition will be doing on her 6.5 vault, too.
Dominica’s Yamilet Pena emerged as if from nowhere at last year’s worlds. She’s a contender for one reason only: because she is sufficiently uninterested in her own safety to be willing to throw a handspring double front she can barely get round. As she can sometimes manage to land feet first in prelims, she makes finals. This is what happened in Tokyo, when she qualified 3rd and then got a 0 in finals.
We did wonder if she’ll stick to her handspring tuck full in prelims, as the risk of a 0 for landing arse first is quite high. She’s upgraded her FTY to a DTY, so the D scores are 5.3 and 5.8 respectively. This approach is risky, though. The Yurchenko 1.5 and handspring tuck full qualified her to the Pan American vault final, but she just missed out at the test event. She threw the handspring double front in prelims at a world cup event earlier this year, to general astonishment, so who knows? It’s hard to say which is the less risky approach (in terms of making the final, we mean. In terms of living to see another day, obviously the easier vault wins).
Training reports indicate that Pena has been working on the double front in London, and is still crashing a lot of them. There’s no mention of her doing the tuck front full, but that’s not to say it won’t happen. However, we don’t see her medalling. That’s likely to require her to land the handspring double front feet first, twice. You can ride your luck, but only so far.
The venerable Oksana Chusovitina should be appearing in what will actually only be her second Olympic vault EF, and will be the only one of the three medallists from last time to defend. Nobody was fooled by her hints about retirement, and at the ripe old age of 37 she remains a podium prospect. As far as we’re aware, the last time she threw the DTT was in Beijing. But she pulled it out of the bag then, so maybe she will again. If not, her rudi will be accompanied by a Tsuk 1.5. No doubt both vaults will be massive and windmill legged. Her form gets steadily worse- this silver medal winning combination from Euros earlier in the year was just plain messy.
Fortunately for her, the judging ethos this quad has rewarded amplitude over neat legs. Should Izbasa have the Cheng, bronze is probably the best our old babushka can hope for, but one never knows. She remains the toughest fucker in the sport.
The lovely Do Thi Ngan Phan is another one who emerged from nowhere in Tokyo, and her bronze medal finish makes her Asia’s top vaulter. She’s been pretty quiet since, but if she can compete her DTY and rudi as she did at worlds, she’ll stand a reasonable chance of bringing home Vietnam’s first Olympic medal. we didn’t then and don’t now understand how her rudi was credited as piked while others were given layout status- reputation bonus, perhaps? Alas, reports from podium training indicate that she’s carrying an injury, and her DTYs looked sore. A real shame.
Anyway, the medals will be between these five: while we don’t see Pena doing it, should she manage to land everything feet first then she’ll take home the silver. But for the others in the final, the numbers don’t really add up. They mostly don’t have the difficulty. Maksiuta is there or thereabouts with regard to D score, but is too much of a mess.
Maria Paseka and European bronze medal winner Iulia Steingruber both have a huge first vault. Each has supposedly upgraded her second- Lopez and DTT respectively- but without any footage, we’re unable to conclude much. Janine Berger has apparently been working a DTY and also has a rudi, so Germany might have two representatives in the final. Grishina’s rumoured Amanar doesn’t look like it’ll see the light of day, and she may not even make the final with only a DTY and a Pod.
A few names we’d got used to seeing won’t be with us. Brazil got tired of Crybaby Barbosa’s shit and called her bluff, so the test event champion isn’t going to be competing at all. Swiss veteran and multiple medallist Ariella Kaeslin called it a day last year. There are also a number of gymnasts who’ve previously made or attempted major vault finals and will actually be in London, but don’t plan on trying to qualify: Aliya Mustafina, Deng Linlin, Viktoria Komova, Ksenia Afanasyeva, probably Diana Chelaru and Huang Qiushuang.
And of course this is the first major final since 2009 that won’t feature the divine Tatiana Nabieva. A great loss.
1. McKayla Maroney (I have faith, and what’s more I put a fiver on her to win the other week- I’m not ready to part with that just yet)
2. Sandra Izbasa
3. Oksana Chusovitina
1. McKayla Maroney
2. Sandra Izbasa
3. Do Thi Ngan Phan
(actually, Maroney followed by Izbasa, Chusovitina and Phan in any order would be just fine. I don’t want to see Pena further rewarded for what basically amounts to a greater willingness than most to risk life and limb. She’s awesome, the precedent is not).