Glasgow 2015: the underdogs

Vasiliki Millousi, Greece

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During the last two quads, the elegant Vasiliki Millousi has carried Greek gymnastics on her shoulders. There have been other talented gymnasts, like world cup finalists Argyro Afrati and Valia Plyta, but Millousi has always been the one to always challenge for a spot in the finals and to gain plenty of international attention for her beauty and artistry. She went to her first Olympic Games in 2000, when she was 16 years old and after a long break, she returned to the sport’s biggest stage 12 years later, in London. The limited funding has prevented her from competing at multiple competitions this year but she has still achieved some great accomplishments. The highlight of 2015 for her definitely was qualifying into the beam finals at the European championships. An unfortunate fall kept her out of the medals, but she finished in fifth place, which is the highest ranking she has achieved during her career. She didn’t have the best competition of her life at Baku but she still managed to qualify into the All Around finals and she recently won one gold and one bronze medal at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Her main individual goals for those world championships are to qualify into the All Around and the balance beam finals. After that, she will try to qualify for her third Olympic Games, in Rio, where she is hoping to give the last performance of her career. Regardless of what happens from now on, regardless of how Vasiliki performs at Glasgow or of whether or not she will become a three times Olympian, as a Greek person and as a gymnastics fan, I will always be grateful to her for making this sport a little bit more beautiful.

Dorina Boczogo, Hungary

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Dorina Boczogo is one of those gymnasts who seem to get better as they get older. At the age of 23, she is now a veteran, who has already participated in two Olympic Games and multiple world cups, world and European championships. She has always been a talented athlete, capable of interesting work but during her long career, she has never been in a better shape than she is now and this is obvious from her results. In 2015, she dominated the Hungarian nationals, winning gold on three events, she became the floor champion at the Anadia World Cup, she finished 7th All Around at the European Games and she earned a silver medal on beam at Osijek. She has been on fire during the entire year, upgrading her routines and polishing her execution and she now has a fabulous floor routine which includes a double layout, a piked full in and a double front as well as beautiful choreography. She also shows great difficulty on beam, where she performs a gorgeous one hand handstand mount, a switch ring and connects a front aerial to a front tuck from an one foot takeoff and a back tuck. At Glasgow, I hope to see Dorina qualifying into the All Around finals while I would also love to see her fighting for a spot in floor finals. This is certainly not going to be easy, considering that her start value is lower than most people’s but I am really looking forward to watching her on this event.

Ana Sofia Gomez Porras, Guatemala

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Ana Gomez started getting international attention back in 2010, when she represented Guatemala at the first Youth Olympic Games and she has never stopped impressing the world since then. In 2011, she became the Pan-American Games balance beam champion and silver All Around medalist, in 2013 and 2014, she won the beam title at the Pan-American championships and she dominated the Bolivarian Games. This year, she was once again her country’s representative at the Pan-American Games, where she did an excellent job during qualifications placing third All Around and qualifying into three event finals. A fall prevented her from defending her title on her best event, the balance beam, but she got her redemption on floor exercise, where she finished in third place. Through the years, Ana has gained experience and maturity, and her gymnastics are even better than they were when we first saw her competing. She is capable of incredibly difficult elements, like a double twisting yurchenko on vault, a ray + gienger combination on bars, a back handpsring + tucked full on balance beam and a full and a triple twist on floor exercise. With her skill level, she absolutely is a world class All Arounder and I would love to see her qualifying into the All Around and maybe even the balance beam finals at Glasgow.

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, Malaysia

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Farah Ann Abdul Hadi has been a senior since 2010 and she represented her country at the Tokyo world championships in 2011. However, 2014 was the year where she started getting plenty of international attention, after she competed at the Commonwealth Games, finishing 11th All Around. After that, she represented her country at the Asian Games, where she was 16th All Around and qualified into the floor finals and she competed at the world championships. She has achieved tremendous success during 2015. After a rather shaky start at the Doha World Cup, she dominated the Southeast Asian Games, winning a medal on every single event, including a team finals gold, an All Around silver and a floor exercise gold. A couple of month later, she placed 6th All Around and qualified into vault and floor finals at the Summer Universiade and finished 8th All Around and 6th on floor at the Asian championships. Farah is the kind of gymnast that makes you fall in love after a single routine. She doesn’t have the highest start values or the most competitive routines, but she has a smile that can light up the entire arena and she dances like nobody’s watching. She is an elegant dancer and a charismatic performer and she has a certain sparkle about her that immediately draws everyone’s attention. Some of her most notable skills are her maloney and van leeuwen on bars, her switch ring on beam and her double pike and 2.5 twists on floor.

Elsa Garcia, Mexico

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Elsa Garcia is an other athlete who has been around for a long time. At the age of 25, she has already competed at multiple World and continental championships and she was Mexico’s representative at the 2012 Olympics. Through the years, she has won medals at the Pan-American Games, the Summer Universiade and the Central American and Caribbean Games while she earned the Longines Prize of Elegance in 2009. During 2015, Elsa has shown massive progress on the uneven bars, and she placed 5th on this event at the Sao Paulo world cup while also qualifying into the finals at the Pan-american Games. She is an excellent tumbler, capable of a double layout, a full in and a double arabian and she performs fantastic skills and combinations, like a stalder full + van leeuwen and an 1.5 pirouette into a piked jaeger on bars and a back handspring + layout and a switch ring on beam. In Glasgow, she has a difficult task. She needs to lead her team into a top 16 finish so they can qualify into the Test Event while also trying to qualify for the All Around finals. In 2008, she did not manage to earn a spot for the Beijing Olympics. In 2012, she qualified to London but she unfortunately injured her hand and was not able to compete on all four events. Hopefully, in Rio 2016, she will have the perfect Olympic experience she deserves.

Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Poland

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When Marta Pihan Kulesza takes the floor, it’s just impossible not to watch. Her stunning smile, her fantastic performance quality, her unique skills and her colourful hair make her standout even in the deepest fields. She’s a special gymnast, with fantastic style and personality, and during her career, she has shown some skills that very few people in the world can do like a Dos Santos and a double arabian into a front tuck on floor and an illusion turn and a Steingruber dismount on beam. During her incredibly long career, she has won 8 national titles, she has participated in multiple World and continental championships, she has qualified into the finals at the European championships multiple times, she has won world cup medals and she has
represented her country in Two Olympic Games. She was extremely successful at London, where she placed 17th in the All Around and 11th on floor exercise during qualifications. Now, she’s hoping to do it all 45th Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, October 3 - 12, 2014 in Nanning/CHNover again in Rio. During 2015, Marta won a gold medal on floor at the Cottbus world cup, placed 5th in the All Around and the floor exercise finals at the European championships, and dominated small international competitions like the Barboka Cup and the friendly meet against Austria and Hungary. Unfortunately, a leg injury kept her out of the European Games and slowed down her progress but now, she has recovered and she is ready to help her country qualify a full team into the Test Event. When asked about what she likes in gymnastics, Marta answered: ‘I like elegance. What’s necessary is to show one’s personality. A robot, a machine, a copy, it’s not good. Strength must be accompanied by style. My own is very adult, very mature…because I’m not the youngest’

Ana Filipa Martins, Portugal

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Last year, Ana Filipa Martins became the first Portuguese gymnast to ever win a World Cup medal. Then, she became the first Portuguese gymnast to ever qualify into the worlds All Around finals. It seems like this 19-years-old athlete is writing history for her country every time she competes and she continues to achieve fantastic results in the sport. During 2015, she won two bronze medals at the Cottbus World Cup, she placed 8th All Around at the European Championships, she dominated the Portuguese championships, winning a medal on every single event, she won a silver medal in front of her home crowd at the Anadia World Cup and a bronze on balance beam at the Universiade, where she also placed fourth All Around. She really is an absolutely beautiful gymnast, with world class skills and clean execution on every single event. She performs a full twisting yurchenko on vault, a shaposhnikova + bail combination and a piked jaeger on bars and a triple twist and a full in on floor. She is also a fierce competitor who is always capable of producing solid routines under pressure. With her difficulty, her execution and her consistency, Ana Filipa is definitely a strong contender for a spot in the All Around finals and hopefully, next year, she will have her chance to write history for Portugal at the Olympic Games as well.

Paula Mejias, Puerto Rico

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21-years-old Paula Mejias is Puerto Rico’s absolute top gymnast and the country’s only chance for an event final birth. She has had some ups and downs during 2015, always performing beautifully during qualifications but then, struggling when it’s time to fight for a medal. For example, she showed two powerful vaults that qualified her fourth into the vault finals of the Anadia World Cup. But then, something went wrong during the finals and she only performed a tsukahara back tuck for her first vault. Realizing that this was not going to be anywhere near enough, she did not go for her second vault. She got into a similar situation at the Pan-american Games. She did an excellent job and qualified second at the vault finals, while also grabbing a spot for the All Around and the floor finals. But then, when she had a realistic chance to finish on the podium, she balked on her first vault, receiving a zero. Thankfully, she got her redemption at the Osijek world Cup. There, she finally showed us what she can do when it mattered the most, and landedviolaa her tsukahara full and her tucked rudi, earning the highest score of the day. The following day, she also won a gold medal on floor exercise after hitting her 2.5 + front full combination, her sky high double arabian and her whip into a double tuck. At Glasgow, Paula is hoping to fight for a spot in the vault finals. This is certainly not going to be easy for her, since there has never been so much depth on this event, but if she hits during qualifications, nothing is impossible

(gif credit: viola-roadkill-gymnastics)

Teja Belak, Slovenia

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The lovely Teja Belak won Slovenia’s first world cup event title. Despite the poor training conditions in her country and the injuries she has had during the years, she continues to compete at the age of 21. During 2015, she has had an incredible busy year, competing at pretty much every world cup competition being help, including the Cottbus, the Doha, the Ljubljana, the Varna, the Anadia and the Osijek World Cups. The hard work has definitely paid of for her, since she has won plenty of silver and bronze medals at her favorite event, the vault. She also participated in the European championships, where she qualified into the vault finals but unfortunately, wasn’t able to hit both her vaults there. More recently, she finished second on vault and third on bars at the Hungarian Grand Prix and she competed at the Salamunov Memorial. Teja is a powerful vaulter, who competes a yurchenko with 1.5 twist and a front tucked full. She is capable of executing both vaults very cleanly and she is hoping to upgrade in the future.

You can read more about Teja here and here

Jessica Lopez, Venezuela

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Words can’t express how much respect and admiration I have for Jessica Lopez, who is still competing for Venezuela at the age of 29. She wasn’t really a remarkable gymnast during her first years as a senior, but her career took off in 2011, when she added major upgrades to all her routines and proved that she really is one of the worlds best. Through the years, Jessica has participated in two Olympic Games and more world and continental championships than one could possibly count. She has overcome injuries, she has won plenty of medals at world cups and at the South American, Central American and Caribbean and the Pan-American Games and she has become a fan favorite. After the London Olympics, in an interview with the International gymnast magazine, she was asked if she’s thinking about Rio. She answered that four more years is a long time and that she’s going to take it one year at a time and see what her body can12143340_10208425845390180_1994448694359802985_n handle. Now, with Rio only a year away, it seems like she has an excellent chance to go to her third Olympic Games, being held in her coach’s home country. During 2015, she has achieved excellent results, winning two gold medals at the Houston Invitational, placing fourth at the American Cup, winning a gold on bars at the Anadia World Cup, placing second on bars at the Pan-american Games and winning a bronze and a silver at the Novara Cup. She has the difficulty to challenge for a spot in the uneven bars finals, but she will have to be near perfect in order to make it over the Russians, the British, the American and the Chinese. She is also a strong contender for the All Around finals and I would love to see her finishing in the top 10 there.

(photo credit: Silvia Vatteroni)

Roxana Popa, Spain

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Roxana Popa, who was born in Romania but now lives in Spain, has been the absolute leader of the Spanish team for the entire quad. She is their only athlete to qualify into European finals, she’s their top All Arounder and their most valuable team member, who helped the team finish 15th during last years world. Her interesting combination and fun personality quickly made her a fan favorite, while her impressive skill level on every event helped her qualify into the worlds All Around finals twice. work Last year, Roxana seemed to be at the best shape of her career. She had upgraded her routines, she was cleaner, stronger andmstafinese more consistent than ever before, she was training double doubles and amanars and it looked like she was getting ready to take over the world. However, things didn’t quite work out since she found out she was suffering from a torn ACL and needed to have surgery. It was quite surprising to hear that this was actually an old injury and that she has been competing on it for a long time, but nobody was surprised to find out that Roxana would need to stay away from the gym for quite a long time. Thankfully, she had a smooth recovery and now, less than a year after her surgery she is back competing with the Spanish team. She returned to competition at the recent Novara Cup, where she earned the bronze medal on the only even she competed, the uneven bars after a fantastic routine, which included a maloney + gienger, a ray + pak and a jaeger. I’m not sure if she’s planning to competing on any other apparatus besides bars at Glasgow, but even if she only performs at one event, she still is extremely valuable to her country.

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Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan

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What can we even say about the legend that is Oksana Chusovitina? She is a 40-years-old woman competing in a sport when you are considered too old in your early 20s. She is an athlete who has represented the Soviet Union and is actually still out there, she has been competing for years before they even introduced the new vaulting table and she was a world champion before some of her competitors were even born. Back in 1991, she was in the same world team with Valeri Liukin and 17 years later, she competed alongside his daughter at the 2008 Olympics. She has competed against Svetlana Boginskaya, Svetlana Khorkina, Shannon Miller, Lavinia Milosovici and Kim Zmeskal and now she is competing against Simone Biles, Flavia Saraiva, Gabby Douglas and Laura Jurca. Generations of gymnasts were born, competed and retired while she was still competing and she’s still going. Oksana writes history simply by appearing in competitions. It doesn’t matter how she performs, or what is her difficulty level, just the fact that she’s still doing gymnastics at her age is enough to make her e legend. However, just competing is obviously not enough for her to be satisfied and now, she is set to compete the most difficult vault that has ever been done by a woman. Her produnova during podium training is, without any exaggeration, the most surprising thing I have ever witnessed in my life and I still can’t believe that a 40-years-old woman has the guts and the power to even train thattumblr_nwhod3jyKW1qceecko1_540 vault. Was her Produnova a clean, safe vault? No, certainly not. It was low, it was messy, she barely got it all the way around It and she didn’t even land it. It was much less terrifying than the attempts we’ve seen from other gymnasts during the quad in the sense that while watching her, I was fearing for her legs but not for her life. However it was definitely a scary and dangerous vault for her. I normally would say that she shouldn’t be competing it, that she should stick with vaults she can nail and that the code, the FIG and her coaches should not reward her for this attempt. But it seems like, through the years I’ve started to believe that Chusovitina is indestructible and right now, the only thing I can think about is how freaking badass she is for even thinking to compete that vault. I know that I should be worried and terrified over this situation, but honestly, I’m just ridiculously excited.

(photo credit: FIG)

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