11 gymnasts you should not count out

1. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy

It’s been almost a decade since Vanessa Ferrari wrote history by becoming Italy’s first world All Around champion and the 25-years-old is still one of her country’s absolute best gymnasts. During this quad, the two times Olympian has won gold medals at the Mediterranean Games, the Golden League, the Tokyo World Cup and the European championships, while also becoming a world silver medalist on floor exercise. She was in better shape than ever in 2014 and she was still adding new skills to her routines so it looked like she would continue to be the leader of the Italian team for the following years. However, 2015 has been difficult for her. In the beginning she suffered from mono and she wasn’t able to train properly. As a result, she underperformed at the European championships, where she wasn’t able to qualify into the event finals. She pulled out of the All Around finals because she realized she could not compete at the best of her abilities and she stayed away from competition for the next months. She also suffered from tendinitis that slowed down her training even more. She came back at the Novara Cup, where she only showed a full twisting yurchenko on vault and watered down and messy routines on the other events. At that point, I did not think that she was anywhere near ready, and when she made the Italian worlds team I was definitely worried for her. However, Vanessa used all her power and experience and she performed like the veteran she is, nailing her routines on every event to help her team directly qualify to Rio. She did not compete in the team finals, because that would be too much for her body but she helped her country achieve their main goal. This means that in Glasgow, Vanessa was the solid team player and not the super star of her team. However, we have to keep in mind that she was sick and injured for the entire year. If she actually manages to stay healthy from now on and she regains her all difficulty she will definitely be a strong contender for future All Around, balance beam and especially floor exercise finals and who knows, maybe she will even manage to challenge for the first Olympic medal of her career.

2. Noel Van Klaveren, Netherlands

Noel has been a senior since 2011 but she only started shinning during this quad. It was clear that she’d be one to watch from the beginning of 2013, when  she won medals on vault and floor at the Cottbus world cup. After that, she achieved what probably is the biggest accomplishment of her career, when she won a silver medal at the European championships of Moscow, where she also placed 16th in the All Around. She participated at the world championships at the same year, qualifying into the All Around finals. Unfortunately, she was never able to repeat the success of 2013 in the future and the next years were hard for Noel. Her father was diagnosed with cancer and understandably, those news made her want to spend time with him instead of focusing on gymnastics. As she said to WOGymnastika, his treatment went well and he overcame the illness, but after that she struggled with a few injuries. This year, she needed to have ankle surgery in May and she wasn’t able to regain all her difficulty in time to be a contender for worlds. She earned a silver medal on vault at the Dutch worlds qualifications and she performed a lovely floor routine and a strong full twisting yurchenko at the friendly meet against Great Britain but without her DTY, she just didn’t have enough difficulty to make it to worlds. Hopefully, all the struggles are now behind her and she will have plenty of time to upgrade and clean up her routines. Noel is particularly strong on vault, which also happens to be her team’s weakest event and this is enough to make her a contender. A strong double twisting yurchenko like Noel’s is a guaranteed score in the high 14s and this is something that no team should ignore. But that doesn’t mean she is an one event specialist. She is an excellent floor worker who shows difficult tumbling and lovely artistry. In the past, she has competed a double layout and a whip into a triple full and she has shown absolutely beautiful choreography. She also has a very impressive skill level on beam, where she’s capable of a side aerial + layout step out combination and a back handspring into a layout. She is very inconsistent and she definitely needs to work on that but she is capable of having competitive start values. In the past, she has trained amanars, back handpsrings + tucked fulls and triple twist dismounts, while she was also hoping to work on a full twisting double layout. I don’t know if we’ll ever see any of those skills in competition but Van Klaveren certainly has the potential to challenge for a spot in the Dutch Olympic team.

3. Ashton Locklear, USA

Ashton was one of the biggest surprises of the quad so far. She spent the biggest part of her junior career away from competition due to a major back injury and because of that, in 2013, nobody even knew her name. However, in 2014, she came out of nowhere to win the uneven bars title at the Secret Classic, the national championships and the Pan-american championships and she earned a well deserved spot in USA’s world team. Despite her lack of experience, she competed brilliantly at the world championships, where she won a gold medal with her team and placed fourth on the uneven bars finals. In 2015, Ashton seemed determined to prove that she is more than an one event specialist and she worked hard to return on floor exercise and to upgrade her bars and beam routines. She showed a gorgeous standing arabian on beam, an effortless triple twist on floor and a lovely inbar tkatcev on the uneven bars and everything looked like she was going to be a strong contender during the upcoming season. However, she needed to have shoulder surgery in March and she did not manage to come back in her old shape in time. She participated in the Secret Classic, but only as an exhibition. She wanted to show that she’s getting back in shape but she wasn’t quite ready to compete yet so her routines were not scored. She hit a very solid beam routine but only dismounted with a layout and her bars were as beautiful as ever but she had downgraded her routine and she needed her coach to spot her during her full in. She brought back her difficult dismounts on both events at the national championships, where she placed second on the uneven bars and made her second senior national team. She was invited to the worlds selection camp but she did not quite have the difficulty to become USA’s bars specialist over athletes like Kocian or Dowell. Now, Ashton has fully recovered from her injury and we all hope that she will manage to stay healthy for what could be the most important year of her career. If her health does not get in the way, she could definitely be an athlete to watch. I’m not sure if her country could afford taking an one event specialist in a five members team and I am not sure if Ashton can prove that she can contribute on more than one events. However, it’s hard not to admit that when she’s at her best, she really is one of the absolute best bars workers in the world. Her lines and toe point are gorgeous, her swing is as fluid as she gets and she’s capable of executing breathtaking combinations with extremely clean form so I am sure that Marta will keep an eye on her.

4. Nia Dennis, USA

Nia showed massive potential as a junior. She was incredibly powerful, she was flexible, she was clean, she could swing bars and she was strong on every event. Her double twisting yurchenko seemed effortless, her tumbling was fantastic, her releases on bars were sky high and she was capable of one of the best standing arabians the world has ever seen. The only problem was her inconsistency. Nia participated in a fair amount of competitions through the years, including the Jesolo Trophy and the Pacific Rim championships, but I’m struggling to remember her actually hitting 4/4 more than once. She could still win medals with a mistake as a junior, thanks to her fantastic difficulty but it was clear that this was not going to be a case once she turned senior, and she had to compete against the world’s best. She struggled with an injury that slowed down her progress at the beginning of her first senior year but most fans considered her a lock for the Pan-american Games, where she could have even won the All Around title. However, when the team was announced, her name was not on it, despite the fact that in the past she had shown more difficulty than plenty of the gymnasts who were selected. This decision shocked gymnastics fans and apparently, it also shocked Dennis, who decided to switch gyms right after. She had been at Buckey’s gymnastics for her entire elite career and Classics and nationals were just around the corner so the timing of this decision was definitely risky but at the end it worked out for her. She switched gyms because she wanted to improve her consistency and she certainly achieved that, since she did not have any falls during the Secret Classic and the two days of the national championships. She did not show enough difficulty to be competitive in such a deep field, but she got a spot on the national team and an invitation to the world’s selection camp, where she only competed on the uneven bars due to injuries. Nia was never a real contender for the team but it’s clear that Marta still sees potential in her and this is not a small thing. She has gained some confidence after a successful season, she has proven that she can hit her routine, she has hopefully recovered from her injuries and she has a good base to build on. Now, it’s time for her to go all out and start upgrading her routines on all four events. She showed huge progress between 2012 and 2013, and if she can improve as much now, she will definitely be one to watch.

5. Rachel Gowey, USA

Rachel Gowey has not been very lucky during this quad. She started getting some attention for showing 3.5 twists, lovely artistry, strong beam work and a clean bars routine at an elite qualifier in 2013, but she never made it to Classics and nationals that year due to injuries.  She recovered from that and she represented USA at the Jesolo Trophy, where she once again showed some great potential, placing fifth in the All Around. She was finally healthy, she was working on massive upgrades, like an amanar and a triple twist dismount and it looked like it would finally be the time for her to show us what she’s got. She finally participated in the 2014 US Secret Classic, placing 4th in the All Around despite a fall on vault, while also grabbing a bronze medal on balance beam and she showed that she should be considered for that worlds team. However, this is where the elite season stopped from her, since she injured her self during a beam dismount before the national championships started. After a couple of surgeries, Rachel returned to competition at the 2015 Pan-american Games. She was only able to compete on two events but she delivered two strong routines on them to help her team win a gold medal and she accomplished the biggest achievement of her career, when she became the Pan-american champion on the uneven bars. She made multiple mistakes on balance beam but besides that, she had a good competition at Toronto and everyone was excited to see her competing at nationals. Unfortunately, she was once again not able to compete in the All Around but she hit on bars and beam during both days of competition and she placed sixth on both events. After that, she was invited to the worlds selection camp but unsurprisingly, her beautiful bars and beam routines weren’t enough to get her a ticket to Glasgow. I am hoping that in 2016, Rachel will finally manage to stay healthy and live up to her full potential on all four events. She is an athlete who has shown amanars on vault, ricna + pak combinations on bars, front pikes and triple twists on balance beam and 3.5 twists on floor. She is clearly a very talented and balanced All Arounder, who could realistically be top 8, even in a country as strong as USA. I do not expect and I do not hope to see her throwing all of those crazy skills but I’d love to see her having world class start values on every event and achieving good results next year.

6. Kyla Ross, USA

For her entire career, Kyla has been like a machine. From a very young age, she could go out there, in front of a huge crowd and perform with incredible calmness and confidence. Her consistency and clean execution helped her beat gymnasts with higher difficulty than her over and over again, during her junior and her senior career. In 2012, Kyla, who had just turned senior, was expected to be a strong contender for the Olympic team and she did not disappoint. She performed beautifully at the national championships and the Olympic Trials and she earned a well deserved ticket for London. There, after some mistakes during qualifications, she delivered excellent routines on bars and beam to help team USA win their first team Olympic gold medal since 1996. After most of her Olympic teammates retired, the baby of the London team found herself becoming a leader during the next quad. Once again, she was able to beat athletes with higher start values thanks to her clean execution and her ability to stay on when others did not and she was extremely successful during 2013 and 2014, winning 5 world medals. During 2014, she revealed some highly anticipated upgrades and she was expected to be one of the top contenders for the worlds team once again. However, her performance surprised us in an unpleasant way. Kyla, who was renowned for her consistency started struggling to hit under pressure and she kept making mistakes. It didn’t matter when she fell on floor at the Jesolo Trophy. After all, this was just a minor competition at the beginning of the season and she did well on the other events. It didn’t really matter when she fell at the Secret Classic. Everyone has bad days and Kyla needed to get used to her new combination. This was okay as long as she proved herself at nationals. However, it really did matter when she had a disappointing performance, having multiple falls and mistakes at the national championships and it was clear that her worlds chances were not looking great. Despite her disappointing performance, Ross made the national team and was invited to the worlds selection camp but for the first time since she turned senior in 2012, she was not selected to represent her country at the biggest competition of the year. It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong for her in 2015. Maybe she was exhausted after competing non stop since she was a junior. Maybe the upgrades she was working on made her a bit too nervous, maybe she was struggling with mental blocks or maybe, she was just really really unlucky. The only thing we know for sure is that all her struggles belong in the past. A new year is starting and Ross will have a chance to prove herself all over again. It will definitely not be easy for her to do that, but she is an athlete who has been a rock for her team for the entire quad and this is something that can’t change after one bad season. Of course, her past achievements do not guarantee her a spot on the Olympic or even the national team. She will have to upgrade, she will have to show competitive start values and she will have to hit routine after routine in order to regain Marta’s trust. But if she does that, she will definitely be in the mix again. USA’s scores on beam have not been quite as high as they would have hoped to and Ross is an excellent beam worker while also being very strong on the uneven bars, so her team could definitely use her on those two events. She has proven us all wrong so many times. Nobody expected to challenge for individual medals at Antwerp, and yet, she won silver on the All Around, the uneven bars and the balance beam. Nobody expected her to ever qualify into a major floor finals but she managed to do that and nobody expected her to be a treat for the podium in 2014 but she earned an All Around bronze medal. Hopefully, she will be able to surprise us once again.

7. Bailie Key, USA

Bailie Key had a very successful junior career. She was a member of the junior national team for three years in the row, she got multiple international assignments, including the Pacific Rim championships, the Jesolo Trophy and the Junior Japan International and she was undefeated for the entire 2013. In 2014, she had to miss nationals due to an injury, but she came back just in time for her first senior year. She had her senior international debut at the Jesolo Trophy, where she placed second on the uneven bars and the All Around, beating Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman. After that, she won bronze medals on bars and floor at the Secret Classic and the national championships and she finished in the top 5 All Around during both competitions. After this incredible success, many people (myself included) considered her a lock for the worlds team but it looks like she didn’t really prove herself during the selection camp and she ended up being one of the non travelling alternates. This was certainly a disappointing result but it is obviously not the end of her career. I feel like the fans of the sport have been too harsh on Key during the entire year. For whatever reason, people expected her to burst into the scene and immediately take over the world by challenging Simone for worlds All Around medals and when this didn’t happen, they thought that she failed. However, you can’t blame an athlete for not living up to the extremely unrealistic expectations you set for her. Bailie was an amazing junior but she never had massive start values and this is probably a good thing. How many times did talented juniors burn out before they could have their chance to shine in the senior level because they’ve been competing too many skills they could not handle from a very young age? Bailie was peaked very well. She didn’t push herself too hard, she didn’t start throwing crazy skills she could barely land in order to maximize her start value and she did not take any unnecessary risks, which was exactly what she should do. She upgraded her bars routine significantly, she debuted a new tumbling pass on floor and she showed difficult and well executed routines through out the year. She had an excellent season and it really is a shame that she didn’t get a ticket to Glasgow but that does not mean that she’s not a strong contender for the Olympic team. In the past, Bailie has competed a standing arabian and she has trained a Downie, an amanar and a Dos Santos. She’s clearly capable of upgrading her routines and now, it’s time for her to do that. Of course, she’s not guaranteed to make it in such a deep field, but she is adds more difficulty and continues to show consistency she will definitely be in the mix.

8. Maegan Chant, Canada

Maegan Chant has been one of Canada’s most valuable athlete since she turned senior in 2013. She has been very successful at national competitions, winning multiple medals at the Elite Canada and the Canadian championships and she has done a great job internationally, earning medals in prestigious competitions like the Cottbus World cup and the pacific rim championships. She has been part of every major team for Canada during this quad, including the 2013 and the 2014 world championships, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Pan-american championships and the 2015 Pan-american Games and she has qualified into multiple vault finals. However, this year she was not selected to participate in the Glasgow world championships. Maybe the selection committee was not impressed by the scores she posted during the season, maybe they felt like they did not really need a vault and floor specialist or maybe, they just wanted to give some valuable experience to their first year seniors. The fact is, that when Canada achieved a historic 6th place finish at the team finals, Maegan had to watch from home. Now, with the Olympics less than a year away, she will have more competition than ever. Veterans are returning to the sport, talented juniors are turning seniors but I’m sure that she is determined to fight for that spot. Even though she always had great power, she has not upgraded her routines for a while now so maybe it’s time for her to start working with some new skills.

9. Alla Sosnitskaya, Russia

Alla was one of the biggest surprises of 2014. After an unspectacular junior career, she had an impressive performance at her first Russian championships as a senior, winning a gold medal on vault, a bronze on bars and silver on floor exercise and in the All Around. After those excellent results, she was selected to be a part of the European championships team, where she really was her country’s savior on vault and floor. In a time when Russia had to use Maria Kharenkova on vault and Daria Spiridonova on floor, Alla showed a double twisting yurchenko as well as some powerful tumbling to post solid scores on both events and qualifying into the event finals. After that, she became the vault champion at the Russian Cup and she was named to Russia’s worlds team. As if her quick progress was not surprising enough, we got a video of her landing a Cheng about three minutes before getting in the plane to Nanning. She ended up competing this vault and event though she did not really deliver during the team finals, she contributed to her team’s bronze medal, she placed 7th in the All Around, and she finished in a very impressive fourth place during the vault finals. After this break out year, Alla started 2015 with an All Around silver and a vault gold at the Russian championships and she was selected to represent her country at the European championships over Olympic medalist Maria Paseka. She was one of the strongest contenders for the vault podium at Montpelier but she injured her ankle before the competition even begun and she never got to compete. After trying to recover from this injury for the rest of the year, she returned to competition at the Russian Cup but she was a shadow of her former self. She could barely get a double twisting yurchenko around and she had one of the most terrifying floor routines I have ever seen, landing multiple tumbling passes right into her knees. She somehow ended up winning the gold medal on the uneven bars, just to confirm that the 2015 Russian Cup was one of the weirdest competitions to ever happen, but she clearly did not do enough to challenge for a ticket to Glasgow. This was really disappointing because if she was at her 2014 shape, Sosnitskaya could have definitely help her team on vault and floor. 2015 definitely was a disappointing year for her, but 2016 could be very different. With her upgraded bars set, her cheng and her old beam and floor routines, she could be quite a decent All Arounder and a 6+ vault is always a great advantage for any team. Russia will have a fairly deep field next year, when Melnikova, Kapitonova, Skrypnik and Sokova turn seniors, so it will be hard for Alla to make it. However, if there’s one thing she is good at, it’s to surprise people. Nobody expected her to ever be relevant enough to make a worlds team for Russia, nobody expected her to pull a Cheng out of nowhere and place fourth at worlds, nobody expected her to place in the top 8 at the world All Around finals and nobody expected her to ever be good at bars but she did all those things anyway, so who knows what other surprises she has in store for us.

10. Huang Huidan, China

Huang Huidan’s unique and difficult routines on bars and beam made her stand out from a very young age. She was capable of inbar stalders, shaposhnikova variations and standing arabians, in a team where none of those skills were very common at the time. Her routines were more Russian than they were Chinese and this was enough to set her apart from her teammates. However, despite her excellent level of difficulty on bars and beam, Huang was not polished or consistent enough to be considered for the London team. It turned out that she just needed a bit more time to get comfortable with her routines, and once she did that, she was unstoppable. She became the 2013 worlds uneven bars champion, winning China’s only medal of those championships, she was a rock for her team during the 2014 worlds team finals, leading them to a silver medal and she earned a silver medal on her favorite event. Τhe messy and inconsistent gymnast of 2012, was now the only athlete to actually hit her bars routine during the 2014 team finals, while also delivering a stunning beam set and this was enough to make us realize how far she had come. With 2014 world champion Yao Jinnan out of the competition, Huang was expected to dominate on the uneven bars at national and international competitions but this never happened. Unfortunately, it seems like Huang has been struggling with some nagging injuries that prevented her from competing at the best of her abilities this year. She lost the national uneven bars title to first year senior Fan Yilin and even though she was part of China’s worlds training squad, she was not selected to go to Glasgow. Of course, not going to Glasgow does not mean that she will also not go to Rio. Huidan has so much to offer to the team. When she’s at top shape, she is one of the absolute best uneven bars worker in the world and she’s capable of posting huge scores on this event. She has also grown into a consistent beam worker, who can be trusted in the team finals and she brings her experience and leadership into the team. It’s needless to say that when you are a bars and beam specialist in China, you’re going to have some intense competition, since the country always has tons of world class gymnasts on those events but Huang should not be counted out. Ideally, she will stay healthy and motivated, she will upgrade her routines on bars and beam and she will show confidence and consistency during 2016. She is such a gorgeous gymnast and I would be devastated if she never got to show her elegance and her difficulty at the Olympic stage.

11. Rebecca Tunney, Great Britain

Rebecca was the youngest member of Great Britain’s Olympic team and she saw all of her dreams coming true when she got the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in her own country. She did an excellent job there, contributing strong scores for her team and finishing 13th in the All Around finals while also scoring in the 15s on the uneven bars. And the best thing, this was only the beginning of her career! She was so young and so talented, in a team where most athletes stick around for more than one quad and she had plenty of time to improve. In 2013, she participated in the world championships, where she finished 19th in the All Around. In 2014, she debuted a spectacular church + bhardwaj combination that had never been performed by a woman before and after becoming the British All Around and uneven bars champion, she was named to GB’s European championships team. Then, she wrote history with her team by qualifying first into the team finals, beating Romania and Russia. During the finals, she delivered a double twisting yurchenko and a beautiful bars routine, helping her team win a well deserved silver medal. She also qualified into the uneven bars finals, where she placed fourth. Unfortunately, Rebecca never made it to worlds that year due to injuries. She kept struggling during 2015 and she did not manage to return to competition at the 2015 European Games as it was originally announced. She came back at the British team championships and she competed at the Osijek world cup and the friendly meet against the Netherlands but she was clearly not ready to compete against her country’s best. She did not have her bars routine or her double twisting yurchenko back and it was obvious that she just wanted to get back into the swing of things and show what she’s been working on without expecting to actually make it to worlds. The truth is that Great Britain is stronger than ever, and that the team already has a few double twisting yurchenkos and strong bars routines to choose from, so Tunney is not as needed on those events as she was in 2012. However, if she manages to regain her old difficulty on every event she will definitely be considered.

gif credit: jordynslefteyebrow

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4 thoughts on “11 gymnasts you should not count out

  1. I think both Kyla and Bailie have a great shot at Rio. I’m rooting for both of them, especially Kyla!
    Do you think Seda has counted herself out of the 2016 picture with her inconsistency in Glasgow?

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    1. Definitely agree about Kyla and Bailie.
      For Seda, I don’t even think Glasgow took her out of contention. She’s just so inconsistent in general, and I don’t think she’d even make it to worlds if Aliya and Alla were healthy/in contention. I love her but she has hit 5 routines during her career on the only event where she’s actually great. Her floor and her bars do not really stand out and her DTY is good, but Russia will have a few DTYs next year anyway, so I think that she’ll also need quite a few upgrades, as well as consistency in order to be considered next year. But I’m hoping she’ll stick around and live up to her potential during the next quad, kind of like Maria Paseka.

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