With the Olympic Test Event now serving as an additional Olympic qualifying competition for the first time ever, this year’s competition carries a whole new level of significance. In fact, one could easily consider this year’s Olympic Test Event to be like a “mini world championships.” There will be numerous teams vying for the last four Olympic team spots and numerous individuals vying for chances at Olympic medals in their specialties. But it’s not only the countries still seeking Olympic berths that can benefit from this year’s uniquely designed competition. Several gymnasts from countries already qualified to the Games are being sent by their delegations to this “Olympic dress-rehearsal” of sorts to gain experience, establish reputations, and perhaps prove themselves in an international arena less than seven months before the Games begin in London.
The Russian women’s delegation has summoned two “Anastasias” to this competition for these very reasons. First-year senior Olympic hopefuls Anastasia Grishina and Anastasia Sidorova are both expected to challenge for spots on this summer’s Russian Olympic team, but both will do so without any world championship experience because they just became eligible for senior competition on January 1st. The solution? Throw them into January’s Olympic Test Event in the very city in which the Olympic Games will be held, on a podium, alongside numerous Olympic-caliber gymnasts fighting for Olympic berths, and in front of international judges – and see how they handle it. Worse case scenario: they flounder a bit but gain tremendous experience. Best case scenario: they win medals at the competition and boost their reputations and confidence prior to the Olympic season.
The 2004 Olympic Test Event was a HUGE reason why American Courtney McCool made the Olympic team that year. Though her experience in Athens ended up being a bit abbreviated due to a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the Olympic qualifications, many would say she wouldn’t have even been given that opportunity had her confidence – and Marta Karolyi’s confidence in her – not been bolstered by her solid performance at the Olympic Test Event.
The 2007 Olympic Test Event served as a similar launching pad for both Bridget Sloan and Chellsie Memmel, both of whom performed solidly and won medals in that competition. Sloan, who had never actually competed in a world championships prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, used the Test Event to prove herself and gain experience on a large international stage. And the much more experienced Memmel used the competition as a very important stepping stone towards her 2008 comeback after being plagued by injuries for two years. As we all know, both Sloan and Memmel were named to the 2008 Olympic team later that summer.
This is why I was quite surprised to see Marta not take advantage of this huge opportunity for gymnasts like Kyla Ross and Sarah Finnegan. Ross in particular is fully capable of representing the USA in London this summer and will no doubt be right in the Olympic mix. There’s no question, though, that her lack of experience and the risk that comes with throwing a first year senior into the Olympic Games will become a part of the discussion. Having an experience like the Olympic Test Event under her belt would have scored huge points in her corner…particularly if she did well. Although Sarah Finnegan will likely be more of a long shot for London than Kyla Ross, she still would have been a very appropriate selection given her polish, her success at the junior level, and her well-rounded abilities. She would have likely been viewed similarly to the way Courtney McCool was viewed by the international judges at the same competition prior to 2004.
Marta made a similar decision not to send Jordyn Wieber – or any American gymnast for that matter – to the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, which were dominated by rising Russian star and now world all-around silver medalist Viktoria Komova. But we could at least blame that one on a scheduling issue, as that competition did interfere with the Visa U.S. Championships.
What’s the reason for ignoring this tremendous opportunity for some of America’s talented but unseasoned Olympic hopefuls?
Here’s a look at what this competition could have looked like:
Anastasia Grishina Bars 2011 Jesolo
Anastasia Sidorova Beam 2011 Jesolo
Kyla Ross Beam 2011 Visa Championships
Sarah Finnegan Floor 2011 Visa Championships