Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Olympic Vault Final Outlook

Above: Defending three-time world vault champion Cheng Fei of China is expected to win olympic vault gold, but expect her to face stiff competition en route to the potential prize

Kicking off the event finals for women's artistic gymnastics in Beijing will be the vault final. Though there aren't many girls out there who do compete two different vaults, required for an apparatus vault final in any competition, the ones that do are impressive. The vault final will host eight competitors from around the globe, and people can happily say goodbye to the days where gymnasts could have clean, safe vaults or a weak 2nd vault and still medal or win. Now, gymnasts are trying to have the magic number of 6.5 recorded as the start value for BOTH vaults, thus giving the gymnast a huge opportunity for a win. Expect more difficulty than ever, with Amanar and Cheng vaults destined to take center stage in Beijing. Whoever can handle great difficulty and do it successfully will stand on the top spot of the podium in Beijing.

Predicted Vault Finalists

Jade Barbosa (Brazil)
Oksana Chusovitina (Germany)
Cheng Fei (China)
Carlotta Giovannini (Italy)
Anna Pavlova (Russia)
Alicia Sacramone (USA)
Hong Su Jong (PRK)
Hong Un Jong (PRK)


Francesca Benolli (Italy)
Daria Joura (Australia)
Marissa King (GBR)

The Contenders
Jade Barbosa (Brazil)

Results: 2008 Cottbus Cup-2nd place, 2007 Worlds-5th place, 2007 Pan American Games Vault Champion

Pros: Jade competed four clean Amanar vaults at the 2007 Worlds and a youtube video showed her successfully completing a Cheng vault as well, though with a big step. Jade has good form, good height, and good distance on all of her vaults and could be a big challenger in the vault final with two 6.5 A-scores.

Cons: Jade hasn't done the Cheng in a major event and her layout Podkopayeva vault alternative is worth only a 5.6. Competing four routines each in prelims, team finals, and AA finals weakened Jade's competitive fire by event finals at the 2007 Worlds, missing medals in both vault and beam. She tends to step out of bounds while vaulting her Amanar and doesn't have the international name recognition on this event because of the fact that she has yet to win a world vault medal.

Outlook: Jade looked weak on vault at the Cottbus Cup, but if Jade's ability to peak at the right time holds true in 2008, I expect her to unveil both an Amanar and a Cheng. Whether she can keep up her condition by the end of the competition and block out her nerves will make the difference, but a great set of vaults can vault Jade to gold.

Oksana Chusovitina (Germany)

Results: 2008 European Vault Champion, 2008 Doha and Cottbus World Cup Champion, 2007 Worlds-6th place, 2006 Worlds-3rd place, 2005 Worlds-2nd place

Pros: Oksana Chusovitina has all the experience one could ask for, now 32 years old (and will be 33 in Beijing). She has won three gold medals on the vault this year alone and is consistently competing a handspring Rudi (6.3 A-score) this year and is even rumored to be training a Tsuk Double (she currently competes a Tsuk 1.5). Oksana won vault at Europeans even while falling on her 2nd vault ahead of several competitors who didn't suffer a fall. She also has strong political favor due to her long competitive career and what she has done for the sport.

Cons: Oksana has relatively weak form on her vaults, and failed to even make vault finals at the '04 Olympics when coming in as the reigning world champion. A Tsuk Double upgrade looks to be unlikely due to her fall on a Tsuk 1.5 at Europeans. She lags behind others on her A-scores, not even having one vault to show for at a 6.5 start value.

Outlook: Oksana has looked good so far this year and should be in a tight battle for bronze in Beijing. Gold and silver look to be out of her reach due to the 6.5 start values on both vaults for Cheng, Su Jong, and possibly Barbosa. Oksana may need to rely on a mistake of another competitor to get a medal, but expect her to be right there if another gymnast falters.
Cheng Fei (China)

Results: 2005/2006/2007 World Vault Champion, 2007 Olympic Test Event Champion, Undefeated on vault during the entire quadrennium

Pros: Vault is Cheng Fei's event to lose. She is armed with an Amanar and a Cheng, the vault that bears her name. She has competed both 6.5 A-score vaults in pressure-packed situations and has already landed the Cheng this year. Cheng mixes incredible height and power with excellent lines, thus making for huge scores on this event. She has posted the highest international vault score, 16.0, twice.
Cons: Cheng Fei will undoubtedly feel intense pressure in winning her specialty event at home. She fell on her Amanar at the 2007 Worlds team finals and barely landed her Cheng during prelims. Judges can get political if they choose to, like when they downgraded her vault during the 2006 Worlds team final. She has yet to compete her Amanar this year, which could cause consistency issues come Olympics.

Outlook: Cheng Fei will be tough to beat for vault gold. Even if Su Jong and Barbosa come armed with two 6.5 A-score vaults, they lack the polish and experience of Cheng Fei and if all three hit Cheng should be sure to win. Judges favor Cheng for the most part, and politics that occured at the '06 Worlds was probably toward the team and not specifically her. Cheng's focus is getting her two difficult vaults to her feet cleanly, and if that happens she is sure to be the gold medalist.
Carlotta Giovannini (Italy)

Results: 2008 Europeans-2nd place, 2007 European Vault Champion, 2007 Paris World Cup Champion

Pros: Giovannini competes strong, consistent vaults with lots of height and distance. Her second vault is a unique RO 1/2- on front tuck- full off, and this different kind of vault should get solid execution marks from the judges. She also has good political favor with Italian Bruno Grandi being the head of the FIG.

Cons: Giovannini's two vaults are worth only a 5.8 and a 5.5, respectively. A lack of two big-risk vaults, let alone one, make it unlikely for Giovannini to be on the medals stand. Her form is also somewhat loose in the air as well.

Outlook: Making vault finals will be a great accomplishment for Giovannini and should hope to do herself and her country proud, even if a medal is unlikely to be placed around her neck.
Anna Pavlova (Russia)

Results: 2008 Europeans-6th place, 2006 Worlds-5th place, 2005 Worlds-5th place, 2004 Olympics-3rd place

Pros: Anna Pavlova successfully landed an Amanar vault at the Russian championships back in February. This puts her right on par with Sacramone, Barbosa, and Chusovitina in terms of A-scores (assuming they all don't upgrade). She is known for clean lines and steady landings which make for good execution marks.

Cons: It is very likely that at least one of the gymnasts mentioned earlier will upgrade come August, and Anna won't have a strong 2nd vault (laidout Podkopayeva-5.6 A-score) to keep up with the top contenders. Anna lacks some of the raw power that the other top vaulters and was penalized severly for underotating, and falling, on her Amanar vault during the Europeans event finals.

Outlook: Pavlova's Amanar will be neccessary for being competitive in a vault final and we should expect her to keep it, even though she splatted it at Europeans. Anna is unlikely to medal on vault, however, because of her lacking of consistency with the Amanar, absence of power, and lacking of international recognition as a top-rate vaulter. Pavlova will need mistakes from other competitors to medal, but with her added experience it could happen.
Alicia Sacramone (USA)

Results: 2007 Worlds-3rd place, 2006 Worlds-2nd place, 2005 Worlds-3rd place, 2005/2006/2007 USA Vault Champion

Pros: Assets that Alicia has on vault are excellent form, tremendous height, and centered landings (i.e. she usually doesn't go out of bounds) NBC Olympics hinted in the Fei vs. Sacramone article that Alicia was indeed training an Amanar, which would only put her .2 behind the top vaulters in terms of A-scores. Alicia has delivered solid vault efforts at the last three worlds and one shouldn't expect things to be different in Beijing with even more experience.
Cons: Alicia may not plan to do an Amanar at the Olympics apparently do to consistency issues with front-landing vaults. If she doesn't, others will look to capitalize on their A-score advantage and Alicia could end up off the podium. Alicia has had several instances where the judges have low-balled her, including at the 2005 Worlds where Alicia competed two superior vaults to Chusovitina but still finished behind her with the bronze.
Outlook: Alicia tends to not do skills that put risk over solidity, thus weakening her potential Amanar upgrade. However, Olympic vault finals are the only event she will likely need it and with a possibility of not medaling without it, she should want to risk it. With an Amanar, Alicia can get silver and if Cheng has an error there is also a possibility of gold. Without it, it is either bronze or no medal at all.
Hong Su Jong (PRK)

Results: 2007 Olympic Test Event-2nd place, 2007 Worlds-2nd place, 2006 Worlds-7th place

Pros: Hong Su Jong has competed both the Amanar and Cheng successfully in a major international competition. On call, Su Jong has very steady landings, going as far as to almost stick her Cheng vault at the 2007 Worlds event finals. Su Jong's competitive nature changed dramatically at Worlds between 2006 where she missed both vaults in finals and in 2007 where she nearly won.

Cons: Su Jong has relatively sloppy form and regressed terribly at the 2007 Olympic Test Event, winning the silver medal in a weak field. She has yet to compete this year and lacks favortism from the judges because of the political dismay of her country. Su Jong also lacks some of the height that Cheng and Sacramone are known to get.

Outlook: Hong Su Jong should be at top form in Beijing barring injury. The PRK coaches know that Su Jong is their strongest, and perhaps only gold medal threat in any gymnastics event and thus should get her to compete at top form due to the immense pressure from the communist state. Su Jong is unlikely to win gold due to lack of political favor, but winning silver or bronze is something very possible for her.

Hong Un Jong (PRK)

Results: 2008 Maribor World Cup Vault Champion, 2007 Worlds-4th place

Pros: Su Jong's supposed twin sister, (though with PRK you never really know) Hong Un Jong has competed a DTY and a Cheng and just missed the podium at last year's worlds. If Hong Un Jong gets an Amanar by Beijing, she could be in contention for the gold too. Un Jong is also a very confident gymnast out on the floor who generally hits when pressure is on.

Cons: Read my Slovenian World Cup analysis post for why I don't think Un Jong will be getting an Amanar, and how it is skeptical that we will even see the Cheng again. Without an Amanar, Un Jong is only .2 ahead of Sacramone (w/o upgrade) and A-Sac can easily make up those tenths with form, as can Chusovitina or Barbosa. Un Jong's weak form and VERY piked body position on her Cheng provide the judges a perfect opportunity to get political and keep her off the podium.

Outlook: Un Jong can contend for a medal, but it looks like she will need both an Amanar and a Cheng to do so, or mistakes from other competitors. Un Jong's confidence look to make her perform well in vault finals, but that might not be enough for a podium finish.

The Reserve Athletes

Francesca Benolli (Italy)- Competes a 5.8 and a 5.2 start value vaults, has good power but will be lucky to make vault finals.

Marissa King (GBR) Has competed a 5.7 and a 5.4 start values, clean landings and a rough performance from another top vaulter could get King into vault finals.

Daria Joura (Australia) Don't know if she plans to compete two different vaults or not. Her 2nd vault is weak, only worth a 5.0. But with a possible Amanar and the fact that Daria is unlikely to medal on any individual event (except maybe the AA) could make Daria want to experience competing in another event final.

Predicted Medal Podium

Gold: Cheng Fei (China)

Silver: Hong Su Jong (PRK)

Bronze: Alicia Sacramone (USA)

With an Amanar Sacramone could steal silver, but as of now details of an upgrade are sketchy at best. Barbosa probably won't have the best showing because of all the routines she will have competed in prelims, team finals, and AA finals. Chusovitina could steal the bronze if Sacramone makes a sizable mistake, but since Sacramone has .1 A-score advantage (assuming neither upgrades) and superior form I would give the medal to her over Chusovitina. I find it hard to believe Un Jong will medal, as I have said I don't expect to see a clean Amanar and /or Cheng come Beijing. Cheng Fei has all the ingredients to win gold, and I expect her to hit cleanly just like she has at the last three worlds to win the gold. Though this is the same podium prediction as the actual podium of the 2007 Worlds, for me it seems the most realistic.

Next Post: Updates from Karolyi competition and Tianjin World Cup

That is all.


Giulyx14 said...

Carlotta Giovannini is training the Amanar and the second vault with a half twist more...

MRR said...

Really? Do you have a source? This actually seems probable because of the great height and distance she gets on her vaults. Thanks for the info.

Giulyx14 said...

No problem :) Yes,I'm sure!I'm italian and I know(it's right?) Carlotta.
We're going to see the new vaults by the end of May!