LONDON — It’s a little early to begin making predictions about the 2016 Olympic Games, but a good number of London’s standouts are inidicating that they want to be there.
(Note that a gymnast saying they want to do another Olympics and actually putting in another four years of training and injury-dodging are not at all the same thing.) But at this stage, here’s who may be retiring — and who looks like they’ll continue competing:
The Fierce Five: The gold-medal winning U.S. women’s team is for the most part keeping their options open, saying that they’re looking forward to the 40 city Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, which begins in San Jose on Sept. 8. Jordyn Wieber summed up the general feeling fairly succinctly in a recent Gymnastike interview, saying she’d love to continue but doesn’t know what the future holds.
Their ultimate goals achieved, the Fierce Five do have a wealth of opportunities ahead of them, but all seem to be interested in continuing to train for future World Championships if not the 2016 party. Fifteen-year-old Kyla Ross, the baby of the group, seems most serious about getting back into the gym, given that she has not turned professional (meaning she could still do NCAA gymnastics) and has declined to do the full tour.
Olympic all-around champion Gabrielle Douglas has said in different interviews that she will assume training for Rio after a break to visit her family in Virginia and that she too will wait to see how things go.
Aly Rasiman, USA: The 2012 Olympic floor champion said before and after the Games that she’s up for another four years. When asked about continuing right after her gold medal performance on floor, Raisman responded: “Yes, definitely, especially with how today went. It’s a huge confidence booster and I’m excited to go back to the gym and keep working.”
Kohei Uchimura, Japan: The Olympic all-around gold medalist was asked about “his future goals” in a post-meet press conference. His somewhat delphic response: “Well, the biggest game for me is this one, and I got the gold. Rio is one of those visions I have in mind, and I’m not sure how far I can go, but I want to challenge myself to the limit.”
Catalina Ponor, Romania: The grande dame of Romanian gymnastics won silver on floor with a dazzling performance to “Fever” (double layout, two whips to full in double pike to standing pike, triple full and double pike) but nevertheless seemed highly dissatisfied with her Olympic Games, where she faltered on balance beam, usually a strength, and finished fourth after losing a tiebreaker with Raisman.
Ponor, who did not show up at a post-meet press conference for Olympic medalists, announced her retirement in the Romanian media shortly after the competition ended, saying she was leaving gymnastics with her head held high. Though it was perhaps not the golden end she had hoped for, Ponor exits gymnastics with some of the best results of the last 20 years — three Olympic golds, a silver and a bronze — and the knowledge that she has proved that you can be as great in your mid-20s in gymnastics as you were in your mid-teens.
Jonathan Horton, USA: “I have a dream,” the two-time U.S. champion said following men’s team finals, where the Americans finished a disappointing fifth. “My dream is to stand up on that podium and hear my national anthem play. And I don’t want to be alone up there, either — I want four or five of my teammates up there with me. So I’m going to continue to train.” Next question.
Aliya Mustafina, Russia: Bring on Rio, says gymnastics’s most decorated athlete at the London Olympics. “I’m certainly not stopping now,” the 2010 World champion said after winning her fourth medal of the London Games — a bronze on floor — in event finals. “I’ll continue training. I’ll start training for the next Olympics right away.” We can’t wait.
Louis Smith, Great Britain: Britain’s national pommel horse treasure was moved to tears by his hit routine in preliminaries in one of the most touching reactions of the Games. Even though I suspect that Smith was a tad disappointed to lose pommel horse gold to Krisztian Berki of Hungary (especially since they had the same score — and Berki’s execution score was cleaner, so he got gold, leaving Smith with silver) Smith covered it up with the media, saying how pleased he was to have improved on his bronze medal from 2008. As for 2016, Smith says he’ll keep training as long as he’s useful to the British men, but half-joked that youngsters like 19-year-old Max Whitlock, who won bronze on the same event, may soon put him out to pasture.
Ksenia Afanasyeva, Russia: At least one person is in favor of this exquisite Russian continuing gymnastics: Russian head coach Alexander Alexandrov recently said he “would not be surprised” to see 20-year-old Afanasyeva as an event specialist during the 2013-2016 quadrennium. We concur — those spectacular floor routines of hers are just good for the sport.
Viktoria Komova, Russia: Following her all-around disappointment in London (and in my book Komova doesn’t even win the gold medal for disappointment in gymnastics — she’s second yet again, behind Sui Lu), Komova has said that she doesn’t know whether she’ll continue in gymnastics. If you think that seems petulant, Alexandrov’s take was to say, “she is still a child, and says so with resentment.” In other words, even Komova doesn’t know if she’s serious when she talks about quitting the sport. Time will tell…
Epke Zonderland, Netherlands: Four years after being fourth on high bar in Beijing, the man with the best hair in gymnastics finally got what was coming to him in event finals at the 2012 Olympics, winning the gold medal on his best event with a breathtaking performance (Cassina to immediate Kocacs to immediate Kolman) capped with stuck double-twisting double layout dismount. It was an incredibly rewarding moment for a very well deserving gymnast.
Before the Olympics, med student Zonderland indicated to new Dutch men’s head coach Mitch Fenner that he was interested in continuing into the next quadrennium, though possibly not through to the 2016 Rio Games. Although he did all-around at the London Test Event to qualify to the 2012 Olympics, Zonderland is essentially a three event gymnast, competing well on high bar and parallel bars and when his team needs him on pommel horse.
Beth Tweddle, Great Britain: Twenty seven-year-old Tweddle, who kept going as a specialist after the 2008 Olympics for the chance to perform at Britain’s Games, closed out her career with a bronze medal on bars. Tweddle has said she’ll retire following the Olympics, and she did not change her tune after the medal ceremony. “Before these Games, I just said any medal, any color would make me happy, and I’ll stick to that,” she told the press.
Fabian Hambuechen, Germany: The silver medalist on high bar just finished his third Olympics (check out tiny bespectacled Fabian in event finals on high bar at his first Games in 2004 here; he even does a little Alexei Nemov impression on a half pirouette!) and will be moving in with his girlfriend and continuing his studies, which he put on hold to train for the Olympics. Whether he will train for 2016 is a question he will address later, it appears.
Arthur Zanetti, Brazil: The gold medalist on rings inspired the nation that will host the 2016 Olympics by winning its first ever Olympic gold in gymnastics, upsetting powerhouse China in the process. With that one golden routine, Zanetti has become the symbol of Brazilian gymnastics success. With Rio looming, would he really stop now?
China’s champions: Though not the overly dominating performance their teams had in Beijing four years ago, Chinese gymnasts still won eight medals in London: gold for the men’s team and individual golds from Feng Zhe on parallel bars, Zou Kai on floor and Deng Linlin on balance beam, silvers from Sui Lu on beam, He Kexin on bars and Chen Yibing on rings and a bronze from Zou on high bar.
With five gold medals, 24-year-old Zou is now China’s most successful Olympic athlete in history. He’ll probably be tempted to continue adding to his stash and increasing his glory during the next four years. Ditto Feng, who is also just 24 and so talented, especially on parallel bars.
Although still arguably the best in the world on rings (this event’s results was the biggest shock of event finals and the most hotly debated), Chen will be 28 before the year is over and may not continue. But if he wants to, he’ll follow in the footsteps of rings lords Matteo Morandi, Yuri van Gelder, Yuri Chechi and above all Jordan Jovtchev, all of whom have proven that mastery of this event does not end in your mid-20s.
As for the women, it may be the end of the road for Sui, who narrowly missed out on being selected for the 2008 Olympic team. Deng, who gimped around the London training gym in a back brace, and Sui, who out of a generally dissatisfied crop of female Olympic gymnastics silver medalists seemed the most heartbroken, both merit a well-deserved break and reflection on whether they would like to continue.
Note that with two Olympic gold medals, Deng Linlin is now one of China’s most successful female Olympic gymnast to date, just behind He, who has two golds and a silver.