As Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova’s wonderful, history-making first major competition came to an end with respectable finishes in sixth and seventh in the floor exercise final for Team GB, along with their joy was a resolve to be even better next time.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t really up there. I did the best that I could with my execution, because I know my difficulty’s not up there,” said Jessica. “Can’t wait to get back into the gym, work on my difficulty, get some bigger skills and come back stronger.”
One of the most consistent sights in the Games, Jessica stamped down yet another world-class floor routine filled with floaty tumbling and immense artistry – it was awarded the biggest execution score of the final.
The difference between her and the rest was as she described it: she had the second-lowest difficulty score coming into the floor final so although she scored a lofty 14.000 she finished 1.6 points from the medals. The lowest difficulty going into the final was from her sister, Jennifer, a late substitute for Simone Biles, who scored 13.233.
Although a weakness against the best floor in the world, that lower difficulty may be one of the Gadirova twins’ biggest assets at 16. They have enormous potential, but their coaches have clearly paced them well rather than rushing their development. Their foundations – technique, form and artistry – are incredibly strong and they have ample time to slowly grow into medal contention across the all-around, floor, vault and/or beam competitions.
After they return home, celebrate their team bronze medal and enjoy a well-deserved break, both say that upgrading their routines is the next step. Jessica provided an example of their ambition by trying to transform her brilliant double-twisting double tuck into a layout, which is the second-most difficult element in the floor exercise: “It does look like I’m already doing it in a straight,” she said, shrugging. “We’ll just play with the skills in the gym and see what I can do.”
Although they could play an even more significant role in the future, the present belongs to Jade Carey of the United States. In Sunday’s vault competition, Carey tripped during the run-up for her opening vault and was forced to abort it, a scary moment that instantly ruled her out of the competition. Carey is an individual athlete in Tokyo, meaning she did not gain a medal when the US team won silver, but she returned to claim gold in her last final with a score of 14.366.
The 21-year-old lacks expression and artistry on the floor but she makes up for it with stratospheric tumbling. Her laid out double-twisting double back somersault, the skill Gadirova hopes to master, is one of the best that has been performed. Most who attempt it have to eke it around with bent knees and closed hips, but Carey’s is completely straight and executed with relative ease.
Her redemption was one of many in the floor final. In her fourth Olympic games, the 2006 world all around champion, Vanessa Ferrari, of Italy, finally won her first Olympic medal at the age of 30 with 14.200 and silver. The bronze medal was shared by Japan’s Mai Murakami and Angelina Melnikova of the Russian Olympic Committee.
In the men’s competitions, South Korea’s Shin Jea-hwan won the vault gold medal and Liu Yang of China won the rings competition, but this was as much an afternoon for Samir Aït Saïd of France whose Olympic nightmare finally ended. He was unable to participate in London 2012 after fracturing his right tibia in three places and when he made it to Rio four years later, he suffered a horrific accident while vaulting that resulted in a compound fracture of a tibia and fibula. Those who were unfortunate enough to see the state of his leg after the vault are unlikely to ever forget it.
One of the most heartening sights of the opening ceremony was Saïd, one of France’s flagbearers, briefly handing over the flag in order to execute a back somersault as he entered the Olympic stadium. He qualified for the rings final and finished in fourth, beaten by three titans on the apparatus.
What he did achieve, however, was the unfamiliar sensation of walking out of the Olympics on his own two feet having produced the best that he could on the day. He said he is already looking to Paris in 2024 when he would be 34. Not all victories are reflected in the medal count.