Beautiful bronze for British debutants: an insiders perspective!
I was one of the fortunate few. I can say “I was there!”
With the postponed Olympic Games under a cloud of uncertainty as the global pandemic raged through 2021, it became clear that the only possible way for Tokyo 2020 to progress – in 2021 – was with no family, friends or fans in the immaculately prepared venues.
When I received the call to announce for the Artistic Gymnastics, although apprehensive about the nature of the role given the circumstances, I was both proud and privileged to take a front row seat in the Ariake Gymnastics Centre. From behind my mask, even for commentating, little did I know that history was going to be made for Great Britain in the Women’s Team Event.
Sixth place qualification for the GB quartet
Despite the empty seats, media Interest was high, particularly given the unexpected withdrawal of the sensational Simone Biles following the qualification competition due to an episode of the ‘twisties’ on vault. USA had dominated World team events over the last decade, but the ROC were stepping into the final as leaders, so the intensity of the two global super powers going head to head was palpable.
The Great Britain quartet of Alice Kinsella, Amelie Morgan, Jessica Gadirova and Jennifer Gadirova had qualified in a very creditable 6th place, amongst some fierce competitors. This was even more impressive given they were all Olympic debutants, with only Alice having senior World Championship experience. They had nothing to lose.
They were paired with Belgium in terms of the start list, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nina Derwael who would go on to win the Uneven Bars title. With the brutal 3 up 3 to count format, they began their campaign on beam, but unfortunately had a shaky start with a fall from Morgan. It was going to be a tough ask to improve on qualification, but they were soon to put their first apparatus behind them.
L-R Jessica Gadirova, Amelie Morgan, Alice Kinsella and Jennifer Gadirova in their Team GB outfits on arriving in Tokyo
Photo Michelle Guiseris
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Team GB were 7th place after the first rotation
As the announcer, I was focused on floor introductions and scores, where Italy and the host nation Japan were performing, having qualified in 7th and 8th. Both began in style with Japan relying on the unique charisma of their 2017 world floor champion Mai Murakami (who later went on to secure a bronze medal in the floor final). Italy had taken a surprising bronze at the previous 2019 World Championships and although had not performed as well in qualifications, were always going to be on the radar as potential medallists. With the top score on floor from qualification and competing at her 4th Olympics, Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari, was breath-taking in both her tumbling and artistry to score 14.1. (The 30-year-old went on to clinch a well-deserved silver medal in the apparatus finals).
Meanwhile, People’s Republic of China and France, who qualified in 3rd and 4th place had started on uneven bars. Although I had not been as aware of these performances, being on the far right of the arena from my seat, it was clear that scores were lower than in qualifications. This was especially in the case of Lu Yufei who, I had witnessed, come off. Things hadn’t quite gone to plan!
As tradition dictates, ROC and USA were dealt the Olympic rotational order, starting on vault producing powerful and well executed performances. At the end of the first rotation, it appeared as though it was going to be battle between these two nations for gold, and the tussle for bronze was on – with France marginally ahead of People’s Republic of China followed by Italy and Japan. Great Britain were in seventh.
Without Biles, this was going to be close
Rotation two, and beautiful bar routines from ROC, and Angelina Melnikova in particular, helped them to extend their lead. USA’s Sunisa Lee was also exceptional, but without Biles, it was clear that this was going to be a very closely fought contest for the title.
I was thrilled to be announcing floor where Alice Kinsella began for Great Britain. Rising to the challenge she lifted her game from qualification and put in a poised, polished performance to score 12.766. Although young, the Gadirova twins who are already renowned for their charismatic choreography and dynamic tumbling, followed Alice. Both Jennifer and Jessica, the reigning Senior European floor champion, were both simply stunning scoring 13.7 and 13.833 respectively. The talented twins are a media gift, and I sensed the eyes of the world on them as they entertained on this apparatus. At the end of floor, the British girls had accrued a total of 79.199, keeping them in contention, if not yet on everyone’s radar!
However, the Gadirovas were not the only twins in action. Asia and Alice D’amato were also dazzling for Italy on Vault and along with Vanessa Ferrari lifted their total into bronze medal position ahead of PR China, despite a beautiful performance from them on beam. Meanwhile France were encountering problems on beam and with a total of only 38.465 on this apparatus, dropped to 6th just ahead of GB.
Team GB jubilant with their beautiful bronze team medals
L-R Jennifer Gadirova, Jessica Gadirova both coached by Joshua & Molly Richardson at Aylesbury Gymnastics Academy, Amelie Morgan coached by Liz Kincaid at The Academy, Alice Kinsella coached by Brett Ince and Christine Still Park Wrekin
The medal at Tokyo 2020 was the first British Olympic team medal for GB women since 1928 in Amsterdam when the GB women took the bronze medal. The gymnasts were unable to wait for their medals, as they could not afford to stay an extra day, so their medals were presented at a later date.
Photo – BG Archive
The GB girls were about to make things interesting
And this is where things started to get interesting. The British girls moved to vault and with three very well executed double twisting Yurchenkos, they were firmly back on track and could be confident that they were doing well moving to their final apparatus. As vault finished quite quickly, and with GB interests at heart, I recognised that they could possibly be in contention, but I was not so sure that the rest of the arena had noticed.
With my focus on floor, I was aware that both Peoples Republic of China and France had not performed well, leaving a gap for Italy (who had swung well on bars), Japan and, with an outside chance, GB to exploit. However, the arena’s attention was on beam where ROC, having had a comfortable lead over the Biles free USA team, had suffered two falls. The gap for first and second had now closed to within a point so all eyes were suddenly back on the battle for supremacy.
Glancing at the scores at the end of the rotation wrap up, I recognised that although GB were still in 5th, it was possible for them to potentially clinch a 3rd place if they were outstanding on bars and the beam perhaps did not go 100% to plan for Italy and Japan.
So, as I announced the start of the final rotation, it was hard to know where to look.
I felt like I was watching Wimbledon! To the left both Italy and Japan were having a few wobbles on beam – and as their scores were coming in, the door appeared to be opening even wider for our GB girls to step through. To the right I kept trying to catch a glimpse of their bar routines (where GB were alternating with Belgium), but I also had to do my job front and centre, guiding the action on floor. It was a crazy 20mins!
Having missed Jessica, I did see Alice deliver a sensational routine on bars confirmed by a fantastic score of 14.166! GB were back in the race, and I was so excited for them!
Concentrating on my role, I focused my attention on floor commentary where more drama was unfolding. Jordan Chiles exceeded the perimeter on her first huge full twisting double straight and under-rotated her forward tumbling combination to incur a fall for USA. The gold was in touching distance for the ROC, particularly following a polished performance from Listunova. It looked like USA were going to have to settle for second for the first time since 2008.
With the build-up and presentation of Sunisa Lee and Angelina Melnikova for representing gold I must admit to missing Amelie Morgan uneven bars routine. However, I was intently watching the screen for the score. The squeal of delight that came from across the arena and accompanied the ‘reveal’, confirmed my best hopes that it was enough to push Great Britain into third. Could this be a historic moment for our girls? Now came the anxious wait for all the other scores to come in.
Finally, with less than 1 mark separating 3rd and 6th , and from behind a slightly teary mask, I was able to read aloud the historic results from the Longines scoreboard. ROC – gold, USA – silver and Great Britain – a beautiful bronze.
For me this was quite an ‘extraordinary’ Games: I wouldn’t have missed a second of it!
Lisa Gannon, April 2022
Lisa Gannon, nee Barton, trained as a gymnast under the guidance of the late Stan Buckley who was responsible for putting gymnastics from North Wales on the map. Lisa was a Welsh international gymnast and competed for Great Britain at the World Student Games at Sheffield in 1991. She gained her doctorate in sports science and is now senior lecturer at Leeds Trinity University where she lectures in Sports Coaching and School sport. For many years she has commentated at British Gymnastics events as well as world and Olympic Games, firstly in 2012 then in Rio and finally in Tokyo. With her highly technical gymnastic knowledge and her passion for the sport, her work and voice, is recognised throughout the gymnastic world.
Lisa Gannon ready for the Artistic Gymnastics competitions in Tokyo
photo – Lisa Gannon