This week, we heard the announcement of another women’s Olympic team. Australia has named Lauren Mitchell, Georgia Bonora, Ashleigh Brennan, Emily Little and Larrissa Miller to their women’s team. Georgia-Rose Brown and Mary-Anne Monckton are the alternates. Many believe these gymnasts to be the best women’s team the Aussies have ever produced.
The 1984 Olympics were the first Summer Games Australia placed in for the women. Ken Battersby and Kellie Wilson placed thirty-third and thirty-fourth in the all-around.
The Australian women placed as a team at an Olympics for the first time in 1992, finishing seventh. In the all-around, Monique Allen placed nineteenth, Lisa Read thirtieth and Kylie Shadbolt thirty-sixth.
At the 1996 Games, the women fell to tenth as a team. In the all-around, they took the last three spots with Joanna Hughes in thirty-fourth, Ruth Moniz in thirty-fifth and Lisa Skinner in thirty-sixth. And just as in 1988 and 1992, they did not qualify to any of the apparatus finals.
The 2000 Olympics, hosted by Sydney, were not just a home meet for the Australia women. It was expected to be their coming out party. For the first time, the team had advanced to the team final at a World Championships in 1999, placing fifth over the United States and behind Ukraine. Many thought this would set up the women for success at the Olympics. However, their coming out party quickly turned into an unforeseen disappointment.
In their first rotation on vault, they had three falls, two from Allana Slater and one from Brooke Walker. They were able to drop Slater’s 8.268 but had to keep Walker’s 8.368. They fought back on uneven bars, counting three scores in the 9.6 range and a 9.562. However, their momentum was halted on balance beam. Skinner, who returned after the 1996 Games, Slater and Walker all had falls. Australia was forced to count a 9.387 and a 9.175. On floor, they once again pulled themselves together, posting a 9.725, 9.625, 9.612 and a lower 9.375. But it was not enough. The team placed seventh, an improvement from 1996 but a failure for their home hosted Olympics. They missed the team final by four tenths of a point behind the United States who placed sixth.
During the all-around, in the second of four rotations, it was discovered that the vaulting horse was set almost two inches too low. During the one touch, Slater told her coach, Peggy Liddick, that the horse felt off. Liddick notified the officials. After finding the apparatus to be too low, they raised it to the correct height. The all-around was tainted after at least ten gymnasts had falls on one of their two vaults if not both. It is certain the all-around results would have been dramatically different if the issue with the vaulting horse had never occurred. Skinner placed eighth, making her the first female gymnast from her country to place in the top ten for the all-around. She was not a victim of vault. Nor was Slater who placed sixteenth. Skinner also became the first Australian female gymnast to qualify and place in an Olympic apparatus final. On floor, she qualified in fourth and placed eighth after a fall in finals.
Going into the 2004 Athens Olympics, Australia once again found themselves as one of the favorites to win a team medal. They won bronze at the 2003 World Championships after a neutral deduction was taken from China for their behavior during the one touch on balance beam. Australia would have still placed fourth, placing pressure on the United States, Russia, China and Romania.
In Athens, the women grabbed the last spot, qualifying to the team final in eighth. But they were not as strong as they had been the year before. They finished in eighth. Even with placing last, it was the first time the team had competed in a team final at the Olympics. This time, the all-around was not tainted. Slater, who had returned for her second Olympics, placed tenth. Stephanie Moorhouse placed twentieth. Slater qualified to balance beam finals in seventh but placed fifth in finals after a fall.
The Australian women were not expected to factor into the team final at the 2008 Beijing Games based on their 2007 World Championships results. They placed eleventh as a team. Daria Joura placed tenth in the all-around and was the only gymnasts from her team to compete in it. Lauren Mitchell placed fifth on balance beam.
In Beijing, the team surprised experts and fans but qualifying to the team final in fifth and placing sixth in the team finals. This was their highest team placing at an Olympics. In the all-around, Georgia Bonora placed fourteenth and Shona Morgan fifteenth. No one on the team qualified to the apparatus finals.
As the London Olympics approach, Australia has never looked better. Mitchell placed fourth in the all-around at the 2009 Individual World Championships. At those Worlds, she won silver on uneven bars and balance beam. Larrissa Miller placed seventh on uneven bars.
At the 2010 Worlds, the team placed sixth. Mitchell placed sixth in the all-around and Bonora placed fourteenth. Mitchell placed fourth on balance beam and won gold on floor exercise, making her the first female Australian gymnast to become a World Champion.
In early 2010, the International Olympic Committee launched an investigation into the 2000 Chinese women’s team. They found that Dong Fangxiao was 14 years old, not 17 and therefore age ineligible to compete at the Olympics. The Chinese team was stripped of their bronze medal. Fangxiao was also stripped of her results in the vault and floor exercise apparatus finals. Skinner, who had placed eighth on floor, moved up to seventh.
At last year’s Worlds, the team fell to eighth. In the all-around Mitchell placed eighth and Emily Little twenty-third. Mitchell went on to place fifth on balance beam.
Even with a poor showing last year, the Australian women could pull out a surprise performance at the Olympics once again. Lauren Mitchell, Georgia Bonora and Ashleigh Brennan are returning from the 2008 Olympic team. Emily Little and Larrissa Miller have both been to the World Championships. They have more than enough talent and experience to place high come London. They just need to put it all together.