In 1996, the United States showed the world that they would no longer stand in the shadows of Olympic greatness. In 2008, the Chinese showed they were more than just specialists on uneven bars and balance beam.
And now, in 2012, it’s Great Britain’s chance to show their country that they can make Olympic history in front of a home crowd.
This chance is truly once in a lifetime. The British women have never looked better entering an Olympic Games. Not only do they have a chance to win individual medals, but they have a chance to do what they haven’t done in 84 years.
Great Britain’s women’s team won bronze at the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics. Since then, they have not won an Olympic medal.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, they did not qualify a team but did qualify two individual gymnasts. However, Annika Reeder and Sonia Lawrence did not qualify to the all-around. Reeder placed 64th and Lawrence placed 71st. They did not qualify to any of the apparatus finals.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, they did qualify as a team but missed the team final, finishing 11th. In the all-around, Emma Williams placed 33rd and after an injury on vault in the second rotation, Reeder was forced to withdraw, placing her 36th. None of the British women qualified to apparatus finals. After Romanian Andreea Raducan was stripped of her all-around gold medal several days after the competition, Williams moved up to 32nd and Reeder to 35th. In 2010, Dong Fangxiao of China was found to be underage at these Games. China was stripped of their team bronze medal, moving the British team to 10th. Fangxiao was also stripped of her all-around placing, moving Williams to 31st and Reeder to 34th.
The 2004 Athens Olympics were expected to be successful for Great Britain. However, the team placed 11th. In the all-around, Elizabeth Tweddle placed 19th and Katy Lennon placed 21st. Tweddle, who won bronze on uneven bars at the 2003 World Championships, was a favorite to win a medal on the apparatus. However, she scored a 9.575, placing 13th and was only a reserve for the final.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were the most successful Summer Games for the British women since 1928. They placed 9th as a team. Rebecca Downie was the only qualifier to the all-around and placed 12th, the highest placing for a female British gymnast in an Olympic all-around. Tweddle came back for her second Olympics. She qualified to uneven bars finals this time, placing 8th. In finals, she placed 4th, scoring 16.625 and placing her just 0.025 from bronze behind Yang Yilin of China. Tweddle also carried the highest difficulty in the finals with a 7.800 which was one tenth higher than gold medalist He Kexin of China and silver medalist Nastia Liukin of the United States.
Now, Imogen Cairns, Jennifer Pinches, Rebecca Tunney, Elizabeth Tweddle and Hannah Whelan have the chance to shine. At last year’s World Championships, the team placed 5th. In the all-around, Whelan placed 9th. Tweddle placed 7th on floor exercise. She didn’t qualify to uneven bar finals because of uncharacteristic mistakes in prelims but she is still a favorite to win a medal on bars in London. She won uneven bars at the 2006 and 2010 World Championships. She also won gold on floor at 2009 Worlds in London.
The British women have waited a long time to host these Summer Olympics. We will find out in a few days if they can take on the rest of the world and stand atop the podium.