Link to Part I of this series which covers the Olympic quads from 1972-1996.
For those who did not read Part I, the premise of this article in simple. There are 21 examples of a “near-Olympic team” where a program fielded a lineup at the World Championships that was almost identical to their Olympic team, but with one exception.
Meaning for just a single gymnast, she was the only member of the team who wasn’t invited back for the upcoming Olympic Games. This article is a tribute to the 21 gymnasts who have had the misfortune of being on the losing end of this trend. In this part, I am covering gymnasts from 2000-2021.
Corina Ungureanu (1999)
Corina Ungureanu is one of the better known names to have been on the losing end of this phenomenon. Whereas many of these examples are gymnasts who were available for the Olympic team only to be passed over by team coaches in favor of someone else, Corina’s case was different. She is one of the examples of a gymnast who competed in a pre-Olympic year only to suffer a career ending injury right before the Olympics.
This resulted in a gymnast who was on Romania’s gold medal winning teams at both the 1997 and 1999 World Championships to finish her career without ever having attended the Olympics. Another interesting parameter to this situation is whereas most gymnasts lose their spot to a younger gymnast, in regards to Corina Ungureanu and Claudia Presacan, the opposite had occurred.
Claudia Presacan was a tenured veteran who had represented Romania at the 1994, 1995, and 1997 World Championships, but had not been present for the 1996 Olympics. Making the 2000 Olympic team was Claudia’s “big break” for a gymnast who was long overdue for something to finally go her way.
Another interesting footnote in this story, Corina Ungureanu and Claudia Presacan are longtime friends and remain so to this day. They have one of the strongest lifelong relationships between any two gymnasts who were former teammates.
Kang Xin (China 2003)
Kang Xin represented China at both the 2002 and 2003 World Championships. This is one of the most extreme examples of a relatively obscure gymnast being passed over to make way for a future legend. The gymnast who replaced her would go on to be China’s greatest gymnast of all time.
Gaelle Richard (France 2003)
Emilie Le Pennec
This is another one of those highly unusual examples where it was an aging veteran who benefited from this type of lineup change. After a six year absence from the French lineup, Isabelle Severino made her return to the Olympics/World Championships level. The gymnast she replaced was Gaelle Richard, whose 2003 World Championships appearance was her lone appearance in major competition.
Olga Scherbatykh (Ukraine 2007)
Olga Scherbatykh’s first appearance at the World Championships/Olympic level came at the 2004 Olympics. As a result, she continued her career and was a viable candidate for the 2008 Olympics as well due to her young age/talent. The problem for Scherbatykh, the same could be said for her 2004 Olympic teammates Alina Kozich and Irina Krasnyanskaya. There was also Marina Proskurina who represented Ukraine at the 2003 World Championships but not the 2004 Olympics.
The 2008 Ukrainian lineup was fiercely competitive between numerous veterans of the previous Olympic cycle. In the end it was Olga Scherbatykh who would be on the losing end of this returning depth. But she is one of the few gymnasts on this list who went to the Olympics in the previous quad.
Silvia Zanolo (Italy 2007)
In this instance the gymnast who went to the Olympics represented Italy in both 2006 and 2008, but was not present in the 2007 lineup. For Silvia Zanolo, the 2007 World Championships was her lone appearance for Italy at the Olympic/World Championships level.
Zanolo is one of the most heartbreaking examples on this list. She was removed from the Olympic team due to a hand injury that she suffered just days before the Olympics were to begin. But like any inspiring gymnast, Silvia Zanolo got back on her feet after experiencing a tough break.
Zanolo retired from gymnastics immediately after the 2008 Olympics to in her words, “begin a new adventure in another sport.” That sport ended up being cheerleading. Throughout her gymnastics career Silvia always had an interest in the Internet and building an online public persona for herself, a trait she still maintains to promote her status a personal fitness trainer. But Zanolo also serves as a leading figure in a multi-purpose gymnastics/cheerleading club where she contributes her coaching expertise in both disciplines.
It would be accurate to say Silvia Zanolo’s post-gymnastics career spans three different sporting lifestyles.
Jenny Brunner (Germany 2007)
Like the previous example featuring Italy, the 2007 World Championships was German gymnast Jenny Brunner’s only appearance in a starting lineup. Meanwhile Daria Bijak competed for Germany at the 2005 and 2006 World Championships, missed 2007, only to return to the German lineup for the 2008 Olympics.
Khiuani Dias (Brazil 2007)
Daiane Dos Santos
Having represented Brazil at the 2007 World Championships, Brazilian coaches described Khiuani Dias as a virtual lock for the 2008 Brazilian Olympic team. Unfortunately for Khiuani, she suffered a hand injury just two months before the Olympics.Khiuani Dias would return to the Brazilian lineup for the 2009 World Championships, but her career would end without an Olympic appearance.
Ethiene Franco would be Brazil’s lone 2008 Olympian who was a newcomer to the Brazilian lineup. Her debut in Beijing was the beginning of a rather successful career. Ethiene Franco would later become a 2x Olympian.
Sabrina Vega (United States 2011)
My data officially counts this as a “true” occurrence of a single gymnast missing the Olympic Games while every other member of her team went to the Olympics. But many gymnastics nerds will immediately point out the elephant in the room, Alicia Sacramone.
My data treats 2011 Team USA as a five-person team as you have to produce a score of some kind during a competition to qualify as a team member. This is done in order to maintain fairness between gymnasts from the 1950s and gymnasts from the modern era in the data.
While this example may not be a de jure example, I’d argue it is a de facto example as 2011 Team USA was effectively a five-person team. Among them were four iconic members of the 2012 Fierce Five. Furthermore, Sabrina Vega still fits the premise of this article as Alicia Sacramone was officially a 2008 Olympian meaning Vega has the same unusual distinction of being part of a lineup where she was the lone non-Olympian.
Sabrina Vega was a member of the legendary 2011 American lineup which kick started the trend of nonstop dominance from the United States in the team competition. In the same fashion that Romania’s 1979 and 1987 teams were amongst the most legendary teams in WAG history and were affected by this trend, so was 2011 Team USA.
As for the gymnast who took the spot Sabrina Vega once held, Kyla Ross who was too young for the 2011 World Championships. Kyla would eventually win two All-Around medals at the World Championships and became one of the icons of the American program.
Kelly Simm (Great Britain 2015)
Reduction In Team Size
This is the very first example on this list where it is no longer a case of switching out one gymnast for another, but a gymnast having to be discarded because of a reduction in team size. The 2012 and 2016 Olympics featured teams of only five gymnasts while the World Championships retained their six-person team size. Like Romania-1979, Romania-1987, and United States-2011, the 2015 British team is one of the all time greats.
This is not because they won a gold medal, but because they won a bronze medal which is an extreme rarity for country not considered one of the major powers in the sport. It made the United Kingdom, a small program relative to China, Russia, and the United States become the country which punched far above its size. It also signaled this was a program that wasn’t going to fade away with Beth Tweddle’s retirement, but would continue to produce amazing gymnasts.
But as what seems to be a continued theme, someone on the team wasn’t going to make it to the next Olympics, and this time it was Kelly Simm. She had represented Great Britain at the two previous World Championships, gave the sport her all, but didn’t make the 2016 Olympic team. However, Kelly Simm is a fighter.
Whereas most gymnasts on this list failed to return to the sport after not making the Olympics, or competed at a post-Olympic World Championships as a consolation prize and then retired, Kelly Simm was different. She missed two consecutive lineups on the British team only to return for the 2018 World Championships. Most recently, she competed at the elite level in 2021.
Chen Siyi (China 2015)
Reduction In Team Size
This is an identical situation to the previous example where a six-person lineup had to be converted into a five-person lineup, resulting in one gymnast losing her spot. In this particular instance the gymnast on the losing end of this shift was Chen Siyi who represented China at both the 2014 and 2015 World Championships.
There is an interesting parallel to make between the 1979 World Championships and the 2015 World Championships. In 1979 the gold, silver, and bronze medal winning WAG teams had just three total lineup changes. In 2015 WAG only narrowly missed this mark with the top-3 teams having just four total lineup changes. China and Great Britain had one each while the United States had two (Maggie Nichols and Brenna Dowell).
Kara Eaker (United States 2019)
The gymnastics nerd who has carefully read this article will wisely point out that it would be contradictory logic to count both 2011 and 2019 as examples of this trend. My first counterpoint is “yeah you’re right, but don’t let pesky little details get in the way of things.” My second counterpoint is I genuinely believe they can be chalked up as different scenarios where it is acceptable to not count the alternate in 2011, but you can count the alternate as a full team member in 2019.
In 2011 the United States was playing lineup shenanigans and misappropriated its alternate. In 2019 the United States was utilizing its alternate MyKalya Skinner in the very role it was designed for. Furthermore, the 2019 World Championships came in an era where FIG was attempting to do everything it could to incorporate alternates as full members of the starting lineup, short of actually allowing them to compete. Hence the reason Skinner has a 2019 team medal and was in all the team photos during the medal ceremony/lineup introductions. In 2019 Skinner’s presence was a direct byproduct of the system working as intended, which wasn’t really the case in 2011.
The point is, six gymnasts went to the World Champions as a single unit, but only five of them returned to the lineup in time for the next Olympics. For Jordan Chiles, she became the surprise breakout star of the Olympic cycle. For Kara Eaker, she joins the long list of gymnasts who competed in two consecutive World Championships only to miss out on making the Olympic lineup.
Make sure to check out Part I to learn the story of the gymnast below!!!!