Note: This article has a Part II
The modern Olympic All-Around Finals was first established in 1972. In that time women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) has produced seven gymnasts who won the All-Around (AA) in both the AA Finals and the AA Qualifications stages. There have also been seven gymnasts who won AA Qualifications but failed to win the gold medal in AA Finals. In other words, it is a 50/50 split. In this article I will cover the seven gymnasts who won the qualifications stage, but did not win the AA title.
1972: Karin Janz (Tie)
There have been 13 Olympic Games since 1972, but 14 gymnasts have qualified to AA Finals in the #1 spot because of a tie between Karin Janz and Ludmilla Turischeva in 1972. Karin Janz can’t be faulted for not winning the AA title. Across three events Janz tied Turischeva on vault and beam while having a slightly higher score on the uneven bars.
Karin Janz then gave one of the strongest performances of the night on floor, of which only two gymnasts scored higher. The first was Olga Korbut whose score was irrelevant as she had faltered on the uneven bars and was out of medal contention. The other was Ludmilla Turischeva who decimated the competition on floor with an outrageously high score.
Turischeva’s floor (FX) score was such on outlier that Karin Janz who had the 3rd highest FX score of the day was as close to the average FX score as she was to Turischeva’s FX score. This ended any hope Janz had of catching Turischeva for the gold medal. Instead, Karin Janz would win a silver medal in the All-Around.
During Event Finals Janz won two gold medals, a silver medal, and finished in 4th place on her last remaining event. Karin Janz’s 1972 six-event performance is one of the greatest stat lines in WAG history. In non-boycotted Olympic competition, only Nadia Comaneci (1976) and Daniela Silivas (1988) have matched that stat line in the last 50 years.
Turischeva finished her career with three AA titles (1970, 1972, and 1974). For Karin Janz, she never won such a title in Group-1 Level competition (World Championships and Olympics). Janz’s only AA title came at the European Championships in 1969.
1980: Maxi Gnauck
The 1980 Olympics are remembered as an iconic showdown between Elena Davydova and Nadia Comaneci, while Maxi Gnauck’s role in the whole affair is widely overlooked. It was actually Maxi Gnauck who won the 1980 Olympic AA qualifications, but looks can be deceiving. Nadia had either tied or beaten Maxi on a majority of her events during the qualification stage. It was a single low score dragging down Nadia’s overall point total that placed her in the #4 qualifying position and gave Maxi the lead.
The 1980 Olympic AA qualification standings were especially tight. Whereas .050 points separated the #1 and #2 ranked gymnasts in the 1984 AA qualification standings, in 1980 the difference between #1 and #6 was only .040 points. It was through this razor thin point margin that Nadia was able to battle her way back and tie Maxi Gnauck.
Whereas the close qualification point total benefited Nadia and prevented her outright defeat, it also benefited someone else. Elena Davydova in the #5 qualifying spot who gave the strongest “4-for-4” performance of all the top competitors. Allowing Elena to surpass both Maxi and Nadia in the standings and take the gold for herself.
Maxi never won an AA title in Group-1 competition, nor did her national program (East Germany) after coming up just short for the second time in three Olympic quads. In 1981 Maxi won the lone AA title of her career at the European Championships. That result made Maxi the favorite to win the 1981 World Championships and early on in the competition Maxi Gnauck was leading the AA qualifications. That was until an injury towards the end of qualifying forced her to scratch on one event, knocking Maxi out of the 1981 All-Around.
In her career Maxi Gnauck finished 2nd in the AA at the World Cup, Olympics, World Championships, and European Champions. Maxi is #22 on the all-time Group-1 medal count and has the distinction of winning a gold medal on vault, bars, and beam. By most metrics, Maxi Gnauck exceeds Elena Davydova in career accomplishment.
1992: Shannon Miller
This was the first Olympics held under “new-life” scoring where the scores reset and everyone starts off with a clean slate. Theoretically, the lowest scoring qualifier has just as much of a chance to win the gold medal as anyone else. This rule change would be critical in 1992 when #9 ranked Tatiana Gutsu beat out #1 ranked Shannon Miller for the gold medal.
The very presence of Tatiana Gutsu in this competition was controversial because she had initially been eliminated on country limits. But was allowed reentry into the competition after team coaches forced teammate Roza Galieva (ranked #8) to withdraw in order to make way for Gutsu. After cameras captured a distressed Gutsu in tears during qualifications when she realized she wouldn’t have a chance to compete for an AA gold medal, Gutsu ended her Olympics having won exactly that.
In AA Finals Shannon put up the higher score on vault and beam, while Gutsu beat her on bars and floor. The two gymnasts of identical size and age appeared evenly matched. The final result netting the closest margin of victory in any Olympic AA Final in WAG history, and by .012 points, Gutsu was the winner.
Tatiana Gutsu would retire immediately following the 1992 Olympics. Shannon Miller would win back-to-back AA titles at the 1993 and 1994 World Championships. The first WAG to do so since Ludmilla Turischeva in the early 1970s. Miller is more famous for her association with the 1996 Olympics where she was part of Team-USA’s famed Magnificant-7 gold medal winning team than her dominant run from 1992-1994. Even though the early 1990s were arguably the most accomplished portion of Shannon’s career, she is more famous for her 1996 Olympic presence.
Shannon Miller is one of WAG’s all-time greats and is #12 on the all-time medals list in Group-1 competition. Shannon Miller is currently a member of the Hall of Fame while her 1992 Olympic rival Tatiana Gutsu has yet to be inducted.
2000: Svetlana Khorkina
Before the events of 2021, this was WAG’s unanimous choice for the most dramatic way a #1 ranked qualifier lost out on an Olympic AA gold medal. Even after the 2021 Olympics it could be argued it still is. Or at the very least, one of WAG’s greatest injustices. Of the seven gymnasts on this list, five of them won a silver AA medal while the two remaining gymnasts walked away with no medal at all. Khorkina is one of those two.
Svetlana Khorkina was the greatest victim of the Sydney vault fiasco where at the halfway point of the 2000 Olympics, event organizers discovered the vault had been set to the wrong height. Khorkina fell on vault during both her warmups and in AA Finals without anyone knowing the reason for these falls was not Khorkina’s personal shortcomings, but an incorrect vault setting.
After Khorkina’s vault performance, officials discovered the mistake, but failed to halt competition on the three remaining events. Unaware that there was an issue regarding her previous score, and being of the understanding that she had little to no chance of winning an AA title, a disheartened Khrokina balked on the uneven bars and produced an even lower score on bars than her disastrous vault.
The integrity of the final standings had been compromised, but there was nothing that could be done to correct the error. Granting gymnasts like Khorkina a redo across multiple events would have been unfair to the gymnasts who started off well on their first two events. But to do nothing for Khorkina’s bar routine was also unfair. This was the dilemma created by an officiating error so catastrophic, and discovered only at the halfway point of the competition, nothing could be done that was fair to all 36 competitors.
Svetlana Khorkina finished in 11th place in the 2000 Olympic AA Finals. Four years later she nearly achieved redemption, but came up just short with a 2nd place finish in the 2004 Olympic AA Finals. Khorkina is #3 in the Group-1 all-time medal count. Khorkina would win three AA titles at the World Championships and two additional AA silver medals in Group-1 competition, making her one of the most decorated All-Arounders of all time. But she never won an Olympic AA title.
One thought on “Gymnasts Who Won Olympic AA Qualifications But Not AA Finals (Part I)”
I enjoy your posts immensely! You combine two of my favorite things–gymnastics and history! 💗