The news about Pranati Nayak's qualification for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics captured the attention of the country. It seems to have brought back memories from the night of the vault final, five years ago at Rio, when Dipa, while narrowly missing out on a medal on vault, won the heart and support of a billion Indians.
Things became complicated in the past week when the US Olympic team was announced. Undoubtedly, the US is the most dominant team in women's gymnastics and will come to Tokyo as the heavy favourites for the gold. The US coincidently also has strong vaulters. Needless to say, one of them is Simone Biles, the reigning Olympic, and 2018 & 2019 World Vault Champion.
The challenge for Pranati became clearer when the US announced its two individual athletes who will compete in the Tokyo Games. Jade Carey and Mykayla Skinner. Jade sealed her ticket to Tokyo based on her fantastic performances on vault and floor at the World Cup events. She is also the reigning world vault silver medalist behind Simone. This already confirms two incredibly strong vaulters for the US, who barring major mistakes should have no issues qualifying to the Vault final in Tokyo.
The surprising news for the US team, was the announcement of Mykayla Skinner, who is also essentially a vault and floor specialist. With the same high difficulty vaults as Jade Carey, she bring fierce competition to an already packed vault line up in Tokyo.
The other contenders
Outside the US, other top-notch vaulters who have sealed their ticket to Tokyo include two Canadians, Shallon Olsen (4th on vault, 2019 World Championships) and Ellie Black. Alexa Moreno from Mexico, who placed 6th in 2019 at Worlds with an average of 14.633 is another threat to Pranati's chances for the vault final.
With three world champion vaulters and other equally competitive vaulters in the mix for the title, Pranati's case for a vault medal becomes challenging. Pranati's most competitive vault average comes from 2019 Asian Gymnastics Championships where she scored 13.400 and 13.467, averaging 13.384 for the bronze on vault.
However, she upgraded those vaults for the 2019 World Championships, where she placed 27th in qualifications for vault. Her first vault scored a competitive 14.200, for her newly upgraded front handspring 1.5 twisting vault. However, her second vault is comparatively lower in difficulty and she scored only a 11.700, giving her an average of 12.950 for her total score. A 2 point penalty was given on her second vault when she was credited with a vault different to what she performed. Pranati seems to have a questionable technical approach to her second vault, with regard to her hand placement on the vault when she performs. The international federation has strict rules regarding how the two vaults performed by gymnasts must be different, which she seemed to have not fulfilled and was penalised for.
The bright side
On the bright side, Pranati and her coaches have had two years to strategize how they would approach this issue as well as upgrading her difficulty on that second vault. With an upgraded second vault and a better score without the penalty coupled with a high score on the first vault, she will certainly hope to enter vault finals in Tokyo.
As the Olympics loom, it is only a matter of time till we know the exact vaults Pranati plans to compete in Tokyo and how these may measure up to the other competitors. Regardless of what she competes, she like Dipa, has the support and love from the whole of India, who share her excitement and hope for our very first medal in gymnastics.