Victoria Moors performs on the beams in the Olympic team gymnastics final Tuesday. Record video
LONDON — No one, except for maybe five young women from Canada, expected this.
Canada’s artistic gymnastic team delivered a historic performance at their first-ever Olympic team final in London, narrowly missing out on a medal and letting the world’s gymnastics powerhouses know that Canada is no longer an also-ran competitor.
For a team that’s never come this far, a fifth-place finish was a huge cause for celebration from a group of young women who looked far more composed and confident than their first appearance at the Games two days ago.
“Our goal was to just finish top eight. But coming to the Olympics and finishing fifth, we weren’t expecting that. It’s unreal right now,” said an ecstatic Victoria Moors of Cambridge.
When the final scores appeared on the big screen at the centre of the North Greenwich Arena, the gymnasts — Moors, Elisabeth Black, Dominique Pegg, Kristina Vaculik and Brittany Rogers — leapt into each others arms and started crying.
They had toppled gymnastics giants, like Italy and Great Britain, and had shown they could bounce back from a nervous performance on Sunday.
The team, comprised of four teenagers and a 20-year-old, did that and more. Afterward, Moors and the rest of the Canadians were already looking ahead to the next Olympics, 2016’s Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“We upset a lot of big countries. We definitely raised the bar for Canada, we’re leaving a trail for the next people, and for Rio,” she said. “We just decided to go out there and go strong.”
Moors competed in two of four events in the team final, scoring 14.600 on floor and 13.700 on the uneven bars. That left Canada with a combined score of 170.804, less than four points behind China.
The U.S. won gold in the final with 183.596 points, Russia had silver with 178.530 and Romania took bronze with 176.414.
Canada qualified on Sunday for the eighth and last place in the gymnastics team final. In doing that, they made history — as the first Canadian team to ever qualify for a team final at the Olympics.
“History to me is like looking back in a textbook at school. Seeing that written down, that Canada placed fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games, we’ve all dreamed of this. Our minds are completely blown,” said Rogers.
“We really put our team first. We didn’t think of ourselves, we just said, ‘no regrets, no looking back.’”
What most people watching didn’t know is that Moors was competing with two tears in the muscles in her lower back, discovered about three weeks ago. The 15-year-old student at Bishop Macdonell high school in Guelph wanted to deal with the pain and continue her training.
Gymnastics Canada, meanwhile, had to decide whether to let the injured gymnast compete, or replace her with one of two alternates.
“I think she proved today they made the right decision. I’m so proud of her,” said Elvira Saadi, the longtime coach who has worked with Moors since she was a little girl at the Cambridge Kips gymnastics club.
“She was sore, but she didn’t think about herself. She just thought about her team.”
Saadi was quickly given coaching accreditation after Sunday’s qualification round, and worked directly with her gymnast in the last two days to restore Moors’ confidence.
Moors, at 15, has gained national attention as the youngest Canadian athlete at these Games. The attention from the Olympics has turned Moors into a celebrity in gymnastics circles, with a growing fan base on Twitter and the subject of tribute videos on YouTube.
After missing her shot at an individual final after Sunday’s qualification round, Moors did this one for her team. The coaches from each country chose three gymnasts to compete on the four apparatuses of bars, beam, vault and floor, and went with Moors’ strengths.
This time on the floor, Moors controlled the nerves that caused stumbles on Sunday and gave a command performance that stole the attention of the 20,000-capacity arena, filled with an electrified crowd that included the likes of Prince Harry.
With the largest audience of her life watching on TV, Moors tumbled, danced and leapt to the dramatic tempo of the Assassin’s Tango, a song she’s performed to countless times since introducing her routine three years ago.
She had 90 seconds to wow the judges and did that with a performance that had movements at the highest level of difficulty rated by gymnastics.
“I just wanted to go out there and show the world I could improve,” Moors said.
Her family and teammate Madeline Gardiner — chosen for the Olympics but unused as an alternate — were among a small but vocal Canadian contingent cheering from the stands in the packed arena, filled to the rafters mostly with supporters for Great Britain and the U.S.
Moors’ competition at the Olympics is now done, and she’ll turn into a supporter cheering for teammates Pegg, Black and Rogers, who qualified for individual events.