Can Lauren Mitchell win Australia's first artistic medal? Yes. In fact, this is a case where anything less will feel like a disappointment. Mitchell has routines with high enough difficulty to win gold in floor – the discipline in which she became world champion in 2010 - and beam, for which she won a silver medal at the world titles in 2009, which means it will all come down to execution. The West Australian, who turns 21 just before the Olympics, knows she is under pressure but seems to be as well coached about managing expectations as training physically. Mitchell will undertake three apparatus in London – vault, floor and beam, but the floor is where she's considered the best medal chance.
The power shift
A shift from eastern European to Anglo and Asian success in artistic became apparent in the early 1980s with the increased dominance of American women. It is a commonly thought in gymnastics circles that western countries have lagged behind in terms of the required discipline and structure for elite performance in the sport – the theory being that cultural difference is a significant factor. In 2012, however, Russia, Romania, China and the US are the strongest nations in women's gymnastics where physical power has become increasingly important.
Historically, eastern and central European counties have dominated rhythmic events. But Italy's strategy to put greater emphasis on the rhythmic gymnastics group competition, to improve its medal chances, appears to be paying off. This broadened focus on team, rather than the narrower focus on an individual, has seen the country improve notably in the past two Olympic cycles with the development of several Italian gymnasts accelerated.
Australia's best rhythmic gymnast Janine Murray took up the sport in Zimbabwe as a six year old before she moving to Perth with her family. A member of the national team for six years, London will mark Murray's Olympic debut after she won a wildcard entry at the 2012 world championships by being the Oceania region's top finisher. A member of the Australian gold medal winning team at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, Murray claimed national titles in the hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon, as well as the all around, this year. Her best individual result at a world championships to date is 40th (in ribbon) and she was also part of the Australian team that finished 19th at the 2010 world titles.
Canadian veteran Karen Cockburn is aiming to win a medal at a fourth successive Games. The 31-year-old made her Olympic debut in Sydney and claimed bronze, and at the two Games since has won silver medals. Though she is twice a world champion (2007 in synchro and 2003 as an individual), Olympic gold has been elusive for Cockburn and surely this is her last chance.
Prediction: One gold. The expectation in the national camp is that Lauren Mitchell will win at least one medal – on the floor - and the great hope is that it's gold. It's not out of the question, however, that she could also win a medal in the beam.