China Looking Determined Heading Into Worlds

CORRECTION-ASIAD-2014-GYMNASTICS

China is dominating the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea — as expected. But what does this mean for their chances at Worlds?

In the team final, the ladies easily won gold, finishing 15 points higher than the silver medalists from North Korea; Japan, competing with a B-team in order to save their top girls for World Championships, earned bronze. Yao Jinnan qualified first into the all-around final, ahead of teammates Shang Chunsong in second and Chen Siyi in third, just 0.05 behind Shang; however, due to the two-per-country rule, Chen could not compete in the all-around finals.

Yao and Shang repeated their 1-2 finish in the all-around final today, with Yao earning a 57.9 (about two tenths lower than her qualification score) for gold and Shang bringing in a 56.95 for silver.

China unfortunately does not have a vault specialist at the moment – they’re waiting for Wang Yan to move up next year – so they couldn’t qualify anyone into the vault final, though they did earn the top two spots on bars, beam, and floor. On bars, all five competitors actually placed into the top five with three scores in the 15s, helping them to a huge 60.9 as a team on that event.

There were a couple of falls on beam, and floor is an incredibly low-scoring event for the team, but overall they’re looking much better than I thought they would, averaging about 57.3 on each event counting two falls and working with lower difficulty than they expect to show at Worlds. If they do add on a decent amount of difficulty and hit their routines, they could put up quite a fight for gold.

Team USA still has a clear edge, as they can average at least 59 with hit routines. The U.S. team is largely young, but so is China’s; 2012 Olympians Yao Jinnan and Kyla Ross were the babies of their teams in 2012 and now at 19 and a month shy of 18, respectively, they will lead their teams in Nanning. The U.S. athletes haven’t exactly been a model of consistency this summer, but China has a reputation for being inconsistent at major international events.

With youth and nerves on both sides, the U.S. do remain gold favorites thanks to higher scoring potential across the board, whereas China’s top routines are limited to just one event. Floor is very weak, they don’t have anything beyond a couple of mediocre DTYs in their arsenal, and even beam isn’t up to their usual standards, Shang Chunsong aside. Their bars, on the other hand, are extremely difficult, technically solid, and absolutely breathtaking…it’s just not enough to make them a top threat.

There’s also the issue of how they’ll perform under immense pressure. The Chinese team could have won in Incheon even with a couple of falls on each event, so the confidence displayed thus far could possibly be due to an easy, low-key meet with few people watching. Worlds is a much bigger deal, it’s happening on their home turf, and though there’s not much competition outside of the U.S. team, their podium spots aren’t quite as secure as it was at the Asian Games — even on bars, where the U.S., Great Britain, Russia, and Australia all have strong potential.

This year’s World Championships in Nanning will be the first major team competition without top gymnasts like He Kexin, Sui Lu, Deng Linlin, and Huang Qiushuang, all of whom retired in 2013. The national team lost a lot of incredible contributors, but the young ones filling their shoes proved to be incredibly determined during the team and all-around finals at the 2014 Asian Games. Facing the rest of the world will definitely be a challenge, but this team looks ready to thrive.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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