The Myth of the U.S. Men’s Failure

5b04f82bf3ece9f11174fa5d0d6122cf--mens-gymnastics-olympic-gymnastics

2006 was the year that changed gymnastics. Gone was the perfect 10 and what replaced it was a code that allowed for gymnasts to be rewarded for their more difficult routines while still requiring them to be executed cleanly.

I’ve broken down the number of medals won by each country since 2006. There were 258 world or Olympic medals up for grabs during this time frame. The following are the number counts for each country that has won a medal.

Rank Nation Medal Count
1 China 51
2 Japan 44
3 Great Britain 21
4 United States  19 
5 Germany 16
6 Russia 15
7 Brazil 11
8 Ukraine 8
9 Romania 7
Netherlands 7
11 France 6
Hungary 6
South Korea 6
14 Bulgaria 5
Greece 5
16 North Korea 4
Australia 4
18 Spain 3
Croatia 3
Slovenia 3
Italy 3
22 Poland 2
Cuba 2
Uzbekistan 2
25 Canada 1
Armenia 1
Azerbaijan 1
Mexico 1
Israel 1

The U.S. men’s team ranks fourth of the 29 teams that have medaled since 2006, so why is there this general animosity towards them? What expectation are they not meeting? Is it a lack of medals, a lack of gold medals, or a lack of team medals? Or is it because we’re simply comparing their success to that of the U.S. women’s team?

The men have proven that they have the talent to compete with the best in the world. Maybe the frustration comes from expectations and lack of follow through from qualifications to finals. Four times as a team they have gone from a medal position in qualifications to going home empty-handed. When expectation doesn’t meet “reality” animosity is created, but what kind of stats are our men actually producing? Are they all “in the red?”

Year Qualifications Rank Finals Rank
2006 13 X
2007 4 4
2008 6 3
2010 3 4
2011 2 3
2012 1 5
2014 3 3
2015 5 5
2016 2 5

In reality, the U.S. men have done a stellar job continually giving their all to represent our country. The table below represents the six countries who have won team medals since 2006.

Year Gold Silver Bronze
2006 China Russia Japan
2007 China Japan Germany
2008 China Japan United States
2010 China Japan Germany
2011 China Japan United States
2012 China Japan Great Britain
2014 China Japan United States
2015 Japan Great Britain China
2016 Japan Russia China

Since 2006, the team medal-winning percentages are 100% for China and Japan, 33% for the U.S., 22% for Russia, 22% for Great Britain, and 22% for Germany.

It’s eye-opening, isn’t it? Some journalists would have you believe that the U.S. men have done everything short of purposely botching their routines. Others ignore their successes altogether. Even still, there are those who acknowledge the accomplishment and choose to diminish it because the team ‘lacks the success’ of the U.S. women. Guess what? They aren’t women. They are competing in a significantly more competitive field among a broader spectrum of countries with legitimate medal potential and doing a phenomenal job at it. Unlike the women’s field, there are far more than just three or four teams that can legitimately vie for a spot on the podium each year, and that makes all the difference.

The U.S. men’s hit percentage in qualifications versus finals is frustrating, because even with this relatively poor percentage, they are still the third-best in the world in their winning percentage. If we define medals lost as those dropped from medal contention or those dropped from a higher medal to a lower medal, we receive the following hit percentage:

Medals Lost* 21.3%
Medals Won** 25%
Places Dropped Overall 44%
Places That Stayed the Same/Improved 56%
Places Improved 38.66%
Places That Stayed the Same 17.33%

The total number of medals is divided by the number of event finals placements the U.S. has qualified into, which over the past decade is 75 finalists between team and individual.

* Both team and individuals who went into finals in the top three and finished with no medal or a loss of a higher ranking to a lower ranking.

** For medals lost or won, total percentages will not equal 100% because not everyone who went into finals was in medal contention.

Overall, the U.S. men win more medals than they lose, and they improve or stay static in their placement more than they decrease their placement. Even though there has been a clear drop from team qualifications to team finals at the past two Olympic Games, this is not representative of the program’s overall success. Struggling to hit to the best of their ability in Olympic team finals is one thing, but this does not indicate a total failure of the program, at all.

I believe that many fans have yet to find a way to articulate their frustration with the men’s team with respect to the hard-working and talented athletes that this country has produced and so the easy way out is to say that the men’s team is bad or has been a failure internationally…neither of which are true.

I am encouraged by some of the changes that Brett McClure is starting to impose at national team camps. I am encouraged by a new crop of gymnasts that are fighting their way through NCAA line-ups who are practicing weekly the meaning of earning their spot and I hope that that fight will translate well into the consistency that will earn Team USA the medals that they are capable of earning.

When the consistency improves, likely so will the medal total.

What sort of disappointment comes from having the fourth-highest medal total in the world and the third highest team medal percentage? None.

Thank you to Guillermo Alvarez, Alexander Artemev, Jonathan Horton, David Sender, Kai Wen Tan, Clayton Strother, Sean Golden, David Durante, Raj Bhavsar, Joey Hagerty, Justin Spring, Timothy McNeill, Steven Legendre, Danell Leyva, Chris Brooks, Brandon Wynn, Christopher Cameron, Jake Dalton, Alex Naddour, John Orozco, Sam Mikulak, Donnell Whittenburg, and Paul Ruggeri III for representing the United States well at the world championships and Olympic Games, and best of luck to the men hoping to continue the U.S. men’s medal-winning legacy as they head into Montreal!

Article by Kensley Behel

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30 thoughts on “The Myth of the U.S. Men’s Failure

  1. People’s poor understanding of probability and lack of attention to MAG outside of the Olympic years is partly responsible for this myth.

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  2. They just need to hire marta karoli out of retirement…lol.. I am trying to visualize marta in front of all of them giving her quips and speeches..

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  3. When looking at the placements that improved/fell, did you account for the two per country rule? If someone places 6th in qualifications behind 3 Japanese gymnasts, then places 5th in the final behind 2 Japanese gymnasts because of a two per country rule, then that shouldn’t count as an improvement.

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    • Not necessarily. There is no way to calculate how even those who would have qualified would have done. IE Shirai Falling in floor Finals, Kohei falling in his PH dismounts, Maroney falling in VT finals. It would be impossible to calculate that.

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      • Well, you could re-calculate the qualification rankings using the two per country rule. That would involve going back to the list of qualifiers, excluding the 3rd, 4th, etc. qualifier from each country, and ranking those who remain. You’d then compare these “corrected” qualification rankings to the final rankings. So, in my example, the US man’s qualifying score would be ranked 5th out of those who qualified to the final– because we’d have dropped the 3rd Japanese man who qualified ahead of him. And we’d see (correctly) that he didn’t actually do any better in the final than he did in qualification.

        Anyway great article, thanks for writing it! I know comparing qualifications & finals can be tricky so I just wanted to understand your methodology 🙂

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        • True! There were also instances of athlete replacement because of injury or country substitution so I made it as straightforward as I could. I appreciate your kind words!

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  4. I appreciate the article, but how many other NCAA sports does the USA rank 4th or worse in, other than revenue sports like men’s soccer? The US consistently leads the medal count in the Summer Olympics because of our NCAA programs. Most sports where we have NCAA programs we rank 1 or 2.

    I also challenge the idea that men’s gymnastics is more competitive. It appears more competitive because there’s no equivalent to the US women’s team. 6 teams have won medals in MAG. 5 have won in WAG. 3 of the WAG teams have won gold medals, vs. only 2 in MAG.

    The women’s team hasn’t counted a fall in 6 years. The men’s team counts multiple falls in most meets.

    The reality is that representing the United States in international sporting competitions carries a certain pressure and expectation. Our expectations as a country are better than 4th place, and the talent level of the US men’s team is better than 4th place. They can and should expect more. They did not achieve more, in my opinion, because of how they were trained.

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    • Hi Matt, thank you for your comments. I believe they do expect more from themselves. Everytime they compete they themselves talk about going for gold. I believe that they can be better. The point of this article is not to dismiss their incinistency. Just the opposite.

      The point was that even through their inconsistency, they are not failures.

      Please look through the stats on how many women from countries have won medals since 2006, I can guarantee you it’s nowhere near 29 countries. The overall depth spread across the world is greater than that of the concentration of the women’s programs. Team medals are not the defining factor of a country’s success.

      The men are making changes now and they need to be held accountable for their inconsistency, but they also should not be looked upon as sloppy seconds.

      Perhaps if the men had more support, both financially and otherwise, we would also she a shirt that the women’s team had.

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    • Matt, they are also different sports… In a men’s team final 150 skills plus 3 vaults are performed per team. In a women’s team final 72 skills are performed plus 3 vaults… The men are competing more than double the amount of skills and that simply gives more opportunities to fall. Until they do the same number of events and skills you can’t compare hit percentage like that…

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  5. This reminded me of a comment Chris Brooks made during a Gymcastic podcast about how when he tells people he went to the Olympics, they automatically assume he won. Their thought process is that if you’re good enough to make the US team, you’re good enough to win a medal. Many Americans DO take this for granted and don’t consider how funding, opportunity, and popularity can affect things. How many NCAA schools have swimming or track teams compared to those with gymnastics programs? Gymnastics is probably not even in the top 10 most popular sports for men in the US, and yet those guys STILL manage to make it on to the podium, and are coming off of a very successful quad. Loved this article and I’m glad someone is standing up for the US men!

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    • Bravo. USA is dominant in many sports, but that doesn’t mean that we should expect everyone we send to win. That just loads too much pressure on all our athletes.

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      • I think that we should have the expectation for our men to go and hit clean routines and then support them wherever there placement may be. If the perform poorly, there should also be accountability for that too! 🙂 Thank you for your comment!

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  6. The US men usually qualify in first or second place to the team final, and then botch their routines in finals. I have the exact same amount of faith in them losing as I do in the US women winning. I think the men need to be put under the same high pressure situations that the women are (such as simulated competitions at training camps) and then we can talk again.

    Not to mention, Sam Mikulak and John Orozco both should have all around medals around their necks from Rio and London, respectively, but they cracked under pressure. I’m not saying what they’re doing is easy, but I’m saying no US woman has even had a fall in the all around in 7 years (and if it weren’t for Rebecca Bross, it’d be 10 years with Nastia). It has nothing to do with the country, it’s the training regimens, and what they’ve been doing for the US men is NOT working. Clearly.

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    • Dear Anon! Please review the stats listed on this page. They do not “usually” qualify in 1st or 2nd. That has happened only about a 1/3 of the time. I would not call 33% the majority. If you read the article by Stick It here: http://www.stickitmedia.com/brett-mcclure-addresses-media-after-world-team-selection/, you will see that they have hired a new performance director and they are working on fixing these very issues.

      You could say the same for almost any athlete. Louis Smith fell off Pommels in Team final costing the team a medal, Kohei fell on his dismount at 2012 and in the AA Quals he placed 9th because he had so many mistakes, Shirai fell in floor finals, Berki failed to qualify for the Olympics, Zonderland failed to Qualify for finals. The list goes on and on.

      We’ve addressed that their previous tactics did not work. The entire point of this post is that even with all that, the fact that they were inconsistent, they still have the 4th highest total of medals and the 3rd highest percentage of team medals. That just because their success didn’t live up to their potential, that doesn’t mean that you are a failure.

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      • I agree that they don’t “usually” qualify in 1st or 2nd place and then drop off the podium. The issue is that the times that it happened was at the last two Olympics. That is a very simple reason as to why the perception of the US men’s team failure exists. The Olympics is the highest profile event and at the last two, the US men showed in prelims that they have the potential to challenge for a team medal, maybe even gold. Then in finals, they fell apart and didn’t live up to that potential. The individual medals and World medals are great but American fans seem to be mostly hung up on an Olympic team medal and the bronze from Beijing was a long time ago.

        So I agree with you that it is a myth but I understand why the myth exists.

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      • I did not review the stats before posting. That was just from my general knowledge, which in my opinion, is pretty accurate. They usually qualify top 3-not top 2. Whatever.

        Not that it matters, Kensley, but I think what you’re saying is super obvious. Obviously one is not a failure if one doesn’t live up to his/her potential… You can say that for every sport. That’s why there is such thing as participation trophies. What I’m saying, and what I think you understand, is that the US mens team is disastrously inconsistent, despite the medals. The individual separate gymnasts that you mentioned are all from different countries. This is a country problem, not an individual problem that we are talking about. It is a US problem, not a “John Orozco” problem or a “Samuel Mikulak” problem. It is a “wtf is the US mens program doing when they are preparing for the Olympics/World Championships” problem. Cause whatever it is, it ain’t workin’.

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  7. I think you made a good point upthread that even through their inconsistencies they are not failures. That is an important point and I agree with it. What we can criticise as fans of the US program is their inconsistency in moments that really matter. By them showing they can place 2nd among teams in qualifications it shows they are capable of more medals if they just hit. Im not sure what the answer to that problem is but it seems the women’s program has solved it. Another issue that is not exactly the same on the women’s side is that MAG had A LOT more more room to grow when the code opened up. The exponential growth in difficulty on a lot of events makes the sport a lot harder and gives a lot more room to specialists who can blow other people out of the water on certain events. That means ultimately on certain events there is not that much room for an AA gymnast or a 4 event gymnast to make an impact in an event final.

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    • I am absolutely in agreement with the first part of this statement! You know All the All-around medalists from at least the past two games actually have individual world or AA medals to claim for themselves, so I wouldn’t say that they can’t make an impact. I would say PH is the prime example for the case that you made. We see more and more gymnasts focusing on pommels, meaning that yes, AA’s have a harder time making an impact there in event finals,, but Max Whitlock won the event last time and he also had an AA medal around his neck!

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  8. I will admit that I didn’t really get interested in men’s gymnastics until maybe 2013. I was mostly a women’s gymnastics fan and a once-a-year men’s gymnastics fan. I think that it is completely unfair to compare to men and women: different sports, different expectiations, different athletes. I feel like there is a lot more excitement in men’s gymnastics. I am on the edge of my seat so much more. I don’t know how, but we need to increase the interest and visibility of men’s gymnastics. I was just at Nationals in Anaheim and they were doing a poll on the way into the arena, asking 100 people to name a famous gymnast. When they asked me, I said named Yul Moldauer. The poll taker looked at me like I was an idiot and she said, “no, name a famous gymnast.” Yul was LEADING the men’s competition and the people working the event did not know his name! I had to explain who Yul was and spell his name for her. I just felt that highlighted the disparity between the popularity of men and women in gymnastics.

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    • I really appreciate your input! I worked for a team in the NCAA and had the chance to work with many coaches before moving to coaches. I encountered a stigma about promoting NCAA MAG, but even Women’s teams have had to promote. Greg Marsden did wonders for UTAH to create the crowds that they have now. In Germany, gymnastics is very popular there as a spectator’s sports. The meets that I went to sold out! It was very very exciting! I’ve tried to introduce some of their ideas here, but I’ve been met with some resistance. I believe some changes to need to be made! I believe that Brett will help lead the team to achieve the consistency that fans crave!

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      • Germany is the birthplace of gymnastics. That probably explains part of why gymnastics competitions are sold out there. The intrinsic features of a sport such as scoring and format don’t have all that much to do with popularity. If they did, NFL style football and it’s closest relative rugby would have similar levels of popularity, yet football is America’s Game and Rugby isn’t even sponsored by the NCAA.

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  9. This was really interesting! It could also be a combination of sentimentality and qualifications? Sometimes it feels like they have the potential to be top 2 or even win-but as we see here they haven’t been top 2 in finals since 2006. Obviously a lot of that has to do with the fact that China and Japan are so domininant-well trained and with amazing skills, but it feels like the US has the capability to get into the top 2, but they can’t follow through.

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  10. Its all about consistency and training I think… the men program could use a dose of marta s training!… they already have the potential but they nees that consistency

    Consistency is the biggest obvious difference between us men and women team

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  11. There are far fewer boys going into gymnastics than girls in the US, and far less support at every level leading up to the Olympics. There are between 7 and 8 more females than males entering the pipeline. The women’s talent pool is so much larger the odds of really great gymnast showing up on the women’s side are that much greater. Also, the best out of 7000 is probably going to be better than the best out of 1000. Even the the US men and women had identical training systems, the laws of probabilty predict that the women would be more successful. It would be very odd if they were not.

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  12. I think this boils down to simple disappointment and consistency. What’s worse than someone being angry at you? Someone being disappointed in you. I support the men’s team but they’ve disappointed me a lot more over the last 10 years (and previously); and usually during major competitions. I love all the medals and personality Danell gave us, Jake Dalton’s toe point, even Blaine Wilson back in the day, but they’ve just never met expectations. I don’t consider them failures, but I don’t want to be disappointed anymore so I’ve watched less and less. I think a part of it is also that the women’s team went from being a decent team to a powerhouse in the same time period yet the men’s program has not seemed to progress.

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  13. No one calls the US men “failures.” We do think they under perform, but that’s far from being “failures.” Mostly, I just don’t care very much about the U.S. men right now, not even enough to be “disappointed” in them. And I’m a HUGE MAG fan.

    The main issue is the lack of charismatic US male gymnasts right now and in the recent past. I don’t even mean anyone to be compared to Simone or Shawn. I mean someone to be compared to Oleg Verniaiev, or Louis Smith, or Kenzo Shirai, or Epke Zonderland, or Mario Dragelescu etc. These guys are great gymnasts, but do not win all of their competitions. However, whenever they compete, we can’t keep our eyes off of them. They have a definite “it” factor. I cheer for the US men in team finals, but in all individual events, I root for guys from other countries.

    I wish the US men produced some gymnasts with the “it” factor. Right now, I just feel “meh” towards them.

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  14. It is kind like the opposite of China. Until recently, Chinese men’s team are all star winners. The women’s team has not bad results but the atmosphere is different when u watching men’s and women’s team. I had faith in Chinese men’s team the same as US women’s team, and had same doubts about US men’s team and Chinese women’s team. It was a tourture to watch a live game of the latter two teams. Chinese men’s team are like real celebrity just like US team girls, they attend more social events than the girls. One time there was a photo showing the Chinese men’s team were taking business classes or diet class while the girls team were taking economic class flight while attending a same international meet. It put quite a stir in Chinese social media.

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    • I agree with this statement! Very similar! The Chinese men have dominated the majority of the last decade and the women’s team has not and so they are treated differently, not because they haven’t accomplished anything, but because they haven’t lived up to the expectations of their male counterparts!

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  15. I dont know a ton about MAG history, only the last 3 quads or so, so forgive me if this is a dumb question.. but has the senior elite age qualification for men ever been questioned or changed? In WAG the requirement is age 16 in the calender year of competition but for men its 18. Most MAG gymnasts are current or former NCAA athletes at that level where as its the opposite for WAG (with some exceptions). Also, the men use the elite code in NCAA where as the women use (a modified version) of JO code. If all these factors were changed to be the same, would it make a difference? If a 16 year old male gymnast could compete at Worlds, would that help the sport? Would we see more women continue in elite after NCAA if they adapted the elite code? Just something to think about:)

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    • Hi Ryan! Thank you so much for your comment! So the general consensus is that lowering the age group for me really wouldn’t help at all. As it is, it is very very rare for a younger male gymnasts to have international success. Because men tend to gather more strength as they age, their sport favors older bodies, where as the women’s code favors more flexibility (meaning more than the men’s,) and their bodies peak much sooner! If anything, I think the age for the men would be raised rather than lowered.

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