After the sheer dominance by the Soviet men in the 1980s collapsed alongside the USSR itself, the Russian men have struggled to find themselves atop the podium at world championships.
They’ve come close a few times, most recently winning silver in 2006, but with China and Japan reigning supreme over the past decade and both Great Britain and the United States climbing the rankings at the same time, the Russians always seem to end up left out. In 2016, however, the team picked up the silver medal less than three points behind Japan, and in qualifications in Doha this week, they led the team competition by half a point over the Chinese, putting them in a position to win a first-ever world championships team gold this afternoon.
It’s not going to be easy. The Russians looked unstoppable in qualifications, with some room for improvement, but not as much as other teams. David Belyavskiy wasn’t at his best on most of his events, which cost him a spot in the all-around final, and the team counted a fall on pommels, but otherwise they looked close to their best, whereas China has a lot they can fix to make them the top contender.
I think the Chinese are most likely to pull off the win, but the Russians have shown three times now – in qualifications and finals at Euros and now in qualifications here – that they’re a massive world strength right now and if they can do this just one more time, they can absolutely get the upset to win the country’s first world championships team gold.
We can’t forget about the reigning Olympic champions from Japan, but with Kohei Uchimura injured, pommels looking bleak (the team opted to leave both specialists on this event at home in favor of those who could contribute on multiple events), and rings a major weakness compared to China and Russia, I think even a fully hit performance from them will leave them no better than bronze, but this is men’s gymnastics and crazier things have happened.
Really surprising to me in qualifications were the U.S. men coming in half a point ahead of the British, but with the British team losing Nile Wilson to injury pretty close to the departure for Doha, it wasn’t going to be an easy meet for them. The rest of the team competed mostly well, but I think even at full strength in the final, their difficulty keeps them a bit too far behind the top teams.
The same can be said for the U.S. Sam Mikulak crushed his qualifications performance to qualify into five individual finals, but will need to put that same energy in a second day now, which is something he has struggled to do in the past. I will be surprised – pleasantly so! – if he can make it happen, and I hope for the sake of the team, he can show how well he can lead, especially because most of the guys here in Doha with him are so young and really need him to step it up.
For the U.S., I think a fully hit pommels and high bar rotation could make them competitive against a weak Japan, but they’d really need to rely on even more mistakes from the Japanese men than we saw in qualifications, and I don’t know if that’ll happen. Still, with such a young team, fourth place will be more than respectable, and I’d be happy if they can just make it through this three-up three-count final with no falls.
The other teams here – Brazil, the Netherlands, and Switzerland – won’t really factor into the race for the podium, but all are capable of putting up excellent performances, and frankly, I’m just thrilled to see the Netherlands and Switzerland in the final!
The Netherlands was one of my favorites going into Euros, and I thought they’d actually have a shot at the podium this year, albeit a long shot. But a rough qualifications performance left them out completely, and I thought if Euros didn’t happen, worlds certainly wouldn’t. But thankfully, the guys crushed it in qualifications here, fighting through pommels but still putting up one of the stronger rotations in the field, even besting Japan and the United States on the event, despite errors. Making the final alone was a huge win for these guys – it’s their first worlds team final in history – and I hope they make it a real party out on the floor today.
The Swiss men were in the opposite situation here, coming in expected to make the final but then showing weaknesses on even their best events on their first day of competition, leaving them completely out of the picture for individual finals, with high bar hurting the most. Even with a much stronger team than they brought to Euros now that Eddy Yusof and Pablo Brägger are back, they scored roughly the same as they did in Glasgow this summer, so they’re definitely capable of showing a greater performance level to us here and I hope we get to see them do that in today’s final.
As for Brazil, I thought they looked mostly fantastic in prelims, aside from pommels (but that’s everyone). They have the ability for some small improvements, but none enough that will suddenly turn them into a podium contender. I think they’ll finish solidly in the middle with a good day, just on the cusp of being a top team, but not quite there just yet.
Ukraine got closest to the final without making it, improving on their performance a bit from Euros with Oleg Verniaiev – a weak Oleg, but Oleg nonetheless – back, but I didn’t consider them a finals contender this year and was glad to see them get so close with mistakes. It was gutting to see France and Germany – this year’s third and fourth best teams at Euros, respectively – not make it, but both had a couple of late replacements to the team due to injuries, putting them in a precarious place coming in.
The men’s competition begins at 4 pm local time (9 am on the east coast in the U.S.), and you can watch it via the FIG’s live stream.
Article by Lauren Hopkins