The Likeliest Olympic Team Scenarios for China

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Ou Yushan

China held the first of two Olympic selection meets in Shanghai on Friday, and instead of clearing anything up, it has me questioning the team I thought made the most sense after nationals in early May.

A total of 12 ended up competing this weekend, while another two who were supposed to compete ended up sitting out due to injury. The meet here did help narrow down the 12 considerably, at least for the four team spots, but among those I’m still considering team contenders, it’s essentially an eight-way cluster with most of the positions filled going to depend on who else ends up on the team.

All of the eight on my list have something the team needs, but unlike other countries that can easily make selections using straight all-around results, China’s team situation will involve more of a puzzle that could mean a top all-arounder is left out completely while someone much lower-ranked ends up making more sense.

Let’s first talk about Ou Yushan, the 2019 world junior all-around bronze medalist, who comes the closest to a total package gymnast for me right now, as one of the higher-difficulty vaulters as well as someone who can contribute on all three remaining events in a team final with the beam final also within her grasp.

Ou would be the perfect contender if she was consistent, but the sad truth is that she’s not, and never really has been. She underperformed at nationals, where she didn’t pick up a single medal. She also withdrew from competing floor at this first trial, and though the reason is unknown, it’s no doubt something that could ultimately count against her.

But if she’s doing what she’s capable of, Ou is someone any team would kill for right now, and I don’t see how they’re going to be able to leave her at home unless she physically can’t compete. The second trial, which will take place on July 2, is where I expect some of these question marks will become more clear

Li Shijia, the bronze all-around medalist and beam champion at nationals this year, was a lock for me, until her injury this weekend. The word is that it’s nothing serious and that we shouldn’t “freak out,” but of course we’re going to freak out when someone who should be a top contender wasn’t able to compete at one of the trial meets just a month before the Games.

The 2019 world bronze medalist on beam, Li – who also competed in the all-around final in Stuttgart – is about as close to a total package gymnast as possible, with a stellar combination of high difficulty on every event but floor, mostly clean execution, and the style and flair that makes her so attractive to judges. She’s similar to Ou in that way, but also in the sense that her lack of consistency could make things scary in a team final.

Her Yurchenko double also looked a bit weak at nationals, and given that vault is how she got injured this weekend, it could be a bit of a risk to take her, especially because so many of the other strong team options are also weaker on vault, which could lead to trouble. Her vault is where she’ll need to prove herself the most if she competes at the second trial, but if the team can make room for another gymnast who can vault, I don’t see a problem in bringing Li.

I’m hoping we can see Li fill an all-around role in Tokyo, but if she’s limited, then I think it could work to take her for bars and beam, along with a vaulter like Zhang Jin, also a talented all-arounder, or perhaps Qi Qi, who has regained much of what she was lacking at nationals to jump back onto my contenders list.

The problem with Zhang, who won Friday’s trial meet after finishing second all-around at nationals, is that she doesn’t have a standout event, which could limit her potential when almost any other gymnast among the top eight in team contention has the ability to potentially make an individual apparatus final on top contributing to the team. Her beam is great, but on a team made of brilliant beam workers, it’s not good enough, and she’s merely “fine” on bars and floor.

But what she does bring to the table is the consistency that some of the favorites are lacking. Zhang hasn’t had a miss all year, even on bars, typically her weak event. She’s also one of the better vaulters, which is obviously crucial to this team no matter who gets selected. If she can potentially score nearly a point more on vault than most of the others here, I think this could be more valuable than taking yet another beam standout, especially when only two will obviously have a shot at the final.

The only other strong vaulter outside of Ou and Zhang is Qi, a finalist on the event at world championships in 2019, and also the 2020 national champion both there and on floor. She fell out of favor for the team after a lackluster nationals, where she struggled on both of her strong events and an injury caused her to sit out the finals on both, but with the top vault score and second-best floor score on Friday, I think she’s someone we can seriously consider again.

Of course, I’d want to see her repeat this performance at the second trial so we can see that she’s truly back and that this wasn’t a fluke. But if she’s looking good, I think her vault and floor combo would be difficult to ignore, and if she is included, it would mean there would be room for someone potentially limited on those events, like Li.

After Zhang, the other two top all-arounders this week were 2019 world all-around silver medalist Tang Xijing, and then Lu Yufei, who rose from B-team status for the majority of the quad to this year’s national all-around and floor champion at 21.

Both are weak on vault, but otherwise have solid enough routines that they could go up anywhere in a team final, with floor a particular standout for them, something the team could truly benefit from. Lu had a fall on bars at the trial meet, and finished just 0.033 behind Tang, who had a fully hit day, so going just by the numbers, Lu – who was also the third-best performer on beam and could serve the team well with a hit bar routine – would win between the two.

There is potentially room for both, though, especially if Li isn’t back up to standard. I also think that while both don’t have the flashiness of some of the other gymnasts, they’ve more than proven themselves with their national performances over the past year, and that’s a big part of this puzzle. Many of the exciting up-and-comers simply do not hit, so if you want to take one or two of them to show off a 7.0 beam routine, you need to balance them out with those who will go out there and get the job done for the team, regardless of how much of a contender they’d be for individual glory.

One gaping hole I haven’t yet addressed is bars. While most of those listed above have good work on bars, there isn’t anyone who is truly outstanding, and it’s why we won’t see a team that has Ou, Zhang, and Qi on it, no matter how good they make vault look.

Wei Xiaoyuan was the top bars performer in contention for a team spot this weekend, scoring a 15.033, her highest of the season after three 14.766s at nationals. The bronze medalist on the event at junior world championships in 2019, Wei also rarely misses here, and as an all-arounder, she’s not so far behind that group of Zhang, Tang, and Lu that it would be egregious to choose her over any of them.

But can she add more on bars than Zhang could add on vault? And is there any point in looking this deeply into how well-balanced the team is if a weaker bars team has more potential to bring in top total scores?

The other choice for bars, and the last on my list of eight contenders, is 2018 world champion Liu Tingting, who competed only on bars and beam here. Liu led the Chinese team for much of the quad after withdrawing from the 2016 Olympic team as a first-year senior due to a finger injury. But now, as Tokyo looms near, her participation chances seem slim, as she’s not doing vault or floor, and she is struggling to keep up with most of the others on beam.

If Liu goes, it would essentially be just for bars, which I don’t see happening. There is room for someone who’s more of a specialist on this team if they can crank out other routines if needed, and if Liu is back to full strength at the second trial, maybe that could be her. A team with the two strongest all-arounders, a vault and floor gymnast like Qi, and then a bars and beam standout like Liu would be ideal…but unfortunately, as great as this looks on paper, it’s not looking very likely without some major improvements coming in the next two weeks.

Looking at the Numbers

I’ve put together a few team scenarios using the average scores of each gymnast’s top four routines over the past year, if available. If the gymnast has only three scores, I take average her top two, dropping the lowest.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Total 41.664 43.676 44.690 42.261 172.291

In this first scenario, we have Lu and Ou as the core team contributors, while a healthy Li’s primary use is on bars and beam, and Qi’s is on vault and floor. This group produced the highest team score among all of the top scenarios.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Zhang Jin 14.424 13.583 14.633 13.691 56.331
Total 41.899 43.676 44.690 41.948 172.203

This is the same scenario as above, but with Zhang swapped into Qi’s place. Zhang’s floor brings the team’s score down a few tenths more than Qi’s vault would, but the difference is less than a tenth, so whether Qi or Zhang makes more sense would come down to how they look at the second trial. What Zhang offers that Qi doesn’t, however, are more reliable bars and beam sets, which could be valuable if the team needs to make some last-minute swaps before the team final.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Zhang Jin 14.424 13.583 14.633 13.691 56.331
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Total 42.056 43.692 44.732 41.590 172.070
Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Total 41.811 43.693 44.642 41.903 172.049

These two teams take Lu out of the picture as a core contributor and replaces her with Tang. The scoring potential is more or less the same, but comes out just a little behind with Tang not able to fill Lu’s shoes on floor…though as Tang is a much stronger vaulter, the team would no longer need to rely on an inconsistent and potentially injured Li on that event in the team final, making Tang a strong replacement for Lu.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Total 41.811 43.565 44.257 42.261 171.894
Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Zhang Jin 14.424 13.583 14.633 13.691 56.331
Total 42.056 43.565 44.257 41.948 171.826

The above two teams assume Li is injured to the extent that she won’t be able to compete at all. Lu, Ou, and Tang split up the bulk of the work, and again, Qi and Zhang are nearly interchangeable for vault and floor, with Qi’s team coming in slightly ahead, though of course Zhang could be more valuable in a pinch if needed on bars and beam.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Liu Tingting 13.250 14.729 14.577 13.650 56.206
Total 41.644 43.822 44.526 41.887 171.879
Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Wei Xiaoyuan 13.341 14.841 14.575 13.491 56.248
Total 41.644 43.934 44.524 41.728 171.830

These two scenarios are the top team puzzles when subbing in bar workers Wei and Liu, with Liu coming in slightly ahead of Wei thanks to her stronger floor work.

Teams that include someone like Wei or Liu just for bars that also take the vaulters Qi and Zhang outperform teams that take three core contributors plus a bar worker, largely because in the latter, the team would have to rely on vaults from gymnasts like Lu or Li, which is not something China would want in a team final. The same two teams above with Lu instead of Qi score about five tenths lower on average due to vault.

If Liu still had her Yurchenko double, or could get it back by July, that could change everything, and a team with Li, Ou, Lu, and Liu could be ideal…but is it likely that this will happen in the next two weeks when Liu hasn’t vaulted at all this year, and only competed a full in 2020? It’s doubtful.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Total 41.444 43.892 44.740 41.694 171.770
Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Zhang Jin 14.424 13.583 14.633 13.691 56.331
Total 41.698 43.892 44.740 41.381 171.711

The teams in the above tables are the first where Ou is out of the picture, so you can see just how valuable she is, and that the team total drops nearly half a point if you get rid of her…but her averaged top scores are assuming she’ll hit, which given her history isn’t a given. Qi is again slightly ahead of Zhang in these two, but the difference is yet again by less than a tenth.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Lu Yufei 13.474 14.583 14.741 14.024 56.822
Tang Xijing 13.716 14.599 14.783 13.666 56.764
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Total 41.181 43.892 44.740 41.923 171.736

I also put together a team that includes all four of the all-arounders who would be China’s best if everyone is at full strength. It would be a gorgeous team, but without an additional vaulter, they’re forced to count much weaker scores there, which is why this team comes in about five tenths down from the top scenario.

Athlete VT UB BB FX Total
Li Shijia 13.549 14.710 15.216 13.449 56.914
Ou Yushan 13.916 14.383 14.733 14.233 57.265
Qi Qi 14.179 13.158 13.920 14.004 55.261
Zhang Jin 14.424 13.583 14.633 13.691 56.331
Total 42.519 42.549 44.107 42.261 171.436

For one final scenario, I decided to try the top-scoring team that would take both vaulters into the equation. On a team with both Qi and Zhang, the all-arounders with the top scoring potential end up being Li and Ou, with Lu and Ou a close second, but while this vault score is the highest among any scenario, the team now falls too short on bars and floor.

What Did We Learn?

The top eight team scenarios all include Ou, who seems to be the one constant in a field of a million variables, but while she’s great on paper, the question of her consistency could very well come into play. That being said, she could be worth the risk, especially when she’s one who could contribute on all four events in a team final on top of earning individual medals. I don’t see how China could leave her behind.

Equally as important is that no team is among the highest-scoring scenarios without a top vaulter, which is a crucial hole China will need to fill. A team with three strong all-arounders plus a top vaulter would be the ideal situation for this country, and because most of these scenarios are so close, it really should just come down to those who look the most ready at the final selection for pretty much all of the roles on the squad.

Based on the scores we’ve already seen, a team with Lu, Ou, Li, and either Qi or Zhang would win out over any other team where Tang is inserted in place of any of the top options. However, the difference is so negligible among the three all-arounders, Tang could – and probably should – get a spot over Li given her situation right now, and my final bet is that the team will include Lu, Ou, Tang, and then a vaulter.

One other thing we need to consider is the potential for Tang and Lu to add Yurchenko doubles by the second trial. Tang hasn’t competed hers this year, and I don’t think Lu has ever competed this vault, but if even one of them can throw a good one at the second trial, it would essentially negate the need for a gymnast whose sole duty would be vault. If this is the case, a team of Lu, Ou, Tang, and Li would be perfection, but assuming Li is unable to compete due to her injury, I think I’d go with either Zhang, Wei, or Liu in that position.

Who Else Is There?

While no one else who competed at trials will be in the mix for the team, there are a couple who are still heavily in consideration for the individual berths.

I’ll get the easiest out of the way. Fan Yilin has mathematically clinched a nominative berth to the Olympic Games via the apparatus world cups, so she’s out of the team picture, though will still make it to her second Olympic Games. At this week’s trial, she got a 15.233 on bars, the second-highest score of the year behind Team USA’s Sunisa Lee, and she has the potential to not only medal, but also fight for gold in what should be an explosive final.

China also qualified a non-nominative berth via the all-around world cups being canceled with the spots reallocated to the top three teams from qualifications at world championships in 2019. The word is that the federation wants to send a specialist, preferably one who is likely to medal on beam, with Guan Chenchen most solidly in the mix. Guan, who wasn’t likely to factor into the team, only competed two events at trials, finishing second on beam with a 15.133. Though the country’s beam depth is super crowded, Guan has repeatedly proved that she’s one of China’s top, so I’d be pleased to see her get the opportunity to show off what she can do on the Olympic stage.

There’s also Luo Ruo, He Licheng, and Sun Xinyi, all younger members of the team who are strong in many ways but who aren’t likely to be included in the team selection, while Chen Yile – who has been injured on and off over the past few years and hasn’t been able to compete at full strength this season – skipped out on the trial and is almost certainly not likely to contend.

Luo and He are both lovely on bars and beam, but the work they’re doing there isn’t quite what their teammates are capable of. Still, they could factor in as alternates, and of course, they’ll likely be hoping to stick around into the next quad, where additional experience could make them frontrunners when looking at Paris 2024. Sun, meanwhile, is hoping to be considered for the second individual berth, with beam her standout event, but I doubt she’ll be in serious contention based on the routines she’s shown this year.

The final trial will be held on July 2, with the team named after. Full results from the first trial are available here.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

17 thoughts on “The Likeliest Olympic Team Scenarios for China

  1. Liang Chow is really going to have some work to do once the vault scores are nerfed across the board. I don’t think China is going to want to go to Paris with 12.5-13.0 vault scores. Sure, average vault scores will be lower for every team, but with China BARELY able to even pull off decent DTY’s I see this being a big issue for them.

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    • Yeah, I agree…the fact that they only had three higher-level vaults out of 12 competitors a month before the Games is worrisome. I know there’s a lot of “well, these people are all supposed to upgrade” but in Liu Tingting’s case, she hasn’t done a DTY in years and 1000% isn’t going to magically get it back in the next two weeks. Vault is a huge issue, and it could hurt them in Tokyo, and will definitely hurt them down the road.

      I know Chow tried to bring plyometrics to the national program to build on the leg events, so maybe the gymnasts at the lower levels who are doing this from a young age will build up into power gymnasts…it seems like most who have been trying to do it this quad can’t hack it in the long run, so they’re just chucking them until they can’t anymore, which isn’t safe. But yeah, again, hopefully the leg strengthening will work and the team can keep churning out the beautiful bars and beam gymnasts, but then also allow for some power kids to slip through at a higher rate than they’re currently doing.

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    • I disagree with this statement. The fact that basically every vault will be -0,4 in the next quad means that mathematically nothing will change in terms of “difference between good vault teams and bad vault teams”.
      A teams with 3 FTY vs a team with 3 DTY in the current code is going to have the same exact disadvantage of a team with 3 FTY vs a team 3 DTY in the next code, which is -2,4 in start value.

      Two teams that now score 170 and 171 will score 168,8 and 169,8 in the next quad because of -1,2 on vault. It is a 1 point difference now and it will be a 1 point difference next quad.

      As long as the gap between start values remains the same, nothing really changes. The can give the FTY a 7 SV and the DTY a 7,8 SV and it would be the same. They can give the FTY a 3,5 in SV and the DTY a 4,3 SV and it would be the same.

      Basically FIG changed literally nothing.

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      • Do you think most teams will continue to be comprised of DTY vaults though? With team sizes going back up to 5, you have to think there will be more room for vault specialists doing cheng, amanar, etc. Again, China, currently, can barely pull off DTY’s. This doesn’t appear to be an option for them.

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        • I mean, upgrading to amanars/chengs is difficult and potentially dangerous and the gain will be the same as in the current cycle so I don’t really foresee a surge of harder vaults next quad. Of course having one is always a good thing.
          I think gymnasts will continue to push UB and BB to the limits though, since there are “easier” to upgrade by working the code. Floor is definitely the worst upgradable apparatus since it basically stayed the same for decades and it’s so hard to even go near 6 a D-score when bars is nearing 7 and beam already surpassed it… I think that UB/BB are evolving so fast because upgrading VT is too dangerous and upgrading FX is too much work for so little reward. At least, this is my opinion. 🙂

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      • It’s obviously impactful because then countries without good vaults will care less about a vault score gap given that they can make up those points more easily elsewhere with virtually everything on bars increasing in value etc

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  2. Thank you! Love this overview.

    If Li Shijia isn’t at 100% on the leg events by next trial, perhaps she could be considered for the second specialist spot? She did win beam at nationals, and may be worth taking over Guan Chenchen who seems less consistent.

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    • Yes! 100%. I didn’t get into that here but I think there are a couple team contenders who could also work as individuals and Li Shijia is hands down the top choice for that. It looks like some of the people who were initially saying “don’t worry” are now saying she’s really injured in which case neither team nor individual is likely but I hope she pulls through and can get there in some capacity.

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  3. I just would like to thank you for all these awesome calculations and information you provide for us! I enjoy reading your articles so much ❤ thank you so much for your efforts! Big hugs from Berlin, Germany

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    • Thanks so much! It was fun to go through and see that a team I initially thought might be the top team was actually pretty low…and also good to know how important vault will be for this team!

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  4. Wouldn’t it make sense to put one of the vaulters (Zhang) on the team and the other one (QQ) as a specialist? They certaintly don’t fit on the team together and also certainly one of them is needed. But why send a BB specialist when they most definitely have three great beamers on the team (example: Li, Ou, Liu). By sending another vaulter too, they can maximize they chances of making individual finals right?

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  5. Chinese domestic judging are wild though. Liu Tingting’s domestic beam scores always lackluster, but when it goes to the world stage, Liu always emerged as the best Beamer for the team for every single year in the this squad.

    (Don’t forget Guan Chenchen’s disastrous beam routine that didn’t even make a single impression in Junior Worlds. She was supposedly the most difficult Beamer in theory by far but…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, their scores are outrageous, which is also partly why I’m thinking that while Ou looks like top dog on paper, she isn’t actually going to get a 15.6 or whatever on beam. But they’re definitely going to be selecting the team based on the domestic scores, and the Chinese program is the one behind the “Guan Chenchen will get the individual spot” gossip, so that’s straight from them, not my guess. I personally would do things differently, but based on what I’ve been hearing plus how the gymnasts have been competing at home, this is what’s looking like the most obvious.

      Regarding Liu, I was actually wondering if they’re scoring her low at home on purpose because of what happened in the 2019 TF…conspiracy theory, haha, but I can see them not wanting her anywhere near the team this year because of that, and keeping her scores low will make leaving her at home justifiable, so…it’s possible. There are scenarios where Liu on the team makes sense, and I think her international scores will very likely outscore some of the “flashier” gymnasts like OYS and LSJ.

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  6. Pingback: The Likeliest Olympic Team Scenarios for China – Hadi Bws

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