The Individual Final Contenders for MAG in Tokyo

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Uchimura Kohei

After previously discussing how the men’s teams looked in podium training on Wednesday, let’s now take a look at all of the individual final contenders we’ll see in qualifications at the 2020 Olympic Games.

The All-Around

The same countries that are expected to be the leading team contenders will also have the biggest all-around threats in the mix. 

For China, Xiao Ruoteng and Sun Wei should be the top two in the mix, with both capable of reaching the 86-87 range pretty easily, while Hashimoto Daiki and Kitazono Takeru will be Japan’s top threats, and then for Russia, it’s reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy who will be hoping to add Olympic gold to his collection.

I do think Nagornyy is the top athlete in this mix if he comes in at full strength, but with the way he was struggling and limping a bit on floor in podium training, I’m a little worried about him pulling it off. Still, I think he’s a true performer if nothing else, and feel that he generally competes far better than he trains. Once it’s go time and he steps onto the floor in front of judges, I expect we’ll see someone who’s going to do everything he can to land on top of the podium.

Russia also has David Belyavskiy, individual competitor Aleksandr Kartsev, and potentially Artur Dalaloyan all competing in the all-around, and I think Kartsev has a really strong shot at getting the second spot based on how things looked in training, but all would be capable of getting there and doing well.

For China, neither Lin Chaopan nor Zou Jingyuan should be capable of upsetting either Xiao or Sun unless something goes wildly amiss. Both Xiao and Wei narrowly missed the podium in 2019, so they’ll have a but Japan has two additional strong all-arounders on the team behind the Hashimoto and Kitazono, with the more experienced Tanigawa Wataru and Kaya Kazuma both easily capable of stepping in should either of their younger teammates struggle. 

I’m really looking forward to see how the new standout all-arounder from the United States, Brody Malone, will stack up to his international competition after dominating at home this season. He is all focus, no emotion, and that will serve him well under the Olympic pressure he’ll face here. Teammates Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus could go either way for the second spot, but I also won’t count out three-time Olympian Sam Mikulak, who wasn’t that far behind at trials, and who could definitely be right up there if everything comes together all at once in qualifications.

There’s also Ukraine’s new senior Illia Kovtun, who upset some talented veterans to medal at European Championships this year. Kovtun is pretty balanced, and like Malone, he is so calm and unrattled out there on the floor. I have high expectations for him, and don’t think he’ll disappoint. Teammates Petro Pakhniuk and Yevgen Yudenkov are about equally capable of getting a second spot, though neither would be even an outside hope for a medal in the way Kovtun could be.

Others to keep an eye on are the Turkish gymnasts, Adem Asil and Ahmet Önder, Caio Souza and young teammate Diogo Soares of Brazil, Lee Chih-Kai and Tang Chia-Hung of Taiwan, pretty much any of the Swiss guys, though Eddy Yusof won most of the national meets and trials leading up to the Games, Marios Georgiou of Cyprus, Carlos Yulo of the Philippines, Brits Joe Fraser and James Hall, Lukas Dauser and Andreas Toba of Germany, South Korea’s young new talent Ryu Sung-hyun as well as veteran Kim Han-sol…

Floor Exercise

Everyone knows Nikita Nagornyy as one of the best floor workers in the world, with his triple back pike one of the most difficult skills ever competed in gymnastics, period. He’s a favorite for the podium and for gold, but with his struggles in podium training, I’m definitely a little worried about his chances. His biggest competition will come from 2019 world champion Carlos Yulo and Artem Dologpyat of Israel, the 2019 silver medalist who has looked excellent this year.

Xiao Ruoteng is also one who is hoping to factor in, but I’m most excited about the two Koreans, Ryu Sung-hyun and Kim Han-sol. Ryu, who is just 18, has the second-highest difficulty in the world, behind Shirai Kenzo. He’s actually kind of like a mini Shirai with so many tough twisting passes, and he’s incredibly solid at everything he does, while Kim is also capable of pretty big scores.

For Japan, Hashimoto Daiki will be a top competitor with Kitazono Takeru also potentially capable of getting into the final, world cup series champion Rayderley Zapata of Spain will bring huge tumbling (like his eponymous Zapata II, a front double layout with 1½ twists), Benjamin Gischard of Switzerland has looked really strong here this year, Giarnni Regini-Moran of Great Britain could be a threat if he can get his execution under control, and then I also really love Milad Karimi of Kazakhstan, Adem Asil of Turkey, and Loris Frasca of France, though he didn’t train this event on the podium the other day, so we’ll see if he’ll be able to pull it off in qualifications.

Pommel Horse

The battle everyone’s waiting for is the one between 2019 world champion Max Whitlock of Great Britain and 2018 European and Commonwealth Games champion Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland. McClenaghan is the cleaner and tighter of the two, but Whitlock is known to bring tons of difficulty, especially in finals, taking his routine up to a 7.0 in the 2019 final. Both had a weak Euros this year, with McClenaghan missing a medal while Whitlock missed the final entirely, so we’ll be sure to see the two of them bring everything they’ve got in Tokyo to win this quad’s ultimate prize.

My other favorite is Lee Chih-Kai of Taiwan, who is so masterful on the horse with his nearly fully-flaired routine. He looked beautiful in podium training, and has that combination of high difficulty and brilliant execution that could get him ahead of both Whitlock and McClenaghan.

Kameyama Kohei of Japan, the world cup series winner who qualified his spot on pommel horse, is also very strong on this event, as is Matvei Petrov of Albania, though he can be pretty hit or miss. I’m also looking forward to seeing what Illia Kovtun can bring, and think he should at least make the final. For China, Zou Jingyuan is the top guy, but I could see both Xiao Ruoteng and Sun Wei potentially sneaking in, Alec Yoder of the United States has been super consistent with his scores almost always surpassing a 15, David Belyavskiy of Russia has been known to pull off great routines, Cyril Tommasone of France is always a contender, and I also love Marios Georgiou of Cyprus, so it would be great to see him make it in.

Of course, it’s pommel horse, and if things work out anything like they did at European Championships this year, this field could be totally different from what we expect.

Still Rings

After Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece secured his spot through the world cups at the last possible second, it meant the 2016 Olympic champion would be in Tokyo to defend his title, but as incredible as the Lord of the Rings may be, China’s Liu Yang has been looking hot on this event all quad, and it could be a battle to the death between the two.

All three 2019 world medalists are here as well with the hopes of reaching the podium, including champion Ibrahim Colak of Turkey, silver medalist Marco Lodadio of Italy, and bronze medalist Samir Aït Saïd of France, the latter of whom showed off a new skill – a press to handstand out of a planche – to increase his difficulty and help his chances here.

The trio looked great in training and are all capable of 15+ scores, the Russians Nikita Nagornyy and Denis Ablyazin aren’t far behind, and there’s also Arthur Zanetti of Brazil and Igor Radivilov of Ukraine to round out the absolute top contenders. I anticipate this will be the absolute toughest final to medal in, and think the top eight guys could all fall within tenths of one another if everyone hits the way they’re capable of.

Vault

The South Koreans are hoping to be dominant on this event, with 2012 champion Yang Hak-seon bringing back his eponymous handspring triple full while world cup series winner Shin Jea-hwan can put up one of the highest combinations of difficulty in the world. So can Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov, this year’s European champion who has looked excellent this week in training, and Adem Asil of Turkey, though he’ll need his execution to match the top guys if he’s after the podium.

Again, Nikita Nagornyy of Russia will be a top contender assuming all goes well with him, as will teammate Denis Ablyazin, and I’m really excited to see if Giarnni Regini-Moran can get on the podium after his fantastic showing at Euros, though his struggles in podium training have me a little worried.

Someone who may not be on your radar is Ivan Tikhonov of Azerbaijan, but he looked better than pretty much anyone in terms of his consistency and execution in podium training, so I’d keep my eyes open for him if I were you, and I’m also hoping to see Artur Davtyan of Armenia, Loris Frasca of France (if he’s healthy, as he skipped this event in training the other day), Milad Karimi of Kazakhstan, Rayderley Zapata of Spain, Caio Souza of Brazil, and Ahmet Önder of Turkey have shots at the final, with Marian Dragulescu of Romania only a maybe for me right now based on his struggles on Wednesday.

Parallel Bars

Like rings, this is another event with a ton of depth at the very top, so we’ll likely see some of the greatest parallel bars workers in the world miss out on the final completely. 2019 world champion Joe Fraser of Great Britain, for example, has struggled on this event when I’ve seen him compete this year, while world cup series winner You Hao of China could potentially be two-per-country’ed out by his teammates.

The big name to watch here is China’s Zou Jingyuan, who has one of the most difficult sets in the world with the execution to match (when he’s at his best, hitting above a 9.0 E score is common for him). Ferhat Arican of Turkey is coming in with a 7.0 difficulty score, making him a huge threat, but he lacks some of the finesse that makes Zou so great, and will need to bring his A-game if he wants to be a threat.

Lukas Dauser of Germany is typically excellent on this event, China also tends to see some of Sun Wei’s best work here, the Russians are all capable of greatness here with David Belyavskiy’s style my favorite of the bunch while individual competitor Vladislav Poliashov is here essentially just to threaten for a medal here, Japan also has several final contenders here with Kaya Kazuma my favorite, Illia Kovtun and Petro Pakhniuk of Ukraine are ones to watch, Switzerland tends to bring it with Christian Baumann especially good…it’s a very crowded field with lots of capable athletes, and making the top eight is going to be a huge win in itself.

High Bar

Most of the biggest names in the high bar universe are here in Tokyo, and that includes Japan’s golden boy, the legendary Uchimura Kohei, who is competing only on this event here, and with one of the most difficult and most brilliantly performed routines in the field, he could very well make his country super proud for the millionth time in event finals.

All of Japan’s high bar workers are pretty great, and I could see either Hashimoto Daiki or Kitazono Takeru making the final as well based on how they’ve looked this year, especially if Hashimoto can knock out the difficulty he’s shown to be capable of in the past.

Three of the biggest podium hopefuls are Tin Srbic of Croatia, Arthur Mariano of Brazil and Brody Malone of the United States, with Malone’s teammate Sam Mikulak also hoping to factor into the finals situation. The Flying Dutchman Epke Zonderland will also be a contender, though he doubts his current level of preparation will be enough to see this dream through, while his teammate Bart Deurloo wants to pull out all of the stops to make the podium a reality.

Lin Chaopan of China pretty much made this team because of what he’s capable of on high bar, but I don’t know if he’ll be a match if all of the top guys are on fire, and then two of my personal favorites I’d love to just see in the final are Robert Tvorogal of Lithuania and Milad Karimi of Kazakhstan, both of whom have come leaps and bounds on this event in recent years to become legit final contenders. Tang Chia-Hung of Taiwan will be one to watch, Tyson Bull of Australia looked great in training and could have a good shot at the final, Pablo Brägger of Switzerland is another good bet, Illia Kovtun of Ukraine again has tons of potential, as does Andreas Toba of Germany…

Some of these guys may not always be the best on this apparatus, but their routines are good enough to make them legitimate contenders should the top guys falter, and I think we’ll definitely see a few surprises in addition to the guys we expect to see make the final.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

4 thoughts on “The Individual Final Contenders for MAG in Tokyo

  1. I feel like Xiao Ruoteng often doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is on pommel horse. He is literally a world champion on it.

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    • He’s fine on it now but just isn’t like, world/Olympic champion good right now and hasn’t been at his full potential there in a few years. He’s good but not a contender for a medal or even the final if everyone hits.

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