The first session of event finals in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games starts this afternoon, where the women will fight for titles on vault and uneven bars, while the men compete on floor and pommel horse.
With Simone Biles withdrawing from the two women’s finals after leading on vault and sneaking into the bottom spot on bars, her teammate MyKayla Skinner will take her place on vault after qualifying fourth but missing the final due to the two-per-country rule, while France’s Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos is in on bars after qualifying 11th, where she matched Biles’ score but lost the tie-break on execution.
The vault final has potential to be wild and unpredictable. Both Skinner and Jade Carey, who qualified second, had the highest difficulty in prelims with their Cheng and Amanar combos, but there are two others who will make things difficult for them.
Yeo Seo-jeong of South Korea was less than a tenth behind Skinner, competing a beautiful rudi and Yurchenko double, and if she upgrades her first vault to her eponymous handspring front double full, it could be enough to push her into medal contention. However, having seen her attempt this vault in podium training, I’m worried that the additional four tenths in difficulty could affect how it looks in the air as well as the landing, so it might be in her best interest to “play it safe” with the rudi and hope to outscore the Americans on execution.
After upgrading to an impressive Cheng, the all-around silver medalist Rebeca Andrade of Brazil is not only a medal threat here, but a gold threat as well. Her Cheng is the best in this field, and hopefully the judges will award it as such, and while her Yurchenko double is lower-difficulty than the Amanars from the Americans, she has the potential to at least match them thanks to her execution. There are also rumors that she will bring out an Amanar here, but as with Yeo, I’d rather see the easier vault done well than a potentially problematic more difficult vault, especially considering Andrade hasn’t yet tried the Amanar on the podium.
The others in the vault final are the 2018 silver and bronze world medalists Shallon Olsen of Canada and Alexa Moreno of Mexico, joined by Russia’s Lilia Akhaimova and Angelina Melnikova to round out the field. Olsen has the same Cheng and Yurchenko double combo as Andrade, but isn’t as strong with her technique, while Moreno will compete a handspring rudi and tsuk double full, also a bit lacking in the air, but strong nonetheless. Melnikova has the same set as Olsen while Akhaimova has the same as Moreno, and while I would consider these four outside of the threats for the podium, with their levels of difficulty, any one of them could pull off a medal should one of the top prospects falter.
On bars, it was two-time world champion Nina Derwael with the lead in prelims ahead of Olympic all-around champion and 2019 world bronze medalist Sunisa Lee by just over a tenth, though Lee didn’t compete her full difficulty set here. Both scored a 15.4 in the team final, where Lee connected everything, though Derwael won on execution in this case, while Lee outscored Derwael by just under a tenth in the all-around competition…so what I’m saying is that this final will be lethal.
Both have incredible strengths here, and both have faults, but if both hit, I think it will come down to the two of them in the fight for gold, and it’s going to be a little thing like being a hair off on a handstand or taking a baby step on the dismount that decides it.
The Russians all performed beautifully in qualifications, with four gymnasts ranking third through sixth, though due to the two-per-country rule, it meant Melnikova and Anastasia Iliankova would move on to the final, while Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova are out. Neither Iliankova nor Melnikova match the top two on difficulty, nor can anyone else in this final, but they both have beautiful routines and should both be in the medal hunt, as well as capable of reaching silver or gold with mistakes from those at the top.
China has two gymnasts in the final, with Lu Yufei qualifying seventh while two-time world champion Fan Yilin was ninth, with lots of room for improvement on her execution. 2018 world bronze medalist Elisabeth Seitz of Germany and De Jesus Dos Santos round out the field with routines that have the potential to surprise. Like on vault, anyone in this final is capable of medaling, but it would take mistakes from those at the top for one of the underdogs to reach the podium.
All top eight men on floor qualified to the final, and with all eight separated by under half a point. Two-time world silver medalist Artem Dolgopyat of Israel came in as the favorite for gold with reigning European champion Nikita Nagornyy of Russia not at full difficulty, but I can see Nagornyy coming in with his eponymous piked triple back to climb the standings, especially as Nagornyy’s execution is some of the best we’ll see in this final. It should be a great match between these two guys for gold.
The young Ryu Sung-hyun of South Korea qualified third with the highest difficulty among the men at a 6.9. He’s a bit rushed in some of his elements, so his execution came in as the lowest for this group, but if he can create the same balance he did in prelims, he is absolutely a medal contender here. He only narrowly came in ahead of Rayderley Zapata of Spain, who had an incredible routine in prelims and also has room for upgrades, including to his eponymous full-in half-out front double layout.
Kim Han-sol of South Korea, Yul Moldauer of the United States, Xiao Ruoteng of China, and Milad Karimi of Kazakhstan round out the final, and of these, I think Karimi has the best shot for an upset. He delivered a routine in the all-around competition that would have matched the three at the very top, so if he can bring that level of perfection today, I can see him jumping over most of those who qualified ahead of him and finishing with a medal.
On pommels, everyone’s looking forward to the eternal battle between Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland, who qualified second with a 15.266, and Max Whitlock of Great Britain, who qualified fifth with a 14.900. McClenaghan wins on execution, while Whitlock can typically pull ahead on difficulty, but while these are the two I typically expect to see at the very top, there are a number of other guys in the mix who could also factor in.
Lee Chih-Kai of Taiwan, who has a fabulously clean and mostly flaired routine, qualified first with the same score as McClenaghan, though he won the tie-breaker on execution by a tenth, while Kameyama Kohei of Japan, who won the world cup series on pommel horse to qualify for the Olympic Games, matched McClenaghan’s score perfectly to tie him for second place.
Alec Yoder of the United States was less than a tenth behind this top group with the second-best execution score in prelims, and should be taken seriously as a medal threat, while Sun Wei of China, Kaya Kazuma of Japan, and David Belyavskiy of Russia round out the group of remaining contenders, and Belyavskiy has a lot he can improve on compared to last weekend. Also, this is pommels, so I don’t expect we’ll make it through without at least two falls, meaning the podium is wide open for an upset.
Article by Lauren Hopkins