Lexi Zeiss, Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey, Shilese Jones, Skye Blakely, and Leanne Wong
It’s been a busy couple of days of not being able to watch podium training at world championships, but after piecing enough together from various people who are physically there and adding videos (including Gymcastic on YouTube and Gymnastics Now on Instagram), and knowing what we’ve been able to see over the course of the past year, wanted to give my take on what I think we’ll see from the team competition and who will make the final in Liverpool.
The Best Bets
In terms of making the team final, I have six teams in mind that I don’t think will miss out even if not everything goes perfectly well in qualifications.
The United States is the first on the list as the reigning world champions who haven’t missed out on a title since 2011. Though the team missed out on gold at the Olympics last year, with the Russians not attending, the U.S. team is the highest-ranked team from Tokyo, so based on pedigree alone, the women are coming in as the team to beat.
While the team here is very strong and is absolutely in contention for gold, they may be relying too much on vault and floor difficulty, while beam could be difficult to overcome. The problem is similar to what we saw at the Olympics last summer, especially when the judges were much harsher on dance elements and artistry on both beam and floor, leading to scores that were a bit lower than what the team saw at home.
On bars, the U.S. has more positives than negatives, and while they’re not the best bars team at worlds, they have true medal potential there from Shilese Jones. In addition to a mid-14 score from her, they could also see a couple of scores right around that 14 benchmark, and a solid rotation like that coupled with hit vault and floor could make it pretty hard to beat them. But beam is where things get shaky, as half of the team has been inconsistent all season, while the other half doesn’t have terribly high scoring potential, so they’ll really need everyone at their best, at least in the team final.
Unfortunately, Leanne Wong has looked a little rough around the edges after struggling a bit on the first day of trials last week and then in podium training here. For qualifications, she’ll be relegated only to vault, where she’s expected to compete both her Yurchenko double and a Lopez, while Jones, Jordan Chiles, and Jade Carey will do the all-around, and Skye Blakely will round things out on bars, beam, and floor. I think if Wong wasn’t going for two vaults, she likely wouldn’t be used at all, which is a bit sad – but after dealing with an injury sustained at national championships, it could be for the best that they don’t push her where she’s not ready, as much as I’d love to see her on floor.
Another favorite for gold could be China, led by 2020 Olympians Tang Xijing, Ou Yushan, and Zhang Jin along with 2021 world bars champion Wei Xiaoyuan and bronze medalist Luo Rui. China was of course a favorite for a medal at the 2020 Olympics and has the potential to be one of the top teams here, but as we’ve seen both in Tokyo and then also at world championships the year before, where they finished seventh and fourth respectively, they tend to crumble under pressure.
If you combined the U.S. and China based on their strengths and weaknesses right now, you’d have a superteam, with the Chinese women looking outstanding on bars and beam, but paling a bit on vault and floor, where both difficulty and execution will likely suffer a bit. When you compare total difficulty across all four events, China is right on the heels of the U.S., and I think they should outscore them on execution for bars and beam, though I feel they could lose more on vault and floor than the U.S. would lose on their weak events with hit routines, giving the U.S. a bit of an edge.
But at the same time, beam is always a make-it-or-break-it event for any team, and with this a strength for China, they could be able to take advantage of a shaky U.S. team there.
It’s not just the two “big three” teams in the mix for medals and Olympics berths this year, though. Italy, Great Britain, and Brazil – which beat a lower-level but still strong U.S. team at Pan Ams – are all going to be right up there, and potentially even upset one of the top teams, especially when anything can happen in a three-up three-count team final.
The Italians are coming off of a team gold medal at Euros, but after losing Asia D’Amato and Angela Andreoli to injury, and with Giorgia Villa dealing with back pain (with the possibility of Elisa Iorio, who hasn’t competed since the spring, needing to step into her place), they may not be quite the same team we saw just two months ago. However, Alice D’Amato and Martina Maggio looked incredible at nationals just a couple of weeks ago, and the two young athletes stepping onto the team – Veronica Mandriota and Manila Esposito – are very strong as well, with Esposito even upsetting Villa for national all-around bronze.
Fairly balanced across all four events with the potential to pretty easily go 40+ on each one even with the replacements, this team is one of Italy’s best ever, with bars particularly a highlight. When you put them head-to-head against Brazil, led by 2020 Olympic champion Rebeca Andrade along with Pan Ams all-around champion Flavia Saraiva, the Italians are slightly stronger as a whole, especially as Brazil will have to count a Yurchenko full on vault and a couple of weaker sets on bars. However, Brazil has a beam team that could rival China’s and a floor team that could rival the U.S., so if they’re all coming in with the fire they’re been building all season, they’re going to be major challengers here.
The British team that won silver at Euros is fully back in Liverpool, and though they’re the weakest of the teams I’ve mentioned so far – largely due to an inconsistent beam rotation and a few weak spots elsewhere as well as no massive standouts on any single apparatus with the exception of a couple of routines on floor – they have tons of potential, and I think coming in with home advantage and a super supportive crowd could push them back onto the worlds podium after taking bronze in Tokyo last summer.
Finally, I’m including France as one of my absolutes for the final. Though they’re missing Euros bars medalist Lorette Charpy, they’ve added Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos and vault standout Coline Devillard, and I think have the potential to add a couple of points compared to their Euros score, which could put them on par with the Brits. With two rudis and a Yurchenko double on vault, this team could rival the U.S. here, and though De Jesus Dos Santos looked a little shaky on bars and beam in her first performance back since Tokyo at the Paris Challenge Cup, I’m thinking that experience could have helped her shake some of the nerves out. They didn’t have the best podium training, but it’s a very strong team overall, and I’m a firm believer in “bad dress rehearsal, good opening night.”
My favorite bubble team for making the final is Australia, which fell short of beating England for Commonwealth Games gold, but showed excellent performances overall and have tons of potential to make the final here even if they won’t be a medal contender. Led by Commonwealth Games all-around champion and 2020 Olympian Georgia Godwin, I think this team has room to improve from their performance in Birmingham, and a few tenths here and there will make all of the difference, pushing them ahead of several of the teams that have consistently outperformed them over the last couple of quads.
Canada is interesting. Though they lost Pan Ams team members Rose Woo due to injury and Shallon Olsen due to the devastating and unexpected loss of her mother, they gained Ellie Black and Commonwealth Games standout Emma Spence, who combined with future superstar Sydney Turner, former NCAA standout Denelle Pedrick, and the experienced but first-time worlds competitor Laurie Denommée could likely outscore the performance we saw in Rio this summer, and though I initially got nervous due to national champion Woo’s injury, I think the depth for this team right now is very promising and I’d love to see them get back into the team final after missing out in Tokyo.
I’m also really into South Korea, which upset a young Japanese team at Asian Championships to take the silver medal. Led by 2020 Olympic medalist Yeo Seojeong and Tokyo all-around finalist Lee Yunseo, we’ll also see Shin Solyi as another all-around standout, and I have high expectations for this team’s capabilities here. Vault and bars are a standout, and the team’s floor work is actually pretty strong as well, with Shin and Lee finishing 11th and 12th in floor qualifications at worlds last year, so I’m hoping the Koreans will be able to take advantage of their strengths to potentially earn its highest team qualification ranking in history even if they don’t end up in the final.
I’m also going to include Belgium, and the Netherlands as bubble teams, though I’m not quite as confident about any of these teams as I was a couple of months ago, as all are dealing with shuffles due to injuries and other struggles that has changed the makeup compared to the teams that earned these qualification spots.
Belgium added 2020 Olympic bars champion Nina Derwael on bars and beam, and despite a year away from competition, she looks like she hasn’t missed a beat. However, an injury to the dependable Noémie Louon in podium training means the team will be using alternate Yléa Tollet in her international debut, making things a bit more nerve-wracking with only 48 hours to put things back together. The Netherlands, meanwhile, won’t have two-time Olympian Vera van Pol in the mix. At first, all looked like it would be fine as her Rio and Tokyo teammate Eythora Thorsdottir came back just in time to replace her, and with a gorgeous floor, but an injury to Sanna Veerman at trials will limit her to just bars, while the team will need to rely on Eve de Ruiter in her international debut on beam and floor.
I haven’t given up on either of these teams as finals contenders, but I do recognize that shaking things up isn’t always the easiest, so I’m going to lower my expectations a bit this weekend, and then if they do wind up getting in, I can be happily surprised.
Several of the teams in my “not likely” list are teams I would have included as bubble teams, or even as a top contender to make the final, but injuries and other issues causing athletes to miss out on this competition have held them back to a place where it could be very difficult to get in, and they’d need everything to go right – on top of things going wrong for some of the bubble teams – to make it work.
The two most notably on this list are Germany and Japan. Though the Germans recently picked up a bronze team medal at Euros, injuries to Olympians Pauline Schäfer and Sarah Voss will keep them out, and the team will also miss out on the calm and dependable Kim Bui, who retired after Munich this summer. Led by Euros bars champion and world medalist Elisabeth Seitz, the rest of the team is comprised of athletes between the ages of 16 and 18 making their worlds debuts, and though there are a few gems in the mix – like Euros beam medalist Emma Malewski – most of these gymnasts are lower-scoring athletes who will not be expected to bring in the type of scores that the athletes they’re replacing would be able to put up.
In a way, it’s kind of a good thing that this is happening – Germany has relied far too long on most of its veterans, with the majority of its teams almost completely unchanged since 2013. They’ve been pretty lucky that all of their best gymnasts have been largely available for teams whenever they’ve needed them, but as we’re seeing right now, when they have multiple injuries, they don’t have athletes who can step in at a similar level – or even at a particularly high level in general – as replacements. I think high-level experience is very important in a gymnast’s development, and in a year where the team results won’t mean anything for Germany’s Olympic qualification journey, it’s important that so much of the younger generation is going to get an opportunity to compete here.
This is kind of why Japan is in such a bind right now. Their team also relied largely on the same athletes year after year, with younger gymnasts only rarely getting a chance to jump in, and now that all of the veterans are done, the team’s drop in the rankings is going to be pretty severe. The young team has some potential, but an injury to the national all-around champion will hold them back even more. But, I will say that Japan has a lot more potential here than Germany does. They have a fantastic bar worker in Fukasawa Kokoro, a strong all-arounder who excels on vault and floor in Miyata Shoko, and Sakaguchi Ayaka is a strong veteran who also does well on those two events, while also being pretty consistent on beam.
My top reservation with Japan is whether this young and largely inexperienced team will be able to compete successfully and without nerves, and I also fear that beam is going to be an issue, but I think out of all of the teams I have in this category, they are the ones most capable of surprising. I still don’t feel in my bones like the final will be possible given the caliber of teams I have ahead of them, but their difficulty on vault could keep them afloat, and if they can survive beam, I could see them upsetting some of the teams I have on my bubble list.
I’d personally love to see Hungary in the mix for the team final after doing so well at Euros, but Zsofia Kovacs is working with an abdominal injury and could possibly not do all four events, which is really going to limit their capabilities as a team – very sad, as this is one of the program’s most well-rounded teams in recent history! Then there’s Spain, eighth in the Euros team final, is missing 2020 Olympians Marina Gonzalez and Alba Petisco due to injury, with Munich team member Lorena Medina also out as of this week, so with essentially three alternates stepping into their places, it won’t be a team at the same level that we saw in either Tokyo or Munich.
The rest of the teams are probably going to be just a bit too far back for several reasons, including Argentina, Austria, Egypt, Finland, Mexico, Sweden, Taiwan, and Ukraine. I love all of these teams, and each one has standout athletes that would be great to see challenge for some individual finals, which I’ll get into in a future post, but for many of these teams, simply qualifying to worlds this year was a big deal, so I don’t see the team final as necessarily possible right now.
Article by Lauren Hopkins