China Overcomes Dramatic Qualifications to Dominate Team Final

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Team China

As messy as men’s gymnastics can be, one constant over the past 40 or so years is China finishing on the podium at worlds and the Olympics, with the men having missed only three team medals since 1981.

I don’t think anyone anyone could have predicted China going into the final outside one of the top two spots, especially given the overall makeup of this field and the fact that the Russians are sitting this worlds out. But with so many falls on top of putting up only three athletes on the majority of their events in qualifications, the team ended up in fourth place, more than two points back from both Great Britain and the United States, and more than 10 points behind their biggest competition, Japan.

As shocking as this was, though, I think in a way going three-up three-count for most events in qualifications actually helped prepare China for the team final, as they were able to get out most of the kinks while everyone else – most of whom had massive problems of their own – had the benefit of dropping scores. The men were able to come back and fix many of the mistakes that held them back, adding around eight points compared to qualifications to end up back on top for the first time since 2018, bringing home a 13th gold since first winning in 1983.

Starting on pommels, things didn’t go quite according to plan, with mistakes from both Sun Wei and Yang Jiaxing, though Zhang Boheng had a hit, and after a strong rings rotation led by Zou Jingyuan, the team bounced back up to second place (and hilariously, while pommels wasn’t exactly great for the team, it was so bad for everyone else that they still ended up first on that apparatus).

From then on, it was only a few mistakes – a rough landing from Sun on vault, Zhang with some struggles on p-bars, Yang catching his Cassina one-armed on high bar – but everything else was really on for this team, including a few stellar performances, including from You Hao on rings and p-bars, a massive 15.766 for a near-perfect p-bars routine from Zou, big high bar sets from Sun and Zhang, and a stellar floor rotation that saw fantastic execution from all three who went up, securing the team title nearly five points ahead of the rest of the field.

With such a massive lead in qualifications, it seemed Japan could be infallible in the final, so as wild as it was to see them eight points ahead of the competition on the first day, it was just as wild to see them drop nearly that same amount after lots of misses when it counted. This team is a pretty inconsistent one in general, and I think there was a little concern that going so hard in qualifications could be super difficult for these guys to replicate, especially under the pressure of every routine counting.

The team started with a great rotation on floor, led by Hashimoto Daiki and Tanigawa Kakeru with especially strong work, but then moving to pommels, though Hashimoto came back from falls in qualifications to start the team off with a big hit here, he was followed by a fall from Doi Ryosuke, and then a number of mistakes from Tanigawa in the anchor spot, dropping the team to sixth place.

From that point on, it would be a big fight back up, but after surviving rings, the team was able to climb up to the silver medal position with massive hits on vault, p-bars, and high bar, with both Doi and Tanigawa doing a great job to come back from their earlier mistakes, Kamoto Yuya doing great work on p-bars and high bar, and Tanigawa Wataru hitting great sets on vault and p-bars. Hashimoto ended up being a bit off on vault, where he landed his kaz double very short and off the mat, and then on high bar, he had a fall on his new skill, the Liukin, but I think with what he did earlier in the meet – especially on pommels – we can give him a bit of forgiveness.

Despite those mistakes and the earlier ones, Japan finished with a 253.395, more than six points ahead of the British men, who ended up winning the bronze with a 247.225 after a hard-fought battle that went down to the final routines of the meet.

Great Britain got off to a strong start on floor, led by Jake Jarman with a 14.433 for his hugely difficult and very solid routine. Like so many others, the team found pommels to be an enemy, with Joe Fraser fighting and fighting through multiple mistakes before finally having to give in and take the fall. Unfortunately, the constant fighting cost him even more than the fall did, and his anchor set only went 10.466, a rough number after the team previously counted two scores in the 12s, with James Hall also falling.

The rings rotation for the British men was a good one, and though the team counted another fall on vault with Jarman dropping the Kaz 2½ to his hands, the team put up a smashing couple of rotations on p-bars and high bar, where Fraser made up for pommels with huge routines that went 15.0 and 14.0, respectively.

Going into the high bar, the British men were more than a point back from Italy. In the first five rotations, the Italians had put up an incredible meet, and seemed entirely capable of snagging a first worlds team medal in program history just months after doing the same thing at Euros this summer. Coming in about eight points behind the Brits in terms of difficulty based on the scores awarded to the routines that counted in qualifications, this clearly was no easy feat, and the Italians needed the British men to make lots of mistakes. But they did, and Italy was excellent, and things got incredibly dramatic in the end.

As with the rest of the meet, Italy’s last event, pommels, started out with two hits, including a 12.766 from Nicola Bartolini, and then a 13.3 from Carlo Macchini. In the anchor spot, Yumin Abbadini, who had done incredible work on his previous three events, started out with beautifully extension in his fluid and clean flair work, but then right at the end, as he muscled up into the handstand for his dismount, he came crashing down to the mat to earn just a 12.3, which was 1.666 points down from his qualifications routine.

The Italian men ended up in fourth with a 245.995, just a little over a point back from the podium. It was a heartbreaking end to an incredible journey, but despite not resulting in a record-breaking, history-making night, fourth place is the best Italy has done in a team final since they last finished fourth in 1950, and they did it with an almost entirely brand-new squad just a couple of years after missing out on sending a full team to the Olympic Games.

“My teammates are in their first world championships and they made the final and took fourth place,” Nicola Bartolini said. “Three years ago in Stuttgart, we didn’t qualify. And now here we are, fourth in the world. It’s amazing. Gymnastics is like a rollercoaster, sometimes you go up and sometimes you go down. We are happy – if we’re third or fourth, it’s not important.”

Rounding out the top eight were the United States in fifth with a 245.692, Spain in sixth with a 244.027, Brazil in seventh with a 241.362, and South Korea in eighth with a 232.828.

The U.S. men had the same struggles on pommel horse that plagued every team on this night, including a fall from Brody Malone and a massive drop in difficulty from Stephen Nedoroscik. They did some good work to come back with better scores on the next couple of events, but Malone had to count an empty swing on p-bars, Colt Walker had a miss on high bar, and both Malone and Donnell Whittenburg struggled on floor, keeping them out of the fight in the end.

I do want to give a shoutout to Asher Hong for showing how incredibly dependable he could be to lead this team in the final, going up on five events with no major mistakes to put up the best U.S. scores on four of them, including pommels. If you had told me a few months ago that Hong – in his first world championships at just 18 years old – would lead the U.S. team on pommels with a 13.566, I would have laughed – it didn’t seem possible. But he was phenomenal both here and in qualifications, and proved that he should be on basically every single team going forward.

Spain had a mostly good meet, and one of the least dramatic pommels rotations, though they did have a miss on vault from Rayderley Zapata, who sat his handspring double front, and they overall just weren’t as strong as many of the other teams here both in terms of difficulty and in execution. But again, as a whole, this was a really solid competition led by Joel Plata competing all six events and putting up the top scores on four of them, and their sixth-place finish is the team’s best in history, matching the last time they finished this high back in 2007.

The Brazilian men always end up starting on rings or vault, which gives the false impression in the somewhat hard-to-follow intermediate standings that they’re gonna come out and take the gold. This has happened at nearly every recent worlds or Olympics both in team and individual all-around competitions, so I tried to keep expectations low.

Of course, after putting up mostly strong rotations on vault, p-bars, high bar, and floor led primarily by Caio Souza, pommels in the fifth rotation was a heartbreaker, with all three men counting falls. In addition to Souza, I was impressed with both of the younger guys on this team, with Diogo Soares missing pommels but counting important hits on rings, p-bars, and high bar, while Yuri Guimarães came up a bit short on vault, but had the top score for the team on floor.

The roughest pommels rotation belonged to South Korea, a team that kind of snuck into this final over some overall stronger teams thanks to world class floor and vault rotations in qualifications. Even those events were struggles in this final, though, and the team was consistently in the bottom of the pack even before going to pommels and then rings, but pommels really sealed the deal for a last-place finish, with the team scoring just a 31.566. Big props go to Kim Jaeho for putting up steady scores on the five events he competed, including pommels, while Ryu Sunghyun led the team on floor, rings, p-bars, and high bar, and Lee Junho was a standout on vault.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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