After two (very stressful) days of qualifications, the time for finals finally came around on Monday, August 8th with the Men’s Team Final. After injuries, surprises and some emotional moments, the Japanese men came out on top, with Russia (!) taking Silver and China finishing in third place.
As last year’s World Champions, Team Japan came into this competition as one of the strongest contenders, side by side with China who won all the other team competitions (Worlds or Olympics) since the introduction of the open scoring system in 2006. Right behind them were Great Britain, USA and Russia, usual participants and occasional medalists in team finals, with Germany, Ukraine and host country Brazil also present.
Starting on pommel horse, the Japanese men counted two scores around 15 after hit routines from Kohei Uchimura and Ryohei Kato but also a 13.900 after Koji Yamamuro suffered a fall. Next on rings all gymnasts scored in the high-14s improving their qualification scores, while on vault they got a 15 for Kato’s Tsukahara 2.5 twists after some messy leg form in the air and a big step on landing and mid-15s for Uchimura’s Li Xiaopeng (round-off half-on 2.5 twist-off) with a small hop and Kenzo Shirai’s TTY. On parallel bars, Yusuke Tanaka started the team off with a big 15.900 after a great routine and a stuck double pike dismount, followed by slightly lower scores by Kato and Uchimura in the mid to low-15s. Similar results were obtained on high bar after hit, albeit not perfect, routines from Kato, Tanaka and Uchimura, keeping them in first place going into the last rotation on floor. On his top scoring event, Shirai had one of his best performances ever to finally get a score in the 16s, while Kato and Uchimura both scored in the mid-15s after strong but obviously not as difficult routines. Despite the initial fall from Yamamuro, Japan still managed to improve their qualifying score by nearly five points and finish over two points ahead of second place Russia, winning their first Olympic team title since Athens 2004.
For Russia, this was an emotional competition. Most gymnastics fans didn’t expect much from this team, just for them to be relatively clean and possibly place 4th or 5th. However, things turned out differently. As third place qualifiers, the Russian men started finals on pommel horse and managed to present three hit routines for scores in the high-14s to mid-15s, while on rings Nagornyy and Kuksenkov both scored 14.866, whereas Ablyazin posted a huge 15.700 after sticking his double twisting double layout dismount. On vault, all gymnasts scored in the low to mid-15s with Nagornyy presenting a solid Dragulescu with the tiniest hop on landing, while Belyasvkiy did a Tsukahara double pike and Ablyazin did a Ri Se Gwang (Tsukahara full twisting double back) with just a small step backwards. Moving on to parallel bars, Stretovich and Kuksenkov both scored in the low-15s after hit performances, with Belyavskiy finishing up the rotation with a great routine with just a small hop on his double front half dismount for a 15.800, while on high bar both Stretovich and Belyavskiy scored in the high-14s but Nikolai Kuksenkov only managed a 14.166 after some mistakes. For their last event, floor, they posted two scores in the low-15s from Nagornyy and Ablyazin after some landing issues and steps out-of-bounds, as well as a 14.666 from Belyavskiy to wrap up the competition. After years and years of coming short because of inconsistency, the Russian Team managed to hit all their routines to finish with a score of 271.453, edging out China by just over three tenths and getting their first team medal since 2006. All Russian athletes were very happy and emotional with this result but Ivan Stretovich was the one that I personally felt for the most: I barely knew him until a week ago when he was promoted from alternate to team member (in Ignatyev’s place) but he showed up and hit all his routines and is now going home with Team Silver. It is moments like this that make gymnastics such a special and beautiful sport and I hope to see more from him in the future.
For China this was a disappointing competition. After finishing third last year, the Chinese came to Rio planning to regain their title as the best team in the world. Despite qualifying in first place, the team final didn’t work out in the same way for them, even if they managed to improve their qualifications score. The problems started immediately on their first event floor with a fall from Deng Shudi for a score in the high-13s, while Lin Chaopan got a 14.833 after going out-of-bounds and Zhang Chenglong was the only hit routine of the bunch for a score in the low-15, despite several low landings. Moving on to pommels, things got a little better with three hit routines, counting a score in the mid-14s from You Hao, whereas both Deng and Lin scored just below 15 due to some trouble in their handstand positions, and just kept improving on rings starting off with a huge 15.833 from Liu Yang after his 6.9-difficulty routine, followed by mid to high-14s by Deng and You, marred by big landing issues on the latter’s double twisting double layout dismount. Next on vault, Lin presented a messy triple twisting Tsukahara with a low landing (nearly touched his knees on the mat) and a big step forward out-of-bounds for just a 14.400, while both his teammates scored in the low to mid-15s after another triple twisting Tsukahara from Deng and a TTY from Zhang with crossed legs, not managing, however, to decrease the gap to Japan. On parallel bars, China was China and by that I mean they were beautiful and amazing, starting off with a huge 16.166 from You after a 7.4-difficulty routine with a step on the landing his only issue, and counting two more scores in the high-15s from Lin and Deng, for a huge 47.866 total on the apparatus. This, however, wasn’t enough and they went into the last rotation on high bar in third place, hitting their routines for a score of 14.400 from Deng, a 15 from Lin and a 15.566 from Zhang, which unfortunately weren’t enough to surpass Russia for the silver medal position.
In fourth place, about a point and a half behind China, were the 2015 Silver medalists, Great Britain. Starting on rings, the British men posted two scores in the mid-14s by Brinn Bevan and Max Whitlock and a 15.100 from Nile Wilson after sticking his full twisting double layout dismount. Next on vault, things improved immensely from qualifications (where everyone but Wilson had falls) with Bevan and Thomas both hitting their Tsukahara double pike vaults for low to mid-15s, while Whitlock still had some underrotation problems with his TTY and a small step out-of-bounds to score just below 15. Moving on to parallel bars, Whitlock started things off with a 14.500, followed by a solid routine finished with a stuck double pike dismount by Bevan for a score just below 15 and a low-15 from Wilson who once again couldn’t perform to his best ability, having a serious form break on one of his handstands and being forced to muscle it up. On high bar, both Whitlock and Thomas got scores in the mid to high-14s before Wilson went on to perform one of his best routines capped off with a stuck double twisting double layout dismount for a 15.666, while on floor they counted a mid-14 from Wilson, followed by two scores in the low to mid-15s from Thomas and Whitlock. Finishing on their best event, pommel horse, the British had everything to fight for a medal but unfortunately a fall from their specialist Louis Smith kept them away from their dream, as they were forced to count his and Bevan’s high-14s scores and even Whitlock’s gigantic 15.991 couldn’t make up for the damage already done. In the end, Great Britain had a very similar score to qualifications and were visibly disappointed by missing the podium, as they were hoping to bring home a team medal like they’ve done in London 2012 and at last year’s World Championships.
Finishing in fifth place were second place qualifiers USA after having an inferior performance to Saturday. Just like China, the problems for the American started right from their first event, floor, when Alex Naddour nearly sat his front tuck and eventually fell on his full-in dismount to score in the mid-13s, while Sam Mikulak went out-of-bounds twice scoring in the high-14s, leaving Jake Dalton as the only hit of this rotation. Moving on to pommel horse, all gymnasts scored in the mid-14s after form breaks and trouble on dismounts, with a similar scenario happening on rings, which kept them really far from the top contenders. Vault saw some improvements with both Mikulak and Dalton hitting their triple twisting Tsukaharas for scores in the mid-15s, while Naddour once again having trouble with his Tsukahara double pike, landing a bit low and having to take a large step forward to score just above 15. Parallel bars turned out to be their best event of the night with three hit routines from Mikulak, Chris Brooks and Danell Leyva, all scoring in the 15s, but on high bar they unfortunately had to count another fall, this time from 2015 Silver medalist Leyva, finishing about 2.5 points away from medal position.
Host country Brazil made Olympic Team Finals for the first time and eventually finished the competition in sixth place, despite losing almost five points from their qualifying score. Starting on rings, both Francisco Barretto Junior and Sérgio Sasaki scored in the low to mid-14s, while reigning Olympic Champion Arthur Zanetti had a great routine to score 15.566, while on vault Diego Hypolito nearly stuck his Tsukahara 2.5 twist for a high-14, followed by Arthur Nory and Sasaki, both scoring in the low-15s. Moving next to parallel bars, Nory and Barretto Junior scored 14.700 after some issues on handstands from the latter and Sasaki capped things off with a score in the low-15s, while on high bar Nory had a mostly hit routine with just an over-arched handstand at the beginning and some leg form issues for a score just below 15, followed by Barretto Junior with a 15.166 and Sasaki with just 14.566. Things started going downhill on floor when Sasaki posted a 12.100 for the first routine of the team and Nory’s mid-14 and Hypolito’s low-15 just couldn’t make up for it, leaving them four points behind the USA going into the last rotation on pommel horse where all gymnasts scored in the mid-14s. Brazil was probably hoping to improve on their qualifying score but they were still very happy with their accomplishments in what was their first ever Olympic appearance as a full team.
In seventh place was Germany, who was forced to compete with just four gymnasts after Andreas Toba tore his ACL on floor during qualifications. Toba still managed to perform on pommel horse after his injury despite the visible pain he was in and his score allowed the team to qualify for the final, but now the remaining four gymnasts had to fend for themselves. Starting on vault, Marcel Nguyen performed a Roche (handspring double front), followed by a Tsukahara 2.5 twists from Lukas Dauser and a solid Shewfelt with just a tiny hop from Fabian Hambuechen, all in the mid-14s to low-15s. Next on parallel bars, Andreas Bretschneider started things off with a 14.425, while Dauser and Nguyen really brought their top game to score in the mid-15s and make this the team’s best scoring event. High bar didn’t go as smoothly with Bretschneider falling again on his new skill (double twisting double layout over the bar), getting just a 13.666 for his routine, while Nguyen had a mostly solid showing but lower difficulty, scoring in the mid-14s, and Hambuechen was once again amazing with his dynamic and crowd pleasing routine for a score in the mid-15s. On floor, all gymnasts scored in the mid-14s, without major errors, but pommel horse was their undoing with only Dauser scoring above 14, due to low difficulty from the other two gymnasts, Bretschneider and Nguyen, who didn’t go beyond the mid-13s. Finishing on rings, Dauser posted a 13.800, while both Bretschneider and Nguyen scored in the mid to high-14s, for a total of 261.275, less than three tenths behind qualifications.
Finally in eighth place was Ukraine. Oh Ukraine… After the defection of Kuksenkov to Russia and Oleg Stepko to Azerbaijan at the beginning of the quad and the political turmoil that hit the country in 2014, the Ukrainian team could never get back to the point they were in 2012 when they nearly won an Olympic medal. Making team finals here was a great achievement on its own since they haven’t been able to do the same all quad long. However, they knew they weren’t in contention for any medals and decided to save Oleg Verniaiev for the All-Around final (which paid off really well btw) by having him compete just two events: parallel bars and pommel horse. Plus, Maksym Semiankiv got injured prior to the meet and therefore couldn’t compete on any apparatus. Faced with the hard decision of competing with one member less or pulling out of team finals and risk losing government funding, the Ukrainians opted to compete, even if they only counted two gymnasts on some events. Starting on vault, Andri Sienichkin and Vladyslav Hryko scored in the low to mid-14s, before Igor Radivilov going up and sticking his Dragulescu for a 15.333. Next on parallel bars, Hryko got a mid-14 and Verniaiev got a 15.900, while Semiankiv just presented to the judges and scratched, which also happened on high bar, counting just two scores in the low to mid-13s from Radivilov and Hryko. On floor, Semiankiv once again scratched, while Hryko scored in the low-13s and Radivilov managed to post a 14.600. Pommel horse fortunately had three gymnasts, with Hryko getting in the mid-12s, but both Verniaiev and Sienichkin getting low to mid-15s in what was their top scoring event. Finishing the competition on rings, Hryko posted in the high-13s, while Radivilov scored 15.433 and Semiankiv scratched once more. After getting a lot of backlash from gymnastics fans who thought the Ukrainians didn’t care about the team final at all and were just there to get extra money, Oleg Verniaiev turned to instagram to apologize and explain they only got confirmation Semiankiv wouldn’t be able to compete 15 minutes prior to the meet, which would have been too late to change their lineups or pull out of the competition. He further apologized to Switzerland, who would have taken their place if they had indeed decide not to compete, and assured fans that they were not taking the Olympics lightly but just dealing with some bad timing and injuries.
Overall, this team final was a very stressful and emotional competition, with amazing performances and surprises, culminating with the crowning of Japan as new Olympic Champions after years of Chinese domination in the sport. A special shout-out to Russia who managed to put together their best work when it mattered and win a Silver medal that, I’m pretty sure, tasted like Gold for them. Here’s hoping they continue on this path of hitting and consistency because they could achieve great things.
Full results here.