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Analyzing the Olympic Gymnastics Team Medal Contenders

Who Will Stand Atop the Podium

July 8, 2024

Photo: Steve Cooper/GymCastic


The opening ceremonies for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games are set to take place in just over two weeks. While the opening ceremony is a special event for many athletes, most, if not all, men's artistic gymnasts will not participate as their qualifications start the following day. Twelve teams have qualified full, five-member squads but will need to place in the top eight on Saturday, July 27 to move on to team finals. Japan, China, USA, Ukraine, and Great Britain are expected to not only move on to team finals without issue, but to contend for team medals.


Fight for Gold


In the absence of the reigning Olympic Champions (Russian Olympic Committee), China and Japan are the clear favorites for the gold medal. Led by reigning Olympic all-around champion, Hashimoto Daiki, Japan comes into the competition not only with more difficulty, but with a more cohesive team. To help guide the predictions, data was gathered from recent competition and used to help predict team finals lineups using the 5-3-3 format (five athletes on a team, three athletes compete on an event, all scores count).




Japan


Three of the four 2020 Olympic team members are returning for 2024 [Note: the 2020 Olympics only allowed for four-person teams]. With 28 world and Olympic medals between them, veterans, Hashimoto Daiki, Kaya Kazuma, and Tanigawa Wataru will be joined by newcomers Oka Shinnosuke and Sugino Takaaki. While Oka won four medals at the 2023 Asian Championships, this will be Sugino's first major team assignment.


Japan has made it clear that their goal is to return to the top of the Olympic podium for the first time since 2016 and they've brought major upgrades to do so. Japan won the 2023 World Championships with a D score of 106.5 and this year, they are projected to bring a 110.4. It's possible that Hashimoto may do parallel bars instead of Wataru, but this is very likely the lineup that will be used and they have no glaring weaknesses in either D score, lineup, or consistency. They are favorites for gold.


China


The other legitimate contender for gold is 2022 World Champions, China. China have not stood atop the Olympic podium since 2012 and have also stated that Olympic gold is their priority. China chose to leave their national all-around champion, Shi Cong, at home in favor of a more experienced gymnast, Sun Wei – a decision very reminiscent of China leaving off their best gymnast, Zhang Boheng for a more experienced athlete during the 2020 Olympics. That decision likely cost them gold.


China is fielding a veteran team with four returning Olympians who have a combined 37 world and Olympic medals making them the most decorated team in the field. While China is bringing more potential for individual golds, they have brought a slightly less competitive team than Japan. With an anticipated D score of 108.7, they are a little less than two points away from Japan.


The main consideration for China is the health of Zhang Boheng. Arguably the best all-arounder in the world, he had to withdraw from Chinese Nationals due to an ongoing injury. Because China brought both a one-event and a three-event athlete (Liu Yang and Zou Jingyuan), they need Zhang Boheng to do the all-around. Their other main all-arounder, Xiao Ruoteng, is a bit fragile and they will not want to use him in the all-around during team final if at all possible. This is not a safe team but it is a team with large potential and big dreams.


The team they are bringing this year is anticipated to compete almost four points more in difficulty than they did last year (104.8). Last year, China sent most of their best athletes to Asian Games instead of the World Championships which accounts for the large discrepancy in D score between last year and this year.






The Fight For Bronze



Ukraine


After China and Japan, there is a large drop off in terms of difficulty. Leading the trio of teams expected to contend for Bronze is Ukraine. With three returning Olympians (Illia Kovtun, Igor Radivilov, and Oleg Verniaiev), the team is in a much better place than last year where they almost failed to qualify a full team for the Olympics. Joining the three Olympians are Nazar Chepurnyi and Radomyr Stelmakh.


The Ukranian team has had many strong individuals but struggled to come together as a team due to war and interpersonal strife. That changed this past April at the European Championships, when they won with a score high enough to have won the 2023 World Gymnastics Championships. Since then, they have upgraded their difficulty by over a point, and there's still more in the tank. Kovtun has a 7.0 parallel bar routine that he successfully competed at the European Championsips and a 6.4 high bar routine that he debuted in Koper. Oleg Verniaiev can upgrade pommel horse and parallel bars as well, so their difficulty may be even higher in Paris.


The struggle for this team is that they are a true wild card. They can be incredibly inconsistent as a team, so despite their high level of difficulty, they end up much lower in the rankings than their potential. The main question that remains is: can they successfully compete the upgrades that they have planned? The Ukranian team has not medaled since 2000 and is searching for a medal not only for Olympic glory, but also to show the world that they are still standing despite the ongoing war with Russia.



USA


Though a point behind in difficulty from Ukraine, the U.S. are heralded by many as the favorites for the team bronze medal. Led by World Champion, Brody Malone, this team has a wide range of high level difficulty, including Malone's 6.7 high bar routine and lower difficulty but pristine execution in Paul Juda. Malone is the only returning Olympian, though the other four members (Paul Juda, Stephen Nedoroscik, Frederick Richard, and Asher Hong) are world medalists. The strength of this team is that it is well-balanced and that they have even more difficulty to add. On pommel horse alone this team can add a half a point in difficulty than what is projected below.


The team's main downfall is twofold: 1. low difficulty on vault (the event with the highest execution scores) compared to the top teams; and, 2. Nedoroscik's international hit rate. This team has the lowest vault difficulty of any of the contending teams and may be a hindrance for their goal to reach the podium. Their pommel horse star, Nedoroscik, can be brilliant on his lone event as is evident by his World Championships title in 2021. However, the consistency is lacking (he has a 0% hit rate in international team finals). Of the top teams, the U.S. is the only team to utilize a true one-event gymnast (Liu Yang can vault if needed), meaning if an injury happens in-competition, it is the sole responsibility of the other gymnasts to fill-in.


The U.S. has finished fifth in each of the last three Olympic Games and are looking to break that streak by finishing on the podium for the first time since 2008. They are the reigning World bronze medalists as a team and have since increased difficulty by a point-and-a-half. Should they be able to perform solid routines, they are likely to be on the Olympic medal podium.



Great Britain


Rounding out the five teams in contention are the British who have selected a team under heavy criticism. The team, led by three-time Olympic Champion, Max Whitlock, has no room for error and few built-in backups as only Joe Fraser and Jake Jarman can competitively compete all six events. Like all of the aforementioned teams, the British have upgraded their difficulty not only from the 2023 World Championships but also from the 2024 European Championships, largely thanks to their floor lineup. Olympic newcomers Harry Hepworth and Luke Whitehouse are power gymnasts who will aid the British to the most difficult floor lineup of any of the Olympic Teams.


While the team difficulty is competitive for bronze, there remain many questions about the status of their gymnasts. Whitlock started the year beautifully with a 15.5 (6.8/8.700) on his main event, pommel horse; however, he withdrew from the European Championships with an undisclosed injury. He has competed twice since that event with unusual and concerning results including a 12.300 (4.8/7.50) and 10.150 (6.6/3.550).


Again, the British have the most difficult floor lineup of any team but it will be of no use to them if they can't marry the difficulty with the execution. At friendly competition in France, both Harry Hepworth and Luke Whitehouse scored in the 11's – well below the mid-14 mark of which they are capable. This team has podium potential but there really is little room for error or injury. Should they reach the podium, it will be their third time as a team.



Article by: Kensley Behel


Note: A prior version of this article had Hashimoto Daiki's high bar difficulty listed at 5.9. It has now been raised to 6.7.

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