Although I’ll be writing for www.nbcolympics.com here at the Olympic Games and also providing live tweets at https://twitter.com/AndyThorntonNBC, when time allows I’d like to give some further details here on Andy’s Angle as well. Right now I’m awaiting for the third and final session of men’s podium training to begin, and I wanted to give some updates on the big players from sessions 1 and 2.
Session 1: China and Great Britain
China was a bit rough, but this was mostly due to Teng Haibin being completely off his game due to an injured left arm. He reportedly hit the arm on the high bar in training recently (not sure exactly when), and it was heavily bandaged and obviously affecting him. He seemed to have trouble with his grip on p-bars, and seemed to be really feeling things out on both p-bars and high bar. On pommel horse he fell multiple times, and on rings he wasn’t able to hold any strength elements. Chatter began to quickly circulate that he would probably wasn’t going to be able to compete, and by the time the session ended, we began to receive word that Guo Weiyang was being flown in to replace him. Very, very sad for the 2004 Olympic pommel horse champion who has worked incredibly hard to return to the sport as a great all-arounder and make this Olympic team. If we throw out these huge question marks from Teng Haibin and replace them with Guo Weiyang, who is quite strong on pommel horse and not too shabby on rings, parallel bars, and high bar, China isn’t as bad off as they seemed at first today. Zou Kai showed his typical difficulty on high bar and floor, and his big scores will be crucial to their team effort. He still showed the same flexed feet and poor body line on high bar and actually landed quite short on a couple tumbling passes, but I expect the judges will reward his difficulty quite well as they have in the past. I was expecting pommel horse to be relatively weak for this team, but aside from Teng, we did see hit routines from Chen Yibing and Zhang Chenglong. Zou Kai, who has about the worst suited body type for this event, appears to be at least in their four-man lineup for Day 1. He did struggle and fell several times. I expect Guo Weiyang will now be the third gymnast in team finals now that Teng is out. Overall, I think China showed a whole lot of vulnerability today and certainly appear beatable by the Americans, but we mustn’t let Teng’s off-day cloud our minds into thinking this team isn’t capable of challenging for gold. They’ll need to step up the intensity for the actual competition, but I would expect they will. If anything, their weaknesses today made this team battle seem even closer.
Great Britain showed some decent gymnastics, but overall just don’t appear to be a spectacular team in terms of difficulty. There were some highlight skills on floor and a couple big skills on vault (Yurchenko double pike from Kristian Thomas), but overall this team can be represented by safe, traditional gymnastics with some world class pommel horse. I’ve always considered Louis Smith to be slightly overrated on pommel horse because his swing is a bit slow and “hollowed” to me, but he does have an enormous start value and it would be neat to see him win in his home country. Truthfully, there are gymnasts with way better body lines. But pommel horse is definitely an event where Great Britain could potentially capitalize if other teams falter here – namely, China or the United States. Sam Oldham and Max Whitlock looked great here, as did Daniel Purvis. Kristian Thomas wasn’t quite as clean here and I don’t expect he will be used. Great Britain appears to be a top five team from first glance, but possible could contend for a higher spot with some big mistakes from some of the other contenders.
More on Session 2 next: USA and Japan!