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What a race!

While many of us expected Russia, China, and the U.S. to be the top three women’s teams, few would have anticipated them to end up scoring so closely together.  All three teams had a fantastic competition, with each having just enough missed routines to open up some “what-if” discussion.

It’s clear that any one of these three teams could win, and it’s also clear that no one else is likely to challenge them.  We’ve seen surprises from Romania before, but it’s going to take a disastrous performance from one of these three teams for Romania to medal.  Not impossible, but not likely.

So which team is the favorite?  Well, remember that the prelims used a different format than the team finals, with 4 out of 5 scores counting in prelims and 3 out of 3 scores counting in finals.  If we were go back and count just the top three scores on each event for the three teams, an interesting thing happens.  Below is a comparison:

Prelim Score (top 4 scores counted) Difference From First Place Prelims Score (top 3 scores counted) Difference From First Place
Russia 234.521 178.497
China 233.778 0.743 177.196 1.301
United States 233.643 0.878 176.711 1.786

Note that something counterintuitive happens there…the difference between Russia and China almost doubles when we count just the top three scores.  So what does that mean?  It means that Russia is an even stronger 3-score team than a 4-score team – a perfect scenario for the team final.  Also note that the U.S. dropped a little further behind China when we did the same thing.

It’s equally important to note, though, which of the three teams actually had major errors on routines they will likely use in the finals.  The Russians essentially hit all the routines they will likely use in the finals (Afanasyeva missed bars but surely will not be used in the final, and Semenova and Nabieva missed floor but Dementieva scored about as well as they would have and may very well be used instead).  China missed one routine that will probably be used in the final – Sui Lu on beam – and Jiang Yuyuan and Huang Qiushuang had some boundary deductions on floor.  The U.S. missed a BIG routine that they will surely use in the final – Mattie Larson on floor – and Bross can score a bit higher there too.

Conclusion: Russia appears to be the favorite, but both China and the U.S. missed key routines in prelims that, if hit in the final, might enable them to surpass Russia.  The bottom line is we have a perfect setup for an incredible team battle, and the team that hits 12 for 12 will likely be the 2010 world champions.