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Well if the potential of the USA men to hang with China and Japan wasn’t already convincing enough, it is now.

 

Halfway through the men’s qualification rounds in Tokyo, the USA men’s stellar performance left them sitting in second place behind the host Japanese, who have been expected all along to battle with the Chinese for gold.  The USA was also comfortably ahead of 2010 world bronze medalists Germany – a strong sign that this revamped USA squad was likely the new front runner for the bronze medal.  After all, no one beats China and Japan in men’s gymnastics nowadays – not with China’s recent pristine track record that includes the last four world team titles and most recent Olympic team title, and not with Japan’s unbeatable two-time world champion Kohei “Superman” Uchimura at the helm, and backed by a thunderous home crowd in Tokyo no less.

 

No one except the United States.

 

In the last half of the men’s qualifications, the USA men’s strong team score not only held off all other remaining contenders for the bronze – Russia, Korea, France, Spain, and Great Britain – but stunningly, it held off the team that’s been unstoppable over the last ten years – gold medal favorite China.

 

Here’s a look at the top eight teams in Tokyo, which have all earned team berths in the Olympic Games next year and will also compete for medals in the upcoming world team finals:

 

1.  Japan            364.291

2.  USA              361.583

3.  China            359.126

4.  Germany          354.132

5.  Russia           353.725

6.  Korea            351.331

7.  Romania          350.900

8.  Ukraine          350.434

 

As we did with the women, let’s take a “sneak peak” at the team finals by recalculating these results, using only the top three scores on each event for each team.  This is the best way to simulate the three-up-three-count format of the team finals:

 

Men’s Qualifications Results Using Only Top Three Scores On Each Event

Rank

Team

Team Score Using Only Top Three Scores On Each Event

Difference From First

1

Japan

276.61

2

USA

274.109

2.501

3

China

272.260

4.35

4

Germany

268.401

8.209

5

Russia

266.995

9.615

6

Romania

266.503

10.107

7

Ukraine

264.502

12.108

8

Korea

264.408

12.202

What do these numbers tell us?

 

  • The order of the top five teams doesn’t change at all when we count only the top three scores on each event; the only change in rank order involved Korea, which drops down from 6th to 8th.  Note that Korea didn’t post a single score above 15 on any event except for vault, and thus it becomes weaker when using a format that demands three big scores.

 

  • The gap between Japan and the USA doesn’t change much when we compare four scores vs. three scores – 2.708 vs. 2.501.  Note that in last year’s world team final, the USA trailed Japan by 5.757, and thus it has decreased this deficit by more than half.

 

  • The USA does remain ahead of China when counting only three scores, but the gap decreases – from 2.457 to 1.849.

 

  • The top three teams maintain quite a comfortable margin above the rest when counting only three scores, with China still nearly four points ahead of Germany.

 

 

Numbers can only tell us so much.  The suspenseful nature of the team final stems from the fact that all qualification numbers are wiped away, and everything completely rides on what actually happens when the gymnasts salute in front of the judges, the crowd, and the rest of the world.

 

It appears that the chances that Germany, Russia, or any of the other bottom five teams can steal a spot on the podium are slim…but not impossible under this do-or-die format.  The most intriguing aspect of this year’s final will be the uncertainty of the order of the likely medalists.  In Beijing, there was essentially one contender for gold, as the dominant Chinese went completely unchallenged.  In Rotterdam, there were two, as Japan gave the Olympic champions a serious run for their money.  In Tokyo, we’ve now got three, as the USA has now officially joined the party.