Gymnastics journalist Hannah Robbins discusses the continued U.S. dominance in women’s artistic gymnastics and the struggles of the U.S. men’s team at the World Championships.
This year’s Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, proved to be an interesting week of competition. From Simone Biles’s kidney stones less than 24 hours before qualification to the men’s final being decided by less than a 10th of a point, the competition provided excitement and drama on both the men’s and women’s sides.
The format for the competition is similar to that of the Olympics. First, gymnasts compete in qualifying rounds. For countries competing in the team competition, four of the five gymnasts on the team compete on each apparatus. The top three scores count towards the team’s totals. If a country does not send a team, qualified gymnasts compete on their own in the events they choose.
At the same time, the scores that count for the team competition also count toward the apparatus finals, as well as the all-around qualifier if gymnasts compete on all (four for the women or six for the men) events. The top 24 all-around gymnasts compete in the all-around finals, and the top eight gymnasts on each apparatus compete in the finals for that apparatus. The all-around and apparatus finals might not have the top eight on each apparatus or 24 all-around, however, since each country can only send two representatives to each finals.
In the team finals, only three gymnasts per team compete on each event and all scores count. The highest total score after adding all the events together determines the winner. Any team that medals (first, second or third) in the team finals qualifies their country to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
After qualifying in fourth for the team finals behind Russia, China and Japan, the U.S. men’s team placed fourth. Their efforts to improve from qualifying, ending a point higher, were not enough.
China had a strong performance on the parallel bars, scoring a full four points ahead of the next best parallel bars team, which helped lead them to first place. Russia finished only .049 points behind China, and without their .4 points in deductions on floor exercise, Russia would have won the men’s team final. Japan rounded out the top three with a solid performance.
In the men’s all-around, the competition was tight until the very end, with interesting results: Russian Artur Dalaloyan and Chinese Ruoteng Xiao ended with the exact same score of 87.598 points. The tiebreaker, dropping the lowest score, left Dalaloyan on top and Xiao in second. Third place went to Nikita Nagornyy of Russia. Americans Samuel Mikulak and Yul Moldauer placed fifth and 12th, respectively, after struggles on the high bar for Mikulak and pommel horse for Moldauer.
The last portion of the men’s competition was the event finals. The United States didn’t have a good showing on floor exercise; Moldauer ended in fourth place, .034 points out of third, while Mikulak ended seventh. Dalaloyan continued to dominate with another gold ahead of Kenzo Shirai of Japan and Carlos Edriel Yulo of the Philippines.
On pommel horse, Mikulak ended in fourth, over half a point off bronze, behind Xiao, Max Whitlock from Great Britain and Chih Kai Lee from Chinese Taipei. Xiao and Whitlock tied, with the execution score giving Xiao the edge to end up with the gold.
On rings, Greecian Eleftherios Petrounias bested Brazilian Arthur Zanetti to earn gold. Italian Marco Lodadio placed third.
On vault, Se Gwang Ri from North Korea ended in first, followed by Dalaloyan at only .05 points behind. The medals were rounded out by Shirai of Japan. On parallel bars, American Mikulak was edged out of bronze by Dalaloyan, with Jingyuan Zou of China claiming the gold and Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev earning the silver medal.
It took until the last event of the competition, but U.S. men’s gymnastics earned a medal. Mikulak ended the high bar competition with a bronze after executing his routine well. He ended behind Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands and Kohei Uchimura of Japan. It was the end of a tough meet for the U.S. men.
After qualifying in first place for the team finals ahead of Russia and China by a record nine points, the U.S. women’s team placed first. Lead by Simone Biles, who qualified on all four apparatus finals and the all-around, the U.S. women’s team continued to dominate.
The U.S. women’s team had the highest total score on every apparatus on their way to winning a fourth straight team finala similar margin to their qualification score. This amazing margin came even as Biles struggled on balance beam and both Biles and Morgan Hurd receiving deductions for their floor exercises. The race for second was significantly closer, with Russia beating China by only half a point even after .7 points in deductions.
In the women’s all-around, Biles came out on top, to no one’s surprise. It’s a testament to how far ahead of the rest of the field she is that she won with the set of routines she performed. On vault, she landed almost on her butt, barely getting her feet on the ground first; on floor exercise, she almost stepped out of bounds; and on balance beam, she completely fell off the beam once and almost did so a second time.
Fewer mistakes than this would have caused any other gymnast to be out of the running for a medal, but that’s how talented Biles is compared to the rest of the field. The scores for silver and bronze were much closer, however, with American Morgan Hurd ending in third place by only .066 points behind Mai Murakami of Japan after Hurd also had a particularly poor beam routine.
After those mistakes, Biles had the chance to perform as well as she did in qualifying in the event finals. She started strong with a solid performance on vault, winning a gold medal by an .8 point margin over Canadian Shallon Olsen and Mexican Alexa Moreno, whose fight for silver was decided by .008 points.
On uneven bars, Biles finished with a silver, half a point behind gold medalist Nina Derwael from Belgium and one 10th ahead of German Elizabeth Seitz. This was not because of mistakes on Biles’s part but because of the huge difficulty that Derwael had. Derwael would have had to make mistakes for Biles to win.
Biles continued to struggle on balance beam, almost falling off twice, with multiple balance checks (the gymnast waves their arms or visibly struggles to stay on the beam) but managed to snag a bronze medal.
Her teammate Kara Eaker, however, struggled more, falling on her mount of the beam, leaving her in sixth place. Tingting Liu of China, who qualified in last place, earned the gold while Canadian Anne-Marie Padurariu earned the silver.
On floor exercise, Biles showed why she earned the gold in Rio with a performance that was almost a point more difficult than anyone else in the field, earning a gold despite stepping out of bounds on a pass. Teammate Hurd also had a strong showing, earning a silver ahead of Murakami of Japan. This was the end of a strong showing for the U.S. ladies, who earned a total of four golds, two silvers and two bronze medals.