Friday, April 18, 2008

Olympic Team Final Outlook

Above: The U.S. team that won the world championships title in 2007

While the United States and China are expected to face off in terms of the total of olympic medals, specifically gold medals being awarded, the most dramatic case of a U.S. vs. China battle will be the women's gymnastics team final. Already being considered a big ticket event, NBC successfully requested that all the gymnastics finals be aired live and in primetime. China surprised many by winning the 2006 World Championship, but the U.S. gained revenge on the Chinese by winning in 2007. Romania and Russia are expected to dig it out for the bronze, but don't be surprised if another team winds up on the podium. In the 6-3-3 of death format, all scores count. This leaves little room for error, and one hiccup, such as Ekaterina Kramarenko's balked vault at the 2007 worlds, can be fatal for one team while it will be a dream come true for another. Teams from USA, China, Romania, Russia, Italy, Great Britain, France, Brazil, Ukaraine, Germany, Australia, and Japan will duel it out for the medals come August 13th, 2008.

The Showdown


Results: 2007 World Champions, 2006 Worlds, 2nd place

Pros: The U.S. is the defending world champions and has a great amount of depth to choose from in their gymnasts. The "semi-centralized training system" has improved the U.S. team dramatically from its Sydney olympics slump, and the six gymnasts chosen are likely to be very tough, capable gymnasts. Also, diversity in styles and coach's backgrounds are very much appreciated by the international judges, who scored the Americans as a whole higher than the Chinese despite similarly executed routines at the last two world championships. The politics surrounding Tibet (if it continues toward the olympics) could also help the U.S. team, with judges being pressured to not let China win.

Cons: The U.S. women will no doubt have to deal with being a long way from home in unfamiliar surroundings, as well as a hostil Chinese crowd. Marta Karolyi tends to let politics persuade who she will pick for the team and often chooses the team finals lineups based on preliminary scores, with some valuable gymnasts occasionaly shut out of team finals entirely because of one missed preliminary routine. Event-wise, uneven bars will be where the U.S. could lose to the Chinese women. Also, the marathon selection procedure determines the team based on primarily national, not international, competitions.

Outlook: The U.S. women have been favored for the most part by the judging at the last two worlds. Even when they lost in 2006, the judges ridiculously downgraded Cheng Fei's vault as an extra cushion for the U.S. after Jana Bieger missed her vault earler on. However, beating the Chinese women on their home turf is a formidable task, and the U.S. girls must be in top condition to win and must not suffer any big errors.


Results: 2007 Worlds-2nd place, 2006 World Champions

Pros: China is fielding their most competitive women's team ever, and being on home turf should help them perform confidently. With 'round the clock upgrades, China will likely have a higher difficulty score than that of the U.S. women, which means they have a bit more room for error. China also doesn't have a glaringly weak event, with Cheng Fei and Jiang Yuyuan likely to contribute top scores on vault and floor, historically China's weaker events. Sending top gymnasts to world cup meets is a wise task, both for gaining politcal favor and for experiece, while this is something the U.S. seldom ever does.

Cons: China's gymnasts, perhaps because of the lack of diversity in their gymnasts, typically don't recieve quite as high in the execution marks comparative to the U.S. women. The Tibet and human rights issues surrounding China could make things far worse, with judges possibly doing everything in their power to not let China win. China tends to suffer from silly errors at the worst times, and the pressure of competing at home will be immense.

Outlook: China's sending top gymnasts to world cup meets and constant upgrades are wise tasks in trying to get gold, and the Chinese gymnasts that competed at the Olympic Test Event in Beijing were strong. However, judges are known to find ways to be political toward the Chinese gymnasts, an example being a big deduction for something small like a slight dead hang on bars. China has the potential to easily win, but slight errors could mean the difference between gold and silver.

Battle For the Podium


Results: 2008 European Champions, 2007 Worlds-3rd place, 2006 Worlds-3rd place

Pros: The Romanians are experts at peaking at the right time and getting the job done. They won the last two olympic games while considered the underdogs. The 6-3-3 format helps the Romanians with strong scores sure to come from Steliana Nistor and Sandra Izbasa on several events. The Romanians have strong political favor, with the European judges likely to lobby to get the Romanians high scores after seeing that they are currently the top European team.

Cons: The Romanians lag behind the top two teams in form especially and also in depth. They came close to losing a medal at the 2007 Worlds until Ekaterina Kramarenko balked her vault and basically handed the Romanians the bronze. A retirement from beam specialist Catalina Ponor and an injury from bars specialist Cerasela Patrascu could mean two high scores lost, and the Romanians will need every tenth to get on the podium.

Outlook: Nicolae Forminte, the head Romanian coach, predicted that the Romanians would win olympic gold just weeks after declaring that Romanian gymnastics was in crisis. WTF? The Romanians will be very lucky to get gold or even silver, but on a perfect night it could happen. Bronze looks to be theirs to lose after winning Europeans. However, they suffered many mistakes at the 2007 Worlds team finals and shouldn't be able to rely on a careless error from another athlete for a medal at the olympics.


Results: 2008 Europeans-2nd place, 2007 Worlds-8th place (Kramarenko only needed 13.6 to get the Russians a bronze) 2006 Worlds-3rd place

Pros: Despite the balked vault, Russia was a far superior team on the day of the team finals than Romania. The Russian gymnasts generally have good execution and artistry on all their events. Russia has a good amount of depth and has the current World and European bars champion and European beam champion, Ksenia Semionova, in their arsenal. The Russians also have Yulia Lozechko and Anna Pavlova performing well this year and Russia should be more determined than ever to win the medal they lost in 2007.

Cons: Russia faces a very realstic possibilty of not medaling in the olympic team final for the first time in the history of Russia's participation in the olympics. Romania easily beat them at Europeans (though Lozechko withdrew due to illness) and Russia had a very unlucky championship at the worlds. Lack of funding and interest in gymnastics since the USSR collapsed has gradually degraded the Russian program, and the Russians don't have a dominant star such as Khorkina to perform her team to a medal.

Outlook: Romania winning Europeans hurts Russia's chances of medaling because the European judges will likely lobby as a whole to try to break Romania into the top two. However, on a good day Russia has the difficulty and clean execution in their routines to get the job done, and could take advantage of the absences of Ponor and Patrascu to get on the podium. Russia still wants to get a medal and if there's any country that can prove people wrong at the olympics, Russia can.


Results: 2008 Europeans-4th place, 2007 Worlds-4th place, 2006 Worlds-9th place

Pros: At the 2007 Worlds, Italy proved that they weren't just the Vanessa Ferrari show by finishing 4th in the team final. Ferrari only contributed one good vault score, and 2007 European vault champion Carlotta Giovannini was absent from the team altogether, which proves that the Italians have new-found depth. With Giovannini and Ferrari at their potential form for the olympics and political favor from Italian FIG president Bruno Grandi, Italy has the potential to medal in the team final.

Cons: Italy succumbed to the pressure at Europeans, finishing 4th as a team and missing the podium altogether. Vanessa Ferrari is still struggling with a foot injury she aquired prior to worlds and she will need to be at full-speed for Italy to challenge the improving Romanians and Russians. Ferrari and the Italians in general suffer from inconsistency and bombing routines at the worst times.

Outlook: Italy has the potential to medal and the potential to not factor in at all. Vanessa Ferrari will need to be in top form, and if she is that's 1/3 of the scores taken care of. Italy should look to get some Grandi-aided generous scores, especially if they start doing well. But a bad day like that at Europeans or the 2006 Worlds prelims will keep Italy out of the hunt altogether.


Results: 2008 Europeans-3rd place, 2007 Worlds-6th place, 2006 Worlds-10th place

Pros: The French gymnasts have made some great improvements in their depth and overall consistency, and should continue this onward to Beijing. The French won the bronze at the recent Europeans, defeating a competitive Italian team to be on the podium without their longtime star, Isabelle Severino. Based on their ranking at Europeans, France has gone from 10th t0 5th (with USA and China).

Cons: Losing Isabelle Severino means much more to the team than just a few scores. Severino looked in great form at the 2007 Worlds, even making the beam final. But in the warm-ups of Europeans, she tore her ACL and will not be going to Beijing. France does not have the difficulty scores of the top teams and will have no room for error to win a medal in August. They will also have little political favor because they are an under-the-radar team.

Outlook: France boasts clean, consistent gymnastics but that is not generally rewarded in the new code of points. Their consistency and improvement will only prevail if the great pressure surrounding Romania, Russia, and Italy backfires on those countries. France has already beaten Italy, but it will be a tough, but not impossible task, to win the bronze ahead of Russia and Romania.


Results: 2007 Worlds-5th place, 2006 Worlds-7th place

Pros: Brazil is likely to field some former olympians such as Daiane Dos Santos, Lais Souza, and Daniele Hypolito, along with their current star, Jade Barbosa. Jade's all around strength and Dos Santos' potential for a high score on floor can help the Brazilians a lot toward their quest for a medal. Having so many gymnasts who have competed at the olympics before should help with maintaining the team's overall consistency in team finals.

Cons: Brazil lacks a bit in depth, and will hand tenths to the other teams on uneven bars especially. You should expect seeing very ranged scores in team finals, with some difficulty scores being much higher than others. The Brazilians will look for a strong floor routine from Dos Santos, but at the recent Cottbus Cup Dos Santos still looked plagued by the several injuries she's had since Athens 2004.

Outlook: Brazil has the potential to medal, but will need to be faultless in team finals and hope that gymnasts such as Barbosa and Dos Santos will bring their A-game to the competition. In the 6-3-3 format, Brazil's relative lack of depth will not be as much of a comparative disadvantage, but they still need to improve many of their scores, especially on uneven bars.

The Darkhorses

Note: In my opinion, these teams have very little chance for a medal, so I will only do brief posts on them.

Great Britain

Results: 2008 Europeans-6th place, 2007 Worlds-7th place, 2006 Worlds-10th place

Pros: Very strong scores from their leader, Elizabeth Tweddle, on bars and floor. Also, the Brits have improved their depth since finishing 10th at the 2006 Worlds, in addition to being one of the more consistent teams out on the floor.

Cons: Great Britain is unlikely to even use Beth Tweddle unless if they finish in the top 5 in the preliminary round, which is unlikely as well. The Brits lag behind the other teams especially on difficulty scores, which are hugely important in this new code.

Outlook: Winning a medal is unlikely for Great Britain, but they should be very proud of themselves for fielding their best team ever to these olympics and hopefully they can build up their depth in time to host the 2012 Olympics.


Results: 2007 Worlds-11th place, 2006 Worlds-6th place

Pros: With Peggy Liddick as the head team coach, the Australians are almost sure to have good execution marks for their generally clean lines and good artistry. Daria Joura and Lauren Mitchell can boast several good scores in a team final.

Cons: Australia can fall apart at the worst times, and them nearly losing a spot to go to the olympics after many were predicting a possible podium finish does not point good signs towards their mental well-being at Beijing. They also don't have an especially deep team.

Outlook: The Australians are lagging behind a bit too much in starting scores, consistency, and depth to challenge for the podium. However, anything can happen in the 6-3-3 format.


Results: 2008 Europeans-5th place, 2007 Worlds-9th place, 2006 Worlds-5th place

Pros: Ukaraine boasts some potentially very strong gymnasts, including Dariya Zgoba, Alina Kozich, and Irina Krasnyanska. Ukaraine generally gets good execution scores and even finished 3rd at the 2006 Worlds prelims, proving that the teams does have some depth.

Cons: The Ukranians regressed considerably between 2006 and 2007, with both Zgoba and Krasnyanska suffering injuries. These two gymnasts will be crucial to how the Ukranians do in Beijing, and so far things don't look good. Kransyanska was left off the European roster altogether just so Zgoba could compete bars, while Kransyanska herself is a world finalist on that event.

Outlook: The Ukranians define the term inconsistency, which is such a shame because their gymnastics is always so lovely to watch. Ukaraine has very little chance for a medal unless if Zgoba, Krasnyanska, and Kozich will all come to Beijing at top form.


Results: 2008 Europeans-7th place, 2007 Worlds-10th place, 2006 Worlds-16th place

Pros: Having 32 year-old Oksana Chusovitina is a worthy asset to the team, not just in scores but also for experience. Marie-Sophie Hindermann and Anja Brinker can contribute top bars scores, while Chusovitina will look to score high on vault and floor.

Cons: The Germans are very inconsistent, notably Brinker and Hindermann. The Germans' 10th place finish at last year's worlds may have been propeled by the fact that they were competing at home. Finishing 7th at this year's Europeans basically means that the Germans will need to make some dramatic improvements to even make team finals.

Outlook: Germany will look to enjoy these olympics and would be very excited to make the team final. While a team medal is unlikely, individual medals on vault (Chusovitina) and bars (Hindermann) are possible.


Results: 2007 Worlds-12th place, 2006 Worlds-12th place

Pros: Japan put it together to defeat North Korea, Canada, and Spain for the final olympic team birth at the 2007 Worlds. Japan has some potentially strong gymnasts including Koko Tsurumi, Mayu Kuroda, and Miki Uemura. Japanese gymnasts generally have good execution as well.

Cons: Japan doesn't have the depth, difficulty, or consistency to vie for a medal. The Japanese would be thrilled just to make team finals.

Outlook: Japan sending a full team to these olympics bodes well for the potential growth of their gymnastics program for the future, but they are unlikely to be competitive in Beijing.

Closing Thoughts
  • China will likely have the highest difficulty score, but by how much remains to be the seen. Their have been many rumored upgrades for several gymnasts that we don't know are true or not, but both teams will look to have the highest difficulty score they can put together come August.
  • If politics goes the way it did at last year's worlds, look for high Romanian scores and U.S. scores and somewhat lower Chinese scores.
  • The crowd is expected to be very hostil, much like the Brazilian crowd was at the 2007 Pan American Games. The Americans will certainly not benefit from this but should be able to block out the crowd as the U.S. and China will likely compete in the same rotation and thus will never perform at the same time.
  • Unlike 2004, NBC is being very cautious as to point out that the U.S. will win the gold in Beijing. Prior to Athens, Elfi Schlegel went as far to say, "It's not a question whether the U.S. will win gold, it's by how much." So far I haven't heard any comment that even closely resembles that, despite the fact the U.S. just won its first world title on foreign soil. Since the Romanians kicked USA's rear end at every event in the olympics except AA and UB, NBC doesn't want to jink the U.S. team again.

Predicted Podium

Gold: USA

Silver: China

Bronze: Romania

USA is going to get the political favor it needs and the hostil crowd should only add to the judges marking down China so that they lose. Still expect a tight battle between China and USA due to China's higher starting scores, however. Romania will show consistency and hit routines and will play off other teams' mistakes to get the bronze.

That is all.

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