Monday, July 7, 2008

And spot #6 goes to......... Part 2-China

It remains unknown when the Chinese will officially name their Olympic teams, for men and women, (though it is rumored to be within the next week) but since China is fully aware of the much-anticipated USA vs. China gymnastics showdown for the ages, they could end up waiting until after Martha K. announces the U.S. team so that China can plan their team accordingly. However, such tactics won't be at all necessary, as the U.S. team is pretty much set in stone as to who will go and who won't. Cheng Fei, Jiang Yuyuan, He Kexin, and Yang Yilin are locks for the Chinese team, and do to a surprising lack of depth on beam Li Shanshan should be named as the 5th girl regardless of how inconsistent she is. (she hit two relatively shaky, but clean, routines at the recent Barcelona World Cup which I think sealed the deal for her)Let's take a look at the line-ups of the Chinese women assuming Cheng, Yuyuan, Kexin, Yilin, and Shanshan are all on the Olympic team.


Prelims: Cheng, Yuyuan, Yilin, Kexin, Shanshan (?)

Finals: Cheng, Yuyuan, Yilin (Kexin if needed)

Outlook: The 5th vault girl is of little use to the Chinese team, as the lowest score in prelims is dropped and China making team finals is no worry at all. Shanshan competed a 1.5 yurchenko at the Shanghai Test Event (crashed completely) and has since been competing an FTY, and Pang Panpan has yet to show her DTY, which she hasn't competed since she missed the vault en route to giving the AA gold to Vanessa Ferrari at '06 Worlds. The 6th girl is not needed to fill any holes here.

Uneven Bars

Prelims: Kexin, Yilin, Yuyuan, ?, ?

Finals: Kexin, Yilin, Yuyuan, (Pang Panpan is capable of scoring higher than Yuyuan here)

Outlook: Kexin and Yilin are Olympic gold medal contenders on this event with 7.7 A-scores looking to crush any hope for American dominance in Olympic team finals. Jiang Yuyuan is a very solid 3rd bar worker, and while PPP can be used for that position there isn't a big difference between the general bars scores of the two gymnasts. However, if a bars specialist is to get injured what will China do? Shanshan is disgraceful to the Chinese on this apparatus, Fei doesn't even train bars, and if beam specialist Xiao Sha is to make the team she can contribute a decent, but unspectacular score here. This reason alone should guarantee both He Ning and PPP as alternate at bare minimum, but it remains to be seen whether China will take a potentially disastrous injury to a bars specialist in consideration when picking the last spot on the team.

Balance Beam

Prelims: Shanshan, Fei, Yilin, Yuyuan, ?

Finals: Shanshan, Fei, Yilin(?)

Outlook: Oddly enough, beam is China's weakest event and the one event where USA will look to make up what should be a solid deficit thanks to USA's weakness on UB. Li Shanshan is not as consistent a performer as one would like, but she is capable of getting a nice score even with a fall and given China's lack of BB depth the coaches have no choice but to send her. With Cheng Fei unlikely to get back her triple full dismount (which puts her A-score around 6.7) the big question remains on who will be the 3rd BB girl in team finals. The team should be satisfied enough to put Yang Yilin, a consistent but unspectacular performer on this apparatus. However, Xiao Sha and Sui Lu are capable of scoring much higher than Yang is, but than again both gymnasts are classic examples of "headcases," gymnasts with remarkable potential that cannot be consistent to save their lives.

Floor Exercise

Prelims: Fei, Yuyuan, Yilin, Shanshan, Kexin

Finals: Fei, Yuyuan, Yilin

Outlook: Floor Exercise is a relatively similar situation to the team as uneven bars is, because the team final line-up is quite strong but there is no back-up for the Chinese if one of these three girls is to go down with injury/illness/etc. prior to team finals. With Shanshan and Kexin adequate on this event at best, the 6th girl will need to have at least some skill on floor, which would help the Olympic case of someone like He Ning or Deng Linlin.

As of now, there appear to be six gymnasts with a possibility (some are remote however) to go to Beijing as the last gymnast named to the team. Let us take a look at what qualities each of these gymnasts brings to the table, and whether those qualities will interest the Chinese coaches when selecting the all-important Olympic team.

Xiao Sha

Pros: Xiao Sha is capable of a huge score on balance beam and hit beam during the pressure-packed team finals at last year's worlds after falling twice in prelims. Xiao is solid on the other three events, and can be used in team finals on VT, UB, or FX if an emergency is to occur.

Cons: Xiao is known for being extremely inconsistent on her money event, balance beam. One days she will hit like no other, while the next she will make a costly slip-up right before your eyes. With Yang Yilin having the potential for a 6.9 A-score, just .1 lower than Xiao's, it remains very questionable if the risk of taking Xiao will outweigh the reward.

Outlook: Yang Yilin's improvement on beam has likely meant game over for Xiao Sha's Olympic bid, but barring an administrative error she should still be kept as an alternate with a potentially strong beam score and decent routines on the other apparatus to be there for the Chinese to use if absolutely needed.

Sui Lu

Pros: Sui Lu won beam and floor at the Chinese Nationals, and was given extremely generous execution marks at those championships. A-scores of 7.1 on beam and 6.4 on floor will be hard to overlook when selecting the Olympic team.

Cons: Sui Lu's Olympic chances have melted considerably after disastrous performances at the Moscow World Cup and the French Nationals indicated nothing more than that Sui Lu cannot deal with the pressure of being in senior international meets. Amongst all the various rumors of the Chinese team selection, Sui Lu has been hardly mentioned as having any whisker of a possibility to become the 6th girl named to the team.

Outlook: I highly doubt after the Chinese Nationals that anyone in their right mind would think the Chinese would leave Sui Lu off the team. She seemed to have the entire package: high A-scores on events China needed her on, consistency, as well as good form and power to match. However, her performances at the two international assignments only showed the Chinese delegation all of the reasons they should not pick Sui Lu for the team, and those performances have not only been fatal to her Olympic bid but will also put stains on her reputation which has now become that of an unreliable competitor.

Pang PanPan

Pros: Pang PanPan is capable of higher UB scores than Jiang Yuyuan, the presumed lead-off bar worker for China in team finals. In addition to that, PPP is experienced and when healthy is capable of high-scoring work on beam and floor.

Cons: Unfortunately, PPP has been injured since helping the Chinese win team gold at the 2006 World Championships. These injuries likely cost her a chance to compete at the 2007 Worlds, and could very well do the same for her Olympic dream. It appears now that the only event PPP can really contribute is on uneven bars, and it can even be argued China doesn't need her there.

Outlook: PPP is generally scored favorably and her being able to outscore Yuyuan on UB should help her case out quite a bit. China is most in need of having UB back-up and PPP would be an ideal solution to this problem. However, injuries make it unlikely that she will return strong on VT, BB, and FX and be an ideal back-up gymnast on those apparatus. It will ultimately be a tough decision on China's part to risk a lack of BB or FX depth by sending a good UB gymnast to not only contribute a high mark to the team, but also an extra back-up bars girl (with PPP there would be four girls capable of high marks in team finals).

He Ning

Pros: He Ning is experienced and reliable and also a potential back-up gymnast to be used in team finals on UB, BB, or FX. He Ning was named to both the 2006 and 2007 World teams (the only athlete besides Cheng Fei to have competed on both world teams) while contributing far less than other teammates with actual routines performed in team finals. There have been various rumors that He Ning is indeed the 6th girl to be named to the team.

Cons: He Ning's capable scores on UB, BB, and FX, while solid, don't suggest the Chinese can't do without her in Beijing. Yang Yilin would be a much better option to compete BB in team finals, and in an emergency Ning isn't that much better on beam than Jiang Yuyuan, beam being Jiang's weakest event. If the Chinese delegation is indeed looking for another UB girl, PPP would be a somewhat better option just because of scoring potential. It is also worth noting that He Ning is the only serious contender for the team (besides Zhang Nan) that has not been sent to an international meet of any kind this year.

Outlook: He Ning's selection to the last two world teams means that she is politically favored, and strong performances from Chinese Nationals definitely helped her Olympic chances even if she has no international competitions to show for this year. He Ning is a solid back-up option on FX and UB especially, the events China is most in need of more depth. Though Ning originally seemed like a long shot, she provides a pretty strong case for herself to be named as the last girl to the team.

Deng Linlin

Pros: Deng is capable of high marks on vault, beam, and floor. A generally consistent competitor, she won both beam and floor at the Moscow World Cup which helps her case for having a good reputation with the international judges.

Cons: Deng's falls on beam and floor at the Chinese Nationals, which subsequently kept her out of event finals in both cases, definitely put a yield to Deng's Olympic chances, as did her mysterious pull-out of the French Nationals which she was scheduled to compete in. Yang Yilin's improvement on beam and floor makes her scores there equal or perhaps even higher than what Deng is capable of, and that reason, in addition to inexperience, look to make it unlikely Deng will be named as the 6th gymnast to the team.

Outlook: Though hardly a shoo-in for the last spot on the team, Deng's strengths on three apparatus make her ideal alternate material. A DTY vault and strong A-scores on beam and floor will be ideal to use if a substitution is needed, and while Deng lacks experience, she is a bit more consistent than Sui Lu and Xiao Sha and I personally think the Chinese would be idiotic to leave her off the team entirely.

Zhang Nan

Pros: Zhang Nan is the only athlete besides Cheng Fei with a legitimate chance at a second Olympic games. Her experience and prowess on beam is noteworthy, and won a bronze on beam at the Chinese Nationals ahead of Li Shanshan and Xiao Sha who suffered falls and finished behind Sui Lu, who looks to have little chance to make the team. Zhang has generally been scored favorably over the years by the judges, the most notable example being when she won Olympic AA bronze in Athens 2004 when Russian Anna Pavlova was felt by most to have put forth a superior effort in that meet.

Cons: Solid BB scores from Yang Yilin at recent meets (notably French Nationals AA final) provide little use for Zhang Nan to be named to the team. Li Shanshan and Xiao Sha are capable of higher marks than Zhang is, and the only reason Zhang would be named to the team would be for beam, which is likely far too little of a contribution than what China is looking for.

Outlook: The writing was on the wall when the coaches handed over the team captain duties that were formerly Zhang Nan's to Cheng Fei, and while Zhang Nan made an admirable comeback on beam at the Chinese Nationals, she simply brings too little to the table to be considered seriously for an Olympic birth.

Things To Be Considered When Naming This Team:

  • As far as alternates and substitution for injured teammates is concerned, the delegation has 24 hours prior to the beginning of prelims to submit the team's final roster, which means NO SUBSTITUTION after that is allowed. This fact alone, if considered, should help He Ning or (especially) PPP's chances because Cheng Fei or Li Shanshan competing UB in team finals would be the laughing stock of the gymnastics world and someone like Xiao Sha or He Ning to compete there in TF would also open a big door for the United States team, which then would likely have a smaller UB deficit to China in that scenario.
  • Xiao Sha seems to be incapable of hitting two clean beam sets in a row among qualifications and finals, whether it be a world cup meet or a national/world championship. So, if Xiao Sha is to get that 6th spot, if she hits in prelims than the Chinese should NOT use her in team finals, subbing in Yang Yilin to compete BB in TF instead. However, if she falls in prelims than China should select to her to compete BB in TF in a heartbeat, with past history making it a good indication she would hit and score highly.
  • China's lack of depth on BB and FX s considerably less so than UB, which makes me think that the 6th girl should have at least an adequate, preferably very good, UB routine.
Let us take a look at the possible scenarios if one of the Chinese gymnasts is to get injured, assuming the team is Fei, Yuyuan, Kexin, Yilin, Shanshan, and Ning:

Cheng Fei
possible sub: Deng Linlin

VT: Yuyuan, Yilin, Kexin
UB: not affected
BB: Shanshan, Yilin, Linlin
FX: Yuyuan, Yilin, Linlin

Yang Yilin
possible subs: PPP/Linlin/Sha

VT: Fei, Yuyuan, Kexin
UB: Kexin, Yuyuan, Ning
BB: Shanshan, Fei, Linlin/Sha
FX: Fei, Yuyuan, Ning

He Kexin
possible subs: PPP

VT: Fei, Yuyuan, Yilin
UB: Yilin, Yuyuan, PPP
BB: not affected
FX: not affected

Jiang Yuyuan
possible subs: PPP

VT: Cheng, Yilin, Kexin
UB: Kexin, Yilin, Ning/PPP
BB: not affected
FX: Cheng, Yilin, Ning

Li Shanshan
possible subs: Linlin/Sha

VT/UB/FX: not affected
BB: Fei, Yilin, Linlin/Sha

He Ning

Not a first choice for being in team finals, but her good routines on bars and floor will likely make PPP the substitute if He Ning is to get injured, with Deng Linlin being a possibility as well.

Predicted Team
  1. Cheng Fei
  2. Yang Yilin
  3. Jiang Yuyuan
  4. He Kexin
  5. Li Shanshan
  6. He Ning

  1. Pang PanPan
  2. Deng Linlin
  3. Xiao Sha

China's possible decision to include Ning as the last girl at first would look like an unintelligent decision, but the more and more one analyzes He Ning's potential for the team she really would be the best pick for the last girl. Though unlikely to compete in team finals unless if someone is to get injured, Ning provides strong experience, consistency, leadership, and reliable work on uneven bars and floor exercise, which are the events China is most in need of back-up gymnasts. Ning would simply be an insurance policy to the team, but a good one at that. We shall see who gets the last spot for China, and I don't think I'm the only person who is putting their money down on He Ning to the get the final spot for China.

Next Post: Mediterranean Gym Cup Analysis

That is all.


Isis said...

Several things.

(1) You think that He Kexin is a better vaulter than Deng Linlin?

(2) You said: "Cheng Fei or Li Shanshan competing UB in team finals would be the laughing stock of the gymnastics world." Err... Precisely.

(3) I am so, so, so hoping that either PPP or Xiao Sha will make the team. I'd love to see both of them make it, and see Li Shanshan left off the team, but I think this is highly unlikely to happen. (Just to be clear: I don't think it would be wise for China to take PPP and Xiao Sha, and leave LSS off the team. It's just that I very much prefer watching PPP and Xiao Sha to watching LSS.)

Anyway, great analysis, keep up the good work! :-)

MRR said...

I'd say Kexin and Linlin are about equal with their DTY vaults, Yilin's is a tad better than both Kexin's and Linlin's DTYs. The only potential problem with this team is that Yilin will most likely have to do AA in team finals, and I'm wondering how she will deal with that. I love PPP and Xiao Sha, but in terms of what China really needs for the last spot He Ning really looks like the best option for China IMO. Obviously, China's need for good BB depth all but assures Shanshan a spot on the team, even though I really like Xiao better on that event when she hits to be honest. Thanks for the compliment!

Bekalynn said...

It's funny how China's really least hyped "locked" gymnast is probably their most valuable important one. If the rumors are true about Yang possibly doing the All Around. I wonder if she will be sujbected to the All Around curse too.....BUT I wonder if doing the All Around in Team finals, just might give her extra confidence.

And honestly, I like Yang's beam, I think she has potential to be a strong beamer with extra work and effort.

Anonymous said...

i think china will use yang and li shanshan on beam in finals. i think yang is the most consistent beamer of the entire team and li puts up big scores anyway even with a fall. the last beam spot i believe it will come down to cheng and xiao sha. my olympic team is cheng, yang, jiang, kexin, li, xiao

Isis said...

Christi9103 said: "the last beam spot i believe it will come down to cheng and xiao sha." Well, unless the Chinese are planning on using Xiao Sha on BB in the TF, there's no point in taking her. If they're planning to have Yang Yilin, Cheng Fei, and Li Shanshan do BB in TF, then they ought to take PPP (in case they're most worried about lack of UB depth and/or would like someone about as good but more reliable than Jing Yuyuan on that piece of apparatus) or He Ning (in case they're planning on having only five girls compete in TF, with the sixth girl being a solid and mentally tough AA-er who can be counted on to fill in on any piece of apparatus - except possibly VT, on which they're covered well enough - in an emergency).

But as I said above, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for either Xiao Sha or PPP. I don't have a clear favorite between the two at the moment, I just really hope that one of them makes it.