With the US women, Simone the Conqueror, and Kohei Maximus all coming into this competition as ACME-anvil-sized favorites for three of the four major titles, the men’s team final was under a lot of pressure to achieve that elusive goal of being a slightly compelling sporting event, instead of a “Kim Jong Un challenges you to badminton”-style foregone conclusion. Tough task. But boy, it delivered like a raven bringing news of the pox.
We’ll all remember where we were when Kohei Uchimura totally trolled the entire world and only pretended to throw away the gold medal on high bar but then popped out from behind a bush and was like, “HA HA, I’M THE BEST!”
Coming into 2015, China had won the last 1207 consecutive team titles, dating back to the days when the pbars were elephant tusks and the vault was just a pile of scorched witch carcasses. And in spite of Japan being, you know, clearly several times better than China these last couple years (WHAT HOW DARE YOU), China learned in 2014 that they could pretty much just mobility-scooter their way down the vault runway, ask the high bar for a bedtime story, and then hand Bruno Grandi a drawing of a family holding hands and go, “CHAMPIONSHIP PLEASE.” So why would anything different happen this time? Perhaps that’s what lulled China into a false sense of security.
-China was so hooked on championships to start the meet that Xiao Ruoteng suggested everyone jump up for a rousing game of The Pommel Horse Is Lava Now. The rules are as follows: the pommel horse is lava. That’s pretty much it. Sounds fun, right? Nope. Terrible. Two falls later, and coupled with some floor routines suffering from a little bit of “this body ain’t big enough for the both of us” legs, China basically needed Japan to join a hippie commune never to be heard from again mid-vault to have any chance at title #1208.
-For a while, it didn’t look like that could happen, since Japan was just casually shooting Longines Elegance Prizes out of their asses with every landing. And even though China decided to remember that human hands may be used to hold items just in time for rings, Japan was already busy proposing marriage to suitcases full of cash, making it rain like six Japanese Taylor Rices (Six Japanese Taylor Rices, band name, called it), and waiting to receive the Duchy of Cornwall. Or whatever you get for winning things in Britain. A teapot? The satisfaction of a job well done communicated via demure nod? Prince Harry?
-Then Yusuke Tanaka happened. The surviving member of the legendary Tanakas, season one champions of Oops, My Family’s Perfect, decided to go, “Like, guys…we’re Japan.” Then the rest of the team was like, “MY GOD YOU’RE RIGHT,” so Tanaka went, “Chill. I can fix this. Leave it to me.” Heroically, Tanaka proceeded to fall on both pbars and high bar in an effort to fulfill Japan’s true destiny, inviting China in from the cold and, like any courteous gentleman, holding the door open so that a glamorous newcomer could sweep into the party as well.
-That sexy, head-turning ingenue is called Great Britain. (There’s a first for every sentence.) Eager to duplicate the women’s historic success from yesterday, the British men adopted a very unorthodox strategy called hitting their routines and being awesome. And you know something? It worked. They just sashayed around that arena all evening long ordering plates of stuck landing with a side of blood-curdling love-shriek, please. The crowd was more than happy oblige, even doing its part by turning on the floor-exercise magnets right on cue. Great Britain had a total USA WAG on floor to end the meet, just without the cat sounds that could have really put them over the top and challenged Japan for gold. There’s always next year. #MaxWhitlockCatSound2016. Even so, it was a tremendous showing. If Maggie chocolate-unicorned yesterday, then at the very least the British men sour-gummy-dragoned today. GB should compete at home every time. Foreign places make them feel slippery.
-Around the same time, China started throwing a little bit of a temper tantrum on high bar. Just as they got right back into the meet on the strength of rings and pbars by being downright sober and impressive, the Chinese realized that handstands are a fart and stupid and a jerk. Once Zhang went over on one of his fartstands, China was out of the gold hunt, having put up three drunk rotations out of six, not even counting vault, which has been in meetings for a while now.
-With Great Britain already guaranteed at least SECOND OVER CHINA (cut to Ellie Downie’s sloppy tears), Kohei went up on high bar for Japan, not even needing a Kohei score for gold. He barely even needed a Louis Smith score for gold. But that’s when Captain Prankster decided to play his big joke on all of us and fall, making it seem for a second like Great Britain might win. But since Kohei could trip over every mat, slap an old lady in the face, join FIFA, and say he doesn’t like Maggie Nichols, and still be better than all of us combined, he got the score he needed, and the Japanese finally got the title they needed.
-Great Britain, turning every British gymnastics fan into a bag of fireworks with its performance in this championship so far, snatched a silver, and China managed to hobble up to the final spot on the podium to go, “What’s this weird brownish color on these medals?” They were a little Khorkina-2000-team-silver about those bronze medals. Does not compute. Why is this rung of the podium all low? And what’s that bizarre flag with a red circle doing where ours is supposed to be?
-Now to the USA. The Americans finished fifth, but they honestly can’t be too disappointed in their performance. (Really, the only team that has reason to be disappointed in itself based on today is China.) The US hit their routines and fixed the major problems from qualification, allowing Splatty Nation to make zero total appearances. Kind of rude. There were a few more minor steppy-wobbles in some of the hit routines, which kept the scores in the reasonable zone when they needed to be great. The judges also thought it would be fun to give Whittenburg a 0.0001 D score on floor for over-fabulousing a handstand in there (it’s what we call it), which hurt, but for the most part the US didn’t give the meet away. They simply got beat by better teams.
-Besides the greatness on high bar, and to some extent pbars and rings, the US just wasn’t getting the huge scores necessary to challenge for a medal, in spite of misleading in-progress rankings. The in-progress rankings were always going to overstate the American position since they still had to enter the arena with that demon pommel horse made of jellyfish and just try not to die too quickly. (THE GOALS.) Once the US got there, the lower scores on floor had already taken them out of the running. We could even overhear Craig Heap prepping the final rotation in the background going, “You don’t have to worry about the Americans.” Correct.
-Paul Ruggeri hit high bar! After that, I was too covered in butterflies and sugarplum dreams to notice anything else happening. Oh, pommel horse didn’t go great? No cheeseburgers? No mansions? Well, call CNN because they’ll want to do a day of team coverage. Leyva had some good, old-fashioned NOPE HIPS on his dismount, but by that point the US would have needed to be GB on pommel horse to make a dent anyway.
-Of note, alternate Marvin Kimble did not appear with the team to get introduced and wave his hand at everyone, and the relative gymternet silence on that matter compared to the legions of Hurt Feelings Police who emerged when it seemed Brenna and McKayla might not get introduced yesterday was pretty telling.
-Continuing a theme, the Russians finished fourth as part of their gymternet-ordered penance for the concept of Valentina, though the men did have a much better time of it than the women. There was a moment toward the beginning of the meet when it looked like it might be Attack of the 50 Foot Komova all over again, but they endured, not even accusing Kohei of taking steroids while also throwing in some great routines, among which Ablyazin’s ability not to detonate on contact with vault and floor was particularly impressive. It’s almost like he’s not made of land mines suddenly. Weird. Unfortunately for the Russians, they lack the six whole events to make a bigger run than they did today, particularly showing on high bar that they’re always going to give away tenths to the best teams. The Russians can’t even manage to swing bars like a lunatic on the verge of either going on a killing spree or inventing light-speed travel at any moment, which is what it takes to succeed on high bar. PICK IT UP. YOU CALL YOURSELVES RUSSIANS?
-Switzerland, South Korea, and Brazil rounded out the competitors, with a pretty big gap between their efforts and those of the top 5. None of the three were ever really in it for a medal, but we did see some solid work from all of them including Hypolito doing Hypolito things on floor, South Korea throwing up some really clean gymnastics on a few events, and a Switzerland earring/tattoo situation that I’d like to hear a lot more about because it displayed more risk, originality, and virtuosity than anything else in the competition.