Olympic Preview — Team China

It’s time to tackle one of the big dogs, the glorious and legendary bouquet of beam dance elements that is the nation of China. Since every other team has been overshadowed by the Americans this quad, it’s easy to gloss over the fact that China has quite successfully rebounded from the disappointing batch of taped-together injuries and comebacks that characterized the 2012 Olympic team to regain its place as the clear second-best team in the world, winning silver at the last two world championships.

This Chinese team does not boast the remarkable stature of the 2008 squad (no one would expect it to), and while increasing concerns over injuries and depth have introduced more doubt about that second-place status, it would be rather alarming if China were to leave the Olympics without a team medal. And at this point, that medal should be silver.

Fan Yilin – 2015 world bars champion, potential D of 7.1, how bars handstands should look
Mao Yi – 2016 Chinese silver, keeping them afloat on vault and floor, a 3.5 + front pike on floor that you won’t even have to cry after
Shang Chunsong – 2015 & 2016 Chinese champion, obviously the best one, could win an AA medal even with a yfull, the one who was malnourished as a child so you can’t make fun of how young she looks anymore
Tan Jiaxin – Quad stalwart, replacing Liu Tingting, helps China’s scoring potential even though she’s less exciting than Liu, DTY and 6.7 D on bars
Wang Yan – The one who’s powerful even though she’s 2’3”, vaults a Kas 1/1 and rudi, you’re worried about her consistency on beam and floor, has that upsetting Adi Pop butt wiggle choreo this year

Projected Olympic lineups
Vault – (Shang) Tan, Mao, Wang
Bars – (Wang) Tan, Shang, Fan
Beam – (No one?) Wang, Fan, Shang
Floor – (Tan) Mao, Wang, Shang

There shouldn’t be too much drama in China’s lineups, although more drama is being injected by the day. Fan Yilin doesn’t do vault or floor, which makes that easy. On vault, Shang’s full will be used in qualification to get her into the AA while the TF lineup will be a DTY, DTY, Kas 1/1 for 5.8, 5.8, 6.0.

On floor, Tan has a viable mid-5s routine to use in qualification (she went in the TF in 2014), but Mao, Wang, and Shang are the clear floor standouts and have worked the code to get themselves up into the 6s, boasting what should end up being the second-highest floor D in the competition.

On bars, Tan, Shang, and Fan are the obvious team final gymnasts. Neither Wang or Mao excel on bars, but Wang will be the pick in qualification to get her in as China’s second AAer, especially if Mao really doesn’t end up competing beam in qualification.

On that issue, Tan Jiaxin doesn’t do beam at all, so that lineup seemed very straightforward (Mao in qualification only, the rest in TF) until word came that China may use only three on beam in qualification. For China’s sake, let’s hope Mao is the one not able to do beam—or just being held off beam for reasons of general mysteriousness—because anyone else would be catastrophic. If Mao doesn’t do beam, there would be exactly no point to put her on bars since she wouldn’t in contention for the all-around anyway. 

Of note, Mao did beat Wang in the all-around at the Chinese Championship this year, but it appears that either Mao is not at full strength or Wang is simply the chosen flower to go along with Shang in the AA.

The gigantic concern when looking at these Chinese lineups is that none of those fourth routines are usable replacements in the team final. The group set to go in TF is extremely talented and has very high scoring potential, but they all MUST be 100% healthy and deliver because there are exactly zero built-in backups. China is very much helped by the 5-3-3 format, but one more injury would send this whole house of cards crashing to the ground. This team would give Martha a thousand panic attacks.

Team Final
We know that China’s best argument for silver in the team final will be strength on bars. With all those 6s and 15s floating around, China should win bars by a real margin. Scoring below Russia (or the US for that matter) on bars would be our biggest red flag that it’s a bad day and that we should reassess our expectations.

Because of depth and consistency concerns on the other events (and by other events, I mean beam), it’s that much more critical that China provide the security of three 15s on bars. Theoretically, China has a point (or two) to play with over Russia, meaning those bars 15s would allow for the luxury of counting, say, a rough 13 on beam and still being perfectly fine.

Beam could go any which way. China is putting all its eggs in Wang’s basket again even though she had major errors on three of her four beam routines at worlds last year. In fact, every Chinese gymnast had at least one 13 on beam in Glasgow. They may not fall this time. The lineup may be perfectly safe for mid 14s, in which case China should be cruising to the silver, but even if it’s a mess, China is better set up to withstand a beamtastrophe than its peers.

That’s because, in spite of being underpowered as a group, China does have three (and only three) internationally notable vault and floor routines that should put them either third or fourth overall in the TF on each event, allowing bars to do the talking. On vault, Tan and Mao have China’s least terrifying DTYs, and while Wang’s rudi looked like an enhanced interrogation technique at Chinese nationals, her Kas 1/1 is solid. That should put China more or less on pace with Russia and GB there, and if behind, by just a few tenths.

On floor, the Chinese team probably shouldn’t be able to score as well as it does, but those now-hallmark 3/1+front tucks and 3.5 + front pikes have kept them competitive with the D, allowing them to score in the mid 14s even with 8.3 E scores. When we compare that to a Russian team that is clinging on trying to get through with three 14.0s on floor, China’s composition could be another decisive advantage.

At this point, we can assume that China is looking to put Shang and Wang up in the all-around, even though Mao would also have been an option. The concern for both Shang and Wang is whether they are true all-arounders or three-event gymnasts masquerading as all-arounders.

At her best, Wang can put up extremely high scores on vault, beam, and floor and could very believably finish in the 58s. She is, however,  hurt by a bars routine that’s rather low-scoring. She’d be hoping to play the Raisman game, but questions about her ability to hit beam and floor at the same time put her much farther down the depth chart, clearly below her teammate Shang.

Shang is comfortably entrenched among the gymnasts who could snatch a medal. She finished 4th at worlds last year, but if we remove vault from the equation and total the remaining three events, Shang’s score would have been 2nd, just 0.167 behind Biles. It was far from Biles’ best day on beam and floor so that’s somewhat misleading, but it does emphasize just how well Shang can score on three events. Well enough to keep her in contention for a medal in spite of a vault that’s going to score in the 13s even at its best. No one else can say that.

Shang is capable of overcoming that vault to medal, but having an event that needs to be overcome will always put her at a disadvantage. She will have to be perfect on the other three pieces and will be at the mercy of other gymnasts hitting four AA-competitive scores and putting a medal out of reach.

Vault – Wang has her two vaults with 6.0/6.2 D scores. If she hits both of them, she will be in a solid position to make the event final since that’s about the difficulty total we should be looking for from prospective finalists. Increased depth, however, is making that less of a sure thing than it was at worlds last year, which is especially true if Chuso and Karmakar are kept afloat with their Butt-a-Prod scores. Wang would not be a likely medalist given the field, but she’s certainly in the conversation to make the final.

Bars – China’s best event-medal hope (and best gold hope across the entire women’s competition) will be Fan on bars. She was bunched as one of the four winners in the final last year and really could have won the title outright if not for a couple muscled kips and moments of sloppiness to knock her execution score down. Of note, she doesn’t have late-finishing pirouettes and doesn’t use any disastrously flat shoots to high bar, issues that have plagued China’s bars execution scores for the last two quads, her routine recalling more the work of He Kexin and Yang Yilin in 2008. With a hit, Fan is probably the best bet for bars gold in a very stacked field.

We can expect China to get two people into the final, though Fan is the clear standout since both Shang and Tan will incur more form deductions in spite of their 6.7ish Ds. They should score 15s regardless, but it makes them more susceptible to being passed by the Russians, Americans, Germans, and Downie.

Beam – Didn’t you hear Wang Yan is winning silver on beam? Did you think it would be someone else? Because it’s Wang. She’s doing it. (Not really sure which is less realistic, that or Afan on floor. It’s close.) Really, she could make the final again with a hit in qualification, but so could Shang and Fan, both of whom I would put as more likely finalists with Shang right in the medal mix. Shang has never won an individual medal at worlds/Olympics (4th in the AA and floor final last year), which seems wrong, so if it doesn’t happen in the all-around, we may be looking to beam.

Floor – Though we should be looking to floor most of all. Shang has the difficulty score to beat almost anyone, and while she may suffer in execution for issues like landing position and some moments of sloppy legs in twisting like on the 3/1, the gymnasts she’ll be fighting against like Fragapane have their own execution problems.

Shang is not on a lot of people’s radars for floor medals because she’s not a power gymnast (and because Biles and Raisman are leaving just one medal spot open for everyone else), but she did perform a 6.7 D at Chinese nationals. It included a tenuous connection attempt of quad spin to illusion turn and does lean on the quad spin in order to get all the way up into the high 6s, but if someone hanging around with a 6.0-6.1 is expecting to medal on floor, she will need Shang to make significant errors.

Also, Wang could make the final. That too. For her it comes down to whether that double double is cooperating.

4 thoughts on “Olympic Preview — Team China”

  1. Tan’s bar D-score is a 6.8. Also you project mid-14s on team beam and floor but their top 4 D-scores are in the mid-high 6s and their bottom 2 are 6.2 and 6.3 for those events so you seem to expect them to get E-scores in the 7s almost across the board…

    Mao understands her role on the team are in floor and vault so she won’t be preparing beam and bar. She’s just focusing on consistency and slight upgrades to her floor routine as well as attempting to train the amanar with Tan. She might get in on a floor final but other than that her Olympics is the team final. Tan might also get in on bar, she has a higher D-score than Shang but Shang is a lot cleaner with her handstands and dismount.

    1. Their hypothetical E scores are mid to high 6’s, but their actual E scores are usually lower because they rely on combinations and spins they don’t always get credit for. Shang and Fan are capable of hitting 15’s on beam, but they fall off fairly often and thus are also capable of hiting 13’s. Wang hasn’t scored above a 14.3 so far this year.

      On floor, Mao is the only one to break 15, and barely at that. The Chinese rely a lot on spins and connections to build their D on floor, and they don’t always get credit for those moves.

      1. I think it’s just a typo you meant D scores. This is if we’re counting nationals. Shang went 3/3 on beam with mid 15s on each (15.4,15.467,15.5) and Fan was 1/2 with the hit a 15.3. In my opinion one of the reasons for the lack of consistency reputation with Chinese gymnasts is that they are constantly upgrading so they rarely get enough reps on any apparatus, but after Nationals both Fan and Shang have stopped upgrading. Both have looked much improved in practice videos. Wang hasn’t scored above a 14.5 but there’s only been one competition this year, albeit she had 3 chances. On floor Shang broke 15 twice (15.1,15.15) and Mao twice as well (15.25,15.2) before taking out her punch front. Wang also broke 15 twice at 15 and 15.05. I think Shang and Wang’s programs they will leave be but Mao was planning an incremental upgrade so I don’t see them in the mid-14s on floor. I think a lot of people sleep on this team because they expect a certain quota of mistakes to be met. There’s a certain danger to that…

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