The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Can Anyone Break Up USA-CHina-Russia?

At the last two major team competitions, the US, China, and Russia have successfully fulfilled their destinies as the three nations on the women’s team final medal stand. In 2018, it went USA-Russia-China, with Canada coming up .750 short of a bronze medal; in 2016, it also went USA-Russia-China, with Japan coming up ~1.6 short of a bronze medal.

The last team to upset the trio was Great Britain at its home worlds in 2015, and before that it was Romania in 2012, so we’re really stretching back into ye olden days there. Oh, Romania.

Today, let’s take a look at whether any other teams can break into the silver and bronze medal positions this time around, and who those lucky teams might be.

First, let’s start by establishing where China and Russia currently sit.

China

I can’t really do the typical best-case score tables for China because we still have so many question marks in that regard. We don’t have any scores without heavy domestic bonus to go on for Chen Yile—or for the DTYs from Li Shijia and Tang Xijing that are going to be essential to the team’s scoring potential, so there’s not a lot of realistic data. What we do have to go on likely underestimates China’s score.

Still, if you take each member of the Chinese team’s best non-domestic scores* on each event this year, you come up with 167.051 in a 3-count. That’s including two FTYs, no scores from CYL, and no floor routine from LSJ, which is why I would consider it extremely conservative compared to the scores I’ll be going through for other countries below. (Of course, none of these scores are what these teams will actually get at worlds—they’re best-case-scenario, sky-full-of-unicorns totals for the purposes of comparison among all the teams.)

As will become clear, however, that low 167 number is nonetheless pretty competitive for team silver compared to the outlook for other countries, and it doesn’t take into account the squad’s upgraded routine composition across multiple events. That’s why I currently like China for the team silver medal. Tentatively. We need to see how some of these routines look when they get out of China.

The counterpoint is that if all this potential from internal trials, all this potential that we haven’t seen tested on a big stage yet, doesn’t translate to worlds, China is right down with the peasants again.

*For this post, “non-domestic scores” means I’m excluding scores recorded at internal, national competitions. So I’m not including Chinese nationals, but still including China’s scores at the Zhaoqing World Cup because that was an international FIG meet, even though it technically took place domestically.

Russia

Of the two teams, Russia currently looks to be in the more troubling position, heading to its first major team competition with neither Mustafina nor Komova on the squad since the 2008 Olympics. (!)

And I say Russia is in the more troubling position nearly exclusively because of beam. The team is Melnikova, Akhaimova, Simakova, Schekoldina, and Spiridonova, which provokes the question, which three exactly are you banking to hit beam in the team final? Using non-domestic scores this year, Russia’s beam lineup alone comes up 3.5 points behind China’s. That’s no paltry deficit.

Certainly, Russia can pick up the pace on some other events. I’m concerned about the third vault, but if they do get a vault out of Schekoldina, then the lineup of Akhaimova, Melnikova, and Schekoldina can match or beat China’s. Similarly, Russia will need a third bars hit, but Spiridonova and Melnikova should score competitively. This squad is also the best one Russia could possibly have chosen for floor, and I would expect Russia to gain some significant tenths on China there.

But beam. While China was at 167.051 for its non-domestic scores this year, Russia is at 165.880 using the same process, pretty much entirely because of beam. (A similar caveat applies in that Spiridonova—like Chen—has no non-domestic scores this year to be used.)

For the purpose of totally unscientifically matching up Russia against other countries, I’m going to add in a Spiridonova’s scores from Russian Cup to the non-domestic scores for everyone else. That means Russia goes up to the 167.1 zone.

Angelina Melnikova14.40014.60013.60014.066
Aleksandra Schekoldina14.33313.43311.73313.133
Angelina Simakova13.30013.86613.46613.466
Lilia Akhaimova14.55013.10012.75013.350
Daria Spiridonova014.50012.9330
167.13043.28342.96639.99940.882

So yes, this Russian outlook has a lower floor score for Akhaimova than you’d hope and has Russia counting a 12 on beam, but also…you could see it.

(If you’re curious, putting a reasonable estimate for what China would score for those question mark routines in with the rest of the non-domestic scores would put China into the 169s.)

Now let’s move on to the challengers and see how they match up to China and Russia.

France

We don’t yet know who is replacing the injured Coline Devillard on France’s team. I’m partial to Claire Pontlevoy for that spot because of her bars potential, but it could also be Celia Serber. Neither have recorded non-domestic scores this year that would count in a TF scenario anyway, so for these purposes it doesn’t really matter who gets the spot. Here’s how things look with Claire Pontlevoy on the team.

MDJDS14.43314.65014.10013.833
Lorette Charpy13.60014.10013.70013.100
Marine Boyer013.30014.10013.400
Aline Friess14.90013.60012.95013.000
Claire Pontlevoy13.35013.20012.93311.850
167.51642.93342.35041.90040.333

Without Devillard, France’s vault scores take a hit of more than a point—and it does make France look like a slightly less-convincing force against Russia for the medals—but this score is still a 167.516, which is four tenths better than the Russian total even with Spiridonova’s home bars score added in.

France is definitely the better team on beam, so if the French can come through with three hits there when it matters, you have to think an upset is possible. Even though we expect France to drop some ground to Russia by having to count a Yfull on vault and expect that France won’t do as well on floor as Russia—a team that was basically picked exclusively to ensure as much as possible that it wasn’t trash on floor—this French team still looks capable of doing the job.

Italy

Managing expectations has been important for Italy because I do look at this team as one that could completely implode and score well lower than expected. But we also have to examine the actual, real-life potential of this team when everything goes fantastically, and that potential is astronomical.

Giorgia Villa14.53313.53314.46713.300
Asia D’Amato14.63314.03313.43312.900
Alice D’Amato14.63314.40013.23312.700
Elisa Iorio13.80014.30013.35013.100
Desiree Carofiglio14.20014.03312.03313.300
167.48243.79942.73341.25039.700

Italy has the DTYs and the bars talent to score quite well on those events, matching Russia and possibly outscoring France on those two pieces combined. The concern will be consistency on beam and floor. We’ve seen the floor 12s creep in; we’ve seen the beam falls at Italian Nationals last week. I do expect Italy to give up ground to Russia on floor, but if the Italians win the not-a-headcase race on beam, there’s certainly reason to think that Italy can be the stronger team overall. The scoring precedent is there and so, so close to France’s.

Canada

Because Canada lacked that third convincing vault and third convincing bars routine, I’ve been a little down on the team’s chances to do better than 5th or 6th this year. That’s probably where we are, but the non-domestic scores this year paint a picture that is still competitive enough with the other medal contenders to make Canada worth a look.

Ellie Black14.55014.30013.90013.550
Ana Padurariu13.53314.66614.33313.600
Brooklyn Moors12.50013.10011.95013.900
Shallon Olsen14.1830012.600
Victoria Woo13.66613.43312.60013.100
166.68142.39942.39940.83341.050

Theoretically, Canada should be able to match France on vault now that they’re both looking at counting a Yfull. I have a little more trust in France’s vaults overall, but it should be similar.

I do have some corrections to this outlook in that I think these Canadian bars scores are inflated with respect to France. In real life, De Jesus and Charpy is a stronger 1-2 punch than Padurariu and Black. Certainly not 8 tenths weaker.

But, Canada should be the superior floor team compared to both France and Italy and probably Russia as well. Right now, I’d rank Canada #2 on floor behind the US, and that can offset some of the other events that might be a little lower.

Anyone else?

I think those are your medal contenders. Everyone else is probably another step back, though I’d keep Great Britain close in mind. For me, the quality of the DTYs is not quite as strong and British beam is British beam, but bars is of course amazing and I like GB to make the team final. The team is reasonably in contention.

It feels strange to leave Japan out of this conversation, but by every measure we have this year, a non-Mai team just doesn’t score up to the level of these other teams expecting to medal. Japan is multiple points back. Everyone would need to be perfect.

The next-closest teams are Netherlands and Germany, though their battle is going to be more about making the TF than thinking about a medal.

What have we learned?

Nothing ever, obviously.

You’re definitely still allowed to go into worlds with USA, China, and Russia in mind as your three team medal winners. It’s a comfortable, cozy, familiar place to live and certainly can happen. Sure, we’re probably a beam fall away from a historic medal result, but we’re also a beam fall the other direction away from total and utter normalcy and predictability.

Yet, based on what we’ve seen this year, much of what keeps Russia on a presumptive podium is history and expectation. We expect Russia to be there, while we don’t expect France or Italy to be there. But if you were hatched from an egg starting in 2019, you wouldn’t think that Russia is any more likely to medal at worlds than Italy or France. In fact, you might think Russia was a little less likely based on these scores. And that’s what will make things absolutely fascinating at worlds.

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