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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30 thoughts on “Can Anyone Break Up USA-CHina-Russia?”

  1. I think it will be USA gold, China silver, and Italy bronze. Normally I’m a big Russia fan but their team this year is quite weak IMO, next year will be a different story I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your analysis..i also agree that Russia is totally beatable and I am hoping France can pull an upset. It will be exciting for sure. How much do you think USA will win? 10 points is realustic for sure. If they take Mykayla and Jade, those vault and floor scores should really be amazing.

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    1. France would’ve been my pick for Silver with Devillard. Uggh with both Mai and Andrade here, this could’ve been ine of the best battles for 2nd and 3rd probably since the open ended scoring system started. As it is, I think China will come through for 2nd with Italy third (I just think they will hit).
      Something to watch for next year, a team like France actually becomes quite strong (comparatively) with only 4 members while China becomes weaker imo.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. In what world would Mykayla and Jade be on the same team? If there’s one thing we do know it’s that won’t happen. Simone is a beast on VT/FX and neither of those 2 will be doing AA.

      That means another AA (I think it’ll be Sunisa > Riley or Grace), likely Kara for BB+ (or Riley), likely Sunisa for UB+ (or Riley), Jade for VT/FX (or Mykayla > Grace). All scores this year will be considered, so miracles aside…

      And barring injury or multiple meltdowns on both days of any of the above I don’t see anyone else making a spot on the team I just called. Morgan or Leanne might get in as alternate if there are big problems with two of those named already.

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    3. Anon1 was replying to Sheila’s comment “If they take Mykayla and Jade, those vault and floor scores should really be amazing.”

      Unless there’s a big upset, using peak scores and medal possibilities it’s clearly a Simone, Jade, Kara, Sunisa and Riley team with Grace as an alternate.

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      1. I agree that is a likely team permutation but I don’t think it would take a big upset to change it at all. The #2 AA spot is very closely contested – Grace has a strong shot at it and Morgan a medium one – and they won’t leave the #2 AAer at home no matter who it is. If it’s not Sunisa, then she has a case for being taken as the UB specialist. Riley and Kara also, IMO, can’t afford any more falls on their strong events if they hope to be taken for their ‘medal possibility.’ The whole thing could be shaken up very easily – plus we have no idea how they’ll pick the team because that press release named every conceivable strategy.

        Anyway we’ve all been arguing pointlessly about this for like months now so I’m looking forward to the selection camp and the eventual announcement.

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  3. France can become quite a force next year (I mean, they´re not not a force this year…) with MDJDS, Charpy, Boyer, Friess, Devillard, Pontlevoy, Celia Cerber, and I think that Carolann Heduitt could be a HUGE threat if she can get her DTY back in time for Tokyo, as well as getting to a good level on UB. France´s core three of MDJDS, Boyer, and Charpy can handle BB and FX well enough, but France with a vaulter/bars worker would be TOUGH to match.

    Also, don´t sleep on Canada for next year! I think that a healthy Zoe Alaire Bourgie could be the VT and the UB that they need to tie their incredible team together. Imagine her, Black, Padurariu, and Brooklyn on a team together.

    Russia might be tough to beat next year if Melnikova, Mustafina, Akhaimova, and Vlada are healthy, not to mention Gerasimova, Eremina, Simakova, Schekoldina, Agafonova, Ilyankova. They’ve actually got a lot of options if everybody is healthy (A stretch, I know), but they´ll be very good if they have Melka and Vlada on AA, Musty on UB and BB (a realistic goal for her), and Akhaimova on VT and FX.

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    1. I personally like Akhaimova, but to be honest she just isn’t that good of a VT/FX worker, even at her peak. It’s not a good sign that she’s part of any best-case scenario for a Russian team.

      I wish Eremina could have recovered to her former strength, but I think it’s very unlikely at this point. And nearly all the gymnasts you’ve mentioned, with the exceptions of Agafonova and the two juniors, have been on a downward trajectory for the last year. I hope they’ll turn it around somehow, but Russia has a very bad track record with rehabbing strong gymnasts who were injured and/or developed mental blocks.

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      1. Uhhh, I think Akhaimova is a perfectly good VT/FX worker? She has a pretty good Rudi, and she made the floor final in 2018 (which was her first year on the world stage). She’s really blossomed in the last few years! I mean, no, she’s not Jade Carey caliber, but I’d say she’s on par with Wang Yan, Claudia Fragapane, Sae Miyakawa, Shallon Olsen, etc.
        I agree about Eremina!!! Imagine a team of Melka, Vlada, Elena Eremina, and Akhaimova in Tokyo! *drool*

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m glad you like her – I like her too, but she still isn’t a great FX/VT gymnast by Russia’s standards. She hasn’t won or even really contended for any major medals, she’s had more bad routines in major competitions than good ones, she looks to me like she’s at the top of her physical abilities, and yet she’s supposed to be the closest thing to a specialist on those events that they have. I think she’s on par with Fragapane or Olsen, I guess, but I also would be dismayed if Frags was Russia’s top floor worker.

        Maybe this will be Lilia’s year though! She has indeed improved during her career.

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  4. I agree it’ll likely come down to a beams disaster for bronze. It’s just too close to call, but I really hope everyone hits and the scoring is consistent.

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  5. Do they make popsicle beams in Russia?

    Seriously, what if Alt hadn’t been injured? Would be interesting to see what Germany could do with all their stars at full strength.

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  6. Brazil with healthy Andrade and fully fit all-around Jade Barbosa (along with Saraiva, Olveira, and Fidelis) would have been my dark horse for a team bronze. They almost pulled it off last year!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it’ll be USA, China, and either Italy or Canada. Tbh I don’t see France making it without Devillard and I don’t see Russia making it because of how inconsistent and unbalanced their team is. Canada definitely has the potential I think to take a medal, if Woo can deliver. Italy is kind of a wildcard because they’re all first year seniors and have never been tested on the big stage before. But if they can hit, especially on beam and floor, they can definitely make podium.

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  8. In the last 5 team finals at worlds, USA, China and Russia were on the podium every time except once (GB instead of Russia in ’15). France and Italy both have only gotten on the podium once (both in 1950) and Canada has never medalled.

    It’s cliche, but I really would love to see one of the these underdogs get on the podium. I honestly have no preference, but it’s very possible this time. I didn’t realize it was this close until this write up, thanks — I’m looking even more forward to watching than before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would love to see an underdog team medal too. This is one of the best chances we have seen in a long time. I do think Russia will be much stronger next year with its new seniors (I don’t think Valentina will have enough time to ruin all of them by next year). China may not be as strong next year when teams go down to four, but who knows what kind of magic Chow can do again.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It is a time-honored tradition for Team Russia to finish outside the podium in pre-Olympic Worlds consistently… so I think there is a high chance for them to have the same fate this year. But don’t worry, they will still be the silver medal fav in Tokyo…

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    1. not sure if i would go that far. 2015 was a little of an exception of 4 consecutive falls from them that allow a GB upset. they also got silver in 2011. so i don’t think it would qualify as a time-honored tradition..

      not saying that they couldn’t be upset this year.though

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      1. Full of drama for their 07 and 03 TF though, all of these looked like exceptions, but when you put them together, there seemed to be the trend.

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      2. They’ve missed the podium twice as much as they’ve made it the year before the Olympics

        1995- 4th
        1999- 2nd
        2003- 6th
        2007 -8th
        2011-2nd
        2015- 4th

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  10. It’s all depends on how RU is RU going to be with regard to consistency. Even china is not that locked into silver. more than 1 fall is all that is needed to make them look uncomfortable.

    So will this year be the year that the margin for winning between 1st and 2nd narrow to less than 7 points?

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  11. I am Russian and a Russian gym stan, but I don’t care whether Russia is on the podium or not this year. I just hope they all hit to the best of their ability, and enjoy the competition, that there is no drama, that no one gets injured, and most of all that the russian gym federation doesn’t bully them. I can clearly imagine Rodionenko harrassing the poor girls every day, saying that it will be a shame if they are not on the podium. I’m sure the pressure must be traumatizing for them (who all seem to be sweet and hard-working ladies). And the worst part is that I am pretty convinced that bullying the gymnasts is a terrible strategy psychology-wise.
    There is no shame in being beaten by a stronger team if everyone did their best. Italy has incredible potential, so do France and Canada. I love this Chinese lineup so I don’t mind them winning silver over Russia either.
    Russia will be fine next year for the Olympics. If Aliya comes back at full strength, if the new seniors (Urazova, Listunova, Gerasimova, Vorona etc) are healthy, the most likely scenario is that 2019 is just a down year for Russia, without significance for the bright future of their gym program as a country.

    Rodionenko was really unfair in her reaction to Aliya deciding not to go to Worlds (the “we are representing Russia, we’re not Bangladesh” quote). Mustafina has been carrying this team for SO LONG, she deserves a break if she wants one, for god’s sake. Maybe Aliya thinks that going to Worlds last year prevented her from taking enough time to train and upgrade. (she did arrive to Doha with a dramatic bandage on her leg in 2018). Maybe she doesn’t want to make the same mistake again (ruining her 2020 season by not taking enough time to recover and upgrade in 2019). And she’s a mom!! Maybe she wants to spend more time at home training close to her daughter.
    (Besides, I hope gymnasts from Bangladesh reacted to that quote and put Rodionenko to shame).

    All that being said, if the Russian ladies are not too pressured and traumatized, I would not underestimate their ability to try very hard for the team. It’s not uncommon for Russia to have a great day on team final.
    So I’m not saying they WON’T end up on the podium. If the other teams make mistakes, they can even get the silver.

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  12. China is more of a lock for 2nd than Russia is for 3rd. Still, while Russia’s team is very depleted this year, there are *just* enough usable routines for them to be able to have a good shot at bronze with a 12/12 hit (that doesn’t include 5 or 6 near falls off beam).

    The same goes for Italy and France – a 12/12 hit will set them up well for a bronze.

    For everyone’s sake, I hope there is a reversal of last year where the team final was a nightmare for all non-USA teams.

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  13. Italy’s potential is huge and so exciting but I fear they will fall apart a little under the pressure at Worlds. I’m rooting for them though; what an amazing outcome a podium finish would be for them.

    I am SO frustrated with all the injuries this year (and the inexplicable team selection process in Japan). We are missing Andrade, Mai, Devillard, Tabea Alt (is she ever coming back?), Mustafina, Fragipane… and that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure this Worlds will be great but it could have been so much better… 😦

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  14. Why didn’t China get a score table like the others lol

    Anyway, when things are this close and so many team picks were made from developments that occurred after international assignments happened, I think comparing D scores could be very useful and enlightening. D scores aren’t everything (specially on beam) but it would showcase the scoring potential of all these countries relative to each other.

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