Buckle up. This here is a mega-guide to the men’s competition at world championships—what to look out for in each portion of the competition as you follow along.
Qualification Subdivision 1 – October 6, 10:00am local time
Teams – Italy, Taiwan, Kazakhstan
Key Individuals – Rhys McClenaghan (IRL), Artem Dolgopyat (ISR), Alexander Shatilov (ISR), Andrey Medvedev (ISR), Vinzenz Hoeck (AUT)
In the team department, the first subdivision will feature Italy as the pace setter for the remainder of the two days. Italy finished 14th at worlds last year, just a half point out of the top 12. (Reminder: it’s all about the top 12 this year as 12 teams advance to the Olympics.) So, you have to consider the Italians in the mix for Olympic qualification. Every country to follow will be looking at Italy’s score from the first subdivision and saying, “If we beat that, we have a good shot to get to the Olympics.”
Individually, Italy is also looking to put defending bronze medalist Marco Lodadio into the rings final, but the big deal is the team score.
We have massive pommel horse ramifications in the first subdivision with two legitimate medal contenders competing: Lee Chih Kai (TPE) and Rhys McClenaghan (IRL). Lee has already racked up the maximum 90 points in the apparatus world cup series for PH, but if he gets an Olympic spot through the event final at worlds instead, he will be removed from the apparatus world cup standings. No one, then, is rooting for Lee Chih Kai to hit in qualification and make that final more than Weng Hao of China, who would move into first place in the world cup PH standings if Lee is removed. McClenaghan has not yet competed in an apparatus world cup event, so he has a ton of Olympic hopes riding on his qualification performance at worlds in the hope of getting into that event final and getting an Olympic spot. Of note, he just uploaded this gloriousness.
For Taiwan, do also keep an eye on Tang Chia Hung’s HB routine, a big set that got him into the event final last year. So it’s not all Lee’s PH.
We’ll also see the Israeli gymnasts competing in the first subdivision. The best EF and medal hope is Artem Dolgopyat on floor, but Andrey Medvedev has a shot at the vault final if he doesn’t die en route, and we get to see Shatilov being all Shatilov even if world event finals tend to be a stretch at this point.
Kazakhstan is probably a little too far back for us to talk about team-score buts, but the squad will have Milad Karimi hoping to advance to the floor final and Nariman Kurbanov hoping to get in there for PH. Vinzenz Hoeck on rings is among my favorite world challenge cuppies and is Austria’s best hope for a final.
Qualification Subdivision 2 – October 6, 1:00pm local time
Teams: France, Hungary, Norway
Key Individuals: Eh
France finished 12th at worlds last year (following that tremendous bronze medal performance at Euros) and will therefore expect Olympic qualification. It’s an interesting setup for France, though, because two of the five members of the team are event specialists, with Tommasone there for horse and Ait Said there for rings. That puts a lot on Frasca to lead the way and Carvalho and Saleur to deliver a bunch of necessary supporting routines to get France a solid three-routine score on each piece.
Whether France can outscore Italy will be a fascinating early race in Olympic Qualification Watch.
Individually, the big story of this subdivision is the potential return of Krisztian Berki. This is seriously the worlds of pommel horse. Just get ready for that mentally. We had a false start to the comeback when Berki was a late withdrawal at Szombathely, but the idea is still that he will compete at worlds. Fingers crossed.
The only person in the world that matters, Sofus Heggemsnes, will also be competing for Norway in this subdivision, which I mention because of because.
Qualification Subdivision 3 – October 6, 4:30pm local time
Teams: Russia, Turkey, Belarus
Key Individuals: Eleftherios Petrounias (GRE), Tomas Gonzalez (CHI), Jorge Vega Lopez (GUA), Manrique Larduet (CUB), Randy Leru (CUB)
Team-wise, Russia is obviously going to make the team final, so qualification is about which individuals make which finals. Is it Dalaloyan and Nagornyy to the AA final again this year, or does Belyavskiy sneak in instead? The idea of 2 Russians in every event final is legit (OK well maybe not high bar), but it’s not exactly clear which ones it will be—or even who will be on the final team between Abliazin or Poliashov. I have to think it will be Abliazin because he complements the rest of the squad so much better and provides an EF qualifier alternative to Dalaloyan/Nagornyy on his events.
The real Team Watch moment in the third subdivision will be beloved underdogs Turkey. With the big three of Onder, Arican, and Colak, we can expect great things from this squad, but do they quite have enough as a full team to reach the top 12? That’s the question. Last year, Turkey finished 15th, about a point out of the top 12, and that was with a sub-10 score on pommel horse that had to count. Even an 11 would have put Turkey into the top 12, but concerns like—ahhh, is there an actual third score on pommel horse?—are just as real this year as they were last year.
The biggest question mark of this subdivision, however, is the concept of Manrique Larduet. Where and what are you, Manrique? Are we going to get the 2015 silver medalist, the 2017 5th-place finisher who topped the qualification standings (this is another odd year after all), or are we going to get Captain Injury? Either way, it won’t be boring.
Expect a whole slew of event final qualifiers to come out of this subdivision. Tons of Russians, with Turkey also hoping that Colak makes the rings final and Arican makes PBars and Onder makes something or other, maybe floor, in addition to the AA. Petrounias is the default gold medal favorite for rings, and he’ll be in this subdivision. Meanwhile, we’ll obviously we burn down the arena if Tomas Gonzalez doesn’t make the floor final, and Jorge Vega Lopez will be there with a shot on floor and vault as long as he hits.
Qualification Subdivision 4 – October 6, 7:30pm local time
Teams: Brazil, Germany, Spain
Key Individuals: Ali Zahran (EGY), Federico Molinari (ARG)
All three squads in this subdivision have quite a bit riding on the team score. This Brazilian team is strong enough that it really should expect to make the team final again—but also isn’t safe enough to think that a rough day would still get through. Germany will entertain hopes of making the team final at its home worlds, but the real goal is ensuring a high enough score to get to the Olympics. As for Spain, that possible Olympic spot is all they’re looking at.
Spain finished a respectable 11th last year but is squarely in that churning drop zone where it’s going to depend on the performance on the day (honestly I think about 6 teams are totally safe for the Olympics, 3 are probably safe, and then there are another 6-7 fighting for the remaining spots, and Spain is among that 6-7). Spain and Germany have the luxury of competing after several of those other teams and knowing that if they finish up qualification day ahead of France, Italy, and Turkey, they’re basically set for the Olympics.
Whichever 2 of those 5 teams borderline teams from day 1 (ESP, GER, FRA, ITA, TUR) come out on top will feel good about their chances. The other 3 will…not.
Individually, this subdivision is very rings. Brazil will have Zanetti competing here and looking for a medal, and Ali Zahran of Egypt is another real contender for that final.
Outside of rings, Rayderley Zapata will be hoping nothing goes wrong and he can make the floor final. The best event for this German team is typically PBars, so they’ll be looking to put someone like Marcel Nguyen into that final, though last year it was Lukas Dauser who made it.
Qualification Subdivision 5 – October 7, 10:00am local time
Teams: Japan, USA, Canada
Key Individuals: Saeedreza Keikha (IRI), Saso Bertoncelj (SLO), Daniel Corral (MEX)
Japan is already through to the Olympics, and the US is going to get through comfortably. (Just for reference, the US performance in qualification last year was 9 points clear of the cutoff for the Olympic spots, which is why you’ll hear it treated as a given.) Those teams are on EF and AA watch when it comes to qualification.
Japan is bringing a team of less famous athletes in the absence of both Kohei and Kenzo, but it’s an “underestimate at your own risk” kind of team. Japan has 500 million competitive all-arounders who could crush you like a bug, but what I’m most interested in evaluating in qualification is whether any of these AAers is really an individual medal threat on the level of the Russians and Chinese and Sam Mikulak. I haven’t seen quite that potential yet.
The US is looking to keep Mikulak’s hit streak alive and qualify him to several finals. HB and PB are the most important finals for Mikulak to make as the ones where he has the most realistic medal hopes, but FX and PH are also in the conversation. Moldauer has been to two straight floor finals, but we’ll have to see where his level is, and Howard could get into rings, but given this field that will be a tough one.
Based on recent precedent, Canada’s MAG team wouldn’t really be in the conversation for an Olympic team spot, but you look at the stellar performance this group put together at the Pan Am Games and think…well hey now. The Canadian Pan Ams score of 246.725 would have placed 7th in worlds qualification last year. Admittedly, the two competitions have a verrrrry different score-scape, but it’s the kind of result that makes Canada worth keeping in mind.
For the non-team athletes, it’s another pommel-centric subdivision with the king of eponymous elements Saeedreza Keikha competing here along with perennial PH contender Saso Bertoncelj.
Qualification Subdivision 6 – October 7, 1:30pm local time
Teams: China, Belgium, Finland, Australia
Key Individuals: Marios Georgiou (CYP), Shek Wai Hung (HKG)
Not a ton of team-result implications in this one. China is already through to the Olympics and obviously will make the TF here, and the remaining three nations are probably too far back to entertain hopes of advancing to the Olympics. This one is about individual jockeying.
Last year, it was Xiao Ruoteng and Sun Wei advancing to the AA final after Lin Chaopan had multiple mistakes in qualification, and that internal fight will be a compelling race again if we have misses. We’re probably not going to see quite as many event final qualifiers from China as from Russia—despite the two nations being so equal as teams—but there will still be plenty for China, led by aggressive PB favorite Zou Jingyuan. Lin, Xiao, and Deng are all capable of making multiple finals.
Marios Georgiou is your most compelling all-around gymnast in this subdivision aside from the Chinese—as long as he has one of his good days—but you’re also going to want to keep an eye on European Games floor champion Emil Soravuo for Finland and Shek Wai Hung’s vaulting.
Qualification Subdivision 7 – October 7, 4:30pm local time
Teams: Great Britain, Ukraine, South Korea
Key Individuals: Tin Srbic (CRO), Filip Ude (CRO), Robert Seligman (CRO), Carlos Yulo (PHI), Audrys Nin Reyes (DOM), Mikhail Koudinov (NZL)
Right now, Great Britain’s men’s squad is not quite the team it was in the last couple quadrennia when medals were happening, with a couple current weaknesses (ahem, rings) keeping the team score down from what we expect of team medalists. Nonetheless, the British are too good not to make the team final here with room to spare.
Speaking of being too good for things, a team with Oleg Verniaiev, Igor Radivilov, and Petro Pakhniuk is too good not to advance to the Olympic—and has a very compelling shot at making the team final here—but is also Ukraine.
Individually, we should see a bunch of qualifiers from those teams. Whitlock for horse of course of course, and even if Whitlock is not the athlete he once was on floor, this is a very strong floor team with Cunningham and Regini-Moran as contenders there, as well as on vault. For James Hall and Joe Fraser, the focus is more on the all-around, but they have their competitive pieces as well.
Ukraine will want Radivilov into vault and rings, Verniaiev into PBars and whatever else he can physically endure on the day without falling into pieces, and maybe even Pakhniuk sliding in here or there. Unlike some of the other 6-10 teams, where it’s more about evenly going up getting a team score, Ukraine is a team carried by starring routines, so we should see more Ukrainians make finals than say, Brazilians or Swiss, even if Ukraine ends up ranked lower as a team.
South Korea is our borderline team in this subdivision, definitely capable of getting into that top 12 but profiling similarly to Turkey (AHHH POMMEL HORSE) in that there are some tremendous scores on individual pieces, but I worry that the depth of third routines on several events may not be enough to earn a top-12 score.
One issue that Korea had in finishing 13th last year should, however, be addressed by the 2019 squad. Last time, Korea finished just 27th on vault in qualification, but this year, Olympic vault champion Yang Hakseon is making a triumphant return to the team. His presence would obviously help the vaulting (mark him down for the vault final, but with seventeen asterisks for “are your legs alive still?” reasons).
Individually, we have a gold medal threat in Tin Srbic on HB along with his merry band of typical Croatian PH contenders, Carlos Yulo who is among the best floor workers in the world, and if nothing else a super entertaining high bar routine from Mikhail Koudinov.
Qualification Subdivision 8 – October 7, 7:00pm local time
Teams: Switzerland, Netherlands, Romania
Key Individuals: Ri Se Gwang (PRK), Artur Davtyan (ARM), Artur Tovmasyan (ARM), Harutyun Merdinyan (ARM), Abdulla Azimov (UZB)
Switzerland and the Netherlands both advanced to the team final at worlds last year and finished 6th and 8th respectively, so if you made the team final last year, you really should be able to finish in the top 12 and advance to the Olympics this year. Them’s the rules.
Doesn’t make it any more of a comfortable experience, though. Hello, Netherlands.
The big news for the Dutch is the absence of Epke on their (not finalized) nominative roster, which would be a blow both to their team score on two key events as well as the high bar final—and all of our lives. Oh well, guess it would be up to Bart to make the high bar final. Meanwhile, this Swiss team is too damn talented not to make the TF. I will accept nothing less.
The Romanian men are the Romanian women, just talked about less. There’s not much of a chance for high team placement, but Marian Dragulescu is on the team and always capable of Marian things.
Individually, Ri Se Gwang is going to throw himself off Niagara Falls in a barrel on vault, and that often works out for the win. The Armenian trio also competes in this subdivision, with Artur Davtyan aiming for a solid AA placement (and the VT final if you’re all very good little boys and girls), Harutyun Medrinyan entertaining a shot at the pommel horse final, and Artur Tovmasyan eyeing the rings final.
Team Final – October 9, 1:45pm local time
Last year’s team final came down to an intense race between China and Russia that was ultimately decided in China’s favor by less than a tenth, with all necessary controversy ensuing.
China’s team remains intact from 2018, while Russia has made some changes, swapping in Ivan Stretovich instead of Nikolai Kuksenkov, hoping that Stretovich can give them a floor score and high bar score (and PBars score, but this team is already pretty set on PBars) in addition to delivering a necessary PH number. It also looks like Denis Abliazin will come in for Dmitri Lankin to give the team rings and vault.
These changes indicate the potential for an upgrade over last year’s Russian team here and there, and that’s among the reasons I would tentatively favor Russia in this year’s team final, but China’s team remains exceptional. At least, we think so. Competition evidence is sparse.
Japan took third place last year and was not particularly close to catching China or Russia, so Japan enters with some 3rd-place energy going on. There are just a couple areas where I see this team coming up a little short of Russia and China, like in vault difficulty, and in not having Kenzo’s floor routine, but compositionally, this squad is not that far away. They’ve brought in Yuya Kamoto, who has rings, PB and HB that can supplement the AAers (the Tanigawas and Kaya) quite well, and they’ve added small baby child Daiki Hashimoto to give them a much-needed 5.6 vault.
In terms of routines, we’re still looking at Japan being a legitimate couple points ahead of the United States (I would say the 4th best team in the world) on D-score alone, which is why a repeat of the Russia, China, Japan podium looks to be the default coming into the competition.
All-Around Final – October 11, 4:00pm local time
2 Russians, 2 Chinese, and a Mikulak walk into a bar. Literally, the high bar, if history is any indication. That quintet was the scenario we were treated to last year, and I’m not sure that I see anyone new breaking that up, at least right now. Check back with me after qualification. Many other athletes have 84/85-on-a-great-day scoring potential, but it took a mid-87 to win worlds last year, and that is a prohibitive kind of score that only a few people in the world can attain.
Last time around, it was Artur Dalaloyan and Xiao Ruoteng tying with that mid-87—Dalaloyan taking the title on the tiebreak—and both can be in the mix again. I say only can because we haven’t seen a lot from Xiao Ruoteng lately. We saw him go to Doha and fall on floor in the final ages ago; we saw him compete three pieces at Chinese nationals and look good. He’s Xiao Ruoteng, but like, how you doin’?
Meanwhile, Dalaloyan has kind of been passed up by Nagornyy this year. Nagornyy won the European Championship with Dalaloyan in 2nd. Nagornyy won the Russian Cup with Dalaloyan in 4th. Now, it would be very Dalaloyan to show up at worlds and suddenly be all kinds of back to his old self, but it’s worth imagining that Nagornyy may be on top at this very moment.
Similarly to Xiao, Lin Chaopan has been pretty mysterious this year, only doing qualifications and only doing 4 events at Chinese Nationals because he’s too cool for school. But what he did looked mostly good. So…he’s probably fine as long as he’s fine…?
Those are sort of your default 2 Russians and 2 Chinese gymnasts, but Belyavskiy beating one of the aforementioned Russians—or whoever else gets to do the AA for China beating Xiao or Lin again this year—is conceivable. And then you’d slot the replacements into this conversation.
Also Sam Mikulak. Little mister Samuel is capable of winning a medal in a world all-around final. He has the routines. That’s never been the issue. This year presents another opportunity for him. No Kohei, Oleg not physically in a position to last through a whole world championship in the AA, some question marks around last year’s medalists.
The difference for Mikulak this year so far has been the hitting. He has now hit 24 consecutive competition routines. If he repeats that at worlds, he’s in the very serious medal hunt.
Event Finals Day 1 – October 12, 4:00pm local time
A Kenzo-free floor final translates into a massive opportunity for a number of athletes. A number of people have D scores hanging around 6.0 (or a little lower if you have the execution like Moldauer or Gonzalez) and can legitimately envision advancing to this final, though the medal favorites are probably still your athletes who can break through that 6.0 barrier by a few tenths—Nagornyy and Dalaloyan, Dolgopyat, Yulo, maybe Kakeru Tanigawa.
Pommel horse is going to be the best final at worlds. Just you deal with that. We have the major pommel horse stars like Whitlock and Xiao and Lee and McClenaghan and Berki (we hope). We have others looking to get into the final like Nagornyy and Belvyaskiy and Mikulak and Verniaiev and Kaya and Tanigawa. We have our world cup specialists like Tommasone and Bertoncelj and Ude and Seligman and Kurbanov and Merdinyan and Keikha. It’s going to be soooo difficult to get into this final. Still, that first list of names is where I think the medalists will be found.
Rings is typically the Petrounias show, and as long as he is competing at his normal level, he’ll be your favorite. You can’t go wrong predicting Petrounias and Zanetti to go 1-2, as it was last year and as it was at the 2016 Olympics. But last year at worlds, we did not have Denis Abliazin in the mix, who can shake things up.
Event Finals Day 2 – October 13, 4:00pm local time
The men’s not-dying final will of course present a massive challenge to open the final day of worlds. There, you’re looking at perennial champion Ri Se Gwang throwing his nonsense and looking to fend off the Russians (be it Abliazin/Dalaloyan/Nagornyy) and hopefully Yang Hak Seon, maybe a Brit or two, Radivilov, and a number of other people with two 5.6s who can realistically get into a final. But if RSG is throwing his two 6.0 vaults, it’s so difficult for anyone else to catch him because all vaults get the same E score.
PBars is an exceptionally deep field this year with so many talented athletes, but it’s difficult to construct this one as exciting because Zou Jingyuan has already won. He’s just so much better than everyone else. The likes of Verniaiev, Mikulak, Belyavskiy, Dalaloyan/Nagornyy, Kamoto, Pakhniuk, Arican are fighting for silver.
The fascinating thing about high bar is that, if Epke truly isn’t on the Dutch squad, then we’ll have a final absent two of the most impressive high bar workers in the world in Zonderland and Miyachi. Tin Srbic is like, “Fine with it.” It really would open up the podium to people like Srbic and Sam Mikulak who have that extra level (Srbic is at 6.4, Mikulak’s Liukin puts him at 6.3), though you’d have to consider Deng Shudi right in there and any number of others with 6.1s.