As we near the summer meets and twiddle our thumbs waiting for the next interesting thing to happen, it seems a ripe time for a look at the general state of the 8 national teams that reached the worlds team final last year.
The world champion US women have spent the first half of 2023 in a state of TBD as they await the intended returns of Tokyo Olympians Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey, as well as a cavalcade of other stars, potentially even including certain other Olympic all-around champions. The presence of those athletes will, um, sort of change the makeup of the US team rather dramatically.
Within the confines of the current roster, the US women had their best performance of the year in the Pan Am final, when the squad of Roberson, Matthews, Sumanasekera, Fatta, and Johnson put up a 163.700, which compares pretty well to the 164.428 the British team scored to win the European Championship.
In trying to develop a reasonable team score expectation for this current group, this is the average score for each of the Pam Ams athletes over the two days of competition—but adding back intended team member Zoe Miller (who was out with a concussion) and using her averages from Stuttgart earlier in the year as a substitute.
This is a very competitive score compared to what other top nations are averaging at their most recent meets, though the question will be whether any of these team positions can hold up through the next three months.
If the standard is 2022 worlds, these athletes are hardly miles off. That bars score from Miller and that beam from Sumanasekera would have been the highest of those rotations for the US in last year’s team final, and Roberson’s floor would nearly have been the top floor score. Skye Blakely was on that team predominantly for beam and Leanne Wong predominantly for bars, spots that Sumanasekera and Miller would be at least very reasonable contenders for with these scores.
But, you know, things are supposed to get a lot deeper, and it should be a lot harder to make the worlds team in 2023 than it was in 2022. When Suni Lee is around, your “what the team needs on bars” expectations change.
When it comes to the straight-up scores, China might not be quite as far into the grave as it would have seemed based on watching vault at nationals.
Using the same approach as with the US—but with average scores from Chinese Nationals instead of average scores from Pan Ams—you get a very similar total for China’s best team option.
Even if we assume that the US score zooms up when adding all the people back this summer, this team score for China compares very favorably against the other top contending teams in the world right now, and China will hope to augment this group with increased difficulty or health from some of the top veterans later in the year. (A person can dream?)
The problem for China is that we have seen this play so many times before. A super-amazing bars and beam team that looks like it should have the scores to overcome somewhat anemic vault and floor rotations, and then they show up to worlds, someone falls on beam, and the whole house of cards comes down because the entire plan was beam.
The lone competitive vaulter from nationals was Yu Linmin—who won the vault title easily thanks to her Tsuk double full—and she would make up a team score almost identical to the one above if put in place of Huang or Wei, which is something to consider seriously. But that does not solve the familiar travail of, how many gymnasts with unusable floors can you put on the same team without inviting apocalypse?
The Italians are currently grappling with the question of how competitive they can remain for a team medal this year given Asia D’Amato’s ACL tear, as well as the foot surgery for Martina Maggio that is also expected to keep her out of worlds. Both would have been locks for this year’s team if healthy.
That leaves Italy with exactly four healthy gymnasts remaining in the core group—Alice D’Amato, Giorgia Villa, Angela Andreoli, and Manila Esposito—since we also haven’t seen Veronica Mandriota from the 2022 worlds team yet in 2023.
Elisa Iorio, 2019 world team member, has been working the all-around domestically this year for the first time since that 2019 worlds, and while I still would be fairly petrified by the prospect of her and Villa on the same team and what that means for vault and floor, having those events as options could be what gets her back on a worlds team since Italy would absolutely want her bars score right now.
If we put together this team’s average scores from competitions this year besides Serie A (which has both an actual spoken bonus and an unspoken loose-E-score bonus), the team would look like this:
Using scores from all of 2023 instead of just Euros paints a bit more favorable (but also more realistic) picture for Italy, though it’s clear nonetheless that Italy is going to feel those injuries in the team total. They did get some preparation for that in 2022 when Asia D’Amato and Andreoli both missed worlds and the team still ended up just a point out of bronze, all while counting multiple scores in the 11s. What a meet that was. Now, Andreoli just needs to become Martina Maggio over the next three months, and it’ll be fine.
I’m keeping an eye on a few new seniors as well. Chiara Barzasi had a nice AA result at Jesolo that could be appealing, and Viola Pierazzini and Arianna Belardelli went with Villa to the Baku World Cup in a rare competition opportunity for gymnasts not in The Group, though we haven’t seen the big team final scores from any of those gymnasts yet.
The British team set the initial high-water mark this year at Euros with that 164.428, a comfortable victory over the rival Italian team (which at that point had Asia D’Amato) that still stands as the top team score across the continental championships with only the Asian Championship to come.
We haven’t seen the British athletes compete as much at international meets this year, but if we take their average scores across the competition at Euros, we have this (with some beam falls at later points taking down this total compared to the team competition day).
All in all, the Brits should feel pretty comfortable in their new status as presumed team medalists as we’ve seen nothing yet this year from anyone else that would disrupt that expectation.
There’s not too much selection nuance for the British team since there just aren’t that many worlds-level athletes in the picture now—save for the big question of whether a full-strength Jennifer Gadirova would displace any of these five. And that’s where things could get dicey. Is the Euros group too bars heavy, with both Downie and Fenton only expected to deliver counting bars? We haven’t seen competitive vaulting from Jennifer Gadirova since the Olympics, but she did compete for counting floor scores at worlds last year.
The Japanese women’s team has done most of the work for us by already naming four members of the team ahead of this weekend’s final decider.
Their averages from All-Japan/NHK—joined by Ashikawa, whose scores add the most to the team total—look like this.
It’s a competitive setup, especially considering how much higher those counting beamers scored on beam at worlds last year. I don’t see a lot of wild domestic elevation here.
Our 2022 worlds bronze medalists haven’t yet produced the scores this year to look competitive against the top teams, but just as with the US, most of Canada’s worlds team has not competed—or has barely competed—in elite this year.
Using average scores from Pan Ams alone would have Canada sitting on a team score of 153, though if we give them the national championships scores from silver medalist Ava Stewart, as well as all four events from Cassie Lee, the team looks like this.
And then if you add in Ellie Black’s scores from the worlds team final last year, the total goes up a casual 4.366 points, which is, let’s be honest, Canada’s entire strategy anyway.
France & Brazil
In pretty much the same boat as Canada, France has seen a couple of its top contenders perform this year, but there has been none of Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos or Carolann Heduit and barely any Aline Friess. That’s a pretty big set of absences, with the gymnasts who competed at Euros averaging out to a team total of 154.9 there. Unlike Canada, however, France is yet to conduct its national championship, which should give us a better sense of who is in the mix later this month.
Brazil gets a full incomplete at this point because we have not seen Rebeca Andrade or Flavia Saraiva compete this year, and the available athletes struggled through Pan Ams for a competition average team score in the 149s. That team performance indicated that there could still be a place for Jade Barbosa, who returned to competition this weekend in Osijek. In fact, a theoretical worlds team of Andrade, Saraiva, Barbosa, Oliveira, and Soares has the potential to provide exceptional coverage of the four events while complementing each other well. Which means it will never happen.
Among the teams that did not make the worlds team final last year, Australia has enjoyed the best start to the year, at least domestically, with an average team score from nationals that compares very favorably with what we’re seeing from the top countries.
Scores from Australian Nationals tend to be a few tenths elevated compared to what we see those same routines receiving at international competitions, but this is nonetheless an excellent marker for an Australian team that is farther along at this point in the year than several teams that reached the team final last year.
The Netherlands has also started well, taking the team bronze at Euros behind Great Britain and Italy, with an average score from that competition that looks pretty solid for right now—and shows obvious areas for increase, like the top bars scores and all non-Sanne beams. An actual hit for this team (I know…) would be right up there.
|Vera Van Pol||13.600||13.066||11.066||12.733|
South Korea’s first-choice team, meanwhile, put up solid numbers in April across the one-day national championship and two-day national team selection competition, with an average team score that looks like this.