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Let the Medal Games Begin!
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The gymnastics competition opens Saturday with the men's qualification, featuring 12 teams going for the eight invitations to Tuesday's team finals.

However, there's not much of a chance anymore that a medal-contending team will get left out of finals. So more exciting to some on Saturday is the individual race, where 96 gymnasts are hoping for a top-eight finish to advance to the event finals.

Gymnastics continues to become a specialists' sport, and even more so with the "open-ended" Code of Points. Top specialists who can handle the extreme difficulty are pulling further away from their competitors, which allows those with the tricks a wider range to err and still win.

Of course even the biggest names can fall behind and fail to make the final, and there is bound to be an Olympic-size upset or two. Let's take a look at the favorites and challengers for the 18 apparatus medals to be awarded Aug. 17-19.

 

Diego Hypolito (Brazil) Xiao Qin (China) Chen Yibing (China) Marian Dragulescu (Romania) Li Xiaopeng (China) Fabian Hambüchen (Germany
Current world champion, and one of the highest difficulties; the judges will give it to him. Has it all! Unbelievable execution! He fell four years ago in preliminaries and watched teammate Teng Haibin win the final. He's won the last three world titles and he will take this one too. Perfect execution — no one does that, not even close. Chen Yibing was the first gymnast to score 17 in the new Code, and he may be the first to hit 18 as well. The clear favorite. He has two huge vaults and when he is healthy he is typically consistent. He steps up at the big moments, and here he is going for the one medal missing from his collection — Olympic gold. I believe he has something like a 7.7 A Panel planned. No one else is even close to that. Parallel bars has long been China's event. Li will have to have a major break to lose. The reigning world champ with the highest difficulty on the event. Clean and consistent, but exciting as well, and a favorite of every audience.
Dragulescu Nikolai Kryukov (Russia) Jordan Jovtchev (Bulgaria) Leszek Blanik (Poland) Huang Xu (China) Vlasios Maras (Greece)
He can do it at the big competitions, and will prove it one more time, but won't be able to win. This could be Russia's only individual medal in the men's competition. The best in the world after Chen (and Yuri Van Gelder, who didn't qualify) gives him the silver. It's doubtful he will able to stick his two difficult vaults, which will prevent him from winning. P-bars would be the event that based on high start value, and the ones with the highest will win the medals. Second highest SV = silver. Will do very well but he won't be able to keep up with the best in the world, Hambüchen
Zou Kai (China) Louis Smith (Great Britain) Yang Wei (China) Dmitry Kasperovich (Belarus) Kim Dae Eun (Korea) Hiroyuki Tomita (Japan)
China is going for gold on every event except vault, but floor will be one of the few events where they won't get it. Gymnastics is political, and FIG officials will try to have as many different countries as possible win a gold; since it is almost certain that China will win team, all-around, pommel horse, still rings and parallel bars, floor will be a long shot. Great Britain has two pommel horse specialists who could make history in Beijing. The more consistent one, Smith, will win the bronze. Typically the all-around winner gets a couple more medals on the individual events. Only a disaster can prevent Yang from winning AA, but he will be able to get only one more medal on rings. He has two 7.0 vaults that can help him get the bronze. Possibly Korea's only medal at the Olympics. Good amplitude and clean execution will do it for him. Has been inconsistent on high bar at big meets lately. But here he will rise for the occasion and hit two solid sets that will carry him to the final and the bronze medal.
Who else will contend?
Gervasio Deferr (Spain): He won't be able to stick all his landings the way he did at the worlds.

Makoto Okiguchi (Japan): Going out of bounds will cost him.

Golotsutskov: A great tumbler but the judges don't have motivation to give the Russians anything.

Justin Spring (USA): With his upgrade since Trials (triple twist dismount), he will be competitive enough to make the final.

Watch for: Kyle Shewfelt (Canada), Alexander Shatilov (Israel)

Yang Wei: Rings and pommel horse would be his only two event finals, a medal on rings but not on pommels.

Daniel Keatings (Great Britain): Very young and could make a mistake in the finals.

Watch for: Filip Ude (Croatia), Takehiro Kashima (Japan), Alexei Ignatovich (Belarus), Flavius Koczi (Romania), Sasha Artemev (USA)

Kevin Tan (USA): Competitive start value but not as strong as the top three. Rings is the hardest event to move up the rankings.s

Watch for: Danny Rodrigues (France), Konstantin Pluzhnikov (Russia), Alexander Vorobyev (Ukraine)

Anton Golotsutskov (Russia): He has two strong vaults, but he has been bothered by leg pain, and even when healthy tends to splat.

Watch for: Daniel Popescu (Romania), Isaac Botella, Thomas Bouhail (France), Makoto Okiguchi and Kohei Uchimura (Japan)

Mitja Petkovsek (Slovenia): Not enough difficulty unless he goes for broke; the Asians will dominate the final.

Justin Spring: Decent Start Value, but not enough of an international reputation.

Watch for: Yann Cucherat (France), Anton Fokin (Uzbekistan), Valery Goncharov (Ukraine)

Epke Zonderland (Netherlands): His triple combo (Cassina, Kovacs, Kolman) will be amazing if he risks it in the final.

Zou Kai: China's strongest high bar routine will get them only a final on that event.

Igor Cassina (Italy): Will make the final but will miss there.

Watch for: Joey Hagerty and Justin Spring (USA), Cucherat, Alexander Tsarevich (Belarus)


Former Bulgarian team member Christian Ivanov competed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and was a high bar finalist at the European Championships and World Cup Final.

 

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