Late-surging China win team gold at World Gymnastics Championships
China are on top of the world of men’s gymnastics once again.
After winning 10 of 12 World team titles from 1994-2014, the Chinese men finished third at both the 2015 Worlds and in Rio 2016. But today at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha, they were not to be denied.
They posted a 256.634 to win the gold medal, just 0.049 ahead of second-placed Russia on 256.585.
Japan took the bronze with 253.744 points. In addition to their medals, each of the top three teams earned the first men’s gymnastics berths to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Late surge gives China gold
Early on, China appeared out of the running, with falls on both of the first two events. On floor, Xiao Ruoteng, the reigning World champion and favourite to win the all-around gold again, sat down a tumbling pass. Then, on the pommel horse, Sun Wei slipped off the apparatus in the second rotation.
Three rotations later, they came alive on the parallel bars where Zou Jingyuan scored 16.200, a full point higher than the next best athlete in the event, teammate Lin Chaopan.
With Zou's massive score and a slip off the parallel bars by Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan, China entered the final rotation leading and looking nailed-on for gold.
But drama ensued with Xiao missed a double flipping catch-and-release move.
“Until the last minute, the competition isn’t over,” said Lin Chaopan. Which it wasn't.
In the final routine of the night, Nikita Nagornyy of Russia determined the medals on high bar.
Needing 13.783 to take the gold away from China, Nagornyy stalled coming up to a handstand after a release element and came up just short. A score of 13.733 meant China would return to the top of the podium for the first time since 2014.
“When I saw the screen, I realised we got first place,” Lin said. “We were really excited.”
“We just did our best,” he continued. “We encouraged each other and tried to enjoy the competition.”
Lin and Kuksenkov react after a close finish at World Championships
Lin and Kuksenkov react after a close finish at World ChampionshipsLin Chaopan and Nikolai Kuksenkov speak after China beat Russia by 0.049 points to win the men's team final at the World Championships.
Russia end 12-year drought
In the middle of the fifth rotation, Russia seemed on course for their first World title since the Soviet Union claimed the 1991 gold.
They had shaken off a slow start on the floor exercise and pommel horse with the top marks on the still rings and vault. But Dalaloyan’s missed parallel bars mount opened the door for China.
“This is sport,” said Russia's Nikolai Kuksenkov of the back-and-forth nature of the competition. “It was a close fight.”
Still, the medal is the first for the Russians as a team at the Worlds since 2006.
“We just broke (the streak), I think that next year will be better,” Kuksenkov said. “We will try to win the World title.”
Party with the Americans
Japan’s bronze medal was the lowest finish for the team at the World Championships or Olympic Games since the 2006 Worlds when they also claimed third place.
They finished 1.750 ahead of the U.S. team, which they rotated with throughout the competition.
“Our rotation was with the U.S. team, we had a lot of fun with them,” Kenzo Shirai said after the competition. “They were very loud, helping each other, supporting each other. We felt like we were all a team.”
Shirai did the final routine for the Japanese, nailing a quadruple twist. He earned a 14.933 for his efforts, ensuring they would stay ahead of the Americans.
The U.S. team that finished fourth was led by Sam Mikulak, the lone U.S. competitor with experience in a World Championships team competition.
“It’s really nice to see this young team come in, rise up to the occasion, hit these sets,” Mikulak said. “They’re so much better gymnasts today than they were yesterday.”