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Team Italy

With the men’s podium training having wrapped up on Thursday and with the first qualification sessions beginning on Saturday, I thought I’d take us through what is perhaps the most exciting and important part of this year’s world championships – the team competition.

I’m sure you know this already, but not only are teams battling for spots in the final and on the podium this year, there are also nine Olympic berths up for grabs, with around seven teams that I feel pretty confident will make it, but there are another seven I see as being right on their heels, and given that this is gymnastics, I’m absolutely banking on some big surprises.

Already Qualified

You probably already know that China, Japan, and Great Britain already qualified to the Olympic Games at last year’s world championships, but all three teams will be there once again in Antwerp, and though they no longer have to worry about securing Olympic spots, they’re all still contending for the podium so of course we’re going to talk about them!

China sent many of its top competitors to the Asian Games, but don’t sleep on the team that’s here, and don’t let some struggles in podium training make you think that they’re ill-prepared. While the team in Hangzhou is definitely going to be the higher-scoring of the two, and while China may see some tough competition from Japan – which does have its absolute top guys here – I think it would be silly to not consider them a podium contender.

Shi Cong, who won all-around silver at nationals, and veteran Sun Wei should lead the team, with Su Weide likely to bring the goods on floor, vault, and high bar, Liu Yang capable of big scores on rings, vault, and parallel bars, and You Hao looking to add points across rings, parallel bars, and high bar. It’s a fairly well-balanced team, though I do think pommel horse could trip them up, and despite a few strong potential high bar scores, it’s another event where inconsistency could hurt them. Though what teams can’t say that?

Comparatively, Japan has its top four all-arounders from the domestic season on the team, under the leadership of reigning Olympic and world all-around champion Hashimoto Daiki. He, Kaya Kazuma, Miwa Teppei, and Chiba Kenta are all capable of going 85+ on a good day, and though pommel horse and high bar aren’t perfect, I do think they have the potential to outscore China on both. Rings isn’t very strong for this team, though they won’t score worse there than China could on its weakest events, and they’ll add some incredible floor and vault scores from specialist Minami Kazuki, so if I had to pick a winner based on all that’s been said, I’d give the edge to Japan?

Last year’s bronze medalists, Great Britain is without Joe Fraser and Giarnni Regini-Moran this year, though no offense to them, I really don’t think it matters? It’s a testament to their depth right now, especially with Jake Jarman in his all-around era to take over for Fraser, while Harry Hepworth makes for a pretty excellent Regini-Moran cover, and the team has Max Whitlock back in action with 15+ scores on pommel horse and the ability to put up a 7.0 routine.

Adding the consistency and level-headedness of James Hall and the always powerful routines from Courtney Tulloch, I think this team could potentially have it in them to outscore last year’s team, and even take advantage of mistakes from a team like China, though Whitlock aside, pommel horse is a bit weak, and they’ll really need to put a lot of faith into their massive routines elsewhere to create enough space for drama there.

The Best Bets for Paris

With nine spots remaining for teams hoping to qualify to Paris, I feel pretty confident about seven that I think will be in the mix almost no matter what.

First are two of last year’s medal hopefuls, Italy and the United States. The Italians got so close to the podium in Liverpool, and then returned with even more fire at Euros, where they won a first-ever team medal for the program. Their team here is nearly identical to the gold medal-winning team we saw earlier in the year, with Nicola Bartolini returning in place of Marco Lodadio, and think they’ll definitely be in the medal hunt again. Maybe not as a first choice, but if other teams are iffy, they could take advantage of mistakes if they can just hit.

I’m normally a fan of lots of all-arounders and balance and built-in alternates, but I do think this team may sway a bit too far over to the all-arounder side of things, and wish they had a rings score from Lodadio or a high bar score from Carlo Macchini to fall back on, though they should definitely qualify to Paris regardless. Pommel horse is a bit worrisome, but adding all-around national champion Mario Macchiati to the team to help alongside the gorgeous Yumin Abbadini will be a big help, and they just have to hope for a hit in the third set (Lorenzo Casali and Matteo Levantesi each had one hit and one fall at nationals, so the spot could come down to who’s looking better in qualifications, I’d imagine).

As for the United States, the meet they put up at the DTB Team Challenge in Germany this spring was basically the best the team has looked as a whole in over a decade, and I think they’ve only gotten better? Unlike Italy, where I think a specialist could help increase their team score, with the United States I’m actually thrilled that they didn’t take one this year after it didn’t pay off for them in last year’s team final. Instead, they have not only a well-balanced group of all-arounders in Asher Hong, Paul Juda, Yul Moldauer, Fred Richard, and Khoi Young, but it’s a group of all-arounders who could also be considered specialists on a number of events, so it’s like the best of both worlds.

Of course, they’ll miss Brody Malone as another top all-arounder with a standout high bar set, an event where this team has fallen flat over the past few years, but I think the team’s level of depth right now is so strong, we can say Malone is missed but not irreplaceable, which I don’t think is something we could have said last year. If the energy of this competition is even a portion of what they brought to the meet in Germany, I think it could finally once again be the U.S. team’s year to reach the podium, though again, as with Italy, they won’t have a problem with Olympic qualification.

The others on my “definite” list include 2020 qualifiers Switzerland, Ukraine, South Korea, and Spain, but also one newcomer – Türkiye.

Having finished 15th as a team in 2019 with a squad that was missing Adem Asil and included a couple of specialists trying to fill other roles, it was clear when they qualified multiple individual athletes that with the right amount of luck in their injury timing, they definitely could have made it. The team has continued to make improvements this quad, winning silver as a team at Euros where Asil took the all-around title, and they have a more complete all-around picture than they’ve had in the past, especially with the addition of Emre Dodanli in recent months.

With many problems in qualifications last year, the team still managed to finish 11th overall, but I think we’ll see them improve on their score quite a bit, as they have a real shot at making the team final in addition to qualifying a full team to the Olympics for the first time in program history.

Switzerland has looked great this season, especially in a number of trial meets and world cups in the lead-up to world championships, so despite a 20th-place finish at last year’s worlds, I see them as once again reaching Olympic qualification if they can make it through without any major meltdowns. The same goes for South Korea and Spain, both of which made the team final last year and should be squarely in the mix of teams doing so yet again in 2023.

I’ve gone back and forth about including Ukraine as a “likely” team or as a “bubble” team, but the team finished ninth at Euros this year without Nazar Chepurnyi or Oleg Verniaiev, and based on how both have looked recently, I think they should qualify, again barring major disaster. They’ve also got all-around standout Illia Kovtun and rings/vault veteran Igor Radivilov on the roster, along with Radomyr Stelmakh, who, like Chepurnyi and Verniaiev, was missing at worlds last year but is capable of solid – if not massive – scores across the board.

In the Bubble

The two teams that qualified to the Olympics in 2020 that I don’t see returning – or that I think could have a hard time qualifying – are Brazil and Germany.

Brazil was already in a tough spot without lead all-arounder Caio Souza, who tore his Achilles earlier in the season, but with the recent loss of Arthur Zanetti to the flu, I’m having a hard time thinking that they’ll be able to replace the scores they were expecting with the athletes who are coming in (both of whom are solid, but can’t produce at the same potential as these two missing veterans). Making the team final last year to dropping completely out of contention is a pretty big blow, but while I do think they could have a chance at getting there – especially if the teams looking stronger right now struggle – I’m not as confident as I was when it was only Souza missing.

The German team, already in a bit of a risky situation after nearly missing the Games last quad, was dealt a blow in podium training when Andreas Toba injured his knee. They’ll still see some productive scores, especially from Lukas Dauser and Pascal Brendel especially, while Nils Dunkel, Lucas Kochan, and last-minute replacement Nick Klessing also have strong potential, but what worries me about Germany is that they either have great days or truly abysmal days, with the latter coming especially when the pressure is on. They’ll need to have a really great day here, otherwise they’ll miss a shot at sending a full team to the Games for basically the first time ever in their program history.

France missed out on sending a team last quad, and despite a couple of great individual talents could be in the same position again this time around, especially as they’ve had some injuries come up and aren’t sending any of its 2020 Olympians, which included all-arounder Loris Frasca and specialists Samir Aït Saïd and Cyril Tommasone. I’m particularly excited to see how Benjamin Osberger and Léo Saladino look, but as a whole I think they lack some of the score power they’d need to make waves, though I’m not completely counting them out.

On the opposite note, there are some bubble teams that have never qualified full teams to the Games, but that could make it happen here. Belgium is probably the favorite right now, as they’ve looked tremendous in training and have a good mix of productive all-arounders as well as a few big apparatus scores, and Kazakhstan is also capable of putting together something magical, though I think they may rely too much on a couple of athletes and aren’t as well-rounded as some of the other teams, which could be their downfall.

Canada and Hungary are my last two in this bubble group, with Canada looking particularly good, and making a lot of smart decisions, like taking Félix Dolci out of the all-around so they can focus on maximizing their pommel horse strength with specialist Jayson Rampersad. The team is coming off of a best-ever worlds finish in 2022, where they finished 10th, so it’ll be incredible to see them repeat. Hungary is a team that banks on a couple of really tremendous guys but doesn’t have a strong enough overall lineup on every event, so they’re a team that I think could make things exciting but am also worried about, especially if there’s too much pressure on the team’s stars.

Likely Out

I initially had Egypt on my bubble list, but while I think they have one of the strongest teams in program history right now, I don’t think it’ll be quite enough to get a squad to the Olympics. The same goes for Colombia, which actually beat Canada at Pan Ams this year, but despite a mostly solid roster, they’re missing some key players, which will make it tough for them to repeat that.

Now that Bart Deurloo is back after retiring earlier in the season, the Netherlands has me struggling with wanting to throw them back up into the bubble list, but I don’t know if Deurloo’s additions to the team will be quite enough to help push them through? And Romania, Israel, Uzbekistan, and Australia are a bit too weak overall to challenge, though all are interesting in that they have really talented specialists who could make finals (or even win medals) but just not enough depth to fill out productive lineups on every apparatus, especially Australia, which is purposely focusing on trying to qualify individuals here at the expense of the team’s performance.

Article by Lauren Hopkins


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Title: Which MAG Teams Will Qualify to Paris?
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Published Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2023 05:24:30 +0000

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