LIVERPOOL, England – Artistic gymnastics isn’t always pretty. That much was clear on Wednesday night at M&S Bank Arena, when all eight nations competing in the men’s team final at the 2022 World Gymnastics Championships counted at least one fall.
Ultimately, China was able to find the sweet spot of minimizing errors and maximizing difficulty, regaining the world title for the first time since 2018 with a more than four point win over silver medalist Japan – 257.858 to 253.395. Host nation Great Britain won bronze with a 247.229.
The United States was still in the mix for the bronze, along with Italy and Spain, but two falls in the final rotation were the nail in the coffin for a team that started the meet with promising podium prospects. The five-man squad took fifth behind Italy with a 245.692.
“We put ourselves in a hole from the first event, and basically had to claw our way back,” U.S. High Performance Director Brett McClure said after the meet. “By the last event, we were still in the mix, surprisingly, but we just couldn’t put it together. So it’s back to the gym, and back to work.”
The top two qualifiers, Japan and Great Britain, rotated together in Olympic order while third and fourth place qualifiers USA and China started on pommel horse. Asher Hong, the only U.S. gymnast to hit all of his routines in the final, led off the country on the notoriously difficult event, earning a solid 13.566. Brody Malone followed with what seemed like a promising set up until the dismount, when he fell and had to redo the skill (11.733). Specialist Stephen Nedoroscik anchored the rotation and hit his set, albeit at a much lower difficulty level – 5.1 versus his usual 6.5. The defending world champion on the event messed up a crucial flop sequence and had a form break midway through the set, only posting a 12.966.
Inquiries were submitted to dispute both Malone and Nedoroscik’s difficulty scores, and both were rejected. For Malone, McClure said there had been a judges meeting an hour before the meet to specifically discuss the 22-year-old’s opening Mikulak skill. Ultimately, Malone was not given credit for the element.
After one rotation, the U.S. was eighth and at an early disadvantage against the Chinese and Great Britain and Japan, who had strong starts on floor.
Rings was a redeeming rotation for the U.S. while China went lights out, posting three scores over 14, including a 14.866 from Zou Jingyuan. Meanwhile on pommel horse, the Brits had two falls while reigning Olympic all-around champion Daiki Hashimoto hit his set after falling in qualifying.
Donnell Whittenburg sat out vault after slipping in qualifications while attempting the exceptionally difficult Ri Se Gwang. Hong also performs the skill and, despite stepping one foot off the mat, earned a 14.533 for his attempt. Colt Walker also struggled with the landing on his front handspring 2.5 (13.900).
After hitting the best vault for the U.S. in the final, Malone balked on The Stutz in his parallel bars set, resulting in a hit to his difficulty score after Hong and Walker went 14.533 and 14.366, respectively. Between their sets, China continued to build a large lead on the rest of the field, capping off a stellar rotation with a 15.766 from reigning Olympic parallel bars champion Zou.
Heading into the final two rotations, China had put more than five points between themselves and Brazil, who was second at the time.
Rotating to high bar, Whittenburg removed the skill he fell on in qualifications, The Liukin, and hit his set to go 13.133, but then disaster struck once again when Walker seemed to slip on his Tak 1/1 and almost came off the apparatus. He had to stop while still on the apparatus and regroup before finishing his set (11.700). Malone rounded out the rotation by hitting a clean and exceptionally difficult routine (14.366) to somewhat build momentum as the two nations moved to floor.
With China and Japan all but assured the gold and silver, respectively, the U.S., Britain, Spain, and Italy were all still contenders for the bronze. Slowly, they started to weed themselves out as the final rotation unfolded. Spain and Italy had falls on pommel horse while Malone and Whittenburg both fell on floor. The only nation of the four to hit their final three routines was Great Britain, with James Hall (13.700), Joe Fraser (14.000), and Jake Jarman (13.100) securing a spot on the podium, as well as five-man team Olympic berth for the country.
“We were in eighth right up until two rotations to go and I said to the lads, ‘Right, come on, we’ve got nothing to lose here. Let’s step up and do what we do,'” Fraser said. “We did our p-bar routines, and on high bar, we had nothing to lose, so we just went for it and walked away with a bronze medal.”
China and Japan, as the other two medalists, join Great Britain in qualifying squads to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
While the U.S. men declined media interviews after the meet, McClure reflected on the team’s bond in the mixed zone, saying, “That aspect of this group is remarkable – the culture, the camaraderie. I’m so proud of them for taking it to a level where I love working with these guys and, at the same time, I’m absolutely gutted for them to have struggles today. Because I know how hard they work and how far they’ve come, and that was not what they’ve been showing. So I’m gutted, and I know they’ll come back stronger.”
All-arounder Zhang Boheng (CHN) acknowledged that his team’s performance in the final was night and day compared to qualifications, attributing much of their struggles a couple days ago to the time change and traveling.
“We did so much better compared to the qualification,” Zhang said. “After one day of refreshing our minds and reflecting after the qualifiers, we got great momentum and rhythm today.”