London 2012 Olympics: Which Country Is the Biggest Threat to China's Men's Team

Dan Pizzuta@@DanPizzutaContributor IIIJuly 22, 2012

BEIJING - AUGUST 12:  The Chinese team with Chen Yibing, Huang Xu, Li Xiaopeng, Xiao Qin, Yang Wei and Zou Kai celebrate winning the gold medal in the men's team final of the artistic gymnastics event held at the National Indoor Stadium during Day 4 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 12, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

China took home the gold medal in the men’s gymnastics team competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but repeating in London will not be an easy task.

The Chinese dominated the team competition in Beijing, having the highest team score on every event except for floor in route to beating the silver medal-winning Japanese team by 7.25 points.

China will still be the London favorite after taking the team gold at the 2011 World Championships, and all five members of the London squad were a part of that team. The Chinese did fall back to the competition at Worlds, relative to their dominance at the 2008 Olympics, which could leave the door open for two countries to realistically steal the top spot on the podium away from the Chinese in London.

The United States will be one of those two countries looking to stop China from its third team gold in four Olympics. As brilliant broadcaster and former Olympian Tim Daggett stated during the US Olympic Trials,

“This team can go as high as silver...and maybe even gold.”

Wonderful commentary aside, the United States will be a major player in the team competition.

The U.S., bronze medalists at the 2011 World Championships, is a safe bet to medal as a team in its third straight Olympics. The U.S. team finished 2.078 points behind China and missed a silver medal by only .01 at Worlds.

The six-man World Championship team featured four of the five members of the current Olympic team, with Sam Mikulak being the only exception. Jake Dalton, Jonathan Horton, Danell Leyva, John Orozco and Mikulak make up a solid team with slight weaknesses on pommel horse and still rings, but strengths on floor, vault and high bar.

The simple breakdown for the U.S. team is this: if they can excel on their strong events and put up passable performances on pommel horse and rings, there is no doubt they will see themselves on the podium during the medal ceremony.

China’s main competition for gold, though, will be Japan.

Like the U.S., four of the five members of Japan’s 2012 Olympic team were part of the 2011 World Championship team. Japan also has the luxury of having the best gymnast in the world, Kohei Uchimura.

Uchimura won the 2011 World all-around title by an astounding 3.1 points and is a perpetual lock to also do so in London. Uchimura is so strong in the all-around, he will compete on every event in the three up three count format for the team competition. This will make constructing event lineups easier for the Japanese, as they will only need to find two other gymnasts to put up on each event.

The Japanese can use stellar lineups on vault and parallel bars to pull away from the U.S. and China if all the other events balance out during the competition. The way this Japan team is built, a bronze medal will be the worst-case scenario.

There would have to be a major mistake in a routine for China, Japan and the U.S. to not finish first, second and third in some order. With the three up three count format on each event, mistakes can happen even to the world’s best gymnasts. One fall could be catastrophic for a team’s medal hopes.