Olympic Men's Gymnastics 2012: Top Contenders, World Records & Events Primer

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIJuly 26, 2012

Olympic Men's Gymnastics 2012: Top Contenders, World Records & Events Primer

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    If a meet was ever about one man, the London 2012 gymnastics competition is that meet.

    Japanese sensation Kohei Uchimura has been the world’s best gymnast since Beijing, and by impossibly large margins. In London, he’ll look to win his first individual all-around gold medal, lead Japan to a record seventh team gold and secure his place as one of the greatest gymnasts who ever lived.

    Uchimura is an artist in his prime, and London could well be his masterpiece.

    Which isn’t to say there aren’t fantastic secondary storylines in the Olympic pipeline.

    Team USA has one of its deepest and most promising squads in decades, the British are eying a breakthrough on home soil and Team China returns multiple 2008 Olympic champions with repeat aspirations.

    For more on all the drama set to play out this summer, click ahead.

Schedule

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    Saturday, July 28

    Qualification: Three sessions beginning at 6 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

    Monday, July 30

    Team Final: 11:30 a.m.

    Wednesday, August 1

    Individual All-Around Final: 11:30 a.m.

    Sunday, August 5

    Floor Exercise Final: 9:00 a.m.

    Pommel Horse Final: 10:41 a.m.

    Monday, August 6

    Rings Final: 9:00 a.m.

    Vault Final: 10:41 a.m.

    Tuesday, August 7

    Parallel Bars Final: 9:00 a.m.

    High Bar Final: 10:37 a.m.

    Note: All start times are Eastern Daylight Time.

Team Final

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    Rules: Eight teams qualify for event final based on combined preliminary scores and are seeded accordingly. In the final, teams select three gymnasts to perform on each apparatus. All scores count toward the final tally.

    Defending Olympic Champion: China

    Defending World Champion: China

    Date: Monday, July 30

     

    TOP CONTENDERS

    China: China hasn’t lost a major international competition since taking silver at the 2004 Athens Games, but this isn’t the dominant Chinese team of yore. A poor showing at men’s podium training—punctuated by an apparent injury to veteran leader Teng Haibin—opens the door for Team Japan to reclaim gymnastics supremacy.

    Japan: Led by incomparable all-arounder Kohei Uchimura, Japan has a golden chance to upset the Chinese after finishing second to them at each of the last four major international competitions. Koji Yamamuro, born exactly two weeks after Uchimura, is another versatile weapon on what should be a loaded team.

    United States: Many are touting this U.S. team as the most talented since the 1984 squad that won Olympic gold. The China-Japan axis of co-dominance will likely keep them from anything better than bronze, but the future looks bright for core members Danell Leyva (20), John Orozco (19) and Sam Mikulak (19).

    Great Britain: The Brits appear to be peaking just in time for an Olympic breakthrough. Daniel Purvis and company could manage a medal with some home cooking from the judges.

Individual All-Around

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    Rules: The top 24 gymnasts in qualification (max. two from each country) compete in the event final. Finalists compete on all six apparatuses, with the highest combined score taking gold.

    Defending Olympic Champion: Yang Wei, China

    Defending World Champion: Kohei Uchimura, Japan

    Date: Wednesday, July 31

    TOP CONTENDERS:

    Kohei Uchimura, Japan: Uchimura is the best gymnast alive, by a long shot. The three-time reigning world champ is a picture of perfect form, with no discernible weaknesses. Even his competition is impressed. Said 2011 world runner-up Philipp Boy, “I’m in the wrong era.”

    Philipp Boy, Germany: Germany’s best all-arounder put up a monster score on high bar to secure second at the 2011 World Championships.

    John Orozco, United States: The youngest member of Team USA doesn’t shine on any single apparatus, but he’s solid through all six and has the second-best single-round score so far this year according to The All-Around.

    Daniel Purvis, Great Britain: After a fourth-place finish at 2011 Worlds, Purvis is well positioned to win his nation’s first medal in the event since 1908.

    Danell Leyva, United States: The Cuban-born Leyva struggles on vault and rings compared to the other top contenders, but can make up for it with big scores on parallel bars and high bar. One wonders, though, if a nasty fall in the all-around at 2011 Worlds is still in the back of his mind.

    Koji Yamamuro, Japan: You think Philipp Boy is bummed to compete in the same era as Kohei Uchimura, imagine Yamamuro’s frustration. Born two weeks after Uchimura, the defending world bronze medalist is below-the-fold news in his own country.

Floor Exercise

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    Rules: The eight highest-scoring gymnasts in qualification advance to the event final (max. two per country). Each athlete performs one routine, with the best score taking gold.

    Defending Olympic Champion: Zou Kai, China

    Defending World Champion: Kohei Uchimura, Japan

    Date: Sunday, August 5

     

    TOP CONTENDERS:

    Kohei Uchimura, Japan: Graceful, athletic, sure-footed, Uchimura is the whole package.

    Zou Kai, China: The defending Olympic champion took second at 2011 Worlds and should offer the stiffest challenge to Uchimura.

    Jake Dalton, United States: Floor is the 20-year-old’s specialty apparatus, and he acquitted himself well at U.S. Trials in late June.

    Diego Hypolito, Brazil: The 2011 bronze medalist underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in March.

    Alexander Shatilov, Israel: Born in Uzbekistan, Shatilov moved to Israel a decade ago and could become his adopted country’s first-ever Olympic medalist in gymnastics.

Pommel Horse

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    Pommel Horse

    Rules: The eight highest-scoring gymnasts in qualification advance to the event final (max. two per country). Each athlete performs one routine, with the best score taking gold.

    Defending Olympic Champion:  Xiao Qin, China

    Defending World Champion: Krisztian Berki, Hungary

    Date: Sunday, August 5

     

    TOP CONTENDERS

    Krisztian Berki, Hungary: The prohibitive favorite in this event has won each of the last two world championships after taking silver in 2007 and 2009.

    Louis Smith, Great Britain: Smith won Britain’s first gymnastics medal in 80 years by taking bronze on this apparatus four years ago. He has a harder routine than Berki, and could sneak away with gold on home turf. Feeling the weight of those expectations, Smith recently announced that he has sworn off Twitter until after the Games are over.

    Cyril Tommasone, France: Though he disappointed at the 2012 European Championships, France’s best medal hope beat Louis Smith at 2011 Worlds to win silver.

    Kohei Uchimura, Japan: It isn’t his strongest event, but Uchimura is still one of the world’s best.

Rings

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    Rules: The eight highest-scoring gymnasts in qualification advance to the event final (max. two per country). Each athlete performs one routine, with the best score taking gold.

    Defending Olympic Champion:  Chen Yibing, China

    Defending World Champion: Chen Yibing, China

    Date: Monday, August 6

     

    TOP CONTENDERS

    Chen Yibing, China: China’s captain suffered a recent knee injury, but that shouldn’t cause him too much trouble on rings. The defending world and Olympic champ is still the consensus favorite.

    Aleksandr Balandin, Russia: The reigning European champ is Chen’s most potent threat.

    Jonathan Horton, United States: Horton was America’s best on the apparatus during Visa Nationals and U.S. Trials. He’s much better than his seventh-place finish at 2011 Worlds shows.

    Arthur Nabarette Zanetti, Brazil: His skills aren’t the slickest, but Zanetti gets high marks for execution and is Brazil’s best hope for an inaugural Olympic gymnastics medal.

    Koji Yamamoura, Japan: Japan’s “other” gymnast won bronze in this event at 2011 Worlds.

    Matteo Morani, Italy: The Italian maestro has an impressive difficulty score (6.8) and showed improved execution at the 2012 European Championships, walking away with a silver medal for his efforts.

Vault

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    Rules: The eight highest-scoring gymnasts in qualification advance to the event final (max. two per country). Each athlete gets two vault attempts in the final, with the highest average score taking gold. 

    Defending Olympic Champion:  Leszek Blanik, Poland

    Defending World Champion: Yang Hak-Seon, South Korea

    Date: Monday, August 6

     

    TOP CONTENDERS:

    Yang Hak-Seon, South Korea: The 19-year-old hit the hardest vault ever attempted at 2011 Worlds, walking away with gold in the process. With a repeat performance, he can become his nation’s first-ever Olympic champion.

    Flavius Koczi, Romania: The reigning European champ could make history by becoming the first Romanian to do better than bronze on vault.

    Igor Radivolov, Ukraine: The Ukranian dynamo finished second at the 2012 European Championships and has the highest mark this year among London-bound gymnasts.

    Denis Ablyazin, Russia: Ablyazin is a talented all-arounder who could pop up on any number of these slides—rings, floor and, of course, vault.

Parallel Bars

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    Rules: The eight highest-scoring gymnasts in qualification advance to the event final (max. two per country). Each athlete performs one routine, with the best score taking gold.

    Defending Olympic Champion:  Li Xiaopeng, China

    Defending World Champion: Danell Leyva, United States

    Date: Tuesday, August 7

     

    TOP CONTENDERS:

    Danell Leyva, United States: In four routines between Visa Nationals and U.S. Olympic Trials, Leyva never scored lower than a 15.80 or higher than a 16.00. The defending world champ on this apparatus doesn’t go for big difficulty, but his execution is almost always top notch.

    Feng Zhe, China: The 2010 world champ was uncharacteristically sloppy at 2011 Worlds.  His start values are still among the world’s best.

    Kohei Uchimura, Japan: Were you expecting anyone else?

    Marcel Nguyen, Germany: Nguyen didn’t make it out of qualifying four years ago, but looked impressive at the 2012 European Championships, performing a rather difficult routine.

    Oleg Verniaiev, Ukraine: According to The All-Around, Verniaiev has the world’s best start value.

    Vasileious Tsolakidis, Greece: Greece’s best medal hope won silver on this apparatus at 2011 Worlds thanks to stellar execution.

High Bar

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    Rules: The eight highest-scoring gymnasts in qualification advance to the event final (max. two per country). Each athlete performs one routine, with the best score taking gold.

    Defending Olympic Champion:  Zou Kai, China

    Defending World Champion: Zou Kai, China

    Date: Tuesday, August 7

    TOP CONTENDERS

     

    Zou Kai, China: Uncommonly graceful in spite of his compact frame, Zou has been the world’s best on high bar since Beijing

    Danell Leyva, United States: Leyva is a high-flying athlete who can post big scores when all goes well.

    Kohei Uchimura, Japan: Yep, on this apparatus, too.

    Fabian Hambuchen, Germany: The defending Olympic bronze medalist has been a consistent performer on this apparatus dating back to Athens.

    Epke Zonderland, Netherlands: The Netherlands’ lone representative could wind up challenging for a medal here or in parallel bars.

Records of Note

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    Most Career Medals: Nikolay Andrianov, USSR (15)

    Most Career Gold Medals: Sawao Kato, Japan (8)

    Most Medals in One Olympiad: Aleksandr Dityatin, USSR (8) (1980 Moscow)

    Most Team Gold Medals: Japan (6)