Olympic gymnastics kicked off in Rio de Janeiro with men’s qualifying all day on Saturday. The participants for the rest of the men’s competitions—team final, all-around final, and event finals—were decided during the three subdivisions during the qualifying round. WIth so much gymnastics going on and still so much to go, here’s some take away from the first day of Olympic competition.
U.S. Team Looks Strong
In 2012, the U.S. team ended the qualification round in first place by almost three points before falls on pommel horse helped drop the team down to fifth in the team final. On Saturday the U.S. sat in first place in team qualifying through the first two subdivisions before being passed by China in the third session.
But as the U.S. knows, while it’s nice to finish qualifications at the top, what’s done in the finals is more important. Once finals start, all scores are reset to zero. China only topped the U.S. by 0.06 points and the Americans looked as if they should be able to put up a stronger team final showing than they did four years ago.
As a positive sign for the U.S. this time around, the pommel horse falls came in qualifications instead of the final. Both Chris Brooks and Sam Mikulak fell off the event, but even with those falls, the team was still able to finish above all but one team.
The U.S. was led by the two all-arounders, Mikulak and Brooks, who both also qualified for the all-around final on Wednesday despite the falls on pommel horse. The U.S. will also have six individual appearances in the event finals. Mikulak and Jake Dalton qualified on floor with the top two scores of the day on the event. Mikulak will also compete on high bar, where he qualified sixth. Alex Naddour will compete on pommel horse and Danell Leyva, who was placed on the team after John Orozco got injured, qualified on both parallel bars and high bar.
Is Kohei Uchimura…human?
Over the past seven years, Japan’s Kohei Uchimura has been an unstoppable force in men’s gymnastics. He’s won the past six all-around titles at the World Championships and threw in an Olympic all-around gold in London in between for good measure. He came into Rio as the overwhelming favorite to win the all-around again, and while he should still be considered just that, he showed some hints of humanity during qualifying.
Early on in Uchimura’s high bar routine, he fell on a release skill—something unheard of for the Japanese gymnast. The deduction for a fall on an event is a full point. Uchimura ultimately scored a 14.3 on his high bar routine, which placed him far back in the pack on the event. Without the fall, and by just adding the point for the fall and not considering any other deductions, a 15.3 score on the event would have put him fifth in qualifying and into event finals.
Even with the point off, Uchimura finished second in the all-around. The point alone would not have been enough to top the day’s top performer, Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine, who finished 1.466 above the reigning Olympic champion. Uchimura and Verniaiev look to be the class of the all-around as the only two gymnasts to top a score of 90.0. Third place qualifier David Belyavskiy of Russia finished with a score of 89.799.
Big Day for Brazil
For a long time, the pride of Brazilian gymnastics was Diego Hypolito and his older sister Daniele. Daniele was the first Brazilian gymnast to medal at the World Championships in 2001 and Diego was the first male to do so in 2005.
Hypolito again saw some individual success on Monday—he finished fourth on floor—but this time the rest of his team was able to share that success with him. The Brazilian team finished sixth overall in the team competition, which means the country qualified for its first team final ever in men’s gymnastics.
There will be two other gymnasts joining Hypolito in the event finals. Arthur Zanetti will defend his Olympic title on rings and Francisco Barretto Junior finished fifth on high bar. The Brazilians also saw some success in the all-around with two qualifiers in the final—Sergio Sasaki Junior, who finished eighth, and Arthur Mariano, who finished 11th. Barretto Junior finished in the top-24 of the all-around, but a rule that only allows two gymnasts per country to advance to finals disqualifies him from advancing.
Mixed Groups Rise
In each of the three subdivisions of the qualifying round, there were four countries competing for a spot in the team final. The other two spots in each subdivision were filled by mixed groups of individual gymnasts who qualified for the Olympics while their countries did not. These gymnasts don’t always come from the most traditional gymnastics countries, but gymnasts in these groups collectively had a good day on Saturday.
Of the 24 gymnasts who qualified for the all-around final, seven came from these mixed groups. The best finisher was Jossimar Calvo from Colombia, who had the 13th highest all-around score. There will also be eight spots in the event finals held by gymnasts from these groups. Ri Se-gwang of North Korea finished with the high qualifying score on vault with a 15.433. Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece finished with the second highest score of the day on rings and 35-year old Romanian Marian Dragulescu got back to finals on vault, where he performed one of the skills named after him. He will look for his first medal on the event since winning bronze in the 2004 Olympics, after a fall kept him from the podium in 2008 and an injury kept him out of the final in 2012.
Perhaps the most intriguing independant gymnast is Manrique Larduet of Cuba. Larduet is the first Cuban gymnast to qualify for the Olympics since 2004 and he was one of Paste’s 10 gymnasts to watch heading into the games. Larduet qualified for finals for the all-around, parallel bars and high bar. A medal for Larduet would be Cuba’s first ever in gymnastics, but even if he doesn’t end up on the podium, Larduet has a chance to be the country’s most successful gymnast in some time. The best all-around finish for a Cuban gymnast was 17th in 2000 and Larduet finished 15th in qualification.
The men’s competition continues on Monday with the team final. China, the U.S., Russia, Japan, Great Britain, Brazil, Ukraine and Germany will compete for the team gold. The all-around final will be on Wednesday with the top-24 competitors hitting the floor. For event finals, floor and pommel horse will be on Sunday, rings and vault on Monday, and the gymnastics will conclude with parallel bars and high bar on Tuesday.
Dan Pizzuta is a freelance writer and former Division I gymnast at Temple University