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Olympic Gymnastics Live: Qualifying Round, Scoring and Photos

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Current time in Tokyo: July 25, 2:14 p.m.

China successfully challenged Lu Yufei’s score on floor. It was increased, and now Zhang Jin will miss the all-around final under the two-per-country rule instead.

With the second subdivision done, Russia leads the team competition with a startlingly large 5-point lead over China: 171.629 to 166.663. They’ll both qualify to the team final easily, so these totals don’t matter per se, but they give us a hint of how the countries might stack up in the finals.

And, of course, the United States and several other countries are still to come in Subdivisions 3 through 5.

Yet another two-per-country casualty: Lu Yufei, the Chinese national champion, will miss the all-around too. She’s in third place among Chinese gymnasts by less than a tenth of a point.

Lilia Akhaimova fell off the beam. Fortunately for Russia, because this is the qualifications round and not the final, they get to drop their lowest score on each apparatus, so it shouldn’t affect them.

Angelina Melnikova and Anastasia Iliankova will almost certainly move on in the tight race for the eight spots in the uneven bars final. Iliankova’s 14.966 is the top score so far today. The two-per-country rule means two other Russians, Viktoria Listunova and Vladislava Urazova, won’t get a chance to seek an individual bars medal despite surpassing the score of the stellar Chinese bars worker Fan Yilin (14.600). Melnikova and Iliankova, though, will likely see stiff competition from Sunisa Lee of the United States and Nina Derwael of Belgium. Lee has the most difficult bars routines in the world.

Viktoria Listunova, the reigning European all-around champion, will miss the all-around final as well as the bars final because of the two-per-country rule. Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova are ahead of her in the all-around, and Anastasia Iliankova and Melnikova are ahead of her on bars.

After a very long wait, the score comes through for Guan Chenchen on beam: 14.933. That puts her a full six-tenths ahead of Tang Xijing, who had China’s second-best beam score.

Nothing’s for sure until all five subdivisions are done, but a phenomenal beam routine from Guan Chenchen — competing for China as an individual — puts her in great position to make the beam final, where she would be a serious medal contender.

On a recent day in Tokyo, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team took a photo with Oksana Chusovitina, who began in the sport in 1982. Her son was born when Simone Biles was just 2.

Chusovitina, 46 of Uzbekistan, is competing in her eighth Olympics. And the United States is fielding its oldest women’s gymnastics team since 1952. The average age is 20.8.

The sport looks a lot different than it did decades ago, when it was common to see 14- and 15-year-olds winning medals. Part of that has to do with rules. Since 2000, women must turn 16 or older in the Olympic year to compete. The code of points has also changed several times since and now rewards many skills that arguably improve with experience and muscle. Take the hardest vault: Biles’s Yurchenko double pike. It would be extremely difficult for a girl to generate the power it takes to execute the skill properly and safely.

While several previous U.S. teams had adults on them (Annia Hatch, for one, was 26 at the 2004 Games), it seems now that more Americans are competitive well into adulthood.

The German team’s average age is 26; its oldest member is 32. Simona Castro of Chile is 32. Vanessa Ferrari of Italy is 30. The Dutch twins Sanne and Lieke Wevers are nearly 30.

Like Biles, many of these athletes push their own limits. The Olympic beam champion in 2016, Sanne Wevers recently debuted the most difficult uneven bars element in the world.

Alice Kinsella of Britain is just not having a good day. She just landed fully out of bounds on one of her tumbling passes on floor, a 0.3-point deduction, and is shaking her head as she walks back to the sidelines.

Credit…Francois Nel/Getty Images

Jordan Chiles will be affected by the rule that states only two gymnasts per country can make a given final.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

When it comes to gymnastics talent, the U.S. is so deep that “the U.S. is so deep that” has become a cliché.

The U.S. is so deep that it could send its “B team” to the Olympics and still win gold. The U.S. is so deep that all six of its gymnasts could make the all-around final in Tokyo.

Well, not so fast on that last one, says the two-per-country rule.

The rule, as its name suggests, states that only two gymnasts per country can make a given final. So even if all six Americans are among the top 24 all-arounders in qualifications — a real possibility — only two will advance.

The idea is to prevent countries with lots of money from monopolizing the finals. A gymnast training without the mats, foam-block pits and other equipment that help gymnasts from affluent countries work safely toward world-class skills is unlikely to reach the same level. But if she qualifies for an Olympic final, that can bring attention and resources to her country’s future athletes.

In practice, that isn’t always the effect. At the 2016 Olympics, the rule kept gymnasts from the United States, Japan, Russia and Brazil out of the all-around final, and those spots went to gymnasts from France, Germany and Italy. Gymnasts from under-resourced countries who made finals, like Jessica López of Venezuela (all-around and bars) and Dipa Karmakar of India (vault), placed high enough to qualify with or without the rule.

This year, the rule will affect Suni Lee or Jordan Chiles of the United States, either of whom could win silver or bronze in the all-around, but only one of whom can earn the spot available for an American not named Simone Biles. The other three Americans — Grace McCallum, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner — would also probably make the final, but not medal, in the absence of the rule.

Russian gymnasts are in a similar situation, with Viktoria Listunova, Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova competing for two spots in the all-around. China will also be affected, though the gymnasts shut out there — possibly Tang Xijing and Ou Yushan, if their teammates Zhang Jin and Lu Yufei place higher — probably wouldn’t be as strong medal contenders.

The rule also applies to apparatus finals. On vault and floor, expect a battle among the Americans, with Carey, Chiles and Skinner fighting for the non-Biles spot. On bars, four Russians — Urazova, Melnikova, Listunova and Anastasia Iliankova — will aim for two spots. On beam, Ou, Lu and Guan Chenchen of China may do the same.

Such a difficult bars routine from Viktoria Listunova, capped with a rare double-twisting double back dismount. She had some issues with leg form in the air but landed well.

A good rotation for the Russians on vault: a team score of 43.832, compared to China’s 42.366 on that event. The Russians head into the halfway point with a .500 lead. Both teams have the 4 inch wide balance beam to come. The Chinese are known for being very strong on that apparatus; the Russians have been somewhat shaky there in recent competitions.

Fan Yilin, competing for China as an individual, hit her very difficult bars routine with just a small step on the dismount. She’s a world gold medalist on bars from 2015 and 2017 and is aiming to make the finals here too.

Russia is on bars next, and China is on beam. Lots of pressure on both of them, both in terms of the team score and in terms of qualification to individual finals. Russia, for instance, has four gymnasts who are strong contenders for two spots in the bars finals.

Ou Yushan finished one bars skill in pretty much a dead hang and had to muscle her way back up to a handstand. That loss of momentum will be a deduction, though China has a couple excellent bar routines from other gymnasts in the bag already.

In qualifications, four gymnasts compete for each country on each apparatus, and the lowest score is dropped. In the team finals, it’s three gymnasts on each event and all three scores count. So if Kinsella’s teammates hit, Britain can drop her bars and beam scores.

Alice Kinsella of Britain fell on both uneven bars and beam, dashing her hopes for a spot in the all-around final. After her beam routine, she stood on the sidelines with her head in her hands. The errors put pressure on her teammates to hit.

Excellent bars routine from Tang Xijing of China. About those pirouettes: Many of the skills the Chinese gymnasts do are in “eagle grip,” which is ridiculously difficult. Imagine there’s a bar in front of you, and try to grip it underhand, but with your hands rotated the _opposite_ direction from what’s natural.

We have a guide to uneven bars skills here if you want a primer.

Gymnastics trivia time: This subdivision features the second of three sets of twins competing today, Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova of Britain. Alice and Asia D’Amato of Italy competed in the first subdivision, and Lieke and Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands will compete in the third.

China is now on bars, where its gymnasts have excelled for decades. You’ll see a very characteristic style from them, with intricate and extremely difficult pirouetting skills.

You’ll notice the Russian gymnasts are competing under “Russian Olympic Committee.” Russia was banned from the Games because of its state-sponsored doping program, so the team cannot be called “Russia.” The Russian flag and anthem are also banned.

The British team is on the uneven bars. Suspiciously missing from the squad is bars world silver medalist Becky Downie, who was left off the British team in a controversial decision by British Gymnastics. Becky and her sister Ellie were outspoken about the emotional and physical abuse they experienced while on the national team. The sisters wonder if speaking out cost Becky a spot on the Olympic team.

Elena Gerasimova is wearing a sleeveless purple leotard to differentiate herself from her Russian teammates. She is competing as an individual, like Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner of the United States will do later today. Their scores won’t count toward the team totals, but they can vie for individual medals.

China started out on vault and did fine, but that’s not where it’s going to win or lose the competition. The team’s best events are bars and beam, which will be coming up fairly soon.

A tidbit about the Russian team: Its coaches selected Listunova, Melnikova and Urazova as members early and then made two other gymnasts, Lilia Akhaimova and Elena Gerasimova, duke it out for weeks over who would get the last spot on the team and who would compete as an individual athlete. Akhaimova won.

Honey on a vault at the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

While the women competed in Tokyo, viewers watching NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of men’s gymnastics might have noticed honey bottles near the parallel bars.

Men use the honey as a gripping agent: They squeeze it onto their palms, rub their hands together and then dust up both hands with chalk before grasping the bars.

Honey, however, is rarely used by the women, who do not compete on the parallel bars. On the uneven bars, though, stickiness is helpful, and instead they use spray water and use chalk on the bars, and wear leather grips, for more stability.

Good floor routine to start from Viktoria Listunova, who is just 16 and wouldn’t have been age-eligible for the Olympics if they’d been held as planned last year. She won the all-around at the European Championships this year.

One PSA: Don’t read too much into the early rankings. Neither Russia nor China is starting on its best apparatus.

China’s team is Lu Yufei, Ou Yushan, Tang Xijing and Zhang Jin. Two other gymnasts, Fan Yilin and Guan Chenchen, are competing as individuals. All of them are capable of making at least one final if the two-per-country rule doesn’t get in the way.

The rule that only two gymnasts per country can qualify to each final is going to start coming into play a whole lot. Three Russian gymnasts will be fighting for two spots in the all-around, and four will be fighting for two spots in the uneven bars final. You’ll want to watch Viktoria Listunova, Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova. They’re all capable of medaling but only two can make the final.

The Italian team strikes a pose.
Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

There’s no crowd at Ariake Gymnastics Center for the women’s competition, but if there were, this music would certainly be hyping it up.

Loud music — think lots of drums — has been pumping through the venue between rotations. And during the competition, the traditional melodies once commonly used on the floor exercise were for the most part absent. In the first subdivision alone, Reagan Rutty of the Cayman Islands tumbled to thumping house beats, and Diana Varinska of Ukraine performed to a dramatic version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” A lively P.A. announcer tried to explain some of the pop culture references and musical nuances after a Queen medley played.

Later, expect to hear plenty of Billie Eilish. And Simone Biles will defy gravity as “Tokyo Drift” by the Teriyaki Boyz — the song from “Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift” — blares through the arena.

Gymnasts, of course, have long eschewed piano music. In 2016, Emma Larsson of Sweden chose quite the earworm: the “Sex and the City” theme song. In 2012, one of my favorite selections was Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” — perhaps not modern, but certainly more so than Chopin.

Eythora Thorsdottir’s routine, in the third subdivision, is one to note. The Dutch gymnast’s choreography is striking, and, yes, that voice you’ll hear is her singing her own floor music.

We’re heading into the second of five subdivisions in women’s gymnastics qualifications. This subdivision includes two major medal contenders, China and Russia. It also includes Britain, which has been a rising gymnastics power in recent years and could sneak onto the podium if other countries make mistakes.

Throughout these games there are numerous reminders of things that would be way more necessary with paying spectators in the stands. At gymnastics, a lively PA announcer is trying to explain various pop culture references and musical nuances. “Sometimes you can hear the lyrics,” she said when explaining a medley of Queen songs.

That’s a wrap on the first subdivision. Italy finishes with a team total of 163.330, just ahead of Japan at 162.662. Again, these numbers aren’t meaningful until we see what countries in later subdivisions do, but file them away for later.

Tan Sze En of Singapore is posing for photos after her last routine. A reminder that for most gymnasts competing today, this is it. Most gymnasts will not make any finals.

Mai Murakami does two vaults, which means she’s trying to qualify to the vault finals. Both were solid enough, though not as difficult as what we’ll see from the best vaulters.

Midway through this first subdivision, Italy is 4 points ahead of Japan — a BIG gap. (It’s impossible to say what score teams will need to make the team finals because it’s so early and we haven’t seen the power players yet.)

I think the gold medal of this session should go to Japan’s Mai Murakami who performed a great floor routine to a mash-up of car chase music and “Pump Up the Volume.” (And silver to the DJ who mixed it.) The sport needs more music that gets you out of your seat to dance.

Credit…Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

Great, difficult floor routine from Murakami, including a double-double (a double back flip with two twists) and a two-and-a-half to front full (a back layout with two and a half twists, immediately connected to a front layout with a full twist).

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