China recaptures men's team gymnastics title
Superpower edges Russia at world championships
China is back on top in men's gymnastics.
The longtime superpower surged past Russia on Monday to capture the team gold medal at the world championships in Doha, Qatar to give China its first major international title in four years.
China's team total of 256.634 was less than five-hundredths of a point clear of Russia's total of 256.585 during a tense but occasionally sloppy final.
China wins men's title:
Olympic champion Japan came in third, followed by the United States and Britain.
Canada did not have a team in the men's final.
The women's team final goes Tuesday and can be seen live on CBCSports.ca starting at 9 a.m. ET. Canada has a spot in the final after placing fourth in qualifying.
Russia appeared ready to return to the top of the podium at worlds for the first time since 1991, when it competed as the Soviet Union.
Artur Dalaloyan slipped off the parallel bars during the fifth of the six rotations, and China immediately took advantage. Zou Jingyuan responded with a sublime parallel bars set, and judges rewarded him with a score of 16.2, the highest of the meet.
The Chinese then nearly gave the lead right back on high bar. They led by 1.2 points going into the final event but nearly squandered it when Xiao Ruoteng came off early in his routine, giving him a full-point reduction. His score of 12.800 opened the door for Russia's Nikita Nagornyy.
Watch the complete team final:
While Nagornyy stayed on, a stall midway through his set seemed to blunt his momentum. Though he drilled his landing, he seemed to know it would not be enough. When his score of 13.733 flashed — not quite enough to catch China — the Chinese exhaled.
"Of course I don't feel positive about it because I think that we were very close and they didn't let us win," Nagornyy said through an interpreter.
When asked if he was talking about the judging, Nagornyy shrugged.
"I don't really blame judges as such but .... I don't think it's right," he said
Not that it mattered to the Chinese. The longtime superpower watched rival Japan claim the top spot at the 2015 world championships and 2016 Olympics but surged back into its usual perch thanks to a sublime performance on parallel bars by Zou Jingyuan, whose score of 16.2 marked the highest of the meet, even better than anything put up in the women's competition by American star Simone Biles.
China needed just about every hundredth.
Paired together with Russia during the final, the Chinese headed to the final rotation leading by 1.2 points only to see Xiao Ruoteng come off early in his high bar routine. Xiao clasped his hands over his head in shock before re-chalking and going back to work. His score of 12.6 opened the door for the Russians, but Nagornyy couldn't quite take advantage, leaving Xiao with a mixture of joy and relief.
"[My mistake was] really regretful but you know, I was totally ready for this competition but maybe for some reason I missed routines," Xiao said through an interpreter. "Our whole team, everyone just encouraged me."
China won its 11th world title since 1994 and earned an automatic spot in the 2020 Summer Olympics, as did Russia and third-place Japan.
The Japanese saw their shot at chasing down China end when Yusuke Tanaka sailed off the parallel bars. Tanaka's score of 11.566 was too much to overcome in the finals, when three gymnasts compete in each event and score counts.
Briefly faced with the prospect of finishing off the podium entirely, the Japanese rallied to hold off the United States for third, in large part because of two-time Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura, who served as the anchor on four of the six events.
Uchimura said it was 50-50 when asked if he was disappointed in his team's finish but relieved it assured the Japanese a spot in the Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.
"After Yusuke's fall, we had to stop the bad mood," said Uchimura, who is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of the all-around competition. "We had to start battle mode."
So did the Americans. Five-time national champion Sam Mikulak slipped during an easy portion of his routine on pommel horse, the U.S.'s first event. The miscue put the Americans in a deep hole early, but it was their only real mistake, a significant step forward for a group that features just one gymnast over 23.
"We didn't have too much pressure, we knew we were really outside the medal podium contention," Mikulak said. "But we were able to put pressure on [late] and hit sets when other people weren't."
Mikulak added: "It's not too devastating because we've got a bright future to build on."
So, however, do the Chinese. Four of the five athletes that stepped onto the red-laden floor at the Aspire Dome are 23 or younger. On a day when they weren't quite at their best, they found a way anyway. With two years to prepare for Tokyo, there are worse things to have on your resume than "world champion."
"We are a young team, but we are a strong team," Xiao said. "We can do even better at the competition. We have to teach ourselves how to relieve the pressure and how to come back."
With files from CBC Sports