Team China Dominates in Men’s Gymnastics as Japan Takes Silver

The men's gymnastics podium is something of a novelty, with China and Japan claiming gold and silver, while the host country won an unexpected bronze

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THOMAS COEX / AFP / Getty Images

Chinese gymnasts, from left, Feng Zhe, Guo Weiyang, Chen Yibing, Zhang Chenglong and Zou Kai pose with their gold medals after the men's team gymnastics event at the London Games on July 30, 2012

Their reign isn’t over yet. As the Chinese went into the men’s team gymnastics final having placed an astonishingly poor sixth in the qualifications, naysayers began to whisper: did a squad that was the reigning Olympic champion and world-title holder for five consecutive years finally lose its luster?

Not so fast. On July 30, with rowdy Chinese fans yelling “add oil,” a term of encouragement in Mandarin that has a meaning similar to “step on it,” the Chinese squad tumbled and flipped to a resounding victory, more than four points ahead of silver medalist Japan. “All those people who said maybe we weren’t going to win, all they were using were words,” says Zou Kai, the fresh-faced, 24-year-old anchor of the Chinese squad whose horizontal-bar routine all but cemented China’s lead. “What we used were actions. And our actions were to win, so I think people should stop saying things about us.”

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Bronze was the night’s biggest surprise, as Great Britain claimed its first team gymnastics medal in a century. True, the British finished third in the qualification round, but they had only managed an 11th-place finish in last year’s world championships. The ecstatic crowd on Monday night, which could scarcely believe the home team might be in medal contention, sent waves of cheers bouncing around the packed North Greenwich Arena. Princes William and Harry were in attendance too, putting a royal imprimatur on the noisy proceedings. “When I was on the floor, every time I stayed on my feet after a tumble, I could hear the crowd getting louder and louder,” says Kristian Thomas, whose 15.433 on the floor was the team’s final effort and locked in Team GB’s bombshell third-place finish. “The crowds definitely made a difference. I’m really grateful to them.” (Thomas’ vault score of 16.55 was the top result of the night.)

The night was marred by a judging snafu that initially put Great Britain in silver position and Ukraine in third place. But the Japanese lodged an inquiry into the pommel horse score awarded to all-around champion Kohei Uchimura after the Japanese team’s final rotation. For more than 10 minutes, the judges deliberated and then delivered the verdict. Japan, once relegated to fourth place, would actually finish the night as the silver medalist.

As might be expected given the sudden British demotion, the Japanese collected their silvers at the victory ceremony to a scattering of boos from the crowd. But Thomas still seemed shocked to have a medal of any hue around his neck. “Honestly, I still feel like it’s a bit of a wonderful dream, really,” he says. “We kept on telling ourselves that we had to just relax and have fun because this was the Olympics, but I’m not sure we actually were enjoying ourselves, really, because there was so much pressure.”

Going into the men’s team finals, the field boasted three contenders considered equally poised to strike gold: the Americans, the Chinese and the resurgent Japanese, who had last won team gold at the 2004 Athens Games. But the Americans, who had topped the qualifications on Saturday with a team mostly composed of Olympic ingenues, faded quietly into fifth place. They were never in medal contention. Mistakes on the floor and pommel horse cost the Japanese, who were runners-up to the Chinese in 2008 as well.

In Beijing, the Chinese men scooped up seven out of eight gymnastics gold medals on offer. Their five world titles were equally daunting. But even as China won its fifth team world championship in Tokyo last year, the gymnasts’ routines no longer felt quite so flawless — some might say robotically perfect — as they had a couple years before.

The Chinese squad has profited from a system that culls pliable tots from kindergartens nationwide and deposits them in state-run sports schools where they live and breathe gymnastics year-round. But the gymnastics assembly line has slowed in recent years. After the retirement of Yang Wei, the all-around veteran with the lopsided smile, no one on the Chinese team has been quite able to replicate his range.

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A change to the Olympic rules also had the potential to undercut the Chinese. Previously, each team could field six athletes, meaning that squads could cultivate specialists in individual apparatuses (the pommel horse, the rings, the vault, the parallel bars, the horizontal bar and the floor), as well as fielding one or two all-around athletes. But in London, teams were limited to five competitors, meaning that athletes who can perform well in more than one event are needed.

China’s chances were further dented by a mid-July knee injury to 2008 gold medalist and team captain Chen Yibing. Then came a last-minute pullout of 2004 pommel-horse gold medalist Teng Haibin, because of a forearm injury suffered during pre-Olympic training. He was replaced by rookie Guo Weiyang, whose mistakes on the floor, parallel bars and pommel horse helped send the Chinese into sixth place during qualifications.

But none of that mattered on Monday. Clutch performances on the vault by Zou, Feng Zhe and Zhang Chenglong sent the Chinese from sixth to first place after the second rotation. They never relinquished the lead after that. There were no major mistakes by any of the Chinese, just a consistent racking up of points. Even substitute Guo resisted further embarrassment, turning out respectable performances on the pommel horse, rings and parallel bars.

The Japanese squad was anchored by Uchimura, the only male gymnast in history to have won three all-around championships. But the 23-year-old, with his rock-star looks and technically jam-packed routines, has looked distracted in London. In the qualification round on Saturday, the reigning all-around champ spun off not one but two apparatuses. During the final, however, he competed in all six apparatuses and churned out solid results — until he got to the pommel horse, the Japanese squad’s weakest event. Uchimura botched his dismount and was left shaking his head and wincing.

Uchimura’s vault mishap wasn’t the only Japanese accident of the night. Early in the competition, Koji Yamamuro bounced off the vault and straight onto his face and knees, injuring his right foot in the process. He was forced to leave the arena by piggybacking on a coach and only returned, limping, to collect the silver medal with his teammates.

Two of the five places on the Japanese squad were occupied by a pair of brothers, Kazuhito and Yusuke Tanaka. Their sister Rie is also competing in the London Games, the first time, it is believed, that three siblings have graced the same Olympics. Older brother Kazuhito, 27, is the captain of the Japanese men’s squad, as his sister, 25, is for the women’s team. But his younger brother Yusuke, 22, was the one who shined in London on Monday night, particularly with a stunning horizontal bar routine. Meanwhile, Kazuhito’s blunders on the floor and pommel horse (which he competed in to replace the injured Yamamuro) earned him the Japanese squad’s lowest marks of the night.

For the Chinese, the night simply underscored what they already knew. “We are the best in the world,” says Li Xiaopeng, a double gold medalist in both Beijing and Sydney, who has since retired and was covering Monday’s competition for state broadcaster CCTV. So how come even Chinese pundits were downplaying the team’s potential before the finals? “Who cares what people predicted,” retorts Li. “What matters is now. We won. That’s the story.”

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44 comments
Holger Hill
Holger Hill

do any one know why gymnast of china men's team missed at individual competition?

Ivan
Ivan

For Tibetans, the suicides of their nuns, monks and fellow compatriots are not in vain. They are a rallying cry, literally and symbolically, for independence, freedom and cultural survival. 

Balotelli2012
Balotelli2012

Ass Hurt Britains, learn to write better in English before you complain. The Americans at least express their ass hurt in an semi-articulate way. Did you guys even invent English or just bastardize it from Latin and German? Perhaps the Library is a good place to answer that question as well.

thomasspring
thomasspring

 Copycatting?  Really?  Paper, gunpowder, silk, printing press,

porcelain, paper currency, magnetic compass.... heaven forfend, where

would the modern world be without... all those Chinese inventions?   The

U.S., more than any other country in the entire cosmos, has benefited

from "copying" from older civilizations.  Even our constitution is

rooted in "other" peoples' innovations, ever heard of John Locke?  Get

thee to the library, man.@potpourri:disqus, i figured out that it was possible to make some income working from your home... Check here to see how i done it... http://neilstips.blogspot.com

Tom Thornton
Tom Thornton

Yeah, and they own America's ass thanks to their work ethic and OUR POLITICIANS, GOING BACK YEARS...

Richard DeAvila
Richard DeAvila

Credit is due where credit is deserved. China won the gold medal fair and square, the competition wasn't even near them. It's sad how everything gets politicized if it has anything to do with the Chinese. As for Japan, I think Uchimura deserved the points, though his body language said otherwise. I think the judges are to blame more than anything. The fact that coaches need to pay before an inquiry makes the whole process a bit shady...

CleanFun
CleanFun

Think about it. That boy could be all messed up by radiation, but they don't want to tell anybody that. He didn't dismount, he fell off that MF. I've seen people tumble down a staircase with more grace and control. That medal should be a nice boost to the national spirit, especially after the devastating events of Fukushima.

Give 'em the gold for all I care. Get well soon little guy.

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

I can't tell whether you're being sarcastic or just an idiot.

You're blaming radiation for him falling. Because the fact that every other Japanese athlete has no problems in the other competitions totally supports your logic, huh?

CleanFun
CleanFun

 You're not even close. If you don't understand what someone is saying, you may wish to consider trying to understand before you start blurting out insults.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

I'm not trying to be rude or blurt out insults. But, aren't you being a bit hypocritical right there? Why can't everyone just get along and accept the fact that what's done is done? 

Goodness gracious.

And please tell me you were being sarcastic in the original comment. Radiation? For example, if it had been a Haiti in the same situation as Japan, it'd be like saying, "We should give Haiti the gold medal because they've probably been crippled from debris and pollution from the earthquake but they don't want to say anything." Or Syria, "Who knows? They might've been wounded from all the rebel attacks in their country. I hope the bullet wounds heal soon, little guy." 

I don't think Japanese deserved the silver medal either, but I give them props for being able to stand up on the podium, knowing that they gave all they got, even with all the boos from the crowd. 

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 Japanese silver is completely artificial.

 They should have been shut out of podium and only got medal because they complained loudly and because they were Japan - you know, not Ukraine.

 This silver is a disgrace to the idea of Olympic competition.

mataaitai
mataaitai

I completely disagree. If you watch the slow motion, you can see that Kohei Uchimura did the handstand on the pommel horse (although it was obviously bad). Japan knew they had done a proper dismount and therefore filed a complaint. The judging committee could have upheld their original score but after reviewing the footage for 10 minutes, they agreed that the dismount was proper and awarded the appropriate points.

If you're going to be mad at someone, be mad at the judges for making the mistake in the first place. If you were in the same position, and felt that you deserved a better score, you would file a complaint as well.

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 Right, you need to watch that in slow motion.

 Because in slow motion it may seem (particularly if you pause) that Uchimura controlled his stand (you see, to be in a stand, you have to be neither moving nor falling), while in reality he didn't control his movement and simply fell off his high horse.

 But some athletes are more equal than others, I guess.

CleanFun
CleanFun

 Exactly. And Uchi knew it. Look at his body language directly afterwards.

Ivan
Ivan

Those chinese gymnasts biting the medal are going "man, this is softer than the biscuits the government of china feeds us must be of inferior quality....or maybe they are made in china ;)"

Evangelina
Evangelina

its actual meaning is determined by context CAshLazy.com

potpourri
potpourri

Copycatting?  Really?  Paper, gunpowder, silk, printing press, porcelain, paper currency, magnetic compass.... heaven forfend, where would the modern world be without... all those Chinese inventions?   The U.S., more than any other country in the entire cosmos, has benefited from "copying" from older civilizations.  Even our constitution is rooted in "other" peoples' innovations, ever heard of John Locke?  Get thee to the library, man.

Disquskurr
Disquskurr

Hi Neighbor....relax, ever heard of Numbers like 0 to 9 or Yoga or Calculus or Co-ordinate geometry or Astronomy or 'The Law of Karma' or 'Kallari'(from which Judo was developed or meditation  etc etc....Naaa I ain't gloating being Indian, because it is idotic.I could have added the discovery of America(that's stretching it too far) or even 'Kamasutra' to the above list, but listen , all of the great nations like India or China or US or Russia, have at some stage excelled in some era..........we are all human.......do not believe your own propaganda, or else you will end up with a lot of heartache, like the Nazis did.

At the end of the day, it is what 'YOU' do in your life.....if 'you' depend on your race or country to bring you glory, that aint real....it is real when you become a achiever, and your country and your people give your reference.

Peace, 上帝保佑這個世界 !!和祝賀!

CleanFun
CleanFun

So they're the devil's responsible for paper money?

Those modest discoveries kneel before Electricity, flight, space travel, and nuclear energy.

Take 2,000 years of Chinese contributions away from us, and we'll hardly notice. Take 100 years of US contributions to humanity away from China and they're back to sucking the marrow from a dog's femur just to survive the night, like they were 20 years ago.

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

And you call potpourri prejudice. Because the "devil's responsible for paper money" and "sucking the marrow from a dog's femur just to survive at night, like they were 20 years ago" or your "take 2000 years of China away and it's fine, but take 100 years of US away and everyone's screwed over" logic just screams fair judgement.

potpourri
potpourri

Not so clean fun, American exceptionalism is so 20th century.  You might also want to cut the old boys in Europe some slack before hogging up all credit for such "immodest" innovations like electricity and nuclear power.  

Hubris before the fall...  So apropos, your xenophobic derision of Chinese contributions makes me think of Oppenheimer quoting from the Bhagavad-Gita, which, incidentally, is even more ancient than those pesky old Chinese inventions!  

Something tells me you hold Indians in about as much esteem as the Chinese.  Did I mention, incidentally, how much the Muslim intellectuals and merchants contributed to the so called "Rise of the West"...?  

potpourri
potpourri

American exceptionalism, not so clean fun, goes back to John Winthrop.  Wanna call the Mayflower Compact a communist manifesto, help yourself.

You assume I must be Chinese because I took exception to your 

xenophobic insults toward the Chinese.  I happen not to be any more Chinese than you are Indian.  

Your post is full of projections based on misguided assumptions.  In liberty-loving America, it is still possible to be tolerant and appreciative of non-American contributions without being labeled a communist.

Why mention India?  You brought up nuclear energy.  I assume (hopefully correctly) that you understand the connection to Oppenheimer... and what he said about the destructive powers of the atomic bombs.  If you don't know, time to hit the books before you hurl accusations of ignorance at other people.

CleanFun
CleanFun

"American Exceptionalism" So revealing for you to throw out a term widely embraced by communists to lambast the concept of Liberty. Or are you simply ignorant of the terms you throw around?

How did India get drug into this? What kind of prejudice freak are you? Do you think that the United States represents a particular race? If so, pray enlighten us all!

And there is a difference between theorizing about something, and it's actual application. For many years people talked about going to the moon or mars. Since they said it first, should they be credited with doing it? How backwards can a human mind be?

Why can't you communists embrace the United States, rather than trying to belittle and demean them at every turn?

I'll take it a step further. I'll bet money you live in the United States. You or your parents left the complete crap-hole you were born in to come and wallow and rut in the accomplishments and technologies provided by the United States. Isn't that right?

Mark Robison
Mark Robison

What a idiot reply. It is obvious that we are taking about now my friend. If you want to go back a few thousand years have at it. Poor reply

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 Give me a break.

 Printing press was working very differently in Europe than in China (courtesy of actual alphabet and assembled fonts), paper worked differently in Europe, Chinese never managed to use gunpowder as actual gun powder, magnetic compass was invented independently - and the list goes.

 China is completely overhyped.

 People are still stuck in the "Medieval bashing mode" from the 60es when it was routinely considered that nothing good came out of Europe in that period, which is remarkably untrue.

Johnschwarzer
Johnschwarzer

True. Also true is that Chinese usually have a knee-jerk venomous reaction when something bad is said about the country or it was compared to the US and the outcome not positive for China.

ConleyJeannine
ConleyJeannine

 I assume (hopefully correctly) that you understand the...CAshLazy.com

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

First, Chinese characters do not need an actual alphabet. They have characters, accent marks, and ping yin that depicts a picture which interprets the letter's meaning. Second, Chinese INVENTED gunpowder for fireworks as a means of fun and celebration. Not for killing or fighting. Europeans in history took the gunpowder and created guns. If the gunpowder itself wasn't invented by the Chinese long ago, guns wouldn't have come in until much later in history. Third, can't this same "overhyped"-ness be said about America? Or just about any other country in the world? It's not just secluded to China alone.

Regardless of this and that, the point is that China was not a "copycat" for biting the medal. End of story. No need to bring up anything to fuel the arguing.

Ivan
Ivan

Hegemony and illegal occupation of indpendent nations, selling melamine contaminated milk, arming al qaeeda, sharing nuke tech with terrorist states like iran, pak and north korea, claming others territories, supporting tin pot dictators, encouraging human rights abuses within and outside...all these are chinese inventions too...i think you forgot to mention as you were in a hurry :)

stfusa
stfusa

Do you really want to open the American foreign policy can of worms?

Dude, where do you even get the balls to get self-righteous about the US?

You better be a mischievous russian trying to create a ruckus for fun...

potpourri
potpourri

Everything you cited... right back at ya.  I'm no lover of Maoism or any other totalitarian regimes then or now, but if you think all the sins can be laid at China's door and we don't suffer from unclean hands, you need to hit the library as well.  Illegal interventions (CIA, anyone?), propping up dictators (Mubarak, just to throw a bone at you)... Arming al quaeda, where, pray tell, did Osama Bin Laden and co. get all those weapons to begin with...? Look in the mirror, buddy.

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

I can assure you there are many, many more good inventions from China then the bad. It's not like America or any other countries for that matter hasn't done it's share of good and bad things either. Whichever way, this entire conversation is pointless. Regardless of whether China is a "copycat" or not, biting a medal is not a horribly big deal. The point is that they've worked extremely hard to get where they are and they deserve this medal. Coming from a fellow British.

Mark Robison
Mark Robison

Needless to say I am not a fan of China, however they certainly won the gold medal for copycatting again. Biting the Gold or the trophy is a Nadal thing, which the Chinese have appropriated just like they do in most everything else.  But I do congratulate them for a job well done.

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

I am scared. English is my second language but is used by me as primary. Am I copycatting everyday?

Alain Poirot
Alain Poirot

Needless to say, this isn't a very smart comment. Biting the gold is a very old tradition to check its authenticity that's been around way before Nadal was even born. Even if you do a Google image search for "biting the gold" you'll find tons of athletes doing it to their medals.

Mark Robison
Mark Robison

I am sure they went and read the history books before doing it --Man what a lame reply

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

There's no need to hit the books. It's something as common as an applause or cheering for a team. And what do you mean "lame reply"? It's a correction to your false and not to mention RUDE accusations. Grow up.

flux8
flux8

Translated literally, it's actually closer to "add gas" than "add oil"  (the two words are the same in Chinese - its actual meaning is determined by context).  And while it sounds silly as a translation, its equivalent expression in English by meaning would be more like "Put the pedal to the metal".

minovsky
minovsky

no you are wrong. i am a native chinese born and grown in hong kong. it doesn't mean "gas" in anyway. it means "oil" and "oil" only. "you" = "oil"; "qi" = "gas", the phrase is "jia you", i.e. "add oil". the only connection is when you put "qi you" together which means petrol, which is more like oil anyways than gas

oh and just for interest - if A says "add oil" to B, one can say A is "da qi" for B, which translate literally to "hit gas" or "pump gas". maybe you got that confused.

AsaGrev
AsaGrev

"you" can also mean gasoline i believe.

flux8
flux8

I'm a native Mandarin speaker AND educated in the USA since an early age. In my experience, these translations often come across incorrectly when taken literally, which is why so many Americans think so many Chinese-to-English translations are so humorous.

I think you perhaps don't recognize the more common use of the word "gas" by Americans. Let's start with just literal translations. Qi=air, you=oil. Combine the two - qi you - and it then means gasoline. The cheer "jia you" is meant to convey adding fuel. In American English usage, fuel for a car is gasoline, but is usually shortened to just say "gas". Gas can also be used to describe air, but usually only by chemists or in other less common situations. However, "qiyou" can also be shorted to just "you" in the appropriate context in Chinese. For example, "gas station". You don't call it "jia qiyou zhan", right? You simply say "jia you zhan".

Thus, even though "jia you" translates literally into "add oil", the translation makes little sense to Americans. "Add gas" makes more sense. "Push it!", "Go!", "Give it all you got!" - are all phrases that would even better convey the same sense that "jia you" conveys without being literal translations.

Steve Pan
Steve Pan

hahaha that is a laughably poor translation of jia you, which is more like step on it than a literal "add oil"

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