Preview: Japanese Men Go for Gold in Tokyo
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

The men's team final Wednesday evening promises to be one for the books as host Japan goes for the gold at the 2011 World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo.

After a relatively drama-free women's final — in which the U.S. ran away with the title while top rival Russia played it safe — the best teams in the men's final are expected to go for broke.

The Japanese, who won the 2004 Olympics, are searching for the world team title that has eluded them since 1978. They won the qualification competition with ease over the U.S., which had only two missed routines, and China, which looked lackluster.

But the finals start from zero. China and Russia have made strategic moves by substituting their alternates, both still rings specialists, into their respective team final lineups. (The new rule put into effect in 2010 allows using the alternate in the team final in case of injury to a gymnast after qualification. However, it would appear no particular medical documentation is required that proves the replaced gymnast is seriously injured.)

The three-up, three-count team format means one disastrous routine could drop any team out of the running, as happened to the Korean men in 2001 and the Russian women in 2007. But unlike the women's competition, in which only 12 scores count, the men's final counts 18 scores per team. A team can have a major mistake early on and still be in the running for the title.

Using qualification scores and submitted lineups, let's a take a look at the eight teams in this evening's final:

1. Japan
Kohei Uchimura15.46615.43315.23315.20015.39115.533
Kazuhito Tanaka15.36614.800
Kenya Kobayashi15.20015.025
Koji Yamamuro14.53314.70015.53316.400
Makoto Okiguchi14.96616.266
Yusuke Tanaka15.16615.600

Strengths: Artistry, difficulty, execution, home crowd support
Weaknesses: None

The Rising Sons of Japan have enjoyed a resurgence the past decade, for the betterment of the entire sport of artistic gymnastics. Dominant in the 1960s and 1970s, the Japanese fell behind the Soviets in the 1980s and the Chinese in the 1990s. They came close to winning in 2010, but once again lost to China.

The Japanese have conquered vault, their only weak event over the past few years, and are capable of outscoring every team on every event. They have the best gymnast on the planet, male or female, in Kohei Uchimura, who will do six events. Uchimura fell on vault in qualification, but is usually near perfect on the event.

The only question mark is young Yusuke Tanaka, who will sit out the first four events but chalk up for parallel bars and high bar in the final two rotations. Tanaka took a header on a rollout move on floor exercise on Saturday, and was so disoriented he couldn't finish the routine. Tanaka, whose sister Rie and brother Kazuhito are also on the Japanese squads in Tokyo, will need to put that scary moment behind him on parallel bars and high bar, or he could derail the team's chance for gold.

2. United States
Jake Dalton15.36614.56616.233
Jonathan Horton14.90015.36616.08314.96615.066
Danell Leyva14.63315.36614.466
Steven Legendre15.43315.233
Alex Naddour15.233
John Orozco15.00015.03315.03315.266

United States
Strengths: Consistency, floor, vault
Weaknesses: Artistry, execution

The U.S. men knocked it out of the park in qualification, outscoring the world on floor exercise and finishing well above China. New star John Orozco and national champion Danell Levya finished second and third, respectively, behind Uchimura. The U.S. only had two misses in qualification — Steven Legendre on vault and Levya on high bar — but both routines are to be used in the final. If they can repeat those routines and hit them — as their coaches must be confident they can do — the U.S. could challenge for first.

Most impressive is the U.S. squad's improvement on pommel horse. Orozco scored above 15, and specialist Alexander Naddour's 15.233 left him first alternate to the final.

3. China
Teng Haibin15.30014.13015.10013.530
Zhang Chenglong15.17016.30015.40015.130
Feng Zhe14.38016.33015.510
Zou Kai15.70016.07015.170
Chen Yibing13.50015.700
Yan Mingyong14.550*16.100*

Strengths: Difficulty, confidence
Weaknesses: Consistency, execution in places

The reigning world and Olympic champions failed to impress in qualification, where missed routines and low scores left them in third behind Japan and the United States. But it wasn't an all-out disaster as all the gymnasts with individual medal chances qualified to apparatus finals (with the exception of Zhang Chenglong on floor exercise, whose 15.166 was only good enough for 13th.) Don't count out the Chinese yet, however: they've been known before to take it easy in qualification and go all out in the final. The U.S. beat the Chinese in preliminaries at the 2003 Worlds, only to take silver in the final. And China famously sandbagged compulsories at the 1994 World Championships in Dortmund — which did not count toward the final — and saved their energy to win the optional-only final.

China has benched Guo Weiyang in favor of alternate Yan Mingyong, the 2009 world champion on still rings, who will compete on pommel horse and still rings. Yan should bring in a big score on rings, but he erred on pommel horse in the 2010 final. If he hits today in the first rotation, China could take their 10th team title.

* Did not compete in qualification, scores from 2011 Chinese championships qualification

4. Germany
Philipp Boy14.30013.36616.06615.23315.266
Marcel Nguyen14.46615.03315.83315.13314.266
Fabian Hambüchen14.67514.73315.56615.10015.500
Sebastian Krimmer14.466
Yevgeny Spiridonov13.900
Thomas Taranu14.766

Strengths: High bar
Weaknesses: Pommel horse, still rings

Germany, the defending bronze medalist, will rely heavily on its star trio of Philipp Boy, Fabian Hambüchen and Marcel Nguyen, who comprise the team lineup on four of the six events. In qualification, Hambüchen competed floor exercise and vault for the first time this year, however, after suffering an Achilles' tendon tear in January. With the powerful Matthias Fahrig out with an injury, the Germans are significantly weaker on floor exercise and vault than they were in 2010, but with no noticeable improvement on pommel horse and still rings. The Germans were only fourth in qualification, with costly falls from Boy on floor exercise and pommel horse. But history has a way of repeating itself; the Germans were only fifth in qualification at the 2010 Worlds and left with the bronze. If they avoid mistakes, they could climb the podium again.

5. Russia
Emin Garibov14.47015.03014.930
David Belyavsky15.03014.10016.13014.10014.100
Konstantin Pluzhnikov15.575*
Sergei Khorokhordin13.87014.37014.57013.470
Denis Ablyazin14.83015.13016.400
Anton Golotsutskov14.90016.270

Strengths: Floor exercise, vault
Weaknesses: Youth, high bar

The Russians have three Olympians and three relative newcomers on their squad. The team is supposed to be looking to 2012, but plugging in European still rings champion Konstantin Pluzhnikov into the lineup must mean the coaches know a medal is a possibility. Russia was second in 2006, beating Japan, and a consistent effort could award them a medal today. The Russians are capable of spectacular difficulty on floor and vault, but weak on high bar; they don't risk much there, which is disappointing when you contrast today's routines to the high-flying high bar routines that helped Russia win the 1996 Olympics.

* Did not compete in qualification, score from 2011 European championships qualification

6. Korea
Kim Seungil14.47014.47014.170
Kim Soo Myun14.63014.80015.90014.34013.600
Ha Changu14.63015.53014.200
Choi Jin Sung14.46014.770
Yang Hak Seon14.57014.37016.430
Kim Jihoon14.63014.470

Strengths: Vault
Weaknesses: Still rings, high bar

Of the eight teams in the final, Korea is the only one that has never won a team medal at a world championships. The team has the incredible Yang Hak Seon, who may just be the best vaulter in the world, but lacks the difficulty and consistency to challenge for a medal at this point.

7. Ukraine
Nikolai Kuksenkov14.90014.20014.666
Vitaly Nakonechny13.73314.56614.033
Oleg Stepko14.60013.96615.83314.766
Igor Radivilov14.70016.283
Roman Zozulya14.66614.100
Oleg Vernyayev14.40013.94115.73314.300

Strengths: Experience
Weaknesses: Difficulty

An unlucky 13th in 2010, the Ukrainians were a surprise seventh in qualification, punching their ticket to the 2012 Olympic Games through their top-eighth finish. The team must feel as good as gold right now, especially after their female counterparts fell to a disastrous 19th place. Ukraine has nothing to lose in the final, but the younger gymnasts, like Youth Olympic champion Oleg Stepko, can gain plenty of experience and pride. The only mystery is why the team's floor exercise lineup includes Nikolai Kuksenkov, who has struggled with a knee injury since 2010. It would seem smarter to save him for the all-around final, where he has a much better shot at a medal.

8. Romania
Flavius Koczi15.40014.90012.73316.36614.400
Cristian Bataga14.53314.22514.30015.741
Vlad Cotuna14.43314.26613.100
Marian Dragulescu
Marius Berbecar14.83315.36614.141
Ovidiu Buidoso14.33313.56614.000

Strengths: Vault
Weaknesses: No Dragulescu

Like Ukraine, Romania must feel it has already won in Tokyo by securing an Olympic berth. The Romanians know they don't have a realistic shot at a team medal this year, so are resting superstar Marian Dragulescu, who will save his body for the floor exercise and vault finals.

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