According to the Federation Internationale de Gymnastic (2018), Olympic champion Simone Biles led the American women to their sixth world team title Tuesday at the 2018 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha (QAT), taking gold by nearly 9 points ahead of silver medallists Russia and bronze medallists China.
All three medal-winning teams also clinched team qualification for Tokyo 2020. The competition marks the first time since 1974 that teams have been able to secure Olympic qualification as early as two years before the next Olympic Games. Other nations will have further qualification chances in 2019.
Americans claim fourth straight team gold
Biles anchored the U.S. squad on all four events, turning in the highest scores of the day on Vault (15.500), Uneven Bars (14.866) and Floor Exercise (14.766) as she and her teammates romped to their fourth consecutive team title since 2011 and sixth team title overall since 2003. The U.S. had small mistakes from Biles, who uncharacteristically grabbed the Balance Beam on her piked front, and Hurd, who landed low on her double pike dismount on Floor. World debutante Kara Eaker, who qualified to the Balance Beam final, had the highest score of the day on her best event (14.333) to help the American team post an untouchable 171.629, nearly 9 points ahead of Russia.
Head coach Laurent Landi praised the combined efforts of the gymnasts, coaches and staff on the U.S. team.
“The team spirit was great,” said the French-American coach. “I think it’s a big, big team effort considering the time we are in in our organisation, and so we are even more proud of our girls tonight.”
Biles said the team was fired up to excel in the team final, despite being heavy favourites to win by a large margin.
“It’s just instilled in us,” she said. “We’re used to it but we also know the expectations that we have on ourselves whenever we go out there, so I think that’s what keeps us going.”
Newcomer Grace McCallum said she was delighted to win a world championship gold medal on her 16th birthday.
“It’s feels really good!” she said. “I feel really happy and excited.”
Russia returns to podium with silver
After finishing off the podium in 2015, the Russian gymnasts were pleased to take silver with 162.863, equalling their finish from the Rio 2016 Olympics. The team survived a fall from Lilia Akhaimova on Vault in the first rotation, but avoided major errors in the next three events. The team took the second-highest team totals on Uneven Bars, where two-time Olympic champion Aliia Mustafina posted Russia’s top score of the day with 14.500, and on Balance Beam, where debutante Irina Alekseeva scored 13.500.
“I’m very proud that I’m here and I’m very proud to work with my coaches,” said Olympian Angelina Melnikova, who competed three events. “I think we managed to do very well – almost very well.”
Second to the U.S. in qualification, the Russians shared the competition podium with their American rivals, alternating gymnasts on each event. Alekseeva, who competed three events for Russia, praised the camaraderie between the teams, who posed for group shots following the competition.
“The sportsmanship was really good and we all got along really well,” said Alekseeva, who has trained in the U.S. since age 7. “We actually were supporting and cheering for each other, so it was really nice.”
This is the fifth world team silver medal for the Russian women and their eighth world team medal since 1994.
Chinese bounce back for bronze
China suffered falls from Liu Tingting on Uneven Bars and from Zhang Nin and Chen Yile on Balance Beam. After a low-scoring rotation on Floor Exercise, China sunk to seventh place and seemed unable to defend its silver medals from 2015 and 2014.
However, China capitalised on mistakes from other teams in the final rotation to grab bronze thanks to double-twisting Tsukahara vaults from Zhang (14.433) and Liu Jinru (14.366).
Head coach Liang Chow said he was extremely proud of his team, and that he knew they had a chance to still win a medal with strong vaults.
“I knew there was a chance because the other teams had to compete on Bars and Beam,” said Chow, who returned to China this year after nearly 30 years coaching in the United States. “There was a possibility to make mistakes on those events, just like we had.”
Zhang was more rattled by the team’s unexpected mistakes.
“I am a little bit disappointed,” she said. “Uneven Bars were good. We made one mistake but didn’t drop too many points. I was not worried about Balance Beam before the competition because usually we are very good, but it wasn’t good.”
It is the fourth world team bronze medal for the Chinese women and their eighth world team medal since 1981.
Canadians come close to podium
The thrilling final saw all eight teams within reach of a medal at some point.
The Canadian women took their best-ever finish with fourth place, but ended up achingly close to the podium, just over a point behind Russia. First-year senior Ana Padurariu had falls on Uneven Bars and Balance Beam that proved costly to the team total, but the Canadians rallied on Floor Exercise and Vault to sit in third place until China’s final performer outvaulted them.
France took fifth (161.294), 1.102 away from the bronze. After a first-rotation fall on Floor Exercise from Louise Vanhille (11.466), the 2024 Olympic hosts fought their way back with a strong performance on Vault and Uneven Bars, particularly from Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos. Hopes for a medal were dashed after De Jesus Dos Santos’ fall on Beam, and Olympic finalist Marine Boyer’s 13.966, the second-highest score of the day on the event, was not enough to push the France into the medals.
Likewise, 2020 Olympic hosts Japan were unable to recover from Asuka Teramoto’s fall on Vault in the third rotation, and weak scores on Uneven Bars kept the team in sixth.
Brazil bounced back from a low team total on Beam to climb to third place thanks to strong scores on Floor Exercise and Vault. A historic bronze medal was in reach going into the final rotation, but the medal slipped away on Uneven Bars after scores in the 12s from Jade Barbosa and Flavia Saraiva. A fall from Rebeca Andrade, the final competitor of the final, left Brazil in seventh.
Competition continues Wednesday with the men’s All-around final.