China, Russia gymnasts put down early medal markers in Tokyo Olympics
TOKYO— China and Russia, two of Tokyo’s top Olympic medal contenders in men’s artistic gymnastics, put down markers on Saturday, dominating the first of three qualifying subdivisions.
Early action on opening day at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre produced little drama as the athletes expected to battle for podium places over the next 11 days looked poised to qualify with the minimum of fuss.
Still, qualifying will provide a glimpse at where the fights will be with eight nations advancing to Monday’s team final by the end of the day.
Twenty-four gymnasts will also advance to the individual all-around final on Wednesday and eight to each of the six apparatus finals.
Japan, China and Russia, competing in Tokyo as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), are expected to claim the lion’s share of the medals, as they did at the Rio Olympics and recent world championships, including the team and all-around titles.
China, Olympic team champions in 2008 and 2012, finished with the top mark of 262.061 narrowly ahead of world championship team gold medallists, the ROC, with 261.945. Japan, the reigning Olympic team champions, take the stage later on Saturday.
Ukraine finished nearly 15 points back in third at 247.492.
Simone Biles, the undisputed headliner of the gymnastics competition, will make her first appearance on Sunday in women’s qualifying, but the men are not without their own star attractions.
ROC’s world all-around champion Nikita Nagornyy showed he is well-equipped to compete for Olympic gold, sitting atop the early standings with two subdivisions to come.
Nagornyy was followed by dual China threats in Sun Wei and 2017 world champion Xiao Ruoteng.
Kohei Uchimura, the only active gymnast close to matching Biles’ gravity-defying skills and popularity – at least in Japan – is back for a final bow before retiring as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
The winner of every all-around world and Olympic title from 2009 to 2016, Uchimura is only competing on high bar, but that one event would have been good enough to allow an adoring home crowd the opportunity to give the champion the rousing sendoff he deserved.
“King Kohei” will sadly be denied that glorious final bow by COVID-19 fears that have left the Olympics mostly without spectators.
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