Friday, September 13, 2013

MAG: Will 2013 be the Year of the Unicorn?

On Wednesday, I wrote a post responding to the gymternet grumblers--those women's gymnastics fans who constantly weep for a utopian past when women's gymnastics had some kind of continuity and the post-Olympics year wasn't such a bummer.

As of right now, those grumblings are not taking place on the men's side. Perhaps it's because MAG fans tend to be a little older, a little wiser. Perhaps it's because, generally speaking, a male gymnast's career lasts longer than that of a female gymnast. Perhaps it's because, as I'm writing this, 5 of the 7 Olympic champions are confirmed to compete at the World Championships.

Indeed, right now, men's gymnastics fans have the luxury of hope on their side. In Antwerp, it's possible that we will see some of the Olympic champions win yet again. But just how often does that happen?

A Mini History Lesson

To recap what I said on Wednesday, the post-Olympic World Championships have not always existed. From World War II until 1978, the World Championships were held every 4 years, and they marked the mid-point between two Olympic Games. For instance, after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, the next World Championships was the 1966 World Championships in Dortmund, and that was the only World Championships prior to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Starting in 1978, though, the World Championships became a more frequent event, and the first post-Olympics World Championships was held in 1981 in Moscow. Over the past 30+ years, the frequency and formats of the World Championships have changed on a regular basis. But ever since 1981, there has been a post-Olympics Worlds, and they have always crowned individual World champions.

But are the Olympic champions successful at the following World Championships?

With so many Olympic gold medalists competing at this year's World Championships, I was curious about what has happened to previous Olympic champions at the post-Olympic World Championships. That is, just how frequently do the all-around Olympic champions repeat and win the all-around title the next year at Worlds? Just how frequently do the floor Olympic champions repeat and win the floor title the next year at Worlds?

I was quite surprised by what I found:

Event% Frequency 
Floor Exercise0%
Pommel Horse18.18%
Parallel Bars25.00%
Horizontal Bar11.11%

I thought that the numbers might be higher since many gymnasts' careers last several Olympic cycles, but…

  • 1 of the last 8 Olympic all-around champions has won gold in the all-around at the following World Championships.
  • Not a single Olympic floor champion has won gold on floor at the following World Championships.
  • 2 of the last 11 Olympic pommel champions have won gold on pommels at the following World Championships.
  • 3 of the last 9 Olympic rings champions have won gold on rings at the following World Championships.
  • 1 of the last 8 Olympic vault champions has won gold on vault at the following World Championships.
  • 2 of the last 8 Olympic p-bar champions have won gold on p-bars at the following World Championships.
  • 1 of the last 9 Olympic high bar champions has won gold on high bar at the following World Championships.

Who are these strange, mythical human beings? you ask. Well, let me show you…

EventGymnastOlympic YearWorld Year
All-AroundVitaly Scherbo19921993
Pommel HorsePae Gil-Su19921993
Pommel HorseMarius Urzica20002001
RingsAlexander Dityatin19801981
RingsLi Ning19841985
RingsYuri Chechi19961997
VaultVitaly Scherbo19921993
Parallel BarsVladimir Artemov19881989
Parallel BarsVitaly Scherbo19921993
Horizontal BarZou Kai20082009
Gymternet, we need to work on uploading old school MAG videos to YouTube.

Some might disagree with this decision, but I'm going to nominate Vitaly Scherbo as the President of the Men's Gymnastics Unicorn Federation. Not only did he win 6 gold medals at the 1992 Olympics; he came back and dominated the 1993 World Championships, even after the Soviet Union disbanded.

Granted, Vitaly did not win 6 gold medals at the World Championships in Birmingham. He only won three golds and a silver on floor. Slacker. Interestingly enough, Vitaly did not medal on floor in Barcelona. As a result, his 1993 floor medal will not be reflected in the following chart, which gives you an even more detailed breakdown of the numbers for Olympic champions…

% Frequency:
Won a Medal
% Frequency:
Did NOT Win
a Medal
High Bar11.11%11.11--22.22%77.78%

And here are the guys who weren't quite golden during the post-Olympic World Championships…

EventGymnastOlympic YearWorld YearWorld Medal
FloorLi Ning19841985Bronze
FloorIgors Vihrovs20002001Bronze
FloorZou Kai20082009Silver
PommelsLi Ning19841985Silver
RingsSzilvester Csollány20002001Silver
VaultLou Yun19841985Silver
High BarVladimir Artemov19881989Silver

So, what does this mean for Antwerp?

As I stated earlier, as of right now, 5 Olympic champions are trying to follow in the footsteps of Vitaly Scherbo and company by winning gold medals in Antwerp. They are:

Kohei Uchimura, All-Around (Confirmed): With mistakes and without mistakes, Kohei Uchimura has crushed his competition over the past 4 years. He's undoubtedly the favorite for the World title this year, but guys like Sam Mikulak and Oleg Verniaiev have the potential to nip at his heels. If Kohei were to win this year, he would become only the second man to defend his Olympic all-around title at the post-Olympics World Championships.

Krisztian Berki, Pommel Horse (Confirmed-ish): Like Uchimura in the all-around, Berki was the guy to beat on pommels last quad. After finishing second to Zhang Hongtao at the 2009 World Championships, Berki won gold at the 2010 and 2011 World Championships before becoming the 2012 Olympic champion on pommels. But guess what? Zhang Hongtao is baaaaaaack this year! Plus, Max Whitlock, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, has been looking good this year. So, it won't be easy for Berki to become the third man to win back-to-back Olympic-World titles.

Arthur Zanetti, Rings (Confirmed): Zanetti won gold over China's Chen Yibing by 0.1, and the Chinese delegation was NOT happy. My guess is that Arthur Zanetti wants to show that his victory in London was not a fluke. With Chen Yibing out this year, Zanetti undoubtedly is one of the favorites for the rings title. However, winning gold is not a sure thing. He'll have to contend with gymnasts like Eleftherios Petrounias, who received the highest rings score this year (16.150), and the veterans like Yuri van Gelder, who won gold on rings back in 2005.

Yang Hak-Seon, Vault (Confirmed): Undoubtedly the favorite this year, Yang faces an interesting dilemma. He already has one vault named after him (a handspring triple twist), and he's aiming to have another vault named after him (the Kasamatsu 2.5). However, as far as I know, he has not landed the "Yang II" in competition. Will he try the new vault at Worlds and risk Maroney-ing his vault? (I wonder what his "Not Impressed" face looks like…) Or will he play it safe and try to win yet another vault title?

Epke Zonderland, High Bar (Confirmed): The world gasped in unison when Zonderland performed his release sequence in London. However, when he competed in June this year, he did not look like a future World gold medalist, and right now, I can't tell you whether he has progressed or not. I know that he unveiled a 7.7 routine at the Hungarian Grand Prix, but I have yet to see the routine in its entirety. Based on the clip of his release sequence (Cassina into Kovacs), I'd say that his form is as sloppy as ever, so we will see how he fares at the Osijek Challenge Cup this weekend. If he's still looking messy, I'd expect a guy with a smaller D to come in and steal the show. Perhaps a Fabian Hambuechen or an Emin Garibov.

Without a doubt, the competition is going to be stiff this year. Should any of these men win gold at the World Championships, they certainly will have earned their spot amongst the other gymnastics unicorns. Should all of these men win gold at the World Championships, we will be forced to name 2013 "The Year of the Unicorn."

Now, don't get me wrong, I would love to be able to say that I was alive during the Year of the Unicorn, but I have my doubts that all 5 Olympic champions will win gold in Antwerp. Sorry to be a wet blanket on your fiery fandom, but I'm a realist.

Leave a comment below if you disagree (or if you agree).

FYI: In case you were wondering about the other 2012 Olympic champions…

Zou Kai, Floor: He competed floor at the 2013 Chinese National Games, but failed to qualify for event finals after an error on his final tumbling pass: a double-double. His name was not on the nominative list.

Feng Zhe, Parallel Bars: He competed at the 2013 Chinese National Games, as well. He finished second (15.834) to Zhou Shixiong (15.900). Like Zou Kai, he was not on the nominative list.

Related Posts:

Understanding the Post-Olympics Letdown


  1. I'll be infuriated if Garibov wins high bar.

    1. Why??? Garibov is pretty much cleaner than Epke or Zou Kai.

    2. All have high D but...

      Zou Kai = Boring routine, but not very clean
      Epke = Exciting routine, but not very clean
      Garibov = Boring routine, but clean
      Fabian = Exciting routine & clean!!

      I think we have a winner for the fans!

    3. I don't think Kovacs type release must be compulsory skill to make routine exciting. I want to see winklers, deffs, liukins, tkatchevs' combos(a la Garibov), pegans more often.

    4. I think both Anon's have valid points. A variety of different releases are nice to see, not just the high flying kovacs. Between Fabian & Garibov's routines I prefer Fabian. He has releases from three different "families" tkatchevs, kovacs and jaegers. Whereas Garibov basically relies on tkatchev variations for his releases. Plus Fabian's layout tkatchev-rybalko-1/1 jaeger combo is pretty cool.

    5. Ooops, Garibov training piked kovacs:

  2. Berki will be there for sure.

  3. I can't wait to see if Uchimura busts out the HB Quad Twisting Double he has been training. Or if Shirai does his Layout Double Double or his triple double.

  4. Li Ning on rings at the 1984 OG.

  5. I heard that Zou Kai and Feng Zhe retired.

  6. Maybe Ri Se Gwang (PRK) will beat Yang Hak-Seon on VT.

  7. Zonderland placed 4th at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Highest D (7.2) but nearly the lowest E (7.325). Should be an exciting HB final with Hambuchen, Garibox, and Uchimura. Is Zhang Chenglong not attending?

    1. Oops that should be Garibov

  8. Zhang Chenglong is not attending. He hasn't been totally healthy. Zou is still competing. He's been known to pop up at the last minute before...

    I would not bet on Ri Se Gwang to beat Yang Hak-Seon. Ri does hard stuff, but he sometimes splats.

    If Zonderland competes in Antwerp the way he did in Osjek, he might not even make the HB final. Messy doesn't do justice to what that looked like.

    Uchimura and Yang Hak Seon are probably the best bets to repeat.

  9. Verniaiev said on russian that Stepko will not go to the Worlds, he broke his forearm.