For men’s gymnastics, the 2008 Olympic Games seem to loom as a competition where old scores are literally to be settled. The judging scandals that plauged the men’s events in Athens in 2004 — in the all-around, on high bar, parallel bars and still rings — seem to have kept many athletes in the gym and training for redemption in Beijing.
The vast majority of the 12 listed here have been to at least one Olympics already, and many have cause to feel that 2004 wasn’t the ideal Games. These will be the ones to watch in 2008.
Yang Wei, China: Yang was in good contention to become Olympic champion in ’04 when he had one of those Unfortunate Incidents that seems to plague the Chinese team as a whole. It happened on high bar and crippled his chances for gold. He’s hung around for another four years seeking to avenge that moment. Barring injury, he’ll get that opportunity in Beijing.
Yang Wei, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Parallel Bars:
Aljaz Pegan, Slovenia: International Gymnast Magazine ran a great feature on Pegan in December, noting that he’s been competing internationally since 1989 and has yet to go to an Olympic Games. Pegan, the 2005 World high bar champion, was second in 2007, meaning his ticket to Beijing depends on who gets the one wildcard spot up for grabs. If he doesn’t get it, there’ll be international outcry. Dutch strongman Yuri van Gelder, who was second on rings in Stuttgart, is also in the running.
Aljaz Pagan, 2007 World Championships Event Finals, High Bar:
Paul Hamm, USA: Nobody really won the heavily disputed men’s all-around in Athens, despite the fact that the Court of Arbitration for Sport awarded the gold medal to Hamm. It was gold without glory, which isn’t much good, and one can argue that Hamm has as much a right to feel gypped as Yang Tae-Young. Paul and twin brother Morgan haven’t said too much about their reasons for resuming training, leaving people to chalk it up to feeling they have more to give the sport, wanting to go to the Olympics again and helping the U.S. team. But for Paul, there might, in the bottom of his heart, be a need to prove himself again.
Paul Hamm, 2004 Olympic Games All-Around, High Bar:
Hiroyuki Tomita, Japan: The stalwart of the Japanese team still looks superb in competition, despite being grossly “gassed” during the all-around finals in Stuttgart. He’ll likely be in better shape during the all-around finals in Beijing.
Hiroyuki Tomita, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Pommel Horse:
Xiao Qin, China: China’s pommel horse genius, the man with perhaps the most perfect pommel swing ever, blew his shot at gold in Athens by falling in the preliminaries. He’ll get his second chance in front of a very supportive home crowd this summer.
Xiao Qin, 2007 World Championships Prelims, Pommel Horse:
Fabian Hambuchen, Germany: The most talented German gymnast since Valeri Belenki has set himself up well for Olympic greatness. He’s already got Games experience and has been steadily ascending the ranks of gymnastics. Third overall at the 2006 Worlds, second in 2007, Hambuchen may well be thinking Olympic championship, particularly if the Chinese fall apart.
Fabian Hambuchen, 2007 European Championships, Floor Exercise:
Sasha Artemev, USA: The talented and inconsistent Artemev is a potential all-around threat and also challenges anyone in the world on pommel horse. Whether or not he can hit in competition leading up to the Games will be a big story.
Sasha Artemev, 2007 World Championships Prelims, Pommel Horse:
Kyle Shewfelt, Canada: After breaking both legs while training in Stuttgart, Shewfelt’s quest to become the repeat Olympic champion on floor exercise has only become more compelling.
Kyle Shewfelt, 2004 Olympic Games Event Finals, Floor Exercise:
Jordan Jovtchev, Bulgaria: The rings and floor specialist has been a perennial all-around force, but in Beijing, look for him to go after the Olympic rings title that many argue should have been his four years ago. Now 34 (he’ll be 35 in February), Jovtchev is planning to use the 2008 Olympics to cap off what has been a glorious career.
Jordan Jovtchev, 2004 Olympic Games Event Finals, Still Rings:
Marian Dragulescu, Romania: Dragulescu sat out the 2007 World Championships, but in top form, the Romanian team leader is a threat on floor exercise and vault. Like Xiao and Jovtchev, he was heavily favored to vault to gold on his specialty in Athens. Didn’t happen, but this summer, it could.
Marian Dragulescu, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Floor Exercise:
Nikolai Kryukov, Russia: At all of 16, Kryukov was the youngest member of the Russian men’s team that won gold over the favored Chinese in Atlanta in 1996. Since 1999, when he won the World all-around title, Kryukov, now by far the oldest guy on the Russian team, has done little except battle injuries. Nevertheless, his form, difficulty and obvious dedication to the sport are as impressive as his pommel horse and high bar routines, which are still solid after all these years.
Nikaolai Kryukov, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, High Bar:
Diego Hypolito, Brazil: A third viable candidate for the Olympic floor title, Hypolito, like Jade Barbosa on the women’s side, has a shot at making history with an Olympic medal for Brazil.
Diego Hypolito, 2007 World Championships Prelims, Floor Exercise:
Tags: Aljaz Pegan, Fabian Hambuchen, Hiroyuki Tomita, Jade Barbosa, Jordan Jovtchev, Kyle Shewfelt, Marian Dragulescu, Nikolai Kryukov, Paul Hamm, Sasha Artemev, Valeri Belenki, Xiao Qin, Yang Wei, Yuri van Gelder