Current time in Tokyo: Aug. 3, 5:25 p.m.
Kensley Behel of Gymcastic told me that the Bhavsar was a skill to watch for. We’ve seen it a few times already. It was named for the U.S. gymnast Raj Bhavsar, who said he created it after wondering “if I could do a high-bar-style release move on parallel bars.” The gymnast starts on one end of the bar in a handstand, swings down through the bars, flies up into a straddle position, catches the bar and swings down again. It takes the entire length of the bars. See it here.
The 16.233 from Zou Jingyuan was the highest gymnastics score we’ve seen in Tokyo. That is going to be hard to beat. The American Sam Mikulak scored a 15, lower than in the qualification. That will keep him out of the medals.
You Hao of China, in the hunt for a medal on the parallel bars, landed very low on his dismount.
You moves into third place, knocking Mikulak out of medal position, but his own position is precarious with several gymnasts left to compete.
Sam Mikulak is up, following a big score, and is in the hunt for a medal. He placed 12th in the all-around final last week. Of note, he has spoken out about mental health in the sport, just like Simone Biles and dozens of other gymnasts have. On Instagram in May, he wrote in part: “For so long in my gym career I’ve been overwhelmed. I’ve been so consumed by fear of failing to reach my goals that it got in the way of what really creates success. Happiness.”
Zou Jingyuan of China is up. He had a stellar execution in the qualification — almost a 9.4. Kensley Behel of the podcast Gymcastic told me that “he had a pretty bad landing in qualifications, so you could see that go up to 9.5, 9.6. He’s literally almost perfect on this event.”
Ferhat Arican of Turkey almost lost his balance on a handstand but stayed on the bars. Those sorts of small mistakes could determine the medals here, but he looks thrilled with his performance, pumping his fists.
The parallel bars final is starting. Zou Jingyuan of China is the heavy favorite for the gold, but there’s an interesting race for the rest of the podium. Lukas Dauser of Germany, You Hao of China, Ferhat Arican of Turkey and Sam Mikulak of the United States all qualified to the final within three-tenths of a point of one another. That’s about the same margin as we saw in Monday’s exciting women’s floor final, where the winner, Jade Carey, was about three-tenths ahead of the fifth-place finisher, Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade.
This is devastating for Iordache, a prodigiously talented Romanian gymnast who has been injured at the worst possible times again and again.
The balance beam final start list has been updated, and it looks like Larisa Iordache of Romania is off of it, and the first reserve, Urara Ashikawa of Japan, is in her place.
One person to certainly watch out for is Guan Chenchen of China. She goes last tonight. She seemed to warm up more than anyone, and appeared on point while practicing a routine that was clearly more difficult than that of her rivals during qualifying.
Before the women’s beam final, eight men — including the American Sam Mikulak — will compete on the parallel bars. The gymnasts will swing between two bars that are about 11½ feet long and over 6 feet high. Like the women on uneven bars, the men make the task look easy.
“If Sam goes clean, he has a chance at medaling, but with the caveat that he needs some of the other people to falter,” said Kensley Behel, a men’s gymnastics expert who is part of the podcast Gymcastic.
Zou Jingyuan of China, who qualified to the final in first place, is “almost guaranteed the gold medal,” she said, acknowledging — as these Games have shown us — that nothing is ever certain in gymnastics.
She added that a stuck dismount on this apparatus in particular could mean the difference between being on the podium or landing in fourth or fifth place.
The United States has yet to win a men’s gymnastics medal in Tokyo; the Americans finished fifth in the team final last week. “They basically have done exactly as expected,” Behel said of the team, “which is, they are near the top but not at the top.”
There is one more men’s event after the beam final: the horizontal bar, commonly known as the high bar, where Brody Malone will have one final chance to earn a medal for the Americans.
In addition to Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee, here are the other six competitors, in the order in which they qualified:
Guan Chenchen, 16, of China, is in Tokyo because of her beam routine — and her skills were heavily showcased during the qualifying round. She blew the rest of the field away with a score of 14.933, thanks largely to a difficulty score nearly half a point higher than that of any other qualifier.
Tang Xijing, 18, of China, had the second-highest beam score in qualifications, 14.333. But unlike Guan, who has had more than a week to recuperate from the qualifying round and prepare for the final, Tang — the 2019 world all-around silver medalist — competed on all four apparatuses in the team final and the all-around final and will be coming into Tuesday’s event tired.
Ellie Black, 25, of Canada, was the fifth-ranked qualifier with a score of 14.1 and a routine more difficult than any other finalist except Guan and Biles, but she has an ankle injury that kept her out of the all-around final. If she were to make the podium in spite of that, Black — who is the 2017 world all-around silver medalist and is competing in her third Games — would be the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in women’s gymnastics.
Vladislava Urazova, 16, of Russia, qualified seventh with a score of 14.0. She won gold with the Russian team last week and was fourth in the all-around, but barring major mistakes from other competitors, she is unlikely to be a medal contender on beam because her difficulty score is only 5.8 — more than a point less than Guan’s and several tenths less than the average in this final.
Flávia Saraiva, 21, of Brazil, was the last qualifier to the final, scoring 13.966, and is at a similar disadvantage as Urazova because her difficulty score is 5.9. Like Iordache and Black, she may also be dealing with an injury; she appeared to hurt her ankle during her floor routine in the qualifying round. At the 2016 Olympics, she finished fifth in the beam final.
Urara Ashikawa of Japan was a reserve who was added to the start list on Tuesday because of the withdrawal of Larisa Iordache of Romania. Ashikawa had qualified 12th on the beam.
Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee, along with several of the other competitors in the balance beam final, spent a few minutes on the beam warming up in front of a crowd of eager photographers. On a few of her dismounts, Biles performed a double pike, which as Maggie pointed out, is less difficult than what she completed during qualifying.
Simone Biles, 24, will be competing in her only apparatus final at these Games, and it’s not clear if she will do the same routine she did in the qualifying round, which had a huge difficulty score, 6.5. That would make her a strong medal contender if she avoided the large stumble she had on her full-twisting double back dismount. (She was the sixth qualifier to the final because of that mistake, but, without it, she would probably have been second.) Because her mental block relates to twisting, though, she may switch to a double pike dismount, which would lower her difficulty by 0.4 points.
Sunisa Lee, 18, said before the Olympics that she wanted to win a medal on beam, and she might: She had the third-highest score, 14.2, in the qualifying round. But with so many strong gymnasts in the final, she has no room for error. She didn’t quite match her qualifying mark in the team final, scoring 14.133, and she scored 13.833 in the all-around final after nearly losing her balance on her first skill.
It is the last shot at an individual medal for Biles, who qualified for every final but pulled out of the all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise because of a mental block that prevented her from competing safely.
The women’s balance beam competition is part of the last slate of gymnastics competitions at the Tokyo Games. There are also two men’s competitions: the parallel bars and the high bar. The women’s balance beam competition begins at 5:50 p.m. local time in Tokyo. The timing is odd for American viewers, but here are your options:
LIVE: The competition begins Tuesday at 4:50 a.m. Eastern time and can be streamed live via the NBC Olympics site, Peacock or the NBC Sports app.
TAPE DELAY: Many fans will prefer to stream a replay or watch the tape-delayed broadcast on NBC at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
The eight gymnasts who scored highest on beam in the qualifying round, with a maximum of two per country, will compete in the final. (The fifth-ranked gymnast, Lu Yufei of China, was shut out by the two-per-country rule, and the ninth-ranked gymnast, Flávia Saraiva of Brazil, advanced instead.)
Each routine will receive one score for difficulty and another for execution, and the two will be added together to produce final scores. Here’s a guide to beam skills and scoring.