China's Stuttgart stumble will sharpen 2020 vision
Coach says fourth-place finish at worlds will serve as wake-up call for Olympics
STUTTGART, Germany - The Chinese women's team immediately targeted redemption at Tokyo 2020 after missing the podium at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships for the first time since 2003.
Costly mistakes by captain Liu Tingting in Stuttgart on Tuesday saw China beaten to bronze by Italy while superstar Simone Biles collected a record 21st medal at the worlds to lead the United States to gold with 172.330 points.
Russia (166.529) was second, with Italy (164.796) third - the country's first world team medal since 1950.
Team China coach Qiao Liang still maintains the future is bright for her young squad, who will attempt to bounce back at next year's Tokyo Olympics.
"I think the team did a great job, especially the youngsters (Li Shijia, Tang Xijing and Qi Qi). It's their first time competing on this big stage. They have improved so much over the last year, and they performed really well today," said Qiao.
"The main goal is to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. We will make some adjustments."
Liu's falls - twice on the uneven bars and again on the balance beam - were almost negated by a fall on the beam mount by Italy's final performer, Elisa Iorio.
However, she recovered to score enough to keep her team ahead of China by 0.536 points.
"Liu fell off from the bars and beam and it was definitely not her normal performance. I'll talk to her to see what happened and figure out solutions to help her bounce back," said Qiao.
Bronze was a huge achievement for Italy, especially considering it had qualified in last place.
"The goal for today was just to do better than qualification and see how it goes," Italian gymnast Giorgia Villa said through a translator.
After qualifying in second spot, China appeared confident of a podium finish, but Qiao's girls were ultimately no match for the Americans, who became the first team since Romania to claim five global team titles in a row. It was also the United States' seventh consecutive team title at an Olympics or world championships.
Record-breaker Biles stole the show with the United States' gold her 15th in total at the worlds to break a tie with Russia's Svetlana Khorkina for the most medals won at the championships.
The 22-year-old Biles is now two short of Vitaly Scherbo's all-time record of 23 among men or women.
"Every year it feels better and better just because we're adding to the legacy," Biles said.
"I feel like I never think of records. I just go out there and do what I came to do, which is compete for the country."
Biles' latest medal is rather different to the others in her trophy cabinet - the battery-powered gold lights up when it senses movement.
After posting the best individual scores on the vault, balance beam and floor, Biles is now turning her attention to Thursday's individual all-around final.
"I think if I do the routine that I did tonight I'll be more than happy," she said.
A fall for Sunisa Lee on the balance beam in her worlds debut and a fumbled routine by Grace McCallum on the uneven bars left the US with room for improvement, though both were strong on the other apparatuses.
"It's just so surreal to come out here and end up on top with the strength of the team that we have, even after having a couple falls out there," Biles said.
Russia became the first team to get within six points of the US since China did it at the 2015 worlds.
"We are happy that we finished second because we can't battle the Americans just yet, but today the gap was significantly lower than at the last few world championships," said Russian gymnast Angelina Melnikova.
Biles said other nations are "most definitely" closing in on the US.
"All of the teams have improved their difficulty since the last quad (meet), and I think that's really exciting to see the strength that they have."