In no particular order:
1. Eye-poppingly hard skills. Like a double double layout on floor from Victoria Moors. A Mo salto from China’s Yao Jinnan on bars. A laid out Garrison mount (roundoff, layout full twist onto the beam) from Japan’s Natsumi Sasada. A quad twisting dismount on men’s floor from Japan’s Kenzo Shirai. A possible double-twisting Kovacs from Andreas Bretschneider of Germany on high bar. A full-twisting Tsukahara double back vault from Ri Se Gwang of North Korea and a possible Kasamatsu 2.5 twist from Olympic vault champion Yang Hak Seon of South Korea. Plus you-never-know-what from trickster Simone Biles, who competed a double layout half out at the U.S. Classic in July.
2. A fabulous men’s matchup. Nine gymnasts could win the men’s all-around title in Antwerp. Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura should be the favorite, but none too far behind are European champ David Belyavskiy, Universiades champ Nikolai Kuksenkov, ambitious Ukrainians Oleg Verniaiev and Oleg Stepko (though all except Verniaiev are dealing with some kind of injury and may be limited in competition), Germany’s Fabian Hambuechen, Britian’s Max Whitlock and American Sam Mikulak. Last but not least, there’s Ryohei Kato, whom Uchimura himself has said could be the one to beat in Rio in three years. But as said before, Uchimura’s not going to be easy to get by.
3. More Mustafina/Nabieva madness. Aliya Mustafina, the 2010 World champion, 2012 Olympic bars gold medalist and undisputed queen of Russian gymnastics has already won the European Championships and the Universiades this year. She seems well on her way to recapturing the all-around crown she won in 2010 in Rotterdam. But to win Worlds this year, Aliya Mustafina will need to hold off the challenge of U.S. champion Biles and Fierce Fiver Kyla Ross.
There’s also Romania’s Larisa Iordache, who finished second to Mustafina at Europeans and will be out to do one better in Antwerp. This year at least, Mustafina will have her old sidekick Tatiana Nabieva back by her side, and Nabieva is a darkhorse all-around contender herself. They were so much fun to watch as they stormed Rotterdam as new seniors in 2010. Now more grown up and with much more life experience, they’ve still got incredible It factor — and big routines to back it up.
4. Battle of the vault specialists. If the Summer Universiade was any indication, women’s vault will be one of the marquee events in Antwerp. While the Americans and their Amanars have dominated in international competition during the past few years, a slew of exceptional vaulters will gather in Antwerp to challenge McKayla Maroney (who shows an Amanar and a roundoff, half on, front layout full twist off) and Simone Biles (who does an Amanar and is training a really good Cheng).
Among them: 2008 Olympic champion Hong Un Jong of North Korea (Amanar and Rudi), reigning European champion Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland (Rudi and Tsuk double full), Olympic bronze medalist Maria Paseka (Amanar and roundoff, half on, front layout half off), 2011 World bronze medalist Phan Thi Ha Thanh of Vietnam (double-twisting Yurchenko and Rudi), Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina (Rudi and 1.5 twisting Tsuk) and new Dutch star Noel van Klaveren, who won silver at Europeans (one of the cleanest DTYs on the world.) Likely absent but worth mentioning: Mexico’s Alexa Moreno (Rudi and double-twisting Tsuk).
5. Romanian revenge. So what if the Romanian senior team is a little thin while their excellent juniors, born 1998-1999, are still growing up? So what if they’re only sending three gymnasts to Antwerp? Larisa Iordache is a highly competitive, highly motivated gymnast who likes to win. After a disappointing Olympic run, she came blazing back at the European Championships, but took silver all-around to Aliya Mustafina. Expect her to be on fire as she attacks the all-around in Antwerp. As for Sandra Izbasa, it will be a pleasure to see a double Olympic champion competing her new floor routine. Stefania Stanila, who competed at the Junior European Championships last year, is a young hopeful with terrific potential, especially on balance beam, the team’s best event.
6. “Other” nations stepping up. One of the sadder hallmarks of this year’s women’s competition how many really good currently active gymnasts won’t be there, for a myriad of reasons (injury, illness, burnout and time off are just some.) On the brighter side, this is an incredible opportunity for the younger generation — many from countries other than Russia, Romania, China and the U.S. — to show off in event finals, win medals and set a new precedent for younger gymnasts in their countries. It’s a special opportunity for the Olympics-hosting South American contingent, highlighted by Venezuela’s Jessica Lopez and Guatemala’s Ana Sofia Gomez Porras, to make an impression.
7. 2012 redemption stories. Remember the look on the Ukrainian men’s faces as they realized that what they thought was their Olympic team bronze medal was actually a fourth-place finish? Remember the disappointment of the Russians at finishing sixth in team finals? Remember Daniel Keatings’s disappointment at being left off the British Olympic team? Remember Vanessa Ferrari’s sadness at finishing fourth in women’s floor finals? It’s a new year, and open season. Expect them to take advantage.
8. Ageless veterans. Supervaulter Oksana Chusovitina has moved from Germany back to her native Uzbekistan, but is still going strong. 2004 Olympic team gold medalist Naoya Tsukahara (son of the legendary Mitsuo Tsukahara) left Japan and has been training and unofficially winning the Australian national championships for the past four years. He’s finally cleared to compete as an Aussie, and will be making his first appearance at a World Championships in 10 years. Also to anticipate: mature performances from the always elegant Vasiliki Millousi of Greece, Marta Pihan-Kulesza of Poland, Daniele Hypolito of Brazil, Jorge Hugo Giraldo Lopez of Colombia, Mitja Petkovsec of Slovenia. We can’t wait.
9. FIG Athlete Commission Elections. Every four years former elite gymnasts are elected to serve on the FIG’s Athlete Commission. The gymnasts, usually retired World stars, are voted in by their peers at their discipline’s big annual event. (By the way, it’s not just artistic gymnastics that does this — notably, Ukraine’s Liubov Charkashyna, the Olympic bronze medalist in rhythmic gymnastics from London, was elected to the Athletes Commission last month at the Rhythmic Worlds in Kiev.)
Up for the artistic gymnastics posts are 1997 World high bar champion Jani Tanskanen of Finland, American star Alicia Sacramone, Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov and Angelina Kysla, and Britain’s Beth Tweddle. Voting for the women’s post will be held October 3. The men’s election takes place October 4. Tanskanen, who retired in 2008 after a long and productive career, was elected aside Nastia Liukin at the 2009 Worlds. Liukin is not running for re-election.
10. The Longines Prize for Elegance. This special prize is given to the male and female all-around gymnasts who display exceptional elegance on and off the competition floor at Worlds. Over the years, the Longines Prize (which includes a gorgeous Longines watch) has become almost as much of an honor as winning a medal itself. Speculation as to who will get it this year should reach fever pitch right before the competition begins.
Your take: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s World Championships? Please leave a comment with your response below!
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