Some sports (track and field, most forms of skiing) are big in the Olympics and have well-established international competitions through the year. Some sports wallow in obscurity, even at the Games.
Then there’s gymnastics, one of the biggest sports in the Games but one shrouded in mystery the rest of the time. U.S. gymnasts stay busy with domestic events, some of which attract a couple of overseas athletes, but the sport doesn’t have the weekly showdowns of top names that some sports maintain each year. The international federation keeps world rankings, but Chinese and American gymnasts in particular are underrepresented.
Gymnastics does have an annual World Championship, so we have a few results to check. But don’t ask which countries have the best 15-year-olds training in secret, ready to be breakout stars in London.
China is always strong in gymnastics, but repeating their medal haul from Beijing would be quite an accomplishment.
ARTISTIC (the traditional kind)
Men’s all-around: Japan’s Kōhei Uchimura has won two straight world titles. Beyond that, results have been less predictable. Britain has some home hopefuls in Daniel Keatings (silver, 2009) and Daniel Purvis (fifth, 2010). Last year’s podium: Uchimura, Philipp Boy (Germany), Jonathan Horton (USA).
2008: Yang Wei (China), Kōhei Uchimura (Japan), Benoît Caranobe (France)
Projection: Japan, Britain, USA
Top Americans: Horton brings plenty of experience to the Games. Teen sensation Danell Leyva was 18th in 2010.
Men’s team all-around: Though China showed little in the individual all-around, the deep team took the 2010 world title, followed by Japan and Germany. The USA finished well ahead of the pack for fourth.
2008: China, Japan, USA
Projection: China, Japan, Germany
Men’s floor exercise: Greek teen Eleftherios Kosmidis won the 2010 Worlds, followed by the omnipresent Uchimura and Britain’s Daniel Purvis. Israel’s Alexander Shatilov took third in 2009 and fourth in 2010.
2008: Zou Kai (China), Gervasio Deferr (Spain), Anton Golotsutskov (Russia)
Projection: Greece, Japan, Israel
Top Americans: Steven Legendre has qualified for the final in two straight World Championships, finishing eighth each time.
Men’s horizontal bar: China hasn’t relinquished the title here, with gold medalist Zou Kai winning in 2009 and Zhang Chenglong taking over in 2010. The Netherlands’ Epke Zonderland is the two-time defending runner-up. Germany finished 3-4 in 2010: bronze medalist Fabian Hambüchen and all-arounder Philipp Boy.
2008: Zou Kai (China), Jonathan Horton (USA), Fabian Hambüchen (Germany)
Projection: China, Netherlands, Germany
Top Americans: Horton competed in another final in 2009, placing eighth. Danell Leyva and Christopher Brooks finished 5-6 in 2010.
Men’s parallel bars: The last two World Championship podiums: China, China, Japan. The only consistent name in the bunch was Feng Zhe (second in 2009, first in 2010).
2008: Li Xiaopeng (China), Yoo Won-Chul (South Korea), Anton Fokin (Uzbekistan)
Projection: China, China, Japan
Top Americans: No one in last three finals.
Men’s pommel horse: China defended this title with Zhang Hongtao in 2009 and disappeared in 2010. British hopeful Louis Smith, a bronze medalist in 2008, reached the final again in 2009 and took second in 2010. Hungary’s Krisztián Berki took second in 2009 and won in 2010, while Australia’s Prasnanth Sellathurai has taken bronze two straight years.
2008: Xiao Qin (China), Filip Ude (Croatia), Louis Smith (Britain)
Projection: Hungary, Britain, Australia
Top Americans: Timothy McNeill made the 2009 final, finishing fifth.
Men’s rings: Gold medalist Chen Yibing reclaimed the title in 2010, bumping countryman and 2009 world champion Yan Mingyong to second. Italy’s Matteo Morandi moved up from sixth in 2009 to third in 2010.
2008: Chen Yibing (China), Yang Wei (China), Oleksandr Vorobiov (Ukraine)
Projection: China, China, Italy
Top Americans: Not a strong event.
Men’s vault: France’s Thomas Bouhail has been in the top five in three straight majors — silver in 2008, fifth in 2009, world champion in 2010. Russia’s Anton Golotsutskov has been even more consistent, following up Olympic bronze with World Championship bronze in 2009 and silver in 2010. Romania had two gymnasts in the 2008 final, and they finished 1-2 (Marian Drăgulescu, Flavius Koczi) in 2009.
2008: Leszek Blanik (Poland), Thomas Bouhail (France), Anton Golotsutskov (Russia)
Projection: France, Russia, Romania
Top Americans: No one in the last three finals.
Women’s all-around: The USA keeps producing all-around contenders. With the big names sitting out 2009, Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross finished 1-2. Bross returned for bronze in 2010 behind young Russian Aliya Mustafina and China’s Jiang Yuyuan.
2008: Nastia Liukin (USA), Shawn Johnson (USA), Yang Yilin (China)
Projection: Russia, USA, China
Top Americans: Whoever qualifies. Liukin and Johnson haven’t really retired.
Women’s team all-around: Russia edged the USA (175.397-175.196) for the 2010 world title, with China well ahead of Romania for bronze.
2008: China, USA, Romania
Projection: Russia, USA, China
Women’s balance beam: China’s Deng Linlin and Australia’s Lauren Mitchell finished 1-2 in 2009 and stayed in the top four in 2010, with Deng tying the USA’s Rebecca Bross for silver and Mitchell finishing fourth. Romania’s Ana Porgras won the 2010 title.
2008: Shawn Johnson (USA), Nastia Liukin (USA), Cheng Fei (China)
Projection: Romania, USA, China
Top Americans: Ivana Hong took bronze in 2009. Veteran Alicia Sacramone was fifth in 2010 while Bross finished on the podium.
Women’s floor exercise: Elizabeth Tweddle won the 2009 world title, but the British gymnast is going through her mid-20s and might be a long shot at home. Australia’s Lauren Mitchell was second in 2009, first in 2010. All-around champion Aliya Mustafina of Russia was second in 2010, with Romania’s Diana Maria Chelaru third.
2008: Sandra Izbaşa (Romania), Shawn Johnson (USA), Nastia Liukin (USA)
Projection: Australia, Russia, Romania
Top Americans: Without Liukin and Johnson in action, Americans have missed the podium in two straight World Championships. Rebecca Bross was fifth in 2009; Alexandra Raisman fourth in 2010.
Women’s uneven bars: Maybe we shouldn’t count out Tweddle just yet — she won this event ahead of Mustafina and Bross in 2010. He Kexin, the 2008 Olympic and 2009 World champion, dropped to seventh in 2010.
2008: He Kexin (China), Nastia Liukin (USA), Yang Yilin (China)
Projection: Russia, Britain, USA
Top Americans: Bross also tied for bronze in 2009. Bridget Sloan finished fifth in 2009, fourth in 2010.
Women’s vault: After missing out on an Olympic medal, the USA rebounded for two straight world titles — Kayla Williams in 2009, Alicia Sacramone in 2010. Mustafina took silver in 2010. Brazilian Jade Barbosa took bronze just ahead of 2009 runner-up Ariella Kaeslin of Switzerland.
2008: Hong Un Jong (North Korea), Oksana Chusovitina (Germany), Cheng Fei (China)
Projection: USA, Russia, Switzerland
Top Americans: Williams and Sacramone.
Team: Italy has no one of note in the individual results, and yet they put together team routines that have won two straight world titles. The whole podium has been the same two straight years: Italy, Belarus, Russia.
2008: Russia, China, Belarus
Projection: Italy, Belarus, Russia
Top Americans: Finished 22nd in 2010.
Individual: Evgeniya Kanaeva finished first in hoops, clubs and ribbon in 2008, easily winning the gold. In 2009, she swept all four disciplines. In 2010, for sake of variety, Daria Kondakova and Daria Dmitrieva won rope and ribbon while Kanaeva won everything else. Kondakova has been runner-up for two straight years. The interesting battle is for bronze, with Belarus’s Melitina Staniouta edging Azerbaijan’s Aliya Garayeva in 2010.
2008: Evgeniya Kanaeva (Russia), Olga Kapranova (Russia), Anna Bessonova (Ukraine)
Projection: Russia, Russia, Belarus
Top Americans: Julie Zetlin finished 23rd in 2010.
Men: One of the events I saw on my “eight venues, one day” trip in Beijing. TV doesn’t do this event justice. These people jump higher than most people can throw a basketball. Dong Dong, the bronze medalist in Beijing, has won two straight world titles, which ought to ensure countless immature blog posts as we head to London. Gold medalist Lu Chunlong was second in 2009 and was replaced on the 2010 podium by countryman Ye Shuai. Japan’s Yasuhiro Ueyama has finished third two years in a row.
2008: Lu Chunlong (China), Jason Burnett (Canada), Dong Dong (China)
Projection: China, China, Japan
Top Americans: None in last two world finals, though Logan Dooley and Steven Gluckstein competed in a synchro event.
Women: Another event in which the names change but the country doesn’t. China has finished 1-2 in the last two World Championships. Huang Shanshan won in 2009 and was second to Li Dan in 2010. Next up, surprisingly enough, is Canada. Karen Cockburn was third in 2009. Rosannagh MacLennan was fourth in 2009, third in 2010. Britain’s Bryony Page finished fourth in 2010, offering some hope for the hosts.
2008: He Wenna (China), Karen Cockburn (Canada), Ekaterina Khilko (Ukraine)
Projection: China, Canada, Britain
Top Americans: None in 2010