by Anna Rose Johnson
With the 2017 World Championships less than a week away, we can’t wait to watch these five major storylines unfold:
1. Battle Extraordinaire!
With the three 2016 Olympic all-around medalists taking a break from competition and a slew of rising stars looking to make their mark, it’s clear that the Montreal podium will be significantly different than anything we’ve seen in recent years. From perennial powerhouse USA, we’ll see 2017 P&G Championships all-around champion Ragan Smith. She’s gunning for her first Worlds medal to be gold. Russia’s Elena Eremina recently posted an enormous total — 57.900 — at the Russian Cup. Others in the mix with similar scoring potential include 2016 Olympic silver medalist Angelina Melnikova (RUS), Larisa Iordache (ROU, see more below), Asuka Teramoto (JPN), and Liu Tingting (CHN). Morgan Hurd (USA) also has definite medal potential. With Simone Biles on the sidelines, it’s the first real battle for gold in years on the women’s side, and there could be a number of names atop the podium.
2. Larisa’s Time?
Larisa Iordache has endured countless injuries and setbacks over the years. One of her first major senior international meets was the 2012 Olympics, where an injured foot reduced her medal opportunities. She might have otherwise challenged for gold on beam and floor. At the next three World Championships, Iordache succeeded in helping put the Romanian team back on the radar, winning an all-around silver at Worlds in 2014 and an all-around bronze the following year. Rio 2016 could have been the point in her career where she fulfilled many of her Olympic dreams, but Romania had only one women’s slot available on their team. Catalina Ponor was chosen over an injured Iordache who was not back to peak performance. This year has been a different experience for the 21-year-old Romanian star. After a great spring season in which she showcased a new beam routine, Iordache upped her game even further with an impressive victory at the World University Games in August. Could Iordache clinch her first World Championships gold medal?
3. King Kohei looks to defend!
The men’s all-around final could be a re-match between two-time Olympic all-around champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan (chasing his seventh consecutive World AA title in Montreal) and Rio runner-up Oleg Verniaiev of the Ukraine. At Uchimura’s most recent competition, his two-day total was 172.900, with his best individual score being a cumulative 86.550 on the second day. Verniaiev, on the other hand, scored an 88.300 at the 2017 World University Games. Will King Kohei continue to rule? Will Verniaiev finally sit atop the podium as the best male gymnast in the world?
4. Big Test for the U.S. Men!
Beyond veterans Alex Naddour, Sam Mikulak and Donnell Whittenburg, the U.S. men’s team is comprised of newcomers to the World Championship stage, including 2017 U.S. National Champion and 2017 American Cup champ Yul Moldauer, Eddie Penev and Marvin Kimble. The 21-year-old Moldauer, who competes for the University of Oklahoma, scored 86.650 on day 1 of P&Gs. Definitely medal-worthy numbers. The last American man to medal in the all-around was Jonathan Horton (bronze in 2010). This will be the first Worlds with Brett McClure at the helm for the U.S. program.
5. Underdog waiting to breakout?
The last time a Japanese woman won a Worlds medal was eight years ago at the 2009 World Championships, when Koko Tsurumi won bronze behind Team USA’s Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross, respectively. Since then, the team hasn’t returned to the podium, but 2017 could be its year. They’ve put together an incredible team that includes two-time Olympian Asuka Teramoto, World finalist Mai Murakami, and powerhouse tumbler Sae Miyakawa — all of whom have medal potential. Teramoto and Murakami are high-scoring all-arounders, and Murakami has been training an Amanar vault. Miyakawa notched one of the highest vault scores of the year with a 15.100 at the All-Japan Event Championships, and her floor D-score (6.2) is currently the highest in the world. Rounding out the team is the elegant Aiko Sugihara, a 2016 Olympian whom we chose for our 50 Most Photogenic list this year! Japan could be the breakout team of 2017 Worlds. Will they live up to their potential?