Who’s Here, Who’s Not

By Christy Sandmaier, Ashlee Buhler contributing

The 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart were supposed to pave the way to Tokyo for so many gymnasts. Then the pandemic hit, altering training plans and both physical and mental preparation, forcing these athletes into the ultimate challenge. And while most of the All-Around and individual medalists from Worlds are set to compete at the Games this week, setting up storylines we’ll see play out on the world’s biggest stage, there are also notable names who are missing from the roster, or on the comeback trail from untimely injuries and facing a challenge reaching the podium. It’s survival of the fittest and we can’t wait to see how it plays out!

With the breaking news today that a U.S. women’s team member tested positive for COVID-19, later confirmed as an alternate, we are more convinced than ever that this Games is going to be a wild ride. 

In the meantime, here’s our Quick Take on the Stuttgart medalists (plus some) and what to expect from them in Tokyo.

Women’s Field

25-time world medalist Simone Biles (USA), of course, will be in Tokyo and after a year-long pandemic, not only maintained her incredible arsenal of skills, but introduced us to new ones – namely the Yurchenko double pike she unveiled at the U.S. Classic earlier this year. As of now, all systems are go for her to do it Tokyo and add yet another namesake skill to her legendary list. Aside from vault, Biles will challenge for gold on every event and is the absolute favorite for All-Around gold. 

Angelina Melnikova (RUS), who won gold at the 2019 European Games and was a bronze medalist in the All-Around at Worlds, is also very much in contention for the All-Around podium as well as bars, beam and floor medals. Teammate Viktoria Listunova, who was not originally eligible for Tokyo due to the age limit, has been thrust into the spotlight and just may be  Russia’s top scoring athlete at the Games. (Look for more on Listunova later this week in our Top 10 Storylines to Follow feature!)

Nina Derwael (BEL) will absolutely be in the hunt for her first Olympic gold medal on bars, but will face a challenge from Suni Lee (USA). The two last faced off at Worlds in 2019 where Derwael took home the gold and Lee the bronze. However, both gymnasts have since upped their difficulty level, which will make the race for gold in Tokyo tighter than ever. At the Osijek World Challenge Cup earlier this year, Derwael debuted a Nabieva 1/2, which helped bring her D-score from a 6.5 to 6.7. Lee has a 6.4 D-score, but when she hits all the connections she is capable of, she can have a 6.8 D-score (which she did for the first time in competition at the 2021 U.S. Championships on Day 1). The uneven bar final might just become a game of tenths and one of the closest battles of the competition! Of course, both have to qualify which seems like a certainty, but as we know in an Olympic Games, anything can happen.

Elsewhere, it’s a battle between the best of the best for spots in the finals. Jade Carey is competing as an individual for Team USA and obviously has the potential to make finals (and medal) and both vault and floor. She’ll face a challenge from teammate MyKayla Skinner, also competing as an individual, and from Biles, to get the second spot in the vault final.

In one of the more heartbreaking stories, sisters Ellie Downie and Becky Downie will not be in Tokyo competing for Great Britain, leaving the door open on vault and on bars. We will truly miss their presence at the Games and will see if teammate Jessica Gadirova, 2021 European Floor champion can bring home some hardware on that event for Team GBR.

For Team China, Liu Tingting and Li Shijia are also not on the roster, leaving the opportunity for new faces to reach the balance beam podium. China has a solid group of athletes on beam who can bring in big scores like 2019 Junior Worlds All-Around bronze medalist Ou Yushan (keep your eyes on that 7.0 D-score).

Biles is sure to dominate but the Olympic Games is often full of beautiful surprises when it comes to individual medalists. Think Sanne Wevers (NED) winning gold on beam in Rio! The Tokyo story is about to written and we’re ready to go.

2019 Worlds Results

Women’s Team

USA (172.330)

Russia (166.529)

Italy (164.796)

Women’s All-Around

Simone Biles, USA (58.999)

Tang Xijing, CHN (56.899)

Angelina Melnikova, RUS (56.399)

Women’s Vault

Simone Biles, USA (15.399)

Jade Carey, USA (14.883)

Ellie Downie, GBR (14.816)

Uneven Bars

Nina Derwael, BEL (15.233)

Becky Downie, GBR (15.0)

Sunisa Lee, USA (14.8)

Balance Beam

Simone Biles, USA (15.066)

Liu Tingting, CHN  (14.433)

Li Shijia, CHN (14.3)

Women’s Floor Exercise

Simone Biles, USA (15.133)

Sunisa Lee, USA (14.133)

Angelina Melnikova, RUS (14.066)

Men’s Field

For the men, All-Around Champion Nikita Nagornyy (RUS) is also in Tokyo and looks better than ever. Having had a stellar competition at the 2021 Europeans capturing the All-Around title and debuting a new skill on floor – a triple back pike. If he hits, 2020 Olympic All-Around Champion is Nagornyy’s crown to capture.

2018 World All-Around Champion Artur Dalaloyan (RUS) has made a remarkable comeback from injury in a very short time to make the team and Russian dominance on the men’s side could very well be one of the top stories of the Games.

Like the women, all of the individual event champions from Stuttgart for the men will also be in Tokyo, setting up an epic battle for the medals.

Defending Olympic Champion Kohei Uchimura (JPN),  is not expected to do All-Around, making room for a new champion to reign supreme and even though he wasn’t in Stuttgart, he’s expected to challenge for the podium on his one event, high bar. Meanwhile, Max Whitlock (GBR) will look to defend two Olympic titles: floor and pommel horse. On the latter, if he shows up with the 7.0 D-score routine he had at the 2019 World Championships, he will be tough to beat!

Notably absent from the men’s competition will be Oleg Verniaiev (UKR) who was suspended pending a doping violation. Seven months after first being listed as provisionally suspended by the International Gymnastics Federation, Olympic champion Verniaiev  finally spoke up about his situation – “The [Gymnastics Ethics Foundation] arbitration decided that the concentration of meldonium that was found in my body is sufficient to disqualify me for four years,”  – was posted to Verniaiev’s Instagram account last week, according to a translation.

Arthur Nory (BRA) is a crowd favorite and no one was more shocked (and joyful) than Nory himself to capture gold on high bar in Stuttgart. If he hits, it could be a storybook finish to the Games.

At the end of the day, we’re preparing right now for Russian dominance and definitely home country magic from the Japanese men’s team to be sure.

2019 Worlds Results

Men’s Team

Russia (261.726)

China (260.729)

Japan (258.159)

Men’s All-Around

Nikita Nagornyy, RUS (88.772)

Artur Dalaloyan, RUS (87.165)

Oleg Verniaiev, UKR (86.973)

Men’s Floor Exercise

Carlos Yulo, PHI (15.3)

Artem Dolgopyat, ISR (15.2)

Xiao Ruoteng, CHN (14.933)

Pommel Horse

Max Whitlock, GBR (15.5)

Lee Chih Kai, TPE (15.433)

Rhys McClenaghan, IRL (15.4)

Still Rings

Ibrahim Colak, TUR (14.933)

Marco Lodadio, ITA (14.9)

Samir Ait Said, FRA (14.8)

Vault

Nikita Nagornyy, RUS (14.966)

Artur Dalaloyan, RUS (14.933)

Igor Radivilov, UKR (14.749)

Parallel Bars

Joe Fraser, GBR (15.0)

Ahmet Onder, TUR (14.983)

Kazuma Kaya, JPN (14.966)

High Bar

Arthur Nory, BRA (14.9)

Tin Srbic, CRO (14.666)

Artur Dalaloyan, RUS (14.533)

For full team rosters, click here!

For the schedule, click here!

Photos by Ricardo Bufolin for Inside Gymnastics

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