With the competition in Stuttgart shaping up to be just as much or more about who isn’t competing as much as who is, the ten months leading up to Tokyo 2020 are more important than ever. Many headline-capturing competitors on both the men’s and women’s side are missed at this competition because of the incredible excitement, history, and talent they bring to the floor.
Photos by Grace Chiu
Through a plethora of reasons—including injury and fatigue—some athletes have decided to rest, train smart and pace themselves in push for the Games instead of risking further injury in Stuttgart. Others are missing not by choice, but by circumstance.
Japan’s Mai Murakami is resting her back injury, which is the reason she did not compete in the qualifying event in Japan, the NHK Cup. Japan chose its team early, and Mai—who placed second at the All-Japan Championships with a 56.665 (notably two points higher than Japan’s highest AA total in Stuttgart qualifications) was left off the team. As the 2017 World floor champion and 2018 World all-around silver medalist, Murakami is one of Japan’s star athletes and could have contributed significant scores to the team’s total here.
The legendary Kohei Uchimura is also out as he continues to struggle with a string of injuries that began with his untimely ankle injury at 2017 Worlds. After failing to qualify to 2019 Worlds via the NHK Cup—Japan’s first World Championships trial competition—Uchimura decided to forego the All-Japan Apparatus Championships, his last opportunity to make the World team. Will he be able to return to top form in time for the 2020 Olympics in his home country for a well-deserved coronation?
Add to that list, Kenzo Shirai. Shirai was not chosen for the team, continuing to suffer from a left ankle injury. A power athlete, with vault and floor his strongest events, he was third on vault and a surprising fifth on floor, and was therefore not chosen to be a part of the Stuttgart team. His triple-double on floor will not be here to rival that of USA’s Simone Biles, but he is at home rehabbing and ramping up for next year.
Russian star Aliya Mustafina is also not in Stuttgart. Mustafina skipped a domestic Russian qualifying meet earlier this year. “I can’t qualify for the World Championships,” the seven-time Olympic medalist said. “At the moment, I choose to find myself physically, morally, rest a little. I want to start my way to Tokyo with a brand-new energy,” she told the Olympic Channel. Mustafina, 24, is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic or World Championships AA medal, back in 2010 in her first year as a senior gymnast. A series of injuries followed, including surgeries on both knees and her left ankle. She earned AA bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and uneven bars titles at both Games. In 2018, she finished fifth on bars at worlds 16 months after having her daughter, Alisa. Will Tokyo be her return to competition and her swan song?
For the U.S., the women’s team is missing two of their top athletes: Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker. As we’ve learned, reputation and past performance—even including a World Championships all-around gold and recent Pan American Games success—does not ensure team selection.
McCusker was not selected for the team after she did not attend the World Selection camp held in Florida. Her battle with Rhabdomyolysis, a systemic muscle breakdown issue based on a combination of overtraining and fatigue, left the entire gymnastics community concerned and sending well-wishes for a safe, healthy path to recovery. McCusker fairs well internationally due to her combination of power and elegance and beautiful lines, as well as stand-out scores on uneven bars. At home resting, she plans to join the team for the continuation of the World Cup series when she is medically cleared.
Montreal 2017 World all-around champion Hurd is at home watching this week as one of two non-traveling alternates (2019 American Cup champion Leanne Wong is the other), after having a slightly disappointing U.S. Championships in August (fourth in AA after a floor fall on night one), given her recent success. She attended both the early September camp as well as World Team Selection camp but her ninth place finish there, where she again faltered on uneven bars and floor exercise, left her position in jeopardy. Even though her D-scores clearly allow her potential medal contention, perhaps her inconsistency was too much risk for the U.S. team given the depth of the field.
Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari has had a storied career, yet injury after injury has forced her out of meets, including her Achilles re-injury on floor finals in Montreal World Championships in 2017, after just recovering from surgery in 2016. She has been on the world scene since 2004, and was the World all-around champ in 2006. Tokyo would mark her 17th year as an international elite and her fourth-place finish on floor in the Rio 2016 Olympics fueled her desire to train for the next quad. She plans on continuing the World Cup Olympic qualification route in November in Cottbus and is currently sitting second in line for the spot for floor exercise, behind the USA’s Jade Carey, who is also vying for the vault spot. Since the FIG rules only allow one event spot for each athlete, this opens up the door for Ferrari.