By Inside Gymnastics Staff

Day 1 of the competition in Kitakyushu is complete and we’re starting to see who’s here to play and who just might be feeling fatigued after an exceptionally long road to these World Championships.

For the U.S. women, 2020 Olympic alternates Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello grace the top of the All-Around standings after the seventh of ten subdivisions. Hatakeda Hitomi (JPN) currently sits third with a 53.798.

Wong’s 55.749 led the way while DiCello finished in second with a 55.700. The top 24 competitors – with a maximum of two gymnasts per country – advance to Thursday’s All-Around final. Qualifications also determine who will compete in the individual apparatus finals, which will be held over the weekend. The top eight gymnasts, in accordance with the two-athlete-per-country limit, will advance.

With four solid events and her trademark technique and style on full display today, Wong also held the lead on floor with a 14.0 through five subdivisions until sentimental favorite and Olympic floor bronze medalist Murakami Mai (JPN), who is more than hinting this her final competition, took the lead with a 14.166. After the competition, Wong told the media it felt good to compete in Japan after being in quarantine for 10 days in Tokyo when her teammate Kara Eaker was diagnosed with COVID-19. She was happy with her performance today and felt it was a good warm up for the All-Around final. She also said of course she’d like to win the gold medal, but is trying not to think about that.

When she hits, Wong can easily challenge for the top spot, and that’s exactly what she’s done here so far, setting the stage for what is shaping up to be a very interesting All-Around final. (Hint: Vladislava Urazova (RUS) is now slated to compete four events in Qualifications.)

DiCello looked very strong across all events and showed improvement since we last saw her compete in St. Louis at Olympic Trials. She said she is definitely looking to medal here and was most happy with floor today. “I feel like I performed more than I have before and my landings were good,” she said. She has upped her performance quality across all events and she could certainly challenge for the All-Around crown in Kitakyushu.

eMjae Frazier and Konnor McClain also marked their World Championships debuts Monday. Frazier delivered the third-highest floor tally through Subdivision 3 with a 13.166, but was edged out of event final by teammates DiCello and Wong. Similarly, McClain finished just behind DiCello and Wong on beam, posting a 13.466. Frazier also competed on uneven bars, notching a 12.000 after a missed toe-on piked Tkatchev.

In the overall standings, Elisabeth Geurts (NED) is currently first on vault, and Wei Xiaoyuan (CHN) is leading bars with a 14.733 while her teammate Luo Rui is leading beam with a 14.566. DiCello (13.800) is sitting third on floor behind Murakami and Wong.

Look for more of what we saw and what we loved so far, including what 2019 bars silver medalist Becky Downie (GBR) had to say to the media (she’s sitting sixth on bars right now), and what we anticipate in the remaining subdivisions (Team Russia, Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade) coming later today on!

Team USA at a Glance

For the past eight years, Simone Biles and Sam Mikulak have been the face of gymnastics in the United States. However, with Biles currently touring the country with no further competition plans announced, and Mikulak recently retired, some fresh faces will have the opportunity to step up in Kitakyushu—setting the pace for the next Olympic cycle and the next generation of Team USA. The women’s team features four first-time World team members loaded with talent and potential. 2020 Olympic alternates Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello will lead the pack as the most experienced members on the women’s side and perhaps the U.S.’s best hope for an All-Around medal.

Both Wong and DiCello have high scoring potential if they can put together four events. DiCello is the 2019 Junior National All-Around Champion as well as the 2019 Junior World Champion on vault, while Wong is the 2018 Junior National All-Around Champion and 2019 American Cup Champion. DiCello in particular looked strong in the selection camp earning the automatic berth after day one as well as in podium training here, while Wong has the potential for one of the top-scoring floor routines if she hits and performs the way we know she can. They will be joined by Konnor McClain, who is a two-time junior national champion on beam, and eMjae Frazier who was a part of the gold medal winning team at the 2020 Friendship and Solidarity meet. McClain could be the U.S. team’s best hope for a medal on beam while Frazier will strive to get into the floor final and bring home a medal there. With a mixed level of international experience, selection camp results, and a bit of a rough go in podium training for McClain and Frazier in particular, it will be interesting to say the least to see the lineup high-performance coordinator Tom Forster puts together for Qualifications.

On the men’s side, 2020 Olympian Yul Moldauer and two-time World team member Donnell Whittenburg both just so happen to be individual World bronze medalists (Moldauer on floor in 2017 and Whittenburg on vault in 2015) and have a great opportunity to do it again in 2021. There is no shortage of talent for the U.S. men with three Olympians on the team, including 2021 U.S. All-Around Champion Brody Malone and 2020 Olympic pommel horse finalist Alec Yoder. Malone, along with Moldauer, have great potential to win an All-Around medal, which hasn’t happened for the U.S. men since Jonathan Horton won bronze in 2010. Pommel horse is where Yoder comes in. The horse has long been thought of as a weak event for the U.S. men, but with Yoder, who was sixth in the pommel horse final in Tokyo, and 2021 U.S. pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik, the U.S. could put up a good fight for a medal on that event. Rounding out the team is 2020 Olympic alternate Alex Diab who is the reigning U.S. still rings national champion and could contend for a medal there.

Click here for the full competition and broadcast schedule.

Photos Image no. 21101875 – Volker Minkus; Image no. 21101881 – Volker Minkus; FIG

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