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What to watch at the World Gymnastics

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Ollie Williams | 06:45 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011


Winning medals at a World Championships would normally be the ambition for anyone.

But for Britain's gymnasts, the priority over the next 10 days in Tokyo is qualifying for London 2012.

For the first time in modern gymnastics, Britain has an excellent chance of sending a full complement of 10 gymnasts to an Olympics.

To do that, the two British teams here - men's and women's - must finish in the top eight after team qualifying at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Given the British men came through qualifying at last year's Worlds in fourth, and the women fifth, that target is well within reach. But it means thoughts of medals can wait.

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Beth Tweddle wins the uneven bars world title in 2010 (UK only)

"We are very clear that our priority is to qualify both of our teams for London at this first opportunity," said performance director Tim Jones.

"From the way our preparations in recent weeks have gone and the quality of the gymnasts, we believe we have every chance of achieving this goal."

At a major gymnastics event, qualifying works by sending your team of six gymnasts in to perform on every piece of apparatus - the British women go on Saturday evening Japanese time (1200 BST), and the men on Monday morning (0315 BST).

Add up the four best scores your gymnasts produce on each piece, and that gives you the team's overall total. The top eight nations' teams go through to the team final - which will be Tuesday for women, Wednesday for men. The scores from qualifying are also used to determine who goes into the individual finals, which run from Thursday to Sunday.

So one qualifying session goes a long way. Places in this year's finals and next year's Olympics rest on those British performances on Saturday and Monday.

If it doesn't happen, all is not lost. Teams who come through qualification in ninth to 16th place must instead go to the Olympic test event, at London's O2 Arena in January next year, and the top four teams there will still make it to the Games.

But that would be far from ideal for the British team. They want to make sure of qualification for the Games now, leaving them the whole winter for gymnasts to recover from Worlds, plan their 2012 campaign and have the maximum time to prepare the very best routines. As outspoken pommel horse star Louis Smith constantly reminds people, you need to have something up your sleeve for the Olympic event to surprise your rivals and the judges.

If you have to haul yourselves to the Olympic test event and qualify via that route, it means an extra "peak" after the months-long process of building up your athlete for a major event, which takes up their time and energy, and that of their coaches.

Far easier to get the job done now and use those months planning for 2012 rather than biting your nails off in worry about just getting there. Unthinkably, if Britain's teams failed to make the top four there, as few as two Brits (a man and a woman) could end up competing at the Games. That scenario is possible, but very unlikely.

You can understand the urgency all this lends to qualifying. However, if Britain come through that successfully, then finals will start to matter again.

Daniel Keatings

Dan Keatings - praying for injury-free return to action (Photo: PA)

Beth Tweddle is the current uneven bars world champion, having nailed her routine - one of the most complex in the world - in Rotterdam last year as Chinese duo He Kexin and Huang Qiushuang both fell.

Those two are both back this year and will be determined to lift a title which, had they stayed on the bars, they had every chance of winning last time. That's what the sport is about, balancing the higher score you get for trickier moves against the risk of messing it up.

One of Tweddle's assets lies in usually striking that balance. As she said after winning the title: "It was theirs to lose and mine to gain. That's what happened."

Tweddle may also be a threat on the floor, a title she won in 2009 before failing to reach the 2010 final (won by Australia's Lauren Mitchell, an overdue world gold for her).

Watch out for GB's Hannah Whelan in the all-around event (all four pieces of apparatus), a final which has been blown wide open by the absence of Russian superstar Aliya Mustafina, who suffered ligament damage at the European Championships earlier this year.

Mustafina reached every final last year and won all-around gold. Russia's leading lights are Youth Olympic champion Viktoria Komova and European champion Anna Dementyeva in her place.

Injury has also hampered the American team. Only two of the US women's squad who travelled here have previous Worlds experience, and both of those - Alicia Sacramone and Aly Raisman - have picked up knocks since arriving, in Sacramone's case to the extent that she can't compete. How the young US team copes, particularly 16-year-old newcomer Jordyn Wieber, will be interesting.

In the men's events, Smith's personality has earned him the poster-boy tag ahead of 2012 but he needs a strong performance here in Tokyo. At the very least, he needs to stay on the horse.

Smith fell from the apparatus at this year's European Championships, as he did at the World Championships in London two years ago. Again, he's trying to balance an incredibly difficult routine against the risk of falling.

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Louis Smith falls from the pommel horse at the 2011 Euros (UK only)

"It's the hardest routine in the world and it's what hopefully will set me apart and help me stand out," he recently told the BBC.

If executed perfectly, that routine will win Smith an Olympic gold medal. However, if it only has (say) a 50% success rate, at what point does that become too much of a liability to take to the Games?

Daniel Keatings returns to the World Championships for the first time since winning all-around silver in 2009, following a year out with ligament damage sustained just after becoming the European champion in 2010.

Hearteningly for the British team, Keatings reckons he's in better form than ever. If that proves the case, he and Dan Purvis, a world bronze medallist on the floor from last year, will lend GB an exceptionally strong core.

China, as ever, are the major medal threat across the men's events. Only one of the seven men named in their squad has not previously won at least one world title and he, Guo Weiyang, is the current national all-around champion.

But keep an eye on hosts Japan, too. We're inside the venue where Japanese men won five of the eight Olympic titles available on home turf at the 1964 Games, and the team this year looks as strong.

Star name Kohei Uchimura is looking to make history as the first man to win the all-around title three times in a row. And the Tanaka family should be out in force to see not one but three of their children in action: Kazuhito and Yusuke Tanaka in the men's events, and sister Rie in the women's. Mum and dad were both gymnasts, too.

Some useful links:

- British squad for 2011 Worlds
- Schedule and BBC coverage details
- My tweets from Japan


  • Comment number 1.

    Am confident that both teams will qualify here, especially the Men.

    In terms of medals I also think Britain will match & possibly even exceed the 3 medals they won. I think the men have a chance in the team event & also both Dans in the All Around - I actually think Purvis could be the star here & don't want to put too much pressure on Keatings in his first major champs since returning from injury. In terms of the apparatus finals the usual suspects should challenge Tweddle on both Floor & Bars, Keatings/Smith on Pommel & Purvis on Floor.

    It will be interesting to see how the talented young American team perform in the absence of their more experienced colleagues. Chinese men are probably favourites for the Team but I can't see past Uchimura on home soil for the All Around.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am relatively confident that the Men will get the job done, having said that, there are a lot of good teams all striving for Olympic qualification; Japan, on home soil with the untouchable Uchimura, will be going for Gold. Their neighbours China will have routines packed with difficulty making them a hard team to beat. Likewise the USA are always a big threat, Danell Leyva has been looking good recently and will be leading their charge in the AA. Germany, like us have a strong young team, and will welcome back Hambuchen from injury, together with European champion and world silver medallist Phillipp Boy, the Germans will be trying to improve on last years bronze. Other teams to look out for will also be the French, Russians, South Koreans and Romanians. We undoubtedly have the strongest British team ever, at the recent British championships, the top 3 all scored over 90, a feat unthinkable just a few years ago. The team will also benefit from training camps and competition experience in Japan. This has all contributed to a fantastic atmosphere and belief amongst the team and I think this will be most important in securing qualification.

    In terms of medal hopes, Dan Purvis should contend on floor, Louis and Dan Keatings will hopefully make Pommel final, Kristian is capable of making the vault final and Keatings' style and execution could possibly give him a shot at the Pbar final. With regard to the AA, depending on how qualification goes, Keatings, Purvis or Thomas could all make the top 24 with Keatings and Purvis capable of pushing for a podium spot.

    My knowledge of women's gymnastics is not as great but in all honesty, I think it will be a struggle for them, they do not have the strength and depth of the British men and aside from Beth and possibly Hannah, I am not confident that we have a team ready for the World stage. That said, I would love to be proved wrong and hope that we are able to qualify two whole teams for the games.

    Finally I'd like to wish good luck to the Irish team, I used to train with Kieran Behan and hope that he can carry on his good form from the recent world cup event to become the first gymnast to represent Ireland at the Olympics

  • Comment number 3.

    I think both teams will get a top 8 finish. I see the women in 5th or 6th and the men anywhere between 3rd and 6th. I love the fact that as a team they are concentrating on qualifying as a team. You don't often get such unselfish behaviour.

    On the womens side China and Russia are the two lead teams. Usa are always strong but are fielding a depleted team. Roumania are also not the force they once were, but the return of Belyui as head coach might ensure they are top 4. After that Australia, France, Holland, Italy and south korea are normally the teams we will have to beat to ensure an automatic qualification.

    On The mens side China and Japan dominate. Third should be a tussel between GB, Usa, Germany & Russia.

    Isn't it odd how so few ex soviet republics are now a dominant force. Belorussia and Ukraine were always a factor in the past.

    Really looking forward to the return of Keatings and Downey and hope to see improvements from the young guns.

  • Comment number 4.

    You also want to keep an eye out for the USA men's team. They came 4th last year and are fired up to get a place on the podium. Danell Leyva is looking strong too.

    The women's All Around is going to be Jordyn Wieber's to lose. With both Mustafina and Bross out the picture who ends up on that podium is wide open. The women's team final will also be interesting one with Russia, USA and Romania lacking some of their veteran star gymnasts. There's a lot of younger talent this year who will be experiencing worlds for the first time - they have the potential to do well, but it's whether they've got that mental toughness to bring it when it counts.


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