Uchimura is once more favourite to take home gold
The world’s best gymnasts have congregated on the Antwerp Sports Palace in Belgium for the 2013 World Championships, 110 years after the inaugural event in the same city.
|Men's All-Around||Kohei Uchimura||Samuel Mikulak||Fabien Hambuechen|
|Women's All-Around||Aliya Mustafina||Larisa Iordache||Kyla Ross|
With no team competition at this year’s Worlds, attention is turned to individual performances and there is one man who stands out above the rest.
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura is the gymnast to beat in the men’s all-around event. The Olympic champion is bidding for a fourth consecutive World Championship title and he finished top of the pile in qualifying with a score of 91.924, over two full points clear of his closest challenger.
In the absence of Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas and defending champion Jordyn Wieber, the women’s event is more open than the men’s.
Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, a gold medal winner in the uneven bars and a bronze medallist in the all-around at London 2012, takes her spot as the favourite in Antwerp.
Here’s a look at who could finish the week with a medal draped around their neck.
Kohei Uchimura – Japan
With Marcel Nguyen and Danell Leyva, who finished second and third to Uchimura in London, missing out on the Worlds, the Japanese star is expected to take home a fourth all-around world title.
Uchimura had become the first man in history to win three in a row when he captured gold in front of his home crowd in Tokyo in 2011, so he is looking to break his own record in Antwerp.
Anything can happen in a sport that involves violent acts of motion combined with absolute precision but Uchimura has made keeping calm under pressure a trademark during his decorated career.
Samuel Mikulak – USA
Mikulak, who was crowned the 2013 NCAA champion, finished second in qualifying with a total score of 89.532.
The crowd pleaser, whose dancing skills can be seen below, looked the most relaxed out of all the competitors and he executed well in qualifying.
The American will be hoping to be among the medals on Thursday but, barring a miracle, it won’t be gold.
Fabien Hambuechen – Germany
Hambuechen made some mistakes in qualifying, finishing seventh on 88.064 points, but he is one to keep an eye on in Thursday’s final.
He knows how to win medals, capturing the 2009 European all-around title before adding an Olympic silver on the high bar to his collection at last summer’s Games.
The experienced German was touted as one of the main challengers to Uchimura ahead of the competition and if he can bring his best form then he will be in contention for a top three finish.
Best of the rest
With less than one point separating second and fifth place, the final push for medals promises to provide some drama.
Uchimura’s compatriot Ryohei Kato currently sits in third place, but he is closely followed by China’s Chaopan Lin and Shixlong Zhou and Brazil’s Sergio Sasaki Junior.
Members of Britain’s Olympic bronze medal-winning team Daniel Purvis and Max Whitlock also qualified in eighth and tenth respectively.
Purvis told BBC Sport ahead of the competition that his aim was to qualify in the top eight of the all-around.
“If you’re in the top eight, you have every chance of top three. It’s quite an open field.”
Aliya Mustafina – Russia
As reported by the BBC’s Ollie Williams, 2010 world champion Mustafina experienced less than ideal preparations for the World Championships.
Infighting within the Russian federation saw her coach, Alexander Alexandrov, leave to train the Brazilian national team. Despite the pre-competition upheaval, the 18-year-old is still favourite to take home gold.
Simone Biles – USA
In a field that included Olympic gold medal winners Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney, the inexperienced 16-year-old impressed in winning the US Championships in August.
Biles will have her work cut out in Antwerp, however, but if she can stay composed under pressure then she has the talent to challenge the event’s veterans.
Best of the rest
Biles’ American teammate Ross looked impressive in qualifying. At just 15 years of age Ross was part of her country’s famous gold medal-winning team—known as the "Fierce Five"—at last year’s Olympics.
Now 16, the young American has another year’s experience under her belt and she will be pushing for a place amongst the medals in Belgium.
Also keep an eye out for Romania’s Larisa Iordache, who came away from the 2013 European Championships with four medals, including silver in the all-around event.