Publication date : 29/11/2018
It has been a thrilling 12 months with the return to form of some of the sport’s greatest names, the emergence of era-defining rivalries and the inspiring rise of nations new to Gymnastics’ top table. But even among all this one name stands out: Artur Dalaloyan.
Over the course of first the European Championships, held in August in Glasgow, Scotland, and then the Doha 2018 World Championships in October, Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan won five golds, two silvers and two bronze medals. The man from Moscow goes into 2019 as the men’s All-around world champion. In short, Men’s Artistic Gymnastics has a major new star.
“I have not had time yet to realise quite what happened,” Dalaloyan said from Moscow, where Doha 2018 fever is clearly still alive and well. “Since I returned to Russia, it has all been interviews on TV or for magazines or newspapers and I am still being asked.”
It is perhaps no surprise. Dalaloyan is the first Russian man to win the world All-around title since Nikolay Kryukov, one of the new hero’s former coaches, did it in Tianjin, China in 1999.
A strong Floor Exercise followed by a huge Vault, a nailed Parallel Bars routine and a smooth Horizontal Bar display made up for a slight slip on Pommel Horse and was just enough to secure Dalaloyan one of the most coveted titles in Olympic sport.
Artur Dalaloyan performs a vault at the 2018 European Championships (Photo courtesy of UEG/Volker Minkus)
China’s Xiao Ruoteng lost out on defending his crown on a tiebreak but the worrying thing for him and the rest of the field is that the Russian man believes he is just getting started.
“My motivation is not having won medals but having lost in the other apparatus,” said Dalaloyan, despite following up his All-around triumph with gold on Floor, silver on Vault and bronze on Parallel Bars. “In particular I want to make my Horizontal Bar and Pommel Horse of such quality that no one can match me, no one can beat me.”
Rising Russians versus confident Chinese
The 22-year-old is not the only Russian to have flexed his muscles in 2018. Compatriot Nikita Nagornyy took bronze in the All-around in Doha behind Dalaloyan, the pair combining to help the team win silver. And all this came on the back of a dominant display at the 2018 European Championships, where male Russian gymnasts claimed six of the 21 medals on offer.
“It was our coaches’ goal that we would be so successful this year,” Dalaloyan said. “They made us believe that we could be successful.”
Russia’s battle with China in Doha – the Chinese won team gold on the final routine of the final apparatus – is likely to set the template for next year’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany and perhaps beyond, to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Led by the untouchable Parallel Bars star Zou Jingyuan, the Chinese men have long since banished memories of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, at which they failed to pick up a single gold or silver medal.
As well as triumphing in Doha, China comfortably won team gold at the 2018 Asian Games, held in Jakarta, Indonesia in August – part of a haul totalling four golds, three silvers and four bronzes. Zou epitomised this new-found strength, winning every major Parallel Bars competition he entered in 2018.
It was more than enough to catch Dalaloyan’s eye.
“The first feeling of course was disappointment that we were so close to the gold medal,” the Russian said, reflecting on the World Championships team final. “But after a while, we started to understand that the Chinese team are simply stronger at this moment and the silver medal we won was what we deserved.”
New nations set pulses racing
While Chinese and Russian gymnasts are used to gracing podiums worldwide, 2018 also featured the electrifying appearance of new names from a host of lesser-known nations. Carlos Edriel Yulo (PHI) epitomised this step change. The 18–year-old turned a promising year, featuring two World Cup podium places, into an extraordinary one by claiming bronze on Floor in Doha to become the first Filipino or Filipina to win a World Championship medal.
Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan and the entire Turkish men’s team joined Yulo in celebrating break-out years. McClenaghan won gold on Pommel Horse at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 European Championships – twice beating two-time Olympic champion Max Whitlock (GBR) – while Ibrahim Colak (Still Rings) and Ahmet Onder (All-around) both won historic silver medals at the Europeans in Glasgow before helping the Turkish team finish 15th in Doha. It was comfortably enough to qualify the team for next year’s World Championships where qualification places for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be up for grabs.
“Men’s Gymnastics is definitely getting stronger, for sure. It is really cool that guys from all these different countries are showing off such good performances,” Dalaloyan said. “Yulo showed his skill and he is getting stronger and better on all the apparatus. That is really exciting.”
And it’s only going to get better in 2019…
The past 12 months were not all about new names and faces, however, with two of the sport’s greatest-ever individual apparatus competitors showing they very much still have it. First Greece’s Eleftherios Petrounias, the Rio 2016 Still Rings champion, won everything he entered in the discipline, even defying a serious shoulder injury to claim his third world title in Doha, before new dad Epke Zonderland (NED) flew to ever greater heights to reclaim the Horizontal Bar World Championship gold for the first time since 2014.
They and everyone else, however, will be looking out for a certain Russian when competition resumes at the 2019 All-around World Cup in Birmingham (GBR) in March.
“This was the best year of my life but it is just the start,” Dalaloyan said with a smile.