Publication date : 10/08/2018
More than 350 gymnasts from 60 nations are on the nominative roster for the 2018 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships next month in Sofia (BUL), where competition begins one month from today. Led by the dynamite duo of Arina and Dina Averina (RUS), all of the individual medalists — and the majority of the gymnasts from the group medallists — from the 2017 World Championships in Pesaro (ITA) are slated to return to the Arena Armeec Sofia.
The Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships will take place for the first time in the capital of Bulgaria, one of the most successful and influential nations in the discipline. Bulgaria previously played host to the competition in 1969 and 1987, both times in the Black Sea port of Varna. Two-time Olympian Maria Petrova (BUL), who won her first of three consecutive World All-around titles 25 years ago, will serve as the FIG Ambassador for the competition.
The World Championships will also serve as the first 2020 Olympic qualification, as the three medallists from the Group All-around competition will qualify to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (JPN).
Russia, which has topped the medal standings at the past 13 World Championships, is looking to extend its dominance in the discipline. Italy claimed second in Pesaro over the Japanese who jumped into third.
Averina twins: Dominant duo lead individual lineup
More than 150 gymnasts will vye for medals in the five individual events (All-around, Hoop, Ball, Clubs and Ribbon) as well as the combined team competition. Russia swept the individual gold medals in Pesaro, where the Averina twins delivered a truly dominating performance, finishing 1-2 in every event except Clubs where Arina won the bronze. Dina (first in the All-around, Hoop and Clubs) and Arina (first with the Ball and Ribbon, and second All-around) are once again the heavy favourites to shine in Sofia.
Arina and Dina Averina finished 1-2 in the All-around at the recent European Championships in Guadalajara (ESP). The identical twins, who will celebrate their 20th birthday on 13 August, will be joined in the team competition by Aleksandra Soldatova, returning for her third World Championships following 2014 in Izmir (TUR) and 2015 in Stuttgart (GER).
Linoy Ashram (ISR), a double bronze medallist in Pesaro (All-around, Ribbon), is slated to return in Sofia after her history-making performance of the past year as the first Israeli gymnast in any discipline to win a World Championships All-around medal and the overall World Cup series.
Katsiaryna Halkina (BLR), the Clubs silver medallist in Pesaro, won the All-around bronze at the European Championships in June. Kaho Minagawa (JPN), whose bronze medal with the Hoop in Pesaro was the first world medal for Japan in 42 years, will carry the hopes of the Olympic hosts.
The experienced Neviana Vladinova (BUL), the bronze medallist with the Ball in Pesaro, is hoping for another podium-worthy finish at home. Teammates Katrin Taseva, 10th in the All-around final in Pesaro, and newcomer Boryana Kaleyn will also represent Bulgaria at the Arena Armeec.
9 medals, three Olympic tickets at stake for group
36 countries will compete in the Group competition, which will see three medal events: Group All-around, 5 Hoops event, 3 Balls/2 Ropes event. The medal-winning nations in the Group All-around competition will earn automatic berths to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, while other nations will have further chances to qualify in 2019 and 2020 (click here for more on the 2020 Olympic qualification process.)
The Russian Group is the defending World Champion in both the All-around and 3 Balls/2 Ropes event, and the silver medallists in the 5 Hoops event. Five of Russia’s six gymnasts from Pesaro — Anastasia Bliznyuk, Maria Tolkacheva, Evgenia Levanova, Mariia Kravtsova and Kseniia Poliakova — are returning, with Anastasia Shishmakova replacing 2016 Olympic gold medallist Anastasia Tatareva.
The Russian Group claimed gold in the All-around at the Europeans, but the Russians will face heavy competition from rivals Italy and Bulgaria.
Italy, the defending World and European champions in the 5 Hoops exercise, will be represented in Sofia by five of the 2017 Group (Anna Basta, Martina Centofanti, Agnese Duranti, Alessia Maurelli, and Maria Santandrea). Letizia Cicconcelli will be competing in her first world championships as part of the Farfalle, having competed as an individual at the 2015 World Championships.
The Japanese Group showed historic results with three medals in Pesaro, where Japan won bronze medals in the All-around and 5 Hoops event, and the silver in the 3 Balls + 2 Ropes event. Four of Japan’s Group from 2017 (Mao Kunii, Rie Matsubara, Sayuri Sugimoto and Ayuka Suzuki) will be back in Sofia, where they are slated to be joined by Sakura Noshitani and Kiko Yokota.
The once-dominant Bulgarian Group is enjoying a rhythmic renaissance, taking the bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the silver medal in the All-around and a bronze medal (3 Balls + 2 Ropes) in Pesaro, and the gold medal in the 3 Balls + 2 Ropes event at the European Championships. The new group of “Golden Girls” slated to compete in Sofia are Elena Bineva, Simona Dyankova, Stefani Kiryakova, Madlen Radukanova, Kameliya Stoilova and Laura Traets (with Kiryakova replacing Teodora Aleksandrova, who underwent a foot operation after missing the European championships).
Ukraine (silver with the 5 Hoops at the European Championships) and Azerbaijan (bronze medallist with the 3 Balls + 2 Ropes at the Europeans) should also challenge for a podium place.