The first day of qualification comes to a close in Subdivision 6, when the much buzzed-about Russian and British squads take to the floor of the Ahoy Arena.
The Russian women have emerged from a 10-year slump re-energized and with a new outlook, and it's thanks to some old blood: team manager Andrei Rodionenko, who moved back from Canada in 2005, and new head coach Alexander Alexandrov, who returned in 2008 after 14 years coaching at various clubs in Texas.
Will Yekaterina Kurbatova and a relaxed Russian team cruise ahead of China in Subdivision 6?
Rodionenko has reorganized Russia's program into better development and cultivation of both talented gymnasts and coaches. [The federation estimates nearly 250 elite coaches have emigrated to other countries.] The results are evident in their new 1-2 punch of Aliya Mustafina and Tatiana Nabiyeva, former junior stars who have successfully transitioned to healthy seniors.
In May, Russia won its first European team title since 2002, and has the tricks to pull off a bigger victory in Rotterdam. But the team will need to finally shrug off its record for inconsistency, which cost strong Russian teams gold medals at the 1997 and 1999 Worlds and 2000 Olympics.
Led by the phenomenal Beth Tweddle, Great Britain rallied to second ahead of Romania at the Europeans in Birmingham. The British gymnasts continue to impress as the 2012 Olympics in London approach.
Like the other top teams, Russia could afford multiple falls in preliminaries with little chance of not being in the top eight. But at stake is also qualification to individual events, and Russia has gold-medal contenders on every event. The team begins on vault where three gymnasts — Mustafina, Nabiyeva and European champion Yekaterina Kurbatova — plan two attempts each to qualify to finals. All three are powerful vaulters but need to work on form (especially Nabiyeva) and technique (Kurbatova). If Anna Pavlova's knee had been healthier, there was a good chance the team would have brought her to contribute.
Bars is where Nabiyeva — one of the most aggressive competitors on the floor today — really shines. This girl wants to win, and she also wants her name in the Code of Points for her toe-on layout Tkatchev. Mustafina is also outstanding on uneven bars, where her lengthy routine sometimes ends in a 1 1/2-twisting double back. Of note is that all six gymnasts on the Russian team perform Shaposhnikova-halfs or Maloney-halfs on uneven bars.
First-year senior Anna Dementyeva, a classically beautiful Russian gymnast, is deservedly last up on beam, where she is capable of the team's highest D score.
The Russians were inconsistent on their tumbling in podium training, but watch for Ksenia Afanasyeva's difficult first two runs (double layout; two whips to triple twist). Semyonova may open with a simple double tuck to save her ankles from her inconsistent new double layout mount. Mustafina really shows off her elegance on floor and is capable of outstanding landings if she's on.
Sweden: Uneven Bars
Sweden sent two gymnasts to Rotterdam, including fan favorite Veronica Wagner, who plans to compete balance beam only. Wagner, a 2004 Olympian, qualified for her second Olympics in 2008 only to find out the Swedish Olympic Committee declined to send her to Beijing. She managed to overcome her disappointment and keep training, finishing 21st all-around at the 2009 Worlds.
France: Floor Exercise
The five-member French team is without top gymnast Youna Dufournet, who has not recovered from the knee injury she suffered when in a bizarre fall off uneven bars during the national championships in May. Dufournet, who won the bronze medal on vault at the 2009 Worlds, was the French women's best hope for another medal in Rotterdam.
The French then lost first-year senior Clara Della Vedova to an ankle injury in late September, and moved alternate Eva Maurin onto the team. Then Rose-Eliandre Bellemare suffered a knee injury landing a vault in Rotterdam.
France was 10th in qualification at the 2006 Worlds, and seventh in 2007. The top 24 should be no problem for France, but team finals seem out of reach this year.
Great Britain: Floor Exercise
Great Britain begins on floor exercise, meaning it will end the night on beam, its most dreaded apparatus. The team should get enormous scores on uneven bars and floor exercise from megastar Beth Tweddle, who continues to look better sharper at each competition. Tweddle will be gunning to defend her floor exercise title from 2009, and with a new double-twisting double dismount, recapture the world title on uneven bar she won in 2006.
The team deservedly has promoted alternate Imogen Cairns onto the team after her inspiring performance for England at the Commonwealth Games. Cairns suffered double injuries to her feet after the 2008 Olympics, and underwent two surgeries. After six months on crutches, she finally started training again when her doctor told her nothing she could do could make her feet any worse. Her routines in Delhi, where she won golds on vault and floor exercise, were not only consistent but elegant.
Next Up in Subdivision 7:: the U.S., Hungary and South Africa. Go to our schedule page to download Sunday's start list!
Chat with other fans as you follow IG Publisher Paul Ziert's live commentary from the Ahoy Arena, broadcast simultaneously on IG's official Facebook Page and Twitter account!