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Russian A-Squads Hope to Make Grade at University Games in Kazan
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Student athletes from around the world will converge at the brand new Gymnastics Centre in Kazan, where the 27th University Games begin this weekend.

New European all-around champions Aliya Mustafina and David Belyavsky headline the field as the Russians host the 27th University Games, which kick off Saturday in Kazan.

The Universiade is a multisport event held every two years for university athletes, and is second only to the Olympic Games in participation size. This year's event will see a record 13,500 athletes from 162 countries competing in 27 sports. The event is the largest held in Russia since the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and serves as warm up as the Russians organize the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The gymnastics competition features an impressive lineup, including full teams from Brazil, Canada, China, Great Britain, Japan, Korea, Russia and Ukraine.

Fresh off their success at April's European championships in Moscow, the Russians have sent their top eligible gymnasts to Kazan. In addition to Belyavsky, the Russian men's team includes Olympians Denis Ablyazin, Emin Garibov and Nikita Ignatyev. 2012 Ukrainian Olympian Nikolai Kuksenkov will be making his international debut for the Russian team in Kazan.

Japan, the defending champion from the 2011 University Games in Shenzhen, should battle it out with China, Russia and Ukraine for the men's title.

"Now we are in better condition than when we first came here. We have very strong rivals – Russia and China, but we need to focus on our performances, without worrying about what the others are doing," Japanese coach Hisashi Mizutori said after podium training.

Ukrainian star Oleg Vernyayev should challenge Belyavsky for the all-around title, while his European champion teammates Igor Radivilov (still rings) and Oleg Stepko (parallel bars) are also medal contenders in multiple events. Olympic champion Yang Hak-Seon of Korea, who now has a Tsukahara 3 1/2 in his arsenal, will need to fight off Radivilov and Ablyazin for the vault title.

"You should never think about medals, otherwise you'll mess up your program," said Ablyazin, who won vault at the European championships. "You need to do your thing, and what will be, will be."

The Russian women are the solid favorite to take the team title. In addition to Mustafina, the team also includes Ksenia Afanasyeva, Anna Dementyeva, Tatiana Nabiyeva and Maria Paseka.

Mustafina was a late arrival in Kazan, having been hospitalized last week with a bad case of the flu. Though it had been announced Monday she would not compete, Russian head coach Yevgeny Grebyonkin confirmed the world and Olympic champion is in Kazan and ready to go.

"Aliya is spoiling for a fight!" Grebyonkin said. "Everything will be as originally planned. Aliya was in the original lineup, and [2008 Olympian] Yekaterina Kramarenko was the alternate. Now we're back to the original version of our team. But Katya is training and will be ready, because you never know what might happen."

The competition will take place at the brand new Gymnastics Centre, which officially opened in November with two rhythmic competitions as test events. The gymnastics competition begins Sunday with the women's team event and individual qualification.

Fans from around the world can watch the action online, as more than 200 hours of live streaming and on-demand video will be available at The women's competition is scheduled to stream live at 10:30 a.m. local time (2:30 a.m. EST/11:30 p.m. PST).

External Link: Official Website

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