We continue the world cup series this weekend with the meet in Baku, where the competition is still looking a little weak — most of the world’s best will be at the team challenge in Stuttgart this weekend or holding out for next weekend’s meet at Doha, which will be a sort of dress rehearsal for this year’s world championships — but there will still be some great standouts on both the men’s and women’s side to look forward to.
Slovenia will be a standout program on a couple of events in Baku, with 2016 Olympian Teja Belak joining teammate Tjasa Kysselef, who just won the vault title at the world cup in Melbourne. These two will be strong vault medal contenders here, but they’ll have Oksana Chusovitina making a push for gold, so it should be a fun battle between the three of them. Chusovitina won gold at Baku last season, and she’s won about three billion world cup titles throughout her career, though while this is nothing new for her, it does mark the first competition of 2018 for the Uzbek superstar, who is hoping to compete at her eighth Olympic Games in 2020 and a world cup series title could be her ticket in. While this meet isn’t yet part of the Olympic qualifying series, it’s still an important step for her as she continues to fine-tune and prepare for that challenge.
China’s Luo Huan and Lyu Jiaqi will be the big — slash only, really — competition for the bars title this year. Luo was a standout in the bars final at worlds last year, and Lyu, generally a B-team kid for her national program, was the silver medalist at Cottbus with a fantastic set, so I’m looking forward to some intricate work from both of these ladies this weekend, though assuming they take gold and silver, the bronze is going to be completely up in the air.
I’m most excited for Ana Derek of Croatia on beam and floor, with her big leaps and always beautiful dance a treasure, and I also love watching Ioanna Xoulogi of Greece, Valeriia Osipova of Ukraine and Göksu Üctas Sanli of Turkey shine on these events as well. Üctas Sanli made a comeback in the sport in 2016 after giving birth to a daughter following her appearance at the London Games, and while beam and floor have been her standout events throughout her comeback, she was recently able to add solid sets on the other two, resulting in an all-around national title at age 27.
Her male counterpart at nationals this year, Turkey’s rising star Ahmet Önder, unfortunately had to withdraw from this competition due to an injury that should keep him out for about a month, but we’ll still get to see Ferhat Arican steal the show with his artistic flair on all of his events.
Floor is looking to be the most exciting and dramatic event for the men, where Dutch gymnasts Bart Deurloo and Bram Verhofstad will again face Tomas Gonzalez of Chile. When Deurloo reported a dead spot on the floor to the officials at Montreal, his teammate Verhofstad got the chance to go again, and his higher score the second time around ended up knocking Gonzalez out of the final. Gonzalez appealed the decision and the FIG added a ninth spot to the final just for him, so it was win-win in the end, but we can always cross our fingers for even more drama between these three bros in Baku.
New senior Carlos Edriel Yulo of the Philippines — who edged out some serious competitors to win a medal on vault in Melbourne, where he also showed outstanding work on floor — will also compete here, as will China’s pommel king Weng Hao, who struggled in Melbourne, beautiful vaulter and pommel flairs master Lee Chih Kai of Chinese Taipei, rings god Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece, and a bunch of Japan and China’s endless supply of C-team kids who will inevitably win every medal and we’ll never see them again (jk, these groups are mostly pretty established B teamers, but still).
A full list of competitors is below. The competition kicks off with qualifications held Thursday and Friday at noon, with finals held Saturday and Sunday at the same time.
|Hsu Ping Chien
Lee Chih Kai
Tseng Wei Sheng
Mohammad Moeen Safdari
Seyed Mohammad Shafiei
Anthony van Assche
John Matthew Vergara
Carlos Edriel Yulo
|Abdulaziz Salem Aljohani
Jaffar Saleh Alsayigh
Göksu Üctas Sanli
|Abdulla Azimov||Oksana Chusovitina|
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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