Russians Uliana Perebinosova, Lilia Akhaimova, and Tatiana Nabieva with Elisabeth Geurts of the Netherlands and Aiko Sugihara, Asuka Teramoto, and Hitomi Hatakeda of Japan
This year’s University Games, or Universiade as the competition is known throughout the world, begins tomorrow in Naples, Italy, with competition from some of the top university-aged gymnasts in the world.
Russia generally dominates the team competition at these Games, sending elite-level competitors who are often the same gymnasts we can expect to see in the mix for major international teams, but this year, Japan seems to be the team going all out, with recently-announced 2019 worlds team members Asuka Teramoto, Aiko Sugihara, and Hitomi Hatakeda capable of upsetting the reigning champs.
The Russian team is still a competitive one, however, with former worlds team members Lilia Akhaimova and Tatiana Nabieva leading the way alongside two-time junior European medalist Uliana Perebinosova. Japan is definitely the stronger of the two, especially as Teramoto is looking better than ever, and her two young teammates have been in top form at domestic meets this year, but it should still be interesting nonetheless, especially as a few other fierce teams are in the mix.
Both teams will have to fend off an incredible Italian team. With Olympians Carlotta Ferlito and Martina Rizzelli on the roster along with Olympic alternate and three-time worlds competitor Lara Mori, who is currently in third place in the world cup floor rankings going into the 2019-2020 Olympic qualification season, this team at one point would’ve been a dream team for an elite-level competition. With all three looking strong at earlier meets in 2019, they could absolutely contend with the top groups here.
Also coming in strong is Canada’s team, which features elite gymnast Jessica Dowling along with current NCAA gymnasts Denelle Pedrick of Central Michigan and Alana Fischer of Southeast Missouri. Both Dowling and Pedrick have Universiade experience under their belts, and were crucial members of the team that won silver in 2017, but this will be the international debut for Fischer, a regular in the all-around for SEMO.
I’m personally excited for Finland’s team, which features top elites Maija Leinonen and Rosanna Ojala along with Wilma Malin, Malaysia’s team will feature top senior competitors Farah Ann Abdul Hadi and Tan Ing Yueh along with relative newcomer Rachel Yeoh Li-Wen, the team from Chinese Taipei includes 2018 worlds team members Fang Ko-Ching and Wu Sing-Fen, and we’ll also see several strong individuals in the mix, like vault podium contender Marina Nekrasova of Azerbaijan, Valeriia Osipova and Yana Fedorova of Ukraine, Rifda Irfanaluthfi of Indonesia, Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia, and Demet Mutlu and Ekin Morova of Turkey.
Interestingly, Romania is sending Andreea Ciurusniuc as an individual, and it’ll be fun to see how it compares to the current crop of elites in the country. Ciurusniuc was once a top junior, but she kind of faded from view in the wake of Romania not qualifying a team in 2016, though she did compete at nationals in both 2017 and 2018, surprising to win the bars title last year.
Another blast from the past will be Germany’s Janine Berger, an Olympic vault finalist in 2012 who returned to regular Bundesliga competition in 2017 with a focus on vault and bars. Though she no longer has Olympic-level difficulty, she’s consistently one of the cleanest competitors around, and she often posts top scores for her first-league Ulm club.
The competition on the men’s side is also looking to be exciting, with the French and Italian programs sending fantastic teams, though the Japanese triple whammy of Kazuma Kaya alongside the Tanigawa brothers, Kakeru and Wataru, will be tough to beat. Russia will also have several strong contenders here, including Kirill Prokopev and Ivan Stretovich, and Ukraine and South Korea could also both be in the mix, but my hope for a surprise podium upset is the young Kazakh team that includes Milad Karimi, Nariman Kurbanov, and Akim Mussayev.
On the individual level, there are plenty of standouts, but some of the most notable in the eyes of gym fans are Lee Chih-Kai of Chinese Taipei coming in strong with the hopes of defending his pommel horse gold, Turkish heroes Ibrahim Colak and Ahmet Önder, who will be a bit tired after finishing the European Games this weekend but will nonetheless present a challenge, U.S. pommels phenom Stephen Nedoroscik, and fan favorite Heath Thorpe of Australia, who will be hoping to put up a huge floor routine in Naples.
The men will have the team competition (which also serves as the qualifier for the all-around and event finals) on Wednesday, July 3, and continuing on Thursday, July 4, while the first day of women’s competition will be held on Friday, July 5. The all-around finals for both the men and the women will take place on Saturday, July 6, while all ten apparatus finals will take place on Sunday, July 7.
|Ivan Tikhonov||Marina Nekrasova|
Heika Del Sol Salas
Luca La Pia
|Elizabeth Chan Tsz Sum
Ng Yan Yin
|Farah Ann Abdul Hadi
Tan Ing Yueh
Rachel Yeoh Li-Wen
|Fabian de Luna
|Nikolai Rønbeck||Thea Nygaard|
Article by Lauren Hopkins