Monday, August 11, 2008

Artistic Gymnastics Day 2 Preview: United States and China the favorites

(BEIJING, August 9) -- A total of 98 women will be competing in the Women's Artistic Gymnastics at Beijing 2008. Seventy-two gymnasts will be participating in the team and individual competitions, while the other 26 will compete only in the individual competitions. A total of six gold medals will be awarded in the women's competition, including Team, Vault, Balance Beam, Uneven Bars, Floor Exercise and All-Around.

The top 12 teams from the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany qualified for Beijing 2008. The top three qualifiers were the United States, China and Romania. The top eight teams from the qualification round of the Olympic competition will advance to the final round of the Team competition, which will be held on August 13.

Romania won the Team gold at Athens 2004, with the United States taking the silver and Russia taking the bronze. After a disappointing performance at Athens 2004, China will be looking to win a Team medal at home and its strong performance in Stuttgart is a sign that it is on track. China will be the first team to perform in the qualification round this Sunday.

Artistic Gymnastics Day 2 Preview: United States and China the favorites
Cheng Fei of China competes on the floor. (Photo Credit: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Gymnasts to look out for on the Chinese team include Yang Yilin, a native of Guangdong province. Yang is an Uneven Bars specialist, but is also seen as a chance for a medal in the All-Around event. He Kexin is also an expert on the Uneven Bars and has publicly stated that her goal at Beijing 2008 is to beat the United States' Nastia Liukin. Probably China's most well-known female gymnast is 20-year-old Cheng Fei, from Hunan province. Cheng competed at Athens 2004, but did not win a medal. She is a specialist in the Vault and Floor Exercise events.

The United States will be the favorite for the Team gold medal after being the top nation at the 2007 World Championships. The team will be spearheaded by 16-year-old Shawn Johnson, a native of Iowa. Johnson won the All-Around gold medal at the 2007 World Championships as well as winning gold in the Team and Floor Exercise events. Russian-born Nastia Liukin will be the favorite for gold in the Uneven Bars event, but will face stiff competition from China, which regards the event as its specialty.

Women's Artistic Gymnastics Day 1 Preview: United States and China the favorites
Sandra Izbasa is the spearhead of the Romanian Women's Gymnastics team (Photo Credit: Getty)

Romania continues to be a gymnastics powerhouse, with a third place at the 2007 World Championships. Its two leading gymnasts will be Sandra Izbasa and Steliana Nistor. Izbasa won a gold medal in the Floor Exercise at the 2006 European Championships in Volas, Greece. Nistor is the most experienced gymnast on Romania's team and will be a medal threat in the All-Around and Balance Beam.

Russia will be nervous of missing out on its first team medal since 1952 after it performed poorly at the 2007 World Championships. The key to its Olympic campaign will be 21-year-old Anna Pavlova, who has been touted as the heir apparent to the retired Svetlana Khorkina, a seven-time Olympic medalist. Pavlova was very close to winning an All-Around medal at Athens, finishing fourth. Her best event is vault. Ksenia Semenova is Russia's strongest individual medal hope – she won the gold in Uneven Bars at the 2007 World Championship, beating Nastia Liukin.

Italy and Great Britain could muscle in and have a chance to win a team medal on the back of some outstanding individual talent. Italy's Vanessa Ferrari won an All-Around gold medal at the 2006 World Championships and earned a total of three gold medals at the 2006 and 2007 World Championships. Aside from giving Italy a chance to snare a Team medal, she will be looking to win individual medals in the All-Around and Floor Exercise events.

Women's Artistic Gymnastics Day 1 Preview: United States and China the favorites
Uneven Bars specialist Nastia Liukin from the United States. (Photo Credit: Getty)

South African-born Beth Tweddle is reputed to the best British gymnast of all time. In 2006, she won gold in the Uneven Bars at both the World and European Championships. Great Britain finished sixth at the 2007 World Championships, one place behind Italy.

Artistic Gymnastics will be held at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium, which has a seating capacity of approximately 20,000. The design of the stadium is intended to resemble an unfolded Chinese fan.

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