With Olympic berths available at the Artistic Gymnastics Individual Apparatus World Cup, the Doha leg of the series will see some high stakes competition. The four-day event, hosted by the Qatar Gymnastics Federation (QGF) for the 12th consecutive year, will begin today at the Aspire Dome, with first two days reserved for qualifications before two days of finals conclude the action.
With 2020 Tokyo Games a little more than a year away, gymnasts are in a race to book their spots through the World Cup series, which will run until March 2020. Points will be awarded according to placement on each individual apparatus and Olympic berths will be distributed based on these totals.
Qatar hosted a hugely successful World Championship last October and some of the leading names from that meet will be back to show their pyrotechnics at the World Cup. A total of 128 male and 60 female gymnasts from 57 countries will be in action with World horizontal bar champion Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands one of the biggest draws.
Unlike other gymnasts, Zonderland will be under less pressure in Doha, with the London 2012 Olympic gold medallist in touching distance of qualifying for the Olympics. A gymnast, if he or she wins three of the eight World Cup series, qualifies for the Olympics. And Zonderland has already won two events in Cottbus, the end of last year and last week at Baku and if he reigns supreme again in Doha this week, he would have already punched his ticket to Tokyo.
“After my victory in Cottbus - at the end of last year - and now Baku, my Olympic qualification goal is almost achieved. I also finished second in Melbourne last month. You receive 30 points per win. Out of the maximum number of 90 points, I now have 85 in my pocket. After Baku, the pressure is off me now and that’s nice. I have taken a giant step towards the Tokyo Games,” he said.
The Dutch however is not taking his success for granted. “Of course there is always the possibility that someone else gets the same number of points. In that case, the highest score achieved in an apparatus counts so that means that I will go for a high score during the World Cup in Doha. This time I will not compete against my competitors, but for myself. It gives me a good feeling that I can now go for my best exercise,” added Zonderland, who completed his medical training to become a doctor earlier this year.
Other prominent names who have confirmed their participation in Doha includes world champions Xiao Ruoteng and Zou Jingyuan of China. Ruoteng had beaten Great Britain’s defending champion Max Whitlock in the tie-breaker to win the men’s pommel horse gold at the World Championships.
Jingyuan, winner of the men’s parallel bars at the 2017 Worlds and the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, is hoping to warm up for the Tokyo Olympics by winning World Cup events along the way.
Romania’s 38-year-old Marian Dragulescu will also be back to compete with a younger generation of athletes. Ferhat Arican, who became the first Turkish male gymnast after 108 years to compete at an Olympics at Rio 2016, will also hope to pick up a medal on parallel bar.
Among the women, seven-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina will return to Doha in pursuit of her eighth appearance at the Games. The 43-year-old Uzbek took silver in Baku to lead the overall rankings after three events.
“I want to qualify for the Olympics and I will try all possible options. Since I don’t have a team, it’s a little bit easier for me to qualify compared to gymnasts from other countries. I can qualify both through the World Championships and the World Cups,” said Chusovitina. If Chusovitina gets to compete in Tokyo, she will become the only athlete in the world to have participated in eight Olympic Games since 1992.
Jade Carey will be the in-form gymnast on floor exercise and vault. The American won both the events in Baku and she will look to cap off another good week at Aspire Dome. Known for her incredible skill on the uneven bars, Belgian gymnast Nina Derwael will be showcasing her talent which clinched her gold at the World Championship.
Meanwhile, hosts Qatar will field three men’s gymnasts – Ahmed al-Dayani, Ahmed Mosa and Raslan Saoud – in the event. Al-Dayani and Mosa have experience of competing at the World Cup events while Saoud will make his senior debut at his home turf.
“We are hoping for a good performance from our athletes as they have trained well for this important competition,” said QGF president Ali al-Hitmi. “Raslan Saoud is a talented gymnast from Aspire and we are happy to see him featuring in his first senior competition. We are thankful to Aspire, which is making huge contribution in promotion of gymnastics in the country,” he added.
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