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World Gymnastics Championships

August 16, 2003|Helene Elliott

Individuals and teams to watch:

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WOMEN

* Elena Gomez, Spain: Gold medalist in floor exercise at last year's World Championships. Strong and precise performer on a team that has interesting routines and lots of potential.

* Daniele Hypolito, Brazil: A dynamic athlete, she won her nation's first gymnastics medal, a silver in floor exercise, at the 2001 World Championships.

* Svetlana Khorkina, Russia: Tall (5-4) by gymnastics standards and incomparably elegant, she has made the uneven bars her domain. She won gold medals in her signature event at the 2000 and 1996 Olympics. Khorkina, 24, is the defending world and European all-around champion. Says this will be her final World Championships.

* Andreea Munteanu, Romania: The Romanian national champion. The latest in a string of agile, remarkably skilled gymnasts from her homeland.

* Carly Patterson, U.S.: Made a huge splash in her first senior season when she won the American Cup and Pacific Challenge all-around titles. Small but powerful, and strong in every event. Missed the U.S. championships because of an elbow injury but could be a medalist if she's fit.

* Anna Pavlova, Russia: The European junior all-around champion, she emerged this year to win the Russian Cup. She has defeated Khorkina and teammate Natalia Ziganshina this year.

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MEN

* Ivan Ivankov, Belarus: Two-time world all-around champion will skip all-around because of a bad back. Tore his Achilles' tendon before the 1996 Atlanta Olympics but came back to win the 1997 world all-around title. He also won in 1994.

* Jordan Jovtchev, Bulgaria: Personable and durable, the 30-year-old won bronze medals at the Sydney Olympics in floor exercise and rings. He won the 2001 world titles in floor exercise and rings and won silver in floor exercise and still rings last year at Hungary. He has trained in the U.S. since after the 1996 Olympics.

* Li Xiao Peng, China: Only double-gold medalist at last year's World meet, on parallel bars and vault. He was a member of China's triumphant men's team at the Sydney Olympics and also won gold on parallel bars. He was the 1999 world vault champion. Does some of the most difficult vaults in the world.

* Eric Lopez, Cuba: At 30, he's a four-time Pan Am all-around champion. Best event is parallel bars.

* Alexei Nemov, Russia: A crowd-pleaser because of his charisma and formidable skills. Won gold at the Sydney Olympics in the all-around and high bar, silver in floor exercise and bronze in pommel horse, parallel bars and the team event. He did seven consecutive release and catch elements in sequence on the high bar. His haul at Atlanta in 1996 was equally impressive: He won gold in the vault and team events, silver in the all-around and bronze on floor exercise, pommel horse and high bar.

* Marius Daniel Urzica, Romania: Won the world pommel horse title in 2002 and is a solid overall performer.

* Maras Vlasios, Greece: Won the world high bar title in 2001 and 2002. Steady and strong and sure to get strong crowd support at Athens.

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TEAMS

WOMEN

* China: Precise technically and capable of remarkably difficult tricks, especially on the uneven bars.

* Romania: Winner of last five women's world team titles. Didn't have an individual gold medalist last year at Hungary but still considered a power because of promising youngsters.

* Russia: Can't be counted out because of Khorkina's longevity and the ability of newcomer Pavlova. However, injuries to some veterans might hurt its chances of winning gold for the first time since 1991, before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

* Ukraine: Precise and technically polished, well worth watching. Irina Yarotska won bronze on the balance beam at last year's World Championships and is considered even better on the uneven bars. They have some impressive tricks but have in the past battled nerves.

* United States: 2002 world champion Courtney Kupets (uneven bars) returns, backing first-year seniors Patterson and Hollie Vise. Cuban-born Annia Hatch, now a U.S. citizen, does vaults few other women attempt. Add Tasha Schwikert's experience, and it's a potent mix.

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MEN

* Belarus: The defending world champion has placed in the top three in each of the last three World Championships in which a team title was awarded. Probably not very deep, but still good enough to challenge for a top-three spot.

* China: Champion in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999. Always formidable and deep, and led by double 2002 gold medalist Li and 2002 world vault bronze medalist Yang Wei.. They're so good, 2001 world all-around champion Feng Jing couldn't make the team. Few can match their skills.

* Greece: The nation that will play host to the 2004 Games has made a concerted effort to upgrade its skills and has done well.

* Japan: A perennial power, but it didn't send a team to the last full World Championships in 2001 because of security concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks. No one seems to have a read on them, but they usually reel off intricate routines.

* Romania: Urzica and Marian Dragulescu are outstanding competitors and consistent enough to carry their team.

* Russia: Always deep, always doing remarkably difficult skills, and able to count on gymnasts with vast international experience such as Nemov.

* Ukraine: Silver medalists at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and bronze medalists at the 2001 World Championships, they might not be as deep as others but that's less crucial in the three-up, three-count team final format.

* United States: If the Yanks hit, they can win a medal. U.S. all-around champion Paul Hamm missed an all-around medal at the 2001 World Championships only because of a fall on his last event, and he has that as motivation in Anaheim. Blaine Wilson and Jason Gatson have international experience and guts.

-- Helene Elliott

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