Russia’s ‘dream team’ unbeatable in Olympic rhythmic gymnastics

By Chen Yu, Xinhua,

Beijing : Russia’s “dream team” of world-class rhythmic gymnasts is widely expected to stage a perfect gold-winning show at the forthcoming Beijing Olympic Games as hosts China seek a breakthrough in the team event.

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Russia, a traditional rhythmic powerhouse, has proved to be unbeatable in nearly all major international events in recent years, and many believe the Beijing Olympics will be no exception.

Russian girls’ outstanding technical ability and artistic performance has given them superiority in rhythmic gymnastics. Though lesser players such as Italy, Bulgaria and Belarus are also considered capable contestants, their overall strength is no match for the Russians.

Analysts said though teams such as Italy, which won the silver medal for group all-round in Athens and two consecutive world championships, may have come close to Russia in terms of difficulty score, they are still lagging behind when it comes to artistry.

“I have a vision which team will rule rhythmic gymnastics at the Beijing Games,” said Irina Viner, head coach of Russia’s Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team. Though she declined to name the winner-to-be, her confidence in her girls is obvious.

“There will be a fiercer battle for rhythmic titles in Beijing, but for Russia, the pressure will be much less than in the Athens,” she said. In Athens, Russia netted both the individual and group titles.

The group rhythmic gold is something in the bag for Russia as it had claimed the group title in the past two Olympic Games and four world championships in a row. As the Russian quintet is as strong as ever, their defending the Olympic title in Beijing seems unquestionable.

In individual all-round competition, Russia also boasts world’s top-tier rhythmic gymnasts such as world and European champions Vera Sessina, Olga Kapranova and Evgenia Kanaeva.

Kanaeva, who won the individual all-round title at the 2008 Europeans in Torino, has been granted a spot for the Beijing Games, and the remaining spot will be given either to Kapranova or Sessina. No matter what the choice may be, Russia’s grip on the individual gold seems hard to break.

The only threat to Russia’s double-gold glory may come from Anna Bessonova of Ukraine, the bronze medallist at the 2004 Athens Games. Bessonova also won an individual all-round gold at the 2007 world championships, after taking silver medals in the 2003 and 2005 worlds.

A total of 12 teams and 24 individuals, most of them from Europe, will be competing for two rhythmic gold medals on offer in Beijing. As the world awaits to see the Europeans’ golden show, host China is seeking its first Olympic rhythmic medal, hopefully in the group event.

Chinese rhythmic gymnasts have made marked progress in recent years and have a good chance for a group medal in Beijing, said Zhao Yuxing, vice head of the gymnastics management centre of China’s State Sport General Bureau.

Xie Ying, director of the rhythmic gymnastics department at the gymnastics management center, echoed Zhao, saying that since the Athens Games, China has concentrated on a breakthrough in group event, and now it’s the time.

Xie admitted the chance for China to win an individual medal is nil, as China only has one player in the individual event at the Beijing Games, and the player, Xiao Yiming, gets there only because under the FIG rule, the host nation should have a representative in the event.

But a group medal for China is likely. Xie said Chinese rhythmic gymnasts have performed better as a group than as individuals. Though China has never made Olympic rhythmic individual finals, but it finished sixth in group event in Athens, 2004 and fifth in 1996 Atlanta. In the 2002 and 2003 worlds, China made it to the top eight. In two recent rhythmic international invitationals, China even nailed a third place.

Xie said China is now viewed as the best team in Asia which enjoys the advantage of exquisiteness of movements. “However, compared with European teams, we have much to do to improve our artistic performance and the artistic appeal of our routines and we are now working on these.”

“China, Italy, Bulgaria and Belarus are almost at the same level and the results will largely depend on their on-the-spot performance,” she added.