For so long, the Gymnasts to Watch have come from four countries of the world: The United States, China, Russia and Romania. As we move into 2008, it is quickly becoming apparent that the best gymnasts are not exclusively from these four nations.
With the help of coaches who have migrated from South America to New Zealand, Korea, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, Great Britain, etc., international gymnastics is flourishing in ways it never has before.
Some of those who will be contenders for numerous Olympic medals aren’t mentioned on the following list. We know who they are. But sometimes the stories of the underdogs are equally compelling. Oksana Chusovitina’s fifth Olympics? Come on. That’s an achievement even those who snap up most of the gold in Beijing will never accomplish.
Shawn Johnson, USA: The 2007 World Champion will have all eyes on her this season, but she’ll be dealing with maintaining her position at the top of the podium instead of simply claiming it, as she did in every contest she entered last year. Many fans may watch Johnson with apprehension. After all, Johnson’s idol Kim Zmeskal, whose gymnastics greatly resembled Johnson’s own, looked darn unbeatable too going into 1992.
Shawn Johnson, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Floor Exercise:
Beth Tweddle, Great Britain: The most decorated gymnast in British history (a term I never thought I’d hear again after Shannon Miller retired) Tweddle is going into 2008 with what seems like all of England marching behind. Freak injuries in podium trainings and the like have robbed Tweddle the opportunity to compete her best at so many competitions.
Beth Tweddle, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Uneven Bars:
Jiang Yuyuan, China: She’s China’s rising star and a potential late-blooming all-around threat. With the Olympics being held in Beijing, it’s hard to imagine that Jiang won’t do well.
Jiang Yuyuan, 2007 World Championships Event Finals, Floor Exercise:
Aisha Gerber, Canada: She looked like the next Yvonne Tousek at the 2006 American Cup. After a tumultous 2007, with new coaches Kelly and Sue Manjak cheering her on, a revitalized Gerber wants to compete for Canada in Beijing. In order to do so however, she’ll have to prove she’s more worthy than Kristina Vaculik and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs.
Aisha Gerber, 2006 American Cup, Floor Exercise:
Vanessa Ferrari, Italy: The competitive spirit obviously rages inside this one. The question will be if she can hit all of her events — in the same day.
Vanessa Ferrari, 2006 World Championships All Around, Floor Exercise:
Daria Joura, Australia: She’s been a spunky and well-choreographed presence on the international scene since 2006. If she does everything she’s capable of in Beijing, she could be in the top five on several events.
Daria Joura, 2007 American Cup, Floor Exercise:
Hong Su Jong, Korea: Despite their particular prowess on vault and uneven bars, the Koreans have gone relatively unnoticed internationally. But at the 2007 World Championships, Hong showed the same vaults as Cheng Fei — an Amanar and Cheng’s own signature vault, which some argued Hong did better in Stuttgart. With Brazilian Jade Barbosa also performing the Cheng, it will be a battle to determine who’s going to do what in 2008.
Hong Su Jong, 2007 World Championships Event Finals, Vault:
Anna Pavlova, Russia: The gymnast once deemed Svetlana Khorkina’s successor on the Russian team has limped along since Athens, which was the last competition she really looked alive at. The rudderless Russian team has looked thrown for a loop most of the quad as well, despite immense depth and talent from upcoming juniors. The thing is, Pavlova nearly pulled off the upset of the quad in 2004 (many argue she should have had bronze), and there’s a feeling she does have more to give. If she puts the extra effort into her performance in Beijing as she did in Athens, we could see more from her and the Russians this year.
Anna Pavlova, 2004 Olympic Games All Around, Floor Exercise:
Bridget Sloan, USA: One of the USA’s “Bubble Girls,” the 2007 World Championships alternate is getting attention for her clean gymnastics, personality, consistency and self-choreographed floor routine.
Bridget Sloan, 2007 Beijing Test Event All Around, Floor Exercise:
Cerasela Patrascu, Romania: With veteran Catalina Ponor gone for good, this girl could be the top Romanian in Beijing. Her form is good, her skills are difficult and her presentation has a wonderful quality to it. Expect her — and not teammate Steliana Nistor, deserving as she is — to be the one to watch this year.
Cerasela Patrascu, 2007 World Championships Team Prelims, Uneven Bars:
Yulia Lozhechko, Russia: She’s got the long bodyline — if not the sass — of Khorkina, and her quality and steadiness on balance beam is thoroughly impressive. After being unceremoniously thrown off the Russian national team for disobeying her coaches in Stuttgart, one can only hope Lozhechko put her head down and kept training.
Yulia Lozhechko, 2007 European Championships Event Finals, Balance Beam:
Oksana Chusovitina, Germany: It’s taken four Olympiads, three countries and one child for Chusovitina to get to this point. Regardless of how she performs, whether or not she qualifies for vault finals, how could anyone not cheer for this woman?
Oksana Chusovitina, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Vault:
Tags: Aisha Gerber, Beth Tweddle, Bridget Sloan, Daria Joura, Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, He Kexin, Kim Zmeskal, Kristina Vaculik, Oksana Chusovitina, Shannon Miller, Shawn Johnson, Vanessa Ferrari, Yvonne Tousek