If you want a jump-start on research for the 2012 Olympic Games, the world gymnastics championships in Rotterdam are must-see TV. There are no world championships for swimming and diving or track and field this year, and the recent Commonwealth Games featured minor-league talent for the most part. Even the FIBA world championships were void of several superstars.
Rotterdam is the first step toward the London Games. The top 24 countries will advance to the 2011 world championships in Tokyo, where the top eight finishers are guaranteed Olympic spots.
Qualifying at the worlds begins this weekend, with the team finals coming on Wednesday (women) and Thursday (men). The all-around finals take place next Friday, and the meet ends on Oct. 23-24 with additional finals. Below, SI.com previews the meet:
National team coordinator
Sacramone, most remembered for her balance beam blunder at the Beijing Olympics, is the group veteran. In addition to her team silver from Beijing, she owns seven world championship medals dating back to 2005. She left the sport after the 2008 Olympics, but felt the itch to compete again last year. Despite a year off, the rust is already gone. At the U.S. championships in August, Sacramone won vault and finished second on balance beam. She's a medal contender in both events at worlds.
Sloan was unable to defend her national all-around title two months ago due to a pectoral injury. That seems to have passed, though, and Károlyi tabbed the defending world all-around champion to be one of the two U.S. all-around entries.
Sloan's biggest threat in the all-around was thought to be 2010 U.S. champion
The remainder of the U.S. team is made up of worlds rookies.
Though they are all strong, one of the seven U.S. women will have to be relegated to an alternate by Károlyi before the team finals.
Reigning Olympic champion China brings back four gymnasts from 2008, including
Russia gets a chance to make up for a fourth-place team finish in Beijing, the first time it failed to medal since the breakup of the Soviet Union. They're led by three names sure to give announcers fits:
Romania ruled the sport a decade ago, but faded after the 2004 Athens Olympics. The oft-criticized constructor of those great teams,
Great Britain's team can't match the world powers, but they do have
After years of playing a subsidiary role to the U.S. women, the American men can't be ignored anymore. They medaled at two of the last four world championships and the last two Olympics. Their team boasts an Olympic all-around champion,
Hamm's second comeback attempt has been the biggest news since the U.S. won bronze in Beijing. The 2004 Olympic champ made a run at the 2008 Games, only to be stymied by injury and fade back into retirement. He re-resumed full training earlier this year and said he hopes to be on the national team again in 2011.
Given the 28-year-old Hamm's return, and that Olympic rosters will be trimmed from six to five in 2012, the U.S. men's team will be in flux moving forward. For now, Horton and Cuban-born
Horton, 24, was the leader of the Hamm-less 2008 Olympic team, winning silver on high bar. He has been plagued by off nights at big meets however. For all his accomplishments, he's never won a worlds medal. At the Olympics, he was world class in the team final though, and it would not be surprising if he leaves Rotterdam as the best gymnast on the planet.
Leyva could also prove to have a breakthrough meet. He debuted at the 2009 world championships as a 17-year-old and took fourth on high bar. Leyva then gave Horton a serious run at nationals in August, cementing himself as second best in the U.S.
NCAA All-Americas round out the roster:
The discussion of the best in the world in men's gymnastics starts and ends with China. Whether it's the team final, the all-around final or event finals, the Chinese own the podium. This year should be no different. The Chinese are so deep, their national all-around champion,
Rival Japan counters with reigning all-around world champ
Germany is without national champ
So the battle for team bronze could come down to the U.S., Russia and Romania. The Russians will count on Olympic and world bronze medalist
Finally, it's worth noting