After months of hard work, training, toil, and competition, the climax of the 2018 elite gymnastics season and the start of the official path to qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in two years’ time is here, the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha.

After the first World Championships of the new quadrennium last year in Montreal saw individual champions crowned, the focus will be on the teams again in Qatar this season as the U.S. women will go for their fourth consecutive team gold medal, with the top three teams automatically qualifying squads of four to the next Olympic Games in Tokyo. With a thrilling Worlds on the horizon in Doha, here is a look at the top team and individual contenders over the next week in Doha:

United States

Team: Simone Biles, Kara Eaker, Morgan Hurd, Grace McCallum, Riley McCusker

The U.S. women enter these World Championships as the favorite to win the team title. As long as the team can avoid a disastrous competition, they should have no problem running away with the gold medal once again. The U.S. have been undefeated in World and Olympic team competitions since 2011 and have the talent to defend their title this year.

A lot is on the line for Simone Biles, who is favored to win multiple gold medals, including her fourth World all-around title. Biles is really the only athlete who has the potential to sweep all the titles in Doha with massive difficulty scores of 6.4, 6.2, 6.5, and 6.6 across all four events. On vault, she plans to compete a new vault, a half on double off, in hopes of getting it named after her.

Simone Biles on floor at the U.S. Championships Photo: Winslow Townson

Reigning World all-around champion Morgan Hurd returns to the World Championships looking more confident and polished than she did last year. While her chances of defending her title are slim due to the sheer greatness and dominance of her American teammate, she will be a valuable asset in the team competition with the potential to make any of the four event lineups. Hurd also has the potential to make the all-around, balance beam, and floor exercise finals if she hits.

Riley McCusker will be fighting with Hurd for the second U.S. all-around spot. Her greatest contribution will come on bars where she has a big 6.0 difficulty score, the second highest start value for the U.S. team behind Biles.

Grace McCallum has proven she’s a consistent option for the team and could realistically be used on vault and floor in the team final. Kara Eaker is tremendous on beam and has the potential for a huge score if she hits. Her routines has a big 6.6 difficulty score if she hits all her connections, which is a tenth higher than Biles. If all goes well, Eaker could take home an individual medal on this event.

Russia

Team: Angelina Melnikova, Aliya Mustafina, Irina Alexeeva, Angelina Simakova, Lilia Akhaimova

It will be tough for any team to dethrone the U.S. women from their position of late on top of the team podium, but the closest squad to doing that will be Russia. Coming into Doha as the silver-medal team favorites will be the Russian squad consisting of Angelina Melnikova, Aliya Mustafina, Irina Alexeeva, Angelina Simakova, and Lilia Akhaimova, a talented group surely with the potential to win second. The biggest question for the Russian team will be hitting each routine, given past inconsistencies from several members of the Russian squad.

Heading to Doha as the top Russian performer and a possible all-around medal threat will be Angelina Melnikova, one of the world’s best across all four events. Melnikova posses the capability to reach all four event finals if she hits, especially on vault and floor. In training in Doha, Melnikova debuted a Cheng vault to her Yurchenko double-full, a combination that could help her contend for the vault final.

Photo: Reuters

Two-time Olympic uneven bars gold-medalist Aliya Mustafina and Irina Alexeeva will both contribute to Russia on the bars and beam, where both will look to possibly reach the event final. Mustafina is just coming back to the sport after giving birth last year but the Russian great will be contributing to her team in any way she can, also possibly doing floor if necessary.

On vault, Simakova and Akhaimova will also both have the difficulty to reach the vault final depending on their execution on the apparatus.

China

Team: Chen Yile, Liu Tingting, Luo Huan, Liu Jinru, Zhang Jin

China will be battling for a spot on the team podium this year, bringing great routines on bars and beam but lacking some difficulty on vault and floor. With only four team members who have shown a floor routine this year, China needs all team members to be at full strength during competition. First-year senior phenom Chen Yile, China’s top all-arounder, will be valuable to the team on all four events in team finals as well as being a top contender for the all-around and balance beam finals. Though beam is her best event, Chen is a balanced all-arounder whose high execution scores offset her lower difficulty values.

Photo: The National

Liu Tingting could join Chen in the beam final, providing she makes all the connections in her routine and gets them credited. Tingting could also make the uneven bars final, where her clean lines and precise handstands have earned her the fifth-highest score in the world so far this year.

Zhang Jin and Liu Jinru fill very similar roles on the team, where both will be depended on to boost China’s vault and floor scores. Jinru could also make the vault final, as her combined difficulty is the fourth-highest in the world. However, her medal prospects will depend on how well she can execute her vaults. Though Jin’s standout events are vault and floor, she can compete solid bars and beam routines for China in team qualifications.

Great Britain

Team: Ellie Downie, Becky Downie, Georgia Mae-Fenton, Alice Kinsella, Kelly Simm

Great Britain will be one of the most interesting teams to follow this World Championships, with the British squad winning bronze in the team competition at the last Worlds team competition in 2015 in Glasgow. The Brits posses an incredibly talented squad, with both Ellie and Becky Downie capable of massive totals on their events, and Georgia Mae-Fenton owning one of the highest difficulty bar sets as well.

Photo: UEG

Ellie Downie, returning from injury, will possibly do the all-around, but both her and sister Becky will be major threats for the uneven bars final given their huge difficulty scores. The challenges for this British squad will come on the balance beam, an event that has tripped up Great Britain in the past. Alice Kinsella and Kelly Simm, both solid all-arounders, will help provide support for the British on these events and possibly compete for a spot in the all-around final.

Japan

Team: Mai Murakami, Asuka Teramoto, Aiko Sugihara, Hitomi Hatekada, Nagi Kajita

The Japanese women are in good shape to qualify to the team final and potentially secure a medal, a massive goal for this Japanese squad. Mai Murakami will lead the team as considerably the top non-American all-around medal threat in Doha. At last year’s World Championships, Murakami was first all-around after qualifications but finished just out of the medals in the final after a fall on beam. Murakami likely will not defend her floor exercise title unless there are mistakes from Simone Biles, however, she still stands a great chance of getting on the podium on her signature event.

Mai Murakami on floor at the 2017 World Championships Photo: Christy Ann Linder

With plenty of experience in back pocket, Rio 2016 Olympian Asuka Teramoto will be another solid contributor for the team. Teramoto can bring in respectable score on all four events and will likely be Japan’s second all-around qualifier, however, Aiko Sugihara might keep things interesting. At last year’s World Championships she finished sixth all-around and can also contribute some solid scores for the team. Historically, vault and floor have been her highest scoring events.

Nagi Kajita will make her World Championships debut in Doha. Her strongest events are vault and floor, where she won a bronze medal at the Stuttgart World Cup earlier this year. On bars she shows a lot of potential with a fantastic Nabieva or laid-out Tkatchev release. The team is rounded out by Hitomi Hatakeda, another first year World team member. She is strong on all four events, but particularly stands out on bars, where she took home a gold medal at the Heerenveen Friendly in July. She is also capable of doing a double-double on floor.

Canada

Team: Ellie Black, Shallon Olsen, Brooklyn Moors, Ana Padurariu, Laurie Dénommée

Canada’s team, led by Ellie Black and Brooklyn Moors, hopes to make the team final again this year. Black can be expected to provide strong routines for the team on all four events and will attempt to defend her silver medal in the all-around final. Moors is likely to join her in the all-around final, thanks to her powerful and artistic floor routine. However, her inconsistency on bars may hold her back from being a top contender in the all-around. Additionally, Moors will look to improve on her 2017 fifth-place finish in the floor final and challenge for a medal there.

Photo: CBC

Rounding out the floor lineup is Shallon Olsen, who could also be a top contender in the vault final. Earlier this year, Olsen competed a Yurchenko double-full and a Cheng, a combination that would put her in medal contention. Ana Padurariu, who recently returned from injury, can contribute important routines on bars and beam. As most of this team’s strengths are on vault and floor, Padurariu fills the gaps and helps balance out the team.

It will be interesting to see who competes on bars in qualifications, as Moors should compete in order to give her a chance at the all-around final, but her bars score may not be the one Canada needs. A lineup including Black, Olsen, and Padurariu, may be a safer bet but will prevent Moors from making the all-around final.

Brazil

Team: Flavia Saraiva, Rebeca Andrade, Thais Fidelis, Jade Barbosa, Lorrane Oliveira

Brazil has a lot of talent on their team and has the potential to make the team finals barring a disastrous competition. Rebeca Andrade is expected to be a solid contributor in vault and bars, which are the only two events she has competed in 2018 so far in her return from injury. Flavia Saraiva will likely be the strongest all-around hope for Brazil, with her typical clean execution and a decent amount of difficulty. Her strongest events are beam and floor, where she shows beautiful tumbling with the perfect amount of power and precision.

Photo: Getty Images

Jade Barbosa is perhaps the most experienced member of the team and will likely be Brazil’s second all-arounder. She is a powerful gymnast who shows big tumbling on floor and a big Yurchenko double-full on vault, something the team can definitely use in the team final. Thais Fidelis should contribute a strong score on floor for the Brazilian team. She will be hoping to improve upon her fourth place finish in the floor finals at last year’s World Championships. Lastly, there is Lorrane Oliveira who was a member of the Rio 2016 Olympic team for Brazil and won three gold medals, team, all-around, and uneven bars at the 2017 South American Championships. She is a solid bar worker for the Brazilian team with the potential to contribute on vault as well.

Germany

Team: Elizabeth Seitz, Sophie Scheder, Kim Bui, Sarah Voss, Leah Griesser

The German team heading to Doha is a mix of veterans and newcomers, with typical team stalwarts Elizabeth Seitz, Sophie Scheder, and Kim Bui joining Sarah Voss and Leah Griesser. While Voss and Griesser are new to this stage, replacing World beam medalists Pauline Schaefer and Tabea Alt, both will be able to contribute solid, steady routines for this German team.

Photo: Zimbio

The German’s best event will come on the uneven bars, where bar powerhouses Seitz, Rio bars bronze-medalist Scheder, and Bui all have the big difficulty to reach a very competitive uneven bars final. Without Schaefer and Alt on balance beam, this German team will have to pick up the slack on beam to get by, also looking to provide clean execution on floor, another event where their difficulty is not the highest, to reach the team final.

The Netherlands

Team: Sanne Wevers, Tisha Volleman, Naomi Visser, Vera van Pol, Sanna Veerman

The Netherlands team is coming off an outstanding bronze medal performance at the 2018 European Championships and will be hoping to make the team final despite the absence of Eythora Thorsdottir and Celine van Gerner. The team will be relying on the experience of Wevers, the Rio 2016 Olympic balance beam gold-medalist who can bring in big scores on that event. With a planned 6.1 difficulty score, Wevers has a good shot at an individual medal on this event as well. Tisa Volleman is another member of the Dutch team that has a lot of experience, most notably she was a member of the bronze medal team at the European Championships. Volleman is capable of bringing in respectable scores on all four events. At the 2017 Dutch Nationals she won gold on vault, beam, floor and in the all-around.

Photo: BBC

Vera van Pol, a 2016 Olympian, is another gymnast who can bring in a good score on any of the four events. In competition, her highest scoring event tends to be vault and bars, but she shows a lot of potential on floor where she opens with a powerful Arabian double front. Naomi Visser and Sanna Veerman round out the Dutch team. Visser is a clean gymnast who has the potential to sneak into the all-around final while Veerman is a bit lacking in terms of difficulty and experience, however, they both show a lot of promise and could really benefit from this World Championship experience.

Romania

Team: Denisa Golgota, Ioana Crisan, Laura Iacob, Nica Ivanus, Carmen Ghiciuc

One of the biggest questions of qualifIcations in Doha will be the fate of the Romanian team, a former gymnastics powerhouse looking to stop their freefall the last several years. If this Romanian squad, a group possessing talent in Denisa Golgota and Ioana Crisan, can finish in the top 24, Romania will automatically qualify a team to next year’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Unfortunately for Romania, Golgota has been minorly injured of late, but the big test for the Romanians will be surviving bars. If Golgota and others can perform well outside of bars, a top 24 team finish seems likely with possible event finals for Golgota on the horizon as well.

Photo: UEG

Nina Derwael – Belgium

The likely gold-medal favorite for the uneven bars title this World Championships, Belgian star Nina Derwael will be looking to back up her bronze medal finish on the bars at last year’s Worlds and qualify back into the all-around final. Derwael owns one of the hardest bars sets in the World this season, including a stunning eponymous skill, a Ricna or stalder Tkatchev to mixed grip, known as the Fenton-Derwael. Derwael’s lovely work on the balance beam will also help her all-around standing in her hopes to reach the all-around final.

Photo: Getty Images

Oksana Chusovitina- Uzbekistan

Oksana Chusovitina is no stranger to the World Championships, in fact, Doha will mark her ninth appearance. The 43 year-old legend proves that age is just a number and will have a real shot at the vault final if she can hit her two-vault combination. Chusovitina has collected numerous gold medals on vault at various World Cup events this year, including in Baku where she also won a bronze on floor. The last time she medal on vault in a World Championships competition was in 2011 when she won a silver.

Lara Mori – Italy

After coming off a triple gold medal performance at the 2018 Mediterranean Games, Lara Mori is poised to have a great showing in Doha, which will be her fourth appearance at a World Championships. Mori is a very powerful gymnast and will be Italy’s best shot at getting near the podium in the all-around final, although it’s a longshot. Mori shines the most on floor where her 5.6 difficulty score puts her in a great position to qualify to the final if she hits. At the 2017 World Championships, she placed sixth the floor final.

Photo: Filippo Tomasi

Zsofia Kovacs – Hungary

Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary, who is coming back from injury, will be hoping to make the all-around final in addition to helping team Hungary improve on their 15th-place finish in 2015. Kovacs has not been at full strength this year, though we saw her potential in 2017 when she won silver in the all-around final at the European Championships. Though Kovacs’ floor routine isn’t the most difficult, all her skills are beautifully executed and combined with expressive dance. Her execution also shines through on the uneven bars, where she has a fluid swing and big releases. Though Kovacs’ beam and vault have lower difficulty values, hit routines should get her into the all-around final.

Danusia Francis- Jamaica

Former UCLA gymnastics star and British athlete Danusia Francis is back on the Worlds stage competing now for Jamaica, a great fit for the eclectic and beautiful Francis. While not owning much international elite experience in recent seasons, Francis is renown for her stunning balance beam work and if she can hit all four events to the best of her ability, she could possibly sneak into the all-around final as Jamaica’s representative.

Photo: The Daily Bruin

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