Anyone who has even the slightest interest in gymnastics knows that in Rio in August all eyes are going to be on the 19 year old Texan phenom that is the hurricane known as Simone Biles. Many pundits and even former Olympians feel she now has what it takes to make the kind of impact on women’s’ Olympic competitive gymnastics in the 21st century that Nadia Comăneci and her perfect 10 did 40 years ago in 1976.
But Biles aside, who else may make a huge impact this year? Not just from the US Team but from across the globe? Here’s a look at four gymnasts we believe are well worth keeping an eye on as they compete for gold and glory in the 2016 Olympic Games:
Kohei Uchimura, Japan
Uchimura, who recently turned 27, is, in the eyes of many, the male ‘version’ of Simone Biles, a gymnast so innovative and talented that they may be, in some events at least, impossible to beat. He’s a six time World all-around champion (a record), a nine time National Champion back home in Japan and despite his slight 5’3″, 121lb frame is considered to be one of the strongest athletes, pound for pound in the world. And yet he’s a likable, humble competitor too, never one to sit on his laurels. Of competing in Rio, he recently said he planned to train at least an extra hour a day because his competition is ‘so good.’
Manrique Larduet, Cuba
One of the gymnasts giving Kohei Uchimura a run for his money recently has been 19 year old Manrique Larduet. Never heard a Cuban Olympic gymnast before? Not too surprising actually, as the last one to appear at the Olympics was Eric Lopez in 2004.
Manrique has qualified for Rio based on some very solid recent World Championships performances, including a silver in the all-around competition, just losing out to a man he calls his idol, Uchimura. There is going to be a lot of pressure on this talented teenager, the whole country already holds him as a hero, but the pundits feel he is more than up to the pressure.
There are lots of things that make Oksana Chusovitina stand out as a gymnast. The fact that she has competed on behalf of three different countries; Germany, the Soviet Union and Uzbekistan. That she is an Olympic gold and silver medalist. And perhaps most notably, in the eyes of many, that she is 41 years old, over 25 years into her professional career, a Mom to teenagers and will still be competing in Rio, under the Uzbekistan flag.
And her appearance is more than a gimmick. Her qualification scores were excellent and some believe she is still a very credible threat to is still a threat to medal on the vault, the event that has brought her so much success in the past.
Dipa Karmakar, India
Dipa Karmakar, who is 22 years old, is another gymnast who will be making history simply by being in the Rio games at all. That’s because Dipa is the first ever gymnast from India to qualify for a place at the Olympics, a high honor indeed for a girl who was once told, at six, she would never be a gymnast because of her flat feet.
And like Oksana, Dipa is a credible threat. She is one of just five women on the international gymnastics scene who has even attempted the very challenging Produnova vault, a move that calls for a front handspring entry with two front flips before landing. The vault earned her fifth place in the recent World Championship and she hopes for even better in Brazil.
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