Everything you need to know about the artistic gymnastics World Championships in Doha

Simone Biles and Kohei Uchimura seek historic titles.

The eyes of the gymnastics world will be focused on Doha, Qatar, for the next two-and-a-half weeks as the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships get underway, and Olympic Channel will be on site covering all the action.

The biggest stars of the sport, Simone Biles of the United States and Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, look to return to the Worlds after time off and injury, respectively, kept them from defending their long-running winning streaks last year at the worlds in Montreal.

The queen is back

The women’s competition is likely to focus on the performance of Biles. The 21-year-old, four-time Rio Olympic champion, resumed training a little under a year ago and is poised to make history in Doha. A win in the all-around here will make her the only woman to have won four world all-around titles.

At the U.S. Championships in August, she easily won her fifth title. The field there included the reigning world champion Morgan Hurd and Riley McCusker, who has traded victories with Hurd in 2018.

And last week at the U.S. women’s worlds selection camp, Biles somehow found a way to become even more invincible. The three-time world all-around champion debuted a new vault that if she competes in Doha will be named after her and will add to her already-large difficulty score advantage.

Biles is the clear favourite to lead Team USA to its fourth-straight world title (2011, 2014, 2015) as well as capture gold medals in the all-around, vault and floor exercise competitions. She could also easily add a fifth medal on the balance beam, where she is a two-time World champion and Olympic bronze medalist.

New for 2018: the American has an outside chance at a medal on the uneven bars. Biles made the final at the 2013 worlds but finished fourth. The uneven bars was her 'weakest' event in 2016, but she has shown significant improvement working with new coach Laurent Landi, who helped Madison Kocian to a world bars title in 2015.

Simone Biles competing on the uneven bars during day four of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships 2018 at TD Garden on August 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Simone Biles competing on the uneven bars during day four of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships 2018 at TD Garden on August 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)Simone Biles competing on the uneven bars during day four of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships 2018 at TD Garden on August 19, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Continued chaos

Biles’ return to the World stage comes amid a backdrop of continued chaos within USA Gymnastics as it struggles to find its footing in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

In the last 10 days, the U.S. federation named an interim president and chief executive officer, who resigned five days later, and then former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was arrested in connection with the Nassar scandal.

Biles and fellow Olympic star Aly Raisman were critical of former U.S. Congresswoman Mary Bono, USA Gymnastics’ choice for interim CEO, almost immediately. Biles called Bono out for the latter's stance against Nike in a tweet Bono posted in early September, while Raisman was concerned with Bono’s ties to a law firm that worked with USA Gymnastics in the early days of the Nassar scandal.

Bono was named late Friday afternoon and by close of business Tuesday had resigned.

Return of the king

Like Biles, Japan’s Kohei Uchimura has come to dominate the sport. He won six straight (2009-11, 2013-15) world titles and back-to-back all-around gold medals at the Olympics (2012, 2016) before suffering an injury in the qualifying round at last year’s Worlds. He was forced to withdraw from the event, and China’s Xiao Ruoteng went on to win the title.

Earlier this year, Uchimura returned to competition at Japanese Nationals and was shockingly defeated by Kakeru Tanigawa. He rebounded a few weeks later at the NHK Cup, winning the crown there for a 10th straight time.

Still, Uchimura comes to Doha as a question mark. The Japanese Gymnastics Federation revealed that he had suffered an injury to ligaments in his right ankle while vaulting at the National Training Center on 25 September.

“It’s not as bad as last year, so I’m still hopeful,” said Uchimura at the time. “It’s too early to rule myself out of all six apparatuses. I want to go to Doha to compete.”

Others to watch

Biles and Uchimura aren’t the only gymnastics stars making their competitive returns in Doha. Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, who has won back-to-back Olympic titles on the uneven bars, returns to the world stage after giving birth in 2017. Mustafina finished fourth at Russian nationals in April, but missed the European Championships due to an injured knee. The Russian is expected to compete on the uneven bars and balance beam only in Doha.

Barcelona 1992 Olympic champion Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan will compete in her 16th World Championships. The 43-year-old could contend for a medal on the vault, where she finished fifth at the Worlds in 2017.

On the men’s side, double Olympic champion Max Whitlock looks to lead Great Britain to another team world medal. But he’ll have to do it without the help of 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Nile Wilson who withdrew with an injured finger.

The Russian men also look to challenge perennial favourites Japan and China after an impressive showing at the European Championships. Their star David Belyavskiy was leading the men’s all-around final at last year’s worlds before a fall on his final event – the high bar – dropped him to fourth.

What’s at stake

In addition to gold, silver and bronze in the team, all-around and individual event competitions, the World Championships in Doha are the first opportunity in artistic gymnastics to qualify to the 2020 Olympic Games. The men’s and women’s team medallists will qualify a four-member team to Tokyo.

The rest of the qualifiers will be determined at next year’s World Championships and through World Cup and continental championship competitions that end in early 2020.

Competition in Doha kicks off on Thursday, 25 October with men’s qualifying, while official podium training sessions begin Sunday, 21 October.

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