Rhythmic Gymnastics

Soldatova out of Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships - Here's who else to watch out for

Israel's Linoy Ashram will bid to dethrone Russia's Averina twins at the 2019 edition in Baku, Azerbaijan

By Rory Jiwani ·

Will we see a new name take gold at the 2019 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships?

Since Rio 2016, Dina Averina has been the dominant athlete with seven out of possible 10 individual gold medals, from Pesaro in 2017 and Sofia 12 months ago.

Twin sister Arina won two individual titles in Pesaro with Aleksandra Soldatova, a late withdrawal from Baku, taking ribbon gold last year.

But Israel's double European Games gold medallist Linoy Ashram has emerged as a major threat, and will hope to become the first non-Russian individual gold medallist at a World Championships since 2013.

The Worlds take place in Baku, Azerbaijan from 16-22 September, and also serve as the major qualifying event for Tokyo 2020 in both the individual and group disciplines.

Here's the Olympic Channel guide to the things you need to know.

Dina Averina on her way to the ribbon title at June's European Games in Minsk, Belarus

Who can stop the Averina twins at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships?

Russia have won every available Olympic gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics since Sydney 2000.

At Rio, the nation claimed its fifth consecutive group all-around title with Margarita Mamun taking individual gold from compatriot Yana Kudryavtseva.

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After Mamun and Kudryavtseva both retired, the Averina twins quickly assumed the mantle as Russia's top two rhythmic gymnasts.

In 2017, Arina had the better of the World Games in Wroclaw with three golds to Dina's two.

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But Dina has gained superiority since, and Arina will be desperate to make amends 12 months after her first major career disappointment in Sofia.

In qualifying, Arina - Arisha to her friends - twice suffered ribbon malfunctions in her routine which saw her miss out on the final for that discipline.

And with only the top two from each country making the all-around final, Arina had to watch from the sidelines despite finishing third in qualifying.

Soldatova, a reserve at Rio 2016, took the second spot behind Dina but could only manage third in the final with Ashram taking silver behind Dina.

Fast forward to June's European Games with Dina Russia's sole representative in Minsk.

Dina took gold in the ribbon, hoop and all-around, but had to settle for silver in the clubs and bronze in the ball.

The Israeli took gold in both the ball and the clubs, claiming her first titles at a major competition, plus silver in the ribbon and the all-around.

The pair met again in Minsk in August with Arina also competing.

Dina took victory in the ribbon, clubs, ball, and all-around ahead of Arina and Ashram.

But it was Ashram who edged out Arina to take the hoop with Dina only third.

At the end of August, Dina scored a convincing win over Arina in the World Challenge Cup event in Kazan and looks a near certainty to repeat that triumph in the Worlds.

While Arina appears to be just shy of her brilliant best, Ashram is improving all the time and has a chance of ending the Russian monopoly in Baku.

Linoy Ashram at the 2019 European Games in Minsk

The third Russian

With just two athletes per nation going to the Olympic Games in the individual event, it looks like the Averina twins will be Russia's representatives in Tokyo.

Soldatova's ribbon victory in Sofia last year made her the only woman not named Averina to win an individual world title since Rio 2016.

The 21-year-old has competed sparingly this season and was set to be Russia's third athlete in Baku.

She recently told Olympic Channel that, amidst all the public focus, she has been trying to change her relationship with social media.

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Last weekend, Soldatova won the all-around competition at the final World Challenge Cup event of the year in Portimao, Portugal.

But after taking third place in the ball, behind Italians Milena Baldassarri and Alexandra Agiurgiuculese, she was forced to pull out of the remaining two apparatus finals having reportedly passed out.

Soldatova told her Instagram followers on Monday that it was merely a "precautionary measure".

She said, "Hi everyone. I want to say thank you for your support at this competition. I know some of you got worried that I withdrew from the competition but it was just a precautionary measure.

"Right now, we have come to the sea with (coach) Anna Vyacheslavovna and tonight we will be in Moscow. I love you all."

But on Tuesday 6th September, less than a week before the start of the Worlds, TASS reported that Soldatova had pulled out of Baku and would be replaced by five-time Summer Universiade gold medallist Ekaterina Selezneva.

The 24-year-old Selezneva retained her ball title in Naples in July, and added golds in the hoop, ribbon, and all-around as she dominated the competition for university athletes.

Selezneva now gets a great opportunity to push her claim for one of Russia's two places at next year's Games.

Another contender is youngster Lala Kramarenko.

The 14-year-old won three golds at July's inaugural Rhythmic Gymnastics Junior World Championships in her hometown of Moscow, with Mamun saying she had an outside chance of making Tokyo 2020.

With injuries an occupational hazard in rhythmic gymnastics, Russia has plenty of back-up, even if one of the Averina twins is unable to compete.

As well as Kramarenko, Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games champion Daria Trubnikova has already shown herself capable of winning medals at senior level.

In last month's World Challenge Cup event in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Trubnikova took second in the ball just behind Selezneva.

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Olympic qualification and the best of the rest

There will be 26 women in the all-around final at Tokyo 2020 with 16 places awarded based on finishing positions in Baku.

Each country has a maximum of two spots and these are quota berths so guarantee the country, not the athlete, a place (or two places) at next year's Games.

For those nations who fail to gain an Olympic quota place here, next year's five Continental Championships and the top three in the 2020 World Cup all-around list provide further qualification opportunities.

While Ashram heads the challenge to the powerhouse Russian team, Italy boasts a pair of gymnasts who have already shown they can mix it with the best.

Milena Baldassarri took silver behind Soldatova in the ribbon in Sofia 12 months ago to claim her first global medal with Alexandra Agiurgiuculese winning ball bronze.

The pair also teamed up with Alessia Russo to take bronze in the team event.

Agiurgiuculese had a disappointing European Games, finishing fourth in the all-around and outside the medals in the apparatus finals.

Alexandra Agiurgiuculese competing in the ball at the European Games in Minsk

But she claimed her first World Cup wins in Portimao last weekend, taking victory in the hoop and clubs, with Baldassarri triumphing in the ball and ribbon.

Baldassarri was also second to Soldatova in the all-around with both Italians hoping to maintain that good form going into Baku.

Ukraine’s Vlada Nikolchenko made a spectacular World Championship debut last year, taking fourth place in the all-around competition.

Now 16, Nikolchenko won two bronze medals at the European Games and will be aiming for her first medal in a global event.

Bulgaria took silver in the team event last year with the same three - Katrin Taseva, Boryana Kaleyn, and 2017 ball bronze medallist Neviana Vladinova, in Baku this year.

Taseva won two medals at the European Games - ball silver and ribbon bronze - and will hope to earn her first individual world medal this time.

Katrin Taseva competing in the ribbon at the European Games in Minsk

Rio 2016 Olympian Katsiaryna Halkina leads a Belarus team which also contains Anastasia Salos, winner of the ribbon at April's World Cup event in Baku.

Halkina took silver in the clubs at the past two World Championships, and will bid to go one better in the Azerbaijani capital.

The 22-year-old competed for Belarus on home soil at the European Games in Minsk, winning hoop silver and all-around bronze.

Russia seek fifth straight global all-around crown

Russia's women were last beaten in the World Championships group all-around competition in 2014 in Izmir.

There is little sign of their dominance being challenged in Baku where there are changes to the apparatus being used.

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The first exercise, which was five ribbons at Rio 2016 and five hoops subsequently, has been replaced by five balls.

The second exercise - three pairs of clubs and two hoops in Rio and three balls and two ropes in recent years - is now three hoops and two pairs of clubs.

Italy pose the biggest threat to Russia having won golds at the last three World Championships.

Bulgaria are also perennial contenders, beating the Russians in the 3+2 in the World Challenge Cup in Kazan at the end of August to deny them a clean sweep.

But the big three all had to give best to Belarus in the European Games with edging out Bulgaria to take gold in Minsk.

Smaller nations bid to secure Olympic berths

Russia, Italy, and Bulgaria have already qualified for Tokyo 2020 as the one-two-three from last year's World Championships. Hosts Japan will also be in the 14-team lineup.

The best five teams in Baku, excluding those four, will book their place at next year's Games.

Ukraine were fourth last year and will be expected to qualify along with European Games winners Belarus and hosts Azerbaijan.

Mexico were ninth last year in Sofia, and a repeat would almost certainly see them make the cut.

The Mexicans face competition from the likes of China, France and Finland for an Olympic berth, but go to Azerbaijan full of confidence after winning gold at the Pan American Games in Lima in August.

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Competition schedule for the 2019 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships

(All times Baku local - UTC/GMT+4)

Monday 16 September

12:00-18:50 Individual Hoop and Ball qualification

19:15 Opening Ceremony

Tuesday 17 September

10:00-17:00 Individual Hoop and Ball qualification

19:30-20:00 Individual Hoop Final

20:05-20:35 Individual Ball Final

Wednesday 18 September

12:00-20:50 Individual Clubs and Ribbon qualification

Thursday 19 September

09:00-17:50 Individual Clubs and Ribbon qualification

19:30-20:00 Individual Clubs Final

20:05-20:35 Individual Ribbon Final

Friday 20 September

14:30-17:25 Individual All-Around Group B Final (rank 13-24)

17:40-20:35 Individual All-Around Group A Final (rank 1-12)

Saturday 21 September

14:30-18:10 Group All-Around Competition plus 5 Balls and 3 Hoops + 2 Pairs of Clubs qualification

Sunday 22 September

14:30-15:13 Group 5 Balls Final

15:15-15:58 Group 3 Hoops + 2 Pairs of Clubs Final

16:15 Closing Ceremony / Gala

Olympic Channel will be on the ground in Baku bringing you the latest news from the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships online and on social media.