CANADIAN MEN (Jump to world men)
The Canadian men at this year's world championships represent a strong and experienced group of athletes with a good chance to reach their best team result in recent years. Three of the six members (Richard Ikeda, Alexander Jeltkov, and Grant Golding) have previous world championships experience, and while Ken Ikeda, Scott Lang, and David Kikuchi are making their worlds debut, they still have plenty of international experience to draw upon this week in Ghent.
Current Canadian all-around champion Richard Ikeda, from the Abbotsford Twisters club, is by far this team's most experienced member, having previously competed in seven world championships and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Ikeda made his world championships debut at the 1993 worlds in Birmingham and he shows no signs of slowing down. Ikeda is best known for his clean lines on parallel bars and pommel horse, as well as his excellent high bar work, where he was a finalist at the 1996 individual event world championships in Puerto Rico. Most recently, Ikeda contributed to Canada's strong 11th place team showing at the World University Games in Beijing, China, where he finished 20th in the individual all-around final. This meet was a good benchmark for the Canadian men as they prepared for worlds, since most of the top men's teams were present - with their top team members to boot.
2000 Olympian and 1999 world high bar silver medallist Alexander Jeltkov, from the Centre Immaculée Conception club in Montreal, is the team's next most experienced member. Ghent marks his third world championship appearance, and his excellent reputation on his best event makes Jeltkov a strong contender for another berth in high bar finals. Jeltkov has already adapted quite well to this event in the new code of points, having earned a start value of 9.9 at this summer's Goodwill Games where he showed two Kovacs release moves (one piked), a good full pirouetting one armed sequence into an in-bar endo-full, a regular endo-full to elgrip, and a layout double twisting double back dismount. Jeltkov, who has only competed in the all-around once this year, hopes to make his mark there as well, having previously qualified for the all-around finals at the 1999 worlds.
Ikeda's clubmate Grant Golding, the 1998 Canadian junior champion, is making his second world championship appearance. Golding was also a member of this year's World University Games team, where he finished 34th in the all-around finals. Golding is perhaps best known for his pommel horse work and is steadily improving his performances in the all-around, finishing third at this year's Canadian championships.
Nova Scotia's David Kikuchi, of the ALTA club, is perhaps the most improved Canadian gymnast this year. Sixth at this year's Canadian championships, Kikuchi improved enough to win mock meets in preparation for this summer's World University Games. At those games, he was the top Canadian in the all-around finals with an 18th place finish. Kikuchi also made event finals on his best event, the still rings, where he finished 5th. His routine has incredible strength work, including a maltese press to inverted cross and later a maltese press to planche. The Canadian men's team has struggled greatly on the rings event in recent years, so Kikuchi's recent rise on that apparatus will help the team tremendously.
The younger Ikeda brother, Ken Ikeda, is another gymnast making his world debut this year, but that does not mean he lacks experience. Ikeda was also a member of this year's World University Games team, and his pommel horse result was nothing short of incredible: he qualified for the apparatus final with an amazing 9.725 score. Once in the finals, he finished fifth with a 9.625. Pommel horse is another event that has tripped up many gymnasts in the past, so similar routines from Ikeda in Ghent on this apparatus will surely contribute much needed points to their team score.
The sixth Canadian team member is Scott Lang from Calgary, Alberta. Lang is a former Canadian junior champion (he won his title in 1997 in Ottawa), and while this year also marks his world championships debut, he has had some international experience, including an appearance at the Junior Pan American championships in 1998 in Houston, Texas. Lang was the last gymnast to be named to this year's team, based on his performance at the recent Pan American Championships in Cancun, Mexico. Lang is perhaps best known for his strong high bar work, so look for him to contribute a good score there.
WORLD MEN (Back to Canadian men)
With the absence of China's top gymnasts, the withdrawal of Japan, and a host of injuries affecting the other top teams, the men's competition could produce the most surprising results ever seen in the sport.
The decision by the Chinese federation to send only a B team of athletes (see News for details) immediately threw the competition into chaos. The Chinese are the four-time defending team champions, and have only lost the title once since the breakup of the Soviet Union, when a powerful Russian team took the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. Since that time, China has completely dominated the sport as a team, and looked to be a sure bet to take the title once again in Ghent, while Olympic all-around silver medallist Yang Wei had been the front-runner for the men's all-around title. While this new and highly inexperienced Chinese team will be hard pressed to repeat the successes of their countrymen, the depth of their program is impressive enough that a top finish is still within reach.
Surprisingly, however, there is no other country in a position to step up and capitalize on the precarious position of the Chinese men. The traditional powerhouse in the sport, Russia, has been devastated by injury, with top stars Yevgeny Podgorny and 1999 world champion Nikolai Kryukov both questionable for the competition. Reigning Olympic all-around champion Alexei Nemov is also not in top form, and is expected to perform on only four apparatus.
A stiff challenge could be expected from the Ukrainian men, who were the surprise silver medallists in Sydney; however, a stroke of bad luck hit the team when Olympians Alexander Svetlichny (5th all-around in Sydney) and Valeri Pereshkura both suffered knee injuries within minutes of each other at the recent Ukrainian Cup. Both will miss the world championships.
The men's field has been further depleted by the absence of the Japanese team, who pulled out of the competition for security reasons. The Japanese finished fourth at both the 2000 Olympic Games and the 1999 world championships, and were expected to be medal contenders in Ghent. The presence of Naoya Tsukahara, the silver medallist in the men's all-around in Tianjin, will also be missed.
The United States has also been affected by injuries, losing perennial all-around contender Blaine Wilson to a torn bicep earlier in the year, as well as young phenom Morgan Hamm, who had impressed many by qualifying for the floor exercise final in Sydney. The US men who traveled to Ghent are confident, however, and are lead by new national champion Sean Townsend. With so many injuries to the top teams, the USA could sneak in for their first team medal since their victory at the 1984 Olympics.
The Romanian men stunned the world at the 1995 world championships when they took the bronze medal over the former Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Since that time they have see-sawed among the top teams in the world, but have not been able to climb back onto the podium. With the powerful Marian Dragulescu, perhaps the best bet for the all-around men's title at this time, the Romanian men could be a serious threat to the top teams.
With so many injuries and withdrawals, as well as the new 6-3-3 team final format, it is quite possible that countries like Korea, Belarus, or France could factor into the medal results. Germany's strong, but aging squad was dealt a blow when 1992 Olympic team champion Valeri Belenky injured his arm in training just days ago.