Top rhythmic gymnastics stories to watch in Rio
On Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20, the world's top rhythmic gymnasts will face off in a flurry of ribbons, sparkles, jaw-dropping flexibility and incredible athleticism. Watch as these top stories develop during the rhythmic gymnastics competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Russia vs. Russia: Which rhythmic gymnast will capture their country’s fifth straight all-around Olympic gold?
A Russian rhythmic gymnast has won the all-around Olympic gold at the last four Games, and Yana Kudryavtseva and Margarita Mamun are primed to continue that winning streak. Kudryavtseva, 18 years old, is the youngest gymnast to win three all-around titles at the world championships (2013 to 2015). Mamun, 20, claimed silver behind Kudryavtseva at the 2014 and 2015 Worlds. The two are close friends and training partners, making their rivalry even more intense.
Youth Olympic medalist Laura Zeng hopes to earn best-ever finish for a U.S. rhythmic gymnast
No U.S. rhythmic gymnast has ever finished higher than 11th at an Olympic Games, and even that record comes with an asterisk: Valerie Zimring placed 11th at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which were boycotted by the sport's Soviet Union powerhouses. 16-year-old Laura Zeng, however, could be the rhythmic gymnast to smash that record. She's already made history by winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, and her eighth-place finish at the 2015 World Championships was the highest ever by a U.S. rhythmic gymnast.
After a 2013 judging scandal shocked the sport, will the scoring be fair in Rio?
A few months after the London Olympics, qualifying exams used to certify judges for elite rhythmic gymnastics events, including the 2016 Olympics, were held across Europe. When the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) took a closer look at those tests, they found evidence that up to 60 test takers and exam proctors may have engaged in cheating. They discovered obviously copied answers, unexplained bonus points, inconsistent scoring, multiple sets of handwriting on one exam and missing exam pages. FIG expelled or suspended a number of high-profile officials, but biased judging is still a problem in the sport. After the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, multiple judges were disciplined for showing partisanship by scoring athletes from their home country more favorably.
The Russian group hopes to continue their Olympic winning streak with a fresh team
At the last four Olympics, Russian rhythmic gymnasts swept the gold medals in both the individual and group events. As the reigning world champions, the Russian group will be looking to keep their hold on the top spot of the podium in Rio. But they’ve been far from dominant in the years since the London Olympics. They finished third at the 2013 World Championships and missed the podium entirely, placing fourth, at the 2014 Worlds. While several members of the 2012 team continued competing after London, the 2016 Russian group’s five athletes will all be making their Olympic debut in Rio.
The United States qualifies a group for the first time since 1996
When the rhythmic gymnastics group competition was added to the Olympic program in 1996, the United States was received an automatic berth for being the host country. They finished ninth out of nine groups in Atlanta, and then were shut out of the next four Olympics, failing to qualify a group at all. But the U.S. group will return to the Olympics in Rio after earning the highest score of a group from the Americas at the 2015 World Championships. 14 total groups will compete at the Rio Olympics; if the U.S. improves on their 1996 showing to place eighth or better in the qualifying round, they’ll make history by advancing to the Olympic final.