Russians the Favorites in Rhythmic Gymnastics—if They Compete

Russia is known for its quick tempo and intricate, crowd-pleasing routines in rhythmic gymnastics. Confidence radiates when the Russian women take the floor.

And there's a reason.

Russia has won the team gold in four consecutive Olympics — in Sydney, in Athens, in Beijing and in London — and now want to make it five straight in Rio. If the team can compete.

For individual all-around, Russian gymnasts have won eight of the 15 medals in the last five Olympic games, including four golds.

Yevgeniya Kanaeva, the gold medalist in Beijing and in London, retired after the 2012 Games. Margarita Mamun, a three-time national all-around champion, and Yana Kudryavtseva, a three-time world champion in all-around, are on the team for Rio.

The International Olympic Committee is weighing whether to ban the nation's delegation after a scathing report confirmed widespread, state-sanctioned doping in sports ranging from track to table tennis. If the heavy favorite is missing — a ruling could come Sunday — from the competition, rhythmic gymnastics will likely look much different than in past Games.

Other stories abound in rhythmic gymnastics, where competitors perform gracefully with hand-held apparatus, and the routines combine artistry with stunning gymnastic skills such as tumbling as well as ballet moves such as pirouetting.

BEST OF THE REST: Sure, Russia leads the pack, but Belarus, Ukraine and Bulgaria are strong contenders determined to disrupt that domination.

In the individual event, world No. 4-ranked Ganna Rizatdinova of Ukraine is returning to the Olympics after placing 10th in London. She was introduced to the sport by her mother, who also was her first coach.

Her training was interrupted amid protests and violence in the capital city of Kiev during the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, but she's ready for Rio.

Also keep an eye on Melitina Staniouta, 22, and Katsiaryna Halkin, 19, who are expected to give impressive performances for traditional powerhouse Belarus.

A SOUTH KOREAN FIRST: A crowd favorite, Son Yeon Jae will return to the floor in Rio, where she hopes she can earn a medal and become the first South Korean rhythmic gymnast to stand on the Olympic podium.

She was fifth at London in 2012 and is currently ranked the 5th in the world, behind three Russians and a Ukrainian.

The 22-year-old Son is already a big name in South Korea, where she has made appearances on popular Korean television dramas and raised the profile of the sport.

Copyright Rio2016
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