Rotterdam's Ahoy Arena has seen plenty of drama over the past week, and the 42nd World Gymnastics Championships have yet to officially open. While the headlines have been dominated by the discipline-prone gymnasts who won't be competing, let's take a look at who will be.
The competition should kick off with a bang Saturday morning with the Olympic champion Chinese and a former world all-around champion competing in the very first subdivision of women's qualification.
The qualification competition uses the 6-5-4 format, with six gymnasts on a team, five competing on each event and the top four scores counting toward the team total. The top eight teams advance to the team final.
While many teams have their eyes set firmly on the team final, more teams are hoping for a spot among the top 24. The road to the 2012 Olympic Games in London begin in Rotterdam: The top 24 teams advance to the 2011 Worlds, which will determine the teams that can advance to London.
The Italian women begin on vault, with first-year senior Eleanora Rando leading off. 2006 world all-around champion Vanessa Ferrari is slated to compete second. Ferrari missed the missed the 2009 Worlds after undergoing ankle surgery.
The Italian team also includes elegant Olympian Lia Parolari, and two world finalists from 2009: Serena Licchetta (uneven bars) and beautifully flexible Elisabetta Preziosa (balance beam).
Italy will be among the top 24 unless disaster strikes. But if Ferrari underperforms and the team is struck by nerves, Italy could be on the bubble for a spot in team finals.
China: Uneven Bars
The Chinese women brought an incredible four members of their Olympic champion squad from Beijing. Li Shanshan is the only one who retired, and Cheng Fei is hoping to return from a torn ACL.
Huang Qiushuang (China) during podium training.
The Chinese begin on their most spectacular event, the uneven bars, where team member He Kexin is the reigning world and Olympic champion. The Chinese women are capable of some of the highest Difficulty scores in the world on uneven bars, but their routines are also rife with deductions. The judges can take off up to half a point on pirouettes not done exactly over the bar, and the Chinese gymnasts typically spin multiple elgrip pirouettes. Dead hangs on transitions, bent arms on kips and low catches on Pak saltos also add up to low Execution scores for what appear to be nailed routines, sometimes puzzling the casual observer.
The Chinese have four gymnasts capable of reaching the bars final, but only two can advance. Jiang Yuyuan, Yang Yilin and worlds newcomer Huang Qiushuang (watch for her Endo immediate Ono) are all medal worthy.
World champion Deng Linlin leads the team on balance beam, where she will probably opt to save her layout-full for the finals. Deng missed the Chinese championships in August with a small injury, and it will be interesting to see how strong she looks in Rotterdam. National champion Sui Lu is capable of a world title on the event as well.
Jiang and Sui are the best tumblers on floor exercise, where all the gymnasts perform showy choreography courtesy of Romanian-French Adriana Pop. Huang's routine to Chris Spherris' "Magaya" is particularly exquisite and could help her get into the final.
The team is surprisingly strong on vault, a past weakness for the Chinese, with four of the team's gymnasts performing excellent double-twisting Yurchenkos at the Chinese championships.
Argentina: Balance Beam
The Argentinians in particular would love to punch their tickets to Tokyo: the team barely missing the cut off in 2006, finishing an unlucky 25th. But Argentina could only send three gymnasts to Rotterdam, leaving the Albiceleste out of the team competition. Most notable should be Ayelen Tarabini.
Mixed Group 1: Floor Exercise
Mixed Group 1 is actually only two gymnasts from Hong Kong after Qatar, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic withdrew from Rotterdam. Most notable is Wong Hiu Ying Angel, a World Cup medalist on vault. Wong typically doesn't compete the difficulty needed to reach the vault final in Rotterdam, but she would love a strong showing leading into next month's Asian Games, where a final is within reach.
Next Up in Subdivision 2:: Japan, New Zealand, Slovenia and Ukraine.
Beginning at 9 a.m. local time, be sure to follow IG Publisher Paul Ziert's live commentary from the Ahoy Arena, broadcast simultaneously on IG's official Facebook Page and Twitter account.