Six individual gymnasts to watch in Stuttgart

Stuttgart, Sept 7, 2015: The 34th World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships, the first of two qualifiers for the 2016 Olympic Games, take place in Stuttgart September 7-13. Here are six of the top names to watch:

Name: Yana Kudryavtseva, RUS
Age: 17
Achievements: Kudryavtseva was just 15 when she became the youngest ever World champion in Rhythmic Gymnastics in 2013, and has seemed unstoppable ever since. She won her second straight World title in 2014 and dominated the European Championships and European Games earlier this year, nearly sweeping the gold medals at both competitions.
Need to know: Though young, Kudryavtseva has been the grand dame of Rhythmic Gymnastics since the retirement of the great Evgenia Kanaeva (RUS) after the 2012 Olympics. The “Angel with Iron Wings” is considered an early favorite for gold in Rio, though she is also aware that “the bench for reserves is wide in Russia” — i.e. nobody is guaranteed anything among the deep Russian team. Due to a leg injury, Kudryavtseva has chosen not to compete with the Hoop in the qualification round in Stuttgart, although she is the reigning World champion with the apparatus.

Name: Margarita Mamun, RUS
Age: 19
Achievements: 2014 World All-around silver medallist and 2014 World champion with the Ribbon, her best apparatus. FIG World Cup series champion with every event in 2015. Mamun also swept the gold medals at the Tashkent and Kazan World Cups, albeit in the absence of her good friend and training partner Kudryavtseva.
Need to know: As different as night and day from the lithe Kudryavtseva, the darker, more mysterious Mamun presents a very different style of Gymnastics. Competing against her friend and rival, Mamun typically wins the silver, but has shown excellent routines and great strength all season and seems primed to fight for gold in Stuttgart.

Name: Aleksandra Soldatova, RUS
Age: 17
Achievements: Gold medal with the Russian team at the 2014 Worlds, winner of the Lisbon World Cup in 2015
Need to know: Soldatova is a Rhythmic gymnast of the classic Russian mold but until now has been overshadowed by older teammates Kudryavtseva and Mamun. By dint of injury to Kudryavtseva, however, she will get the chance to compete for a spot in the All-around final in Stuttgart (GER), matching herself directly against both Kudryavtseva and Mamun.

Name: Ganna Rizatdinova, UKR
Age: 22
Achievements: 2013 World champion with the Hoop and silver medallist in the All-around competition. Rizatdinova also won the Longines Prize for Elegance in 2013, an award given to the gymnast deemed most elegant on and off the competition floor. She continued her success in 2014 at the World Championships, where she won four bronze medals (Team, All-around, Hoop and Ribbon.)

Need to know: As a gymnast hailing from Simferopol, capital of Crimea, Rizatdinova has persevered and been successful in the face of the difficulties that have faced Ukraine during the past two years. As she attempts to qualify for her second Olympic Games, Rizatdinova and her coaches have been working hard to perfect her routines. “Now the coaches are stricter with me. They correct more of the details. Everything must be perfect. And the public, they expect more too. Of course this can be difficult, but I see it as a path to better results in the future,” she said in 2014.

Name: Son Yeon Jae, KOR
Age: 21
Achievements: With her bronze medal with the Hoop in 2014, Son became the first Korean woman ever to win an individual medal at the World Championships in Rhythmic Gymnastics.
Need to know: Ballet-loving Son, who left Korea in 2010 to train in Russia with Russian coaches, has recovered from a foot injury that kept her out of World Cup competitions earlier this spring and had the best performance of her career at the World University Games in Gwangju (KOR) in August, beating Rizatdinova and Staniouta for the All-around title and winning two additional golds with the Hoop and Ball.

Name: Melitina Staniouta, BLR
Age: 22
Achievements: Winner of a silver medal (Team) and an individual bronze (Ball) at the 2014 Worlds, Staniouta had a rough day in All-around finals and failed to medal. At the recent World University Games in Gwangju (KOR), Staniouta won bronze in the All-around, behind Son and Rizatdinova. She was also third All-around behind Kudryavtseva and Mamun at the European Games in Baku (AZE) in June, where she won a total of four medals.
Need to know: Staniouta, whose grandmother was a Soviet film star during the 1920s, is known for her precise, elegant work with all apparatus and happy face off the competition floor. —- FIG

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