By Karen Braun
(Reuters) – American Simone Biles will look to extend her legacy as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time as she bids to tumble her way to an unprecedented fifth women’s all around title at the world championships in Stuttgart.
The owner of 20 world medals, including 14 golds, the 22-year-old could end the championships as the most decorated athlete in the competition’s history by topping Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record haul of 23 medals.
A year ago the four-time Olympic champion won a medal in all six of the events open to the women, and few would bet against her replicating the feat as she remains the front-runner with just nine months to go to the Tokyo Games.
New moves that she debuted at the U.S. nationals in August, such as her triple-twisting double backflip on the floor exercise, could help her secure glory.
“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,” Biles told Olympic Channel in August. “I’m out there doing it just for myself this time… and see how far I can push myself.”
More than 540 athletes from a record 92 nations will be showing off their skills at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle in Stuttgart, and both teams and individuals will have the chance to qualify for next summer’s Games.
The Russian men are primed for success in the all-around with the return of champion Artur Dalaloyan and 2019 European champion Nikita Nagornyy.
China’s Xiao Ruoteng, the 2017 all-around winner, will be seeking redemption after losing the tie-breaker in last year’s all-around final.
The Russian, Chinese, and Japanese men have already earned a team berth to Tokyo by placing in the top three at last year’s worlds in Doha.
The U.S., Russian, and Chinese women have done the same. In Stuttgart, the top nine teams that did not already qualify in 2018 will secure their Olympic spot.
Some of the top teams looking to punch their ticket for Tokyo include Canada, France, Japan, Brazil, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands on the women’s side and the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Ukraine on the men’s side.
A long-time powerhouse in gymnastics, the Romanian women will eye a spot in Tokyo after failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Games. They had won a team medal at every previous Olympics since 1976.
Those looking to lay down the marker before Tokyo include 2018 apparatus champions Nina Derwael of Belgium on the asymmetric bars and China’s Liu Tingting on balance beam.
Derwael’s bar work stands out due to her extreme difficulty, but she will be tested by American Sunisa Lee.
France’s Melanie de Jesus dos Santos will also be hoping to be in the mix after her all around triumph at the European championships.
Russia’s Angelina Melnikova will return after narrowly missing medals in Doha on floor and in the all around, while Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina will be out to prove that life as a top level gymnast can go on and on as she will be competing in her 17th world championships aged 44.
Flying Dutchman Epke Zonderland always puts on a show in the horizontal bar will be determined to add to his haul of six world medals in the event.
Japan will be missing some top athletes due to injury, including six-time world all around champion Kohei Uchimura on the men’s side. For the women, Mai Murakami, floor champion at 2017 worlds and all-around runner up in Doha, is also sidelined.
The competition will run from Oct. 5 to Oct. 13.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)