Call it the Battle of Baku -- the individual apparatus kings of the sport from around the globe are gathering in the Azerbaijani capital this weekend to fight for world cup ranking points that for some will translate into Olympic qualification spots. Here’s what to expect in the men’s competition.
Men’s Floor Exercise: The best and the brightest
The men’s floor field includes Olympic medalists Marian Dragulescu of Romania and Diego Hypolito of Brazil, both of whom are also past world champions on the event. Three others -- Israelis Artem Dolgopyat and Alexander Shatilov and Carlos Yulo of the Philippines -- are world medalists, with Yulo having won the last round in Melbourne a few weeks ago. Great Britain’s Dominick Cunningham and Australian Chris Remkes, who showed a triple twisting double layout in Melbourne, could also factor in.
Pommel Horse: A gathering of greats
Old guard, new guard, or somewhere in the middle? Many of the greats of horse of the past decade or so will meet in Baku. The latest wunderkind is the bespectacled Weng Hao of China, one of a number of specialists gunning for an individual berth to Tokyo. Other emerging talents include European pommel champion Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland and reigning world bronze medalist Lee Chih-Kai of Chinese Taipei. Among the veterans, there’s longtime Croatian great Filip Ude, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on the event, 2013 world champion Kohei Kameyama of Japan and French standout Cyril Tommasone. The man who could surprise many? Iran’s Saeedreza Keikha, who has two moves named after him on the pipe.
Still Rings: A mighty force
Projected to be one of the biggest battles of all, this final will be world championship-worthy. Among the contenders: 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ablyazin of Russia, reigning world bronze medalist Marco Lodadio of Italy, double world medalist You Hao of China, Ukrainian strongman Igor Radivilov, France’s Samir Ait Said, Britain’s Courtney Tulloch and Turkey’s Ibrahim Colak. The talent level boggles the mind.
Men’s Vault: The (other) Jump! boys
Take one Olympic champion (Korea’s Yang Hak-seon), a double Olympic medalist (Ablyazin), the man who did the now-forbidden handspring triple front on the Olympic-stage (Radivilov) and the man who gave the eponymous Dragulescu its name? It’s hard to know where to begin. One lesser-known name to watch as well is France’s Loris Frasca, who is just beginning to come into his own on an event where the French have typically excelled.
Parallel Bars: China vs. the world
If rings is the most competitive men’s event in Baku, p-bars may to be the least. 2015 world champion You Hao is the biggest name among specialists on this apparatus, and China has also entered newcomer Du Yixin, who, if he’s anything like the Chinese tend to be on this event, is beyond superb. Otherwise, there’s room for surprise from someone like Russian all-around silver medalist Vladyslav Polyashov, Japan’s Kaito Sugimoto or Turkey’s Colak, or a veteran, like Belarusian Olympian Andrei Likhovitskiy or Romania’s Cristian Bataga.
High Bar: Return of the big four
The kings of swing -- 2012 Olympic champion Epke Zonderland, 2017 World champion Tin Srbic of Croatia, 2010 World gold medalist Zhang Chenglong of China, and Japan’s Hidetaka Miyachi, who has no world title to his name but does the most difficult element anyone’s ever seen on the event with exceptionally good form, will each get their turn to prove that they are the champion of today. The day after, it will be back to the gym to prepare for the next one.