Artem Dolgopyat

World champions, medalists lead Doha World Cup qualification

Carlos Yulo of the Philippines is the leader after qualification at the Doha World Cup in Qatar.

Carlos Yulo of the Philippines is the leader after qualification at the Doha World Cup in Qatar.

Six gymnasts from five different nations topped the standings in qualification at the Doha World Cup Wednesday and Thursday in the Qatari capital.

Doha brings back excellent memories for Carlos Yulo of the Philippines, who won his first world medal — a bronze on floor — at the Aspire Dome last October. Yulo was formidable in his return there Wednesday, where he posted the highest score on the event (14.6) to top 2017 World all-around champion Xiao Ruoteng (14.533).

Belgium’s Jonathan Vrolix posted an impressive 14.5 for third, proving that he’s a threat for the podium among a finals field that also includes world medalist Alexander Shatilov of Israel, Turkish star Ahmet Onder and Australian daredevil Chris Remkes, who tumbles a triple twisting double layout.

In the absence of Artem Dolgopyat of Israel, who already has two first-place finishes in the series, Yulo, who won floor at the Melbourne World Cup last month, is almost sure to move ahead of him in the actual rankings, but more important is the fact that Yulo has the chance to get another win here. In this game, a gymnast’s top three finishes count toward their standing in the World Cup rankings, meaning that three wins on the world cup circuit almost assures them the Olympic berth.

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World bronze medalist Lee Chih-Kai of Chinese Taipei, who also won in Baku, continued his streak of success with the top qualifying score on pommel horse, beating 2013 world champion Kohei Kameyama, the champion from Baku. Lee had a catastrophic performance in Azerbaijan and didn’t even qualify for the final, but by that point he’d already racked up two wins on the circuit, and a third win all but assures him the Olympic spot. Lee scored 15.166, ahead 2016 Olympian Harutyun Merdinyan of Armenia, who scored 14.966.

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Bolstered by a 6.4 D-score, China’s Lan Xingyu qualified first on rings (15.166), ahead of Vahagn Davtyan (14.966) and Artur Tomvasyan (14.908). On vault, Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov used his Dragulescu and excellent Tsuk double pike to excellent effect (14.916), putting him ahead of resurgent 2012 Olympic champion Yang Hak-seon (14.9), whose patented handspring front triple full is as good as ever despite an injury-filled few years.

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Two-time world champion Zou Jingyuan leads parallel bars by a monster 15.866, 1.133 ahead of his nearest competitor. It’s been quite awhile since an event specialist has been so dominant that he or she could win with a fall, but then again, Zou is one of the great parallel bar workers in history.

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On high bar, 2017 world champion Tin Srbic continues his prolonged battle with world champion Epke Zonderland. Srbic won round one in Doha; Zonderland, whose performances indicate that he understands well the difference between qualifications and finals, finished fourth. The surprise in the group was Kazakhstan’s Milad Karimi, who showed a 6.2 D-score routine (higher than both Srbic and Zonderland) for an impressive 14.3, just 0.033 behind Srbic. Japan’s Hidetaka Miyachi, another gymnast with a possibility of winning the world rankings crown, qualified sixth to the final.

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Hugely competitive fields on each apparatus have led to some surprising shutouts, including three-time world champion Marian Draguelscu (ninth on floor), 2010 high bar world champion Zhang Chenglong (10th on high bar), Olympic rings bronze medalist Denis Ablyazin of Russia (14th on rings) and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Diego Hypolito, who showed a relatively simple 4.7 difficulty routine for 11.7 (40th on floor).

Preview: Olympic, World champions round out men’s roster at Baku World Cup

Team Japan in Baku earlier this week. Photo: Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation.

Team Japan in Baku earlier this week. Photo: Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation.

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.