By Karen Price | Aug. 30, 2017, 2:33 p.m. (ET)
Laura Zeng competes in the individual ribbon qualification at the World Games at Centennial Hall on July 22, 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland.

 

The 35th Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships opened today in Pesaro, Italy, and the U.S. is represented by individual gymnasts Laura Zeng and Evita Griskenas, the gold and silver all-around medalists at this year’s national championships. 

They will be competing in each of the four apparatuses — hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon — with the top athletes advancing to the all-around. The U.S. will also have a group of five gymnasts competing in the group all-around as well as apparatus finals in five hoops and three balls/two ropes.

Here are a few things to watch for:

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Laura Zeng Leads The Way

Zeng is already the most successful U.S. rhythmic gymnast ever, and she’s only 17 years old. In 2015, her first year on the senior circuit, she finished eighth in the all-around for the best finish ever by an American at worlds and qualified for the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Then in Rio, she finished 11th in the all-around, the best finish for a U.S. rhythmic gymnast since 1984 and matching the best finish by an American rhythmic gymnast ever in the Olympics. This year, she captured her third consecutive national title and will look to continue to lead the way for the U.S. women in international rhythmic competition. 

Evita Griskenas Follows Her Training Partner’s Footsteps

Griskenas, 16, finished second to Zeng, her training partner, at the national champions in July and is making her world championships debut. She’s also the 2017 U.S. hoop and ribbon champion, and won the silver medal in ball and bronze in clubs. She finished sixth in the all-around at the 2017 world cup event in Baku, Azerbaijan, earlier this year for her highest placement in an international competition.

A Young U.S. Group Makes Its World Championship Debut

The U.S. group, which also trains at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center near Chicago along with Zeng and Griskenas, consists of Dasha Baltovick, Natalie Bourand, Connie Du, Yelyzaveta Merenzon, Nicole Sladkov and Kristina Sobolevskaya. They are all making their world championships debuts, although several do come from accomplished individual rhythmic gymnastics backgrounds, including Bourand, who was a member of the U.S. junior national team in 2015. The group won the 2017 senior national title. 

With No 2016 Olympic All-Around Medalists Competing, The Podium Is Ripe For Fresh Faces

Some of the top gymnasts of the past few years either retired or are on hiatus since the 2016 Olympics. Russia’s Yana Kudryavtseva retired in January, following a silver medal in Rio as well as three consecutive all-around titles from 2013 to 2015 and the most recent world titles in ball, clubs and ribbon. Meanwhile, the Olympic all-around gold medalist and 2015 world hoop champion, Russia’s Margarita Mamun, is on hiatus. Ukraine’s Ganna Rizatdinova, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, will also not be competing, meaning that there could be several up-and-comers who transition to first-time world champions this year. 

Following Along From Home 

The competition is already underway, with the hoop and ball qualification and finals taking place on Wednesday, followed by the clubs and ribbon qualification and finals on Thursday. Both Zeng and Griskenas qualified into apparatus finals, Zeng in ball and Griskenas in hoop, marking the first time ever that two U.S. gymnasts advanced into apparatus finals. Scores from those two days will be totaled, and the top 24 gymnasts will advance to Friday’s all-around final. The group will compete in the all-around on Saturday, and the competition will end with the group apparatus finals on Sunday. 

There will be live streaming on USA Gymnastics’ YouTube channel, and live results will be posted on the official website at http://www.rgwch2017.com/. Live streaming on the YouTube channel will begin Wednesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, Friday at 9:15 a.m. ET, Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET and Sunday at 8 a.m. ET. 

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.