GB gymnasts expect World medals

Britain’s top gymnasts expect to win World Championship medals on home soil at London’s O2 Arena this week.

In-form Beth Tweddle is the reigning European champion in the floor and can expect to reach the uneven bars final.

And both of the men who beat Olympic bronze medallist Louis Smith in the pommel horse in Beijing are absent.

“I’m very excited, especially with a home crowd, and I’m a bit nervous because I don’t want to let anyone down,” said 20-year-old Smith.

“Everyone saw me get the bronze in Beijing and they see the World Championships as an easier competition, so there’s a lot of expectation for me to improve on bronze.

“I hope to go there, do a clean routine – I’ve been working with a new routine with a high start score – and we’ll see what happens.

Events in the 12,000-seat arena begin with men’s qualifying on Tuesday, with Daniel Keatings beginning his bid for an all-around medal at 0950 BST, and Smith taking to the pommel horse in the final session at 2025 BST.

“I’m super-excited, although because it’s in my home country I’m going to be nervous,” said Keatings, 19.

“I’d love to be in the all-around final, that would be an amazing achievement for me.

“I’m super-excited, although because it’s in my home country I’m going to be nervous.

“I’d love to be in the all-around final, that would be an amazing achievement for me.”

Women’s qualifying takes place on Wednesday, with Tweddle and Becky Downie among a five-strong GB squad.

Without a number of Olympic and world champions to defend their titles, Britain may never get a better opportunity to dominate a World Championships than in 2009, the first major tournament on home soil for any of the GB squad.

The men’s all-around final takes place from 1830 BST on Thursday, with the women’s equivalent at the same time on Friday.

The competition concludes with both men’s and women’s individual apparatus finals on Saturday and Sunday, with no team or rhythmic gymnastics events to be staged.

Seven of last year’s 12 Olympic champions will not compete in London, for a number of reasons.

China dominated the men’s events in Beijing, but several of their athletes are reported to have since retired.

US star Shawn Johnson has taken 12 months out of the sport, winning the US entertainment show Dancing With The Stars earlier this year, while Nastia Liukin, who will be in London to cheer on the US team, withdrew citing a lack of training after similar TV and commercial commitments.

Sandra Izbasa, the Romanian Olympic champion who would have rivalled Tweddle in the floor event, suffered a serious Achilles injury in September and was forced to withdrew.

German Fabian Hambuechen, a favourite for the men’s all-around title, was also ruled out after rupturing a ligament in his left foot during training Sunday.

Tweddle finished fourth behind Izbasa, Johnson and Liukin in the Beijing floor competition, leaving the 24-year-old a real chance of gold in London.

“I’d love to win another world title,” said Tweddle. “With a home crowd it’d be the best feeling in the world.

“This is going to give everyone experience ahead of 2012, it’s kind of a test event for the Olympics – I can’t wait.

“But although everyone would love me to say ‘I’ll go out and win two titles,’ the competition’s going to be tough.”

The other major name in Britain’s 10-strong team is 17-year-old Downie, who produced a 12th-place finish in the all-around competition in Beijing.

“It’ll be a whole new experience, I’ve never competed in front of a home crowd before,” she said.

“We’re just trying to go out there, do what we’ve been doing in training, and do the best we can. A final or two would be nice.”

Despite numerous withdrawals, a strong field is still expected in each event.

Entrants in the men’s competition include China’s Zou Kai, who won three gold medals in Beijing, and compatriot Chen Yibing, winner of two golds.

China’s Zhang Hongtao and Hungary’s Krisztian Berki are likely to rival Smith for pommel horse gold.

Flamboyant Brazilian Diego Hypolito will be expected to light up the floor event.

In the women’s competition, Downie goes up against Russia’s Ksenia Semenova and China’s Yang Yilin, and Tweddle’s main rivals in the uneven bars are expected to be Semenova and Chinese Olympic champion He Kexin.

The World Championships are being held in London for the first time.

They were last held in the UK in Birmingham in 1993, which was also the venue for the 1996 women’s European Championships, the last major international tournament on British soil.

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