Preview: Will Russia Finally Rule Team Finals?
(11 votes, average 4.36 out of 5)

First in qualification, favorite Russia will need to overcome not just China and the United States, but ghosts of team finals past to win its first world team title Wednesday evening.

Russia beat both China — the 2008 Olympic champion — and the United States — the defending world champion &mdash during the qualification competition in Rotterdam. The victory gave the top-seeded Russians the favored Olympic order for the team final, putting them up first on vault and last on floor exercise.

Russia's depth and difficulty on all four events give it the edge in the final. Using the teams' projected lineup and scores from qualification, Russia has nearly a two-point cushion over the Chinese gymnasts, who just edge the Americans.

The preliminary victory was merely a morale boost, said Aliya Mustafina, the top individual qualifier, who noted her team was first despite committing mistakes. But all the gymnasts and their coaches know that finals start from zero, and the three-up, three-count competition format means anything can happen.

To win their first global team title, the Russian women will need to avoid the same meltdowns that have plagued them in past team finals. Since first competing as an independent nation in 1993, the Russian women have won 23 individual world and Olympic gold medals, but zero team titles. And it wasn't for a lack of talent: The Russian women qualified first at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and the 1997 Worlds, but each time floundered in the final to silver.

Since 2001, when they took their third straight world silver behind Romania, the Russian have suffered from a lack of depth and consistency. The team was third at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 Worlds, but lost the bronze at the 2007 Worlds when Yekaterina Kramarenko famously scored a zero on vault. Multiple falls in the 2008 Olympic final cost them the bronze again.

But with new talent, a new attitude and a new head coach in Alexander Alexandrov, the Russians are back, and their first world title is in reach Wednesday.

Using qualification scores and submitted lineups, let's a take a look at the eight teams in this evening's final:

1. Russia
 Ksenia Afanasyeva14.766
Aliya Mustafina15.60015.30014.93314.833
Tatiana Nabiyeva15.46614.700
Ksenia Semyonova14.458
Yekaterina Kurbatova14.733
Anna Dementyeva14.20015.13314.200

Strengths: Difficulty, artistry
Weaknesses: Inconsistency, youth

Russia will count heavily on Mustafina, who will do all four events in the final. Her total difficulty is the most of any gymnast, but the unforgiving 6-3-3 format will not allow for mistakes.

A lot of pressure will go on the slim shoulders of Anna Dementyeva, the youngest gymnast in Rotterdam. Dementyeva, who turns 16 on Dec. 28, will compete three events, and will be last up on beam.

The feisty Tatiana Nabiyeva will compete the first two events, and if she is off on either it could cost Russia the title. Her Yurchenko 2 1/2 vault is booming but messy, and her toe-on layout Tkatchev on uneven bars exciting but risky. Nabiyeva, another first-year senior, could make or break the team tonight in the first two rotations.

2007 uneven bars world champion Ksenia Semyonova will sit out that event, but will be the table setter for the team on balance beam in the third rotation. A veteran of the teams that finished off the podium at the 2007 Worlds and 2008 Olympics, Semyonova would no doubt love a team gold medal on her 18th birthday.

2. China
Jiang Yuyuan14.73315.20014.33313.833
He Kexin16.066
Sui Lu14.40014.633
Huang Qiushuang14.60015.66613.333
Deng Linlin15.100
Yang Yilin14.566

Strengths: Experience, uneven bars
Weaknesses: Inconsistency, lack of power

China can crush the rest of the field with its total on uneven bars, and can do the same on beam with three hit routines. But with no Cheng Fei, the team lacks a big vault and top tumbling on floor exercise.

China's scoring potential is higher than in the breakdown, however, as it hopes several gymnasts will perform better than in qualification. Sui Lu has the potential to oustcore the field on beam, but was forced to grab the apparatus in qualification. The Chinese also committed several costly mistakes on floor exercise.

China has experience on its side: four of the gymnasts from its gold-medal Olympic squad are back in Rotterdam. Jiang Yuyuan is the new team captain and will do all four events. The Chinese also boast half the event world champions in women's gymnastics: He Kexin on uneven bars and Deng Linlin on balance beam.

3. United States
Rebecca Bross14.93315.26614.166
Mackenzie Caquatto14.93314.466
Bridget Sloan14.700
Mattie Larson13.233
Alexandra Raisman15.03314.76614.383
Alicia Sacramone15.46614.866

United States
Strengths: Experience
Weaknesses: Uneven bars, injuries

The U.S. lacks big scores on uneven bars. Like in Beijing, that deficit may be too much to make up if the Americans aren't perfect on all other events.

The team also is dealing with injuries to Rebecca Bross, who will sit out vault in finals, and Brigdet Sloan, who will compete uneven bars only.

But the U.S. also has experience, with veteran Alicia Sacramone back as team captain. Sloan and Bross were 1-2 at the 2009 Worlds and have shown they can deliver under pressure.

Like China, the U.S. can score higher in finals. Mattie Larson, who fell on floor exercise in qualification, is capable of a huge score for the U.S. team.

4. Romania
Sandra Izbasa14.83314.33314.766
Ana Porgras14.73315.26614.066
Diana Chelaru14.60014.466
Raluca Haidu14.63314.000
Gabriela Dragoi13.36613.400
Cerasela Patrascu

Strengths: Consistency, lack of pressure
Weaknesses: Vault, uneven bars

With Octavian Bellu and Mariana Bitang back in charge, the Romanian women are rebuilding their team toward 2012. Bellu, back with the team since June, has said he wants the gymnasts to have fun and challenge themselves.

The team is playing it safe, keeping some higher-scoring routines out of the lineup in favor of more consistency. (European beam medalist Raluca Haidu will sit out the event after falling on her risky full in prelims).

Most of the gymnasts are returning from injury, but Romania has its strong tradition of consistency on its side.

5. Australia
Georgia Bonora13.83313.76614.26613.400
Ashleigh Brennan14.30013.833
Emily Little14.466
Larrissa Miller14.300
Lauren Mitchell14.73313.70014.96614.466
Georgia Wheeler

Strengths: Form, consistency
Weaknesses: Lack of difficulty

The Australian squad finished sixth in qualification, but 6-3-3 may favor them to place higher in finals. Double world medalist Lauren Mitchell has shown she has what it takes to bring in big scores, and new double-twisting Yurchenkos from her and Emily Little greatly improve the Aussies' scoring potential.

The team is fresh off success at the Commonwealth Games, but lower difficulty means they will have to hope for mistakes from the top teams to get into the medals.

6. Great Britain
Beth Tweddle15.60014.000
Becky Downie13.70014.30014.033
Hannah Whelan14.30014.233
Jennifer Pinches
Nicole Hibbert13.93314.000
Imogen Cairns14.52513.26614.066

Great Britain
Strengths: Momentum
Weaknesses: Inconsistency

The British are soaring in both men's and women's gymnastics, and each competition seems to produce historic results for the 2012 Olympic hosts. The team outscored Romania at the European Championships under 6-3-3, and have the potential to surprise in Rotterdam. Team veterans Beth Tweddle and Becky Downie will need to be stronger on their best events than they were in qualification.

Originally the alternate, 2008 Olympian Imogen Cairns was a smart addition to the lineup after her gold-medal performance at the Commonwealth Games. Cairns, a vault finalist in Rotterdam, will compete three events for the British in team finals.

7. Italy
Elisabetta Preziosa13.66614.525
Lia Parolari13.60013.500
Jessica Mattoni
Serena Licchetta13.80014.10013.900*13.600
Vanessa Ferrari13.83313.93314.458
Eleonora Rando13.266

Strengths: Artistry
Weaknesses: Inconsistency, depth

The Italians have some of the most interesting gymnasts on the floor, but lack the difficulty and depth to challenge for a medal. The team also has 2006 world champion Vanessa Ferrari in its lineup, who led the team to an upset victory over Romania at the 2006 Europeans.

* Serena Licchetta did not compete balance beam in qualification. Vanessa Ferrrari's 13.900, the next highest score for Italy on beam, was substituted for estimation purposes.

8. Japan
Koko Tsurumi13.90012.73314.16613.933
Yuko Shintake13.86613.366
Rie Tanaka14.33313.80013.86613.700
Mai Yamagishi13.700
Momoko Ozawa14.300
Kyoko Oshima

Strengths: Artistry, uneven bars
Weaknesses: Power, inconsistency

Japan was a fantastic fifth at the 2008 Olympics, but barely made the team final in Rotterdam after numerous misses in qualification. Led by 2009 world all-around bronze medalist Koko Tsurumi, Japan has high scoring potential on uneven bars and balance beam.

Japan also needs to increase its difficulty on floor exercise and vault, but has outstanding juniors waiting to rise to the occasion.

Most notably the Japanese have nothing to lose in Rotterdam, and will savor their experience in team finals as they get ready to host the worlds next year in Tokyo.

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