They are part athletes, part acrobats, and their seemingly impossible feats of gravity-defying contortion form one of the Games' most compelling spectacles. Male gymnasts in Sydney will compete in the six artistic events-the pommel horse, the rings, vault, parallel bars, floor and horizontal bars. For the women (more accurately, girls), there are two disciplines: artistic-vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor; and rhythmic-rope, hoop, ball, ribbon or clubs. In trampolining, which debuts as a medal sport at Sydney, the men will bound as high as 9-10 m.
Expect a tussle between Atlanta all-around silver medalist Alexei Nemov, of Russia, and compatriot Nikolay Krukov, the world all-around champion. Nemov is rated the world's best in the pommel horse and the floor exercise, and won gold on the vault at Atlanta. The Russians, Chinese and Ukrainians are traditionally the strongest in the six events of the men's artistic category-but watch for individual stars like Spain's Jesus Carballo, on the horizontal bars, and China's Dong Zhen on the rings.
The team world champions are Romania, whose Maria Olaru is the all-around individual world champ. But Sydney's medals will be fiercely contested, with Russian team leader Svetlana Khorkina, 1996 gold medalist on the uneven bars, expected to mount a strong challenge for the all-around gold-one of the few gymnastics honors that still elude her.
In the team event, Romania, Russia and Ukraine will fight it out for the gold medal -with China also a strong contender. Australia, now ranked fifth in the world, are considered a bronze-medal chance, with the U.S. their main rivals.
The top contenders will be Russian sensation Alina Kabaeva, the all-around world champion, and her compatriot Elena Vitrichenko, world champion in the rope and hoop. Also a chance is Yulia Raskina of Belarus, in the ribbon and ball. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine should lead the team medal chase.
Russia's Alexandre Moskalenko is rated the world's best, but has several rivals, including David Martin of France and Australia's Ji Wallace.
After a stunning effort at last year's world championships, where she set a new world record and performed 21 somersaults and 12 twists in under 20 sec., Russia's Irina Karavaeva will shine, but she has determined rivals, including Ukraine's Oksana Tsyhuleva.
WHEN TO WATCH
- Team Sept. 18
- Indiv. All-round Sept. 20
- Indiv. Apparatus Sept.24, 25
- Team final Sept. 19
- Indiv. all-around Sept. 21
- Indiv. apparatus Sept. 24, 25
Men's & Women's Gala Sept. 26
- Group Sept. 30
- Individual all-round Oct. 1
- Final Sept. 23
- Final Sept. 22