Olympics-Gymnastics-Russian men seek gold in team event; new generation of women emerges

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By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian gymnasts are expected to capture the men's all-around title and a string of medals in individual events at the Tokyo Games, though the joy of standing on the Olympic podium will be tempered by the absence of their flag and national anthem.

Reigning world champion Nikita Nagornyy is favoured to win the all-around title. Anything less for the 24-year-old, who has not lost a major international competition since finishing third at the 2018 World Championships, would be a big disappointment.

The men's team will look to improve on their Rio silver and win gold for the first time since 1996, but their chances will likely depend on the fitness of 2018 world all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan, who had surgery on a torn Achilles in April.

The team said at the same they hoped he would recover in time for Tokyo, but the nature of the injury raises questions about his readiness for the Games.

Dalaloyan's leg was "hanging just like a piece of meat" after he severed his Achilles in training before the European Championships, he told Olympics.com.

"If pain was a person, it would definitely be my friend," he said. "Because it happens that sports, especially artistic gymnastics, is always about injuries, calluses, unpleasant moments."

While the one-year postponement of the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been good news for some athletes, giving them more time to recover from injury, Nagornyy said it had not helped his team mates.

"Ivan Stretovich was injured and had surgery last year, and Artur Dalaloyan this year," he told Reuters in the run-up to the Games. "So the postponement of the Olympic Games hasn't helped us, quite the opposite."

A NEW GENERATION

While the Olympic postponement might have hurt Russia's men, it has allowed some young Russian female gymnasts to become eligible for senior competitions and benefit from an additional year of training.

Anchored by 20-year-old Angelina Melnikova, who was the youngest member of the silver medal-winning team in Rio, the Russian women's squad includes 16-year-olds Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova.

Listunova won gold in the all-around at this year's European Championships while Urazova took silver in the uneven bars.

Both gymnasts have limited experience at the senior level, making it difficult to predict how they will perform in Tokyo against an American team led by Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee.

Russian athletes will be competing in Tokyo as representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) because the country was stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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