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When two-time world all-around champion Kohei Uchimura dropped out of this weekend’s American Cup in Jacksonville due to an ongoing shoulder injury, the fight for second place suddenly became a fight for the all-around title.  And it’s a title that now carries more prestige than ever before.

In a gymnastics world that has become dominated by event specialists over the past ten years, traditional all-around competitions like the American Cup were beginning to lose their luster.  Formerly viewed as a coveted international crown, the American Cup, which began annually in 1976, had gradually begun attracting fewer and fewer of the world’s top gymnasts, and at times had become a somewhat awkward mix of competitors – usually a handful of mediocre or out-of-shape foreign all-arounders competing against a couple of American stars.

With its recent designation as an official World Cup all-around event, the beloved American Cup of the 1980’s and 1990’s has not only been reborn,  but it may be more prestigious now than ever before.  In its 25-year history, the American Cup has never before boasted eight competitors all ranked as highly on the world stage as are the men’s competitors on the roster for this weekend.  Not only did all eight men who are slated to compete in Jacksonville finish among the top 13 in the world in Rotterdam less than five months ago, but four of them were battling for medals and ended up in the top five.

The USA’s Jonathan Horton will undoubtedly be the fan favorite as the lone American in front of a lively home crowd.  The 2008 Olympic medalist recently regained his confidence after winning his first ever world all-around bronze in October, less than two tenths behind the smooth German, Philip Boy, who took the world all-around silver and also led his team to bronze ahead of the United States.  Horton will surely be aiming to beat his new German rival, but he’ll be doing so at less than 100%.  His biggest challenge may be some recent missed training time due to a broken thumb that kept him out of top routine shape for several weeks.

Finishing just behind Horton at the world championships were Ukraine’s Nikolai Kuksenkov and Great Britain’s Daniel Purvis, both of whom have incredibly clean and stylish gymnastics and provided some surprises at those world championships.  If Horton and Boy have mistakes this weekend, either of these two consistent gymnasts could sneak in for an upset.  Japan’s Koji Uematsu, who finished 2nd behind Uchimura at last year’s Japanese Nationals, shouldn’t be counted out as a contender either.  Though he finished 8th in Rotterdam, Uematsu counted some large errors in that competition which, if added back to his total score, would have placed him right in the medal mix with Boy and Horton.

Russia’s Sergei Khorokhordin and Great Britain’s Samuel Hunter may not have any individual specialties that particularly stand out, but they each have solid all-around arsenals that placed them in the top ten in the world in October.  And France’s Cyril Tommasone, 13th in Rotterdam, is most known for his work on pommel horse, an event where he finished 4th at both of the last two world championships.

Kohei Uchimura’s superhuman gymnastics will surely be missed this weekend, but his absence creates a tremendous opportunity for one of these eight world class athletes.  Sometimes the best competitions don’t have a clear cut favorite, and that’s why the men’s competition this weekend will not only be heated; it will be completely wide open.

It’s the year before the Olympic Games, and at least for eight men and eight women in Jacksonville, Florida, the official march towards London 2012 will now begin.