While “comebacks” was a major theme of 2010, it’s going to be the front page headline in 2011. The returns to competition of world and Olympic champions Paul Hamm and Shawn Johnson could each be among the most thrilling and highly publicized sports comebacks of all time. Paul Hamm has unofficially stated plans to compete at the upcoming Winter Cup in February, and Shawn Johnson will likely return to competition next summer. With two of the most popular and accomplished gymnasts in American history returning to the USA team in the year prior to the Olympic Games, gymnastics fans could hardly ask for anything more.
2. Senior Debuts
The two most highly touted junior female gymnasts in the world will become age eligible for senior competition on precisely January 1st, 2011. After easily breezing past their junior competitors and consistently outscoring most of the world’s top senior gymnasts in the past year, the USA’s Jordyn Wieber and Russia’s Viktoria Komova should be well worth the wait. Both will not only be looking to overtake elder teammates Mustafina and Bross for their respective national titles, but the two may find themselves in a heated battle for the world all-around title in October.
3. Men’s Team Rematches
The Chinese men may have won the last four world championships and the last Olympic Games, but the Japanese will have the home court advantage when the worlds come to Tokyo this year. After winning silver behind China in the last three major team battles, the powerful Japanese team will be hungrier than ever for the gold. And the U.S. men, hopefully boosted by the efforts of Paul Hamm, will be looking to knock Germany off the medal podium after losing the bronze to them in Rotterdam.
4. Intriguing Women’s Team Battle
As the world’s top three women’s teams all now have a major title behind them (USA 2007, China 2008, Russia 2010), the 2011 battle will be even fiercer than the one played out in Rotterdam. Russia will grow much stronger with Viktoria Komova in the picture, while the U.S. will have the equally formidable Jordyn Wieber and possibly even Shawn Johnson on the squad in Tokyo. A revitalized Romania will have another year under coaches Belu and Bitang behind them and will likely be a more legitimate medal contender than the 2010 team. The Japanese, fifth in Rotterdam and perhaps the most improved team in the world, is filled with exciting talent and will be performing in front of a proud and passionate home crowd.
5. “Thirty Is The New Twenty”
The growing trend of competing at an older age will continue to be fashionable in 2011. In addition to headliner Paul Hamm, who will be two months shy of his 30th birthday in London, several other international stars will continue to fight Mother Nature as they chase their dreams in the upcoming year. Elder statesmen Jordan Jovtchev and Oksana Chusovitina, ages 37 and 35, show no signs of calling it quits before London. Neither do Slovenians Mitja Petkovsek and Aljaz Pegan, who continue to be among the best in the world on their respective specialties (p-bars and high bar) at ages 33 and 36. Multiple world floor and vault champion Marian Draguescu just turned 30 this month. Long time Brazilian stars Daniele Hypolito and Daiane dos Santos are both still competing at 26 and 27. British star Beth Tweddle just won the world bars title at 25, after also winning the world floor title one year ago. The beloved Anna Pavlova, cursed with bad luck in 2004 and 2008, has recently recommitted herself to the sport at 23. American Alicia Sacramone just won her first world vault title and looks better than ever at 22, and her longtime vault rival Cheng Fei appears to be back in training at the exact same age.
Happy New Year Everyone!!!