As far as the top 8 for this event, I expect that the first 4 will contain two Russians, Rizatdinova from the Ukraine and Staniouta from Belarus. The big question for me is whether Mamun from Russia will perform and whether she will finally show her routines in their shining, flawless quality, especially the clubs. I think Rita has better routines than the other 2 Russians and she deserves to get rewarded for them. Will Rita perform confidently? Nobody can question she has shown masterful execution with hoop and ribbon. But she needs to take the ball routine, and especially the clubs, to the same level.
For spots 4-7, I see the following gymnasts fighting quite an exciting battle: the experienced Neta Rivkin from Israel, the young, but wonderful Katsyarina Halkina from Belarus, and Marina Durunda from Azerbaijan who absolutely dazzled at the last couple of big tournaments. My preference is for Durunda and Halkina and I hope they motivate more seasoned gymnasts to show new, more interesting routines.Although I love Durunda, I think the home advantage will really boost Halkina in Minsk. Halkina' s hoop is her strongest exercise, but I also see a lot of promise for her ball routine, which she performs with this elegant blue leotard.
But I would like to hope that Marina Durunda will step up to the challenge to show that she is a better and more interesting gymnast than many in the elite, with very intense routines, and exceptionally clean lines. Marina got a lot of praise for her exciting ribbon routine. I also love her hoop exercise very much and would love to see her receive higher scores for all of her hard work, and all the control and elegance she shows.
Who will take the 8th spot? This is perhaps the most interesting question. While several gymnasts have a chance including Moustafaeva from France, Filanovsky from Israel, and Shafizada from Azerbaijan, my favorites for entering the elite this year are the Greek Varvara Filiou who has added a lot of difficulty and even more expression to her routines, and, most importantly, the Georgian star Salome Pazhava. Salome has already shown quite a strong presence, especially with clubs and hoop. Here is Salome preparing for her exceptional dance with knives to traditional Georgian music. Blue does seem to be this season's color!
I would still like to hope that this championship will be a big break for Varvara, who totally deserves a spot among the world's best athletes.