Top rhythmic gymnasts to watch in Rio
16-year-old Laura Zeng has already smashed numerous U.S. rhythmic gymnastics records in her short career: first U.S. athlete to win a rhythmic gymnastics Olympic or Youth Olympic medal when she claimed bronze at the 2014 Youth Olympics. Best ever finish for a U.S. rhythmic gymnast at the world championships when she placed eighth in 2015. First U.S. athlete to win a medal at a rhythmic gymnastics World Cup competition when she claimed two bronzes at the Minsk World Cup in 2016. Now Zeng has a chance to make Olympic history: if she finishes 10th or better in Rio, she’ll beat the previous best placement by a U.S. rhythmic gymnast at the Olympics, set by Valerie Zimring in 1984.
The “Angel with Iron Wings,” as she’s nicknamed for her elegance and strength, will be the clear favorite for all-around gold when she makes her Olympic debut in Rio. Born and raised in Moscow, Russia, Kudryavtseva won her first world championships all-around title in 2013 at age 15. She repeated as world champion in 2014 and 2015, becoming the youngest rhythmic gymnast ever to win three all-around world titles. Reigning world champions have only won Olympic gold twice.
A two-time silver medalist in the all-around at the world championships, Russia’s Mamun will likely share the Olympic podium with her close friend and training partner, Kudryavtseva. Mamun has finished second to Kudryavtseva multiple times in her career, but has bested Kudryavtseva the last two times they faced off, at the Kazan and Baku World Cup events. Mamun claimed the overall World Cup series title, which may give her the edge in Rio.
One of the few rhythmic gymnasts in Rio with prior Olympic experience, Belarus’ Staniouta could be the biggest threat to Russia’s stronghold on Olympic gold in rhythmic gymnastics. She finished third, behind Russia’s Kudryavtseva and Mamun, at the 2015 World Championships.
The U.S. rhythmic gymnastics group: Kiana Eide, Alisa Kano, Natalie McGiffert, Monica Rokham, Jennifer Rokhman (alternate)
A few years ago, a handful of young rhythmic gymnasts spread out around the United States got a invitation: would you be willing to give up your individual career, uproot your family and move to suburban Illinois to join the national rhythmic gymnastics group, which has a slim chance of qualifying for the Olympics? These women said yes and the six-person U.S. rhythmic gymnastics group was formed--and in 2015, made history. After being the highest placed group from the Americas at the 2015 World Championships, they earned an Olympic berth. They are the first U.S. group to qualify for the Olympics since 1996, when the U.S. received an automatic berth as the host country.