The World Championships in the post-Olympic year do not usually anticipate the next Games, though they do tend to introduce a few gymnasts who are likely to be competitive throughout the quad (for example, 2009 showed us the potential of Koko Tsurumi, Ana Porgras, Daniel Keatings and Elsa Garcia, to give four examples. Yes, some had competed internationally before that -- Tsurumi and Keatings were already Olympians even -- but it wasn't until the 2009 Worlds where they established themselves as the gymnasts to watch of the young quadrennium.)
The same thing will happen in a few weeks in Antwerp, but we'll also be treated to a show of simply beautiful gymnastics from many people may or may not aren't thinking as far ahead as Rio. Like the Olympics happens at the World Championships only once a quadrennium, and I've always found that it brings out the best in many competitors in the form of top-notch, ultra-polished performances. Here are 10 favorite examples from past post-Olympic Worlds that you should be watching right now:
1. Svetlana Khorkina, RUS.
Event: Beam. Perhaps fueled by Olympic disappointment, Russian great Khorkina was never better (or more dominant) than at the World Championships the year after the Games. In 1997, following a sixth-place finish in the Olympic all-around, Khorkina won the World all-around title and added gold on bars and silvers on beam and floor. Her fairy-like floor routine that year, to Zdenek Fibich's "Poem," was one of her best, but to me the best performance she gave at that meet was on beam, in one of those finals that gymnastics fans are still arguing about 15 years later.
I've always thought Khorkina should have won the beam title -- each of the top three gymnasts on the event (Gina Gogean of Romania, Khorkina and China's Kui Yuanyuan) had routines that started from a 10, but Khorkina was the only one to do hers without an obvious balance break. In addition, it was so original and so well done.
Watch it here: bit.ly/1avw7zD
2. Kui Yuanyuan, CHN.
Event: Beam. You can't mention Khorkina's 1997 Worlds beam routine without having a look at this wonderful, daring set from Kui, which still stands as one of the great beam routines, ever. Her slight wobble after the layout full and the tiny hop on the dismount cost her the title, but this performance serves as a reminder that the routines that we remember are not always the routines that win the gold medal.
Watch it here: bit.ly/1avwf2e
3. Ana Porgras, ROM.
Event: Floor. One of the highlights of the 2009 Worlds was the debut of Porgras, the first Romanian ballerina since Daniela Silivas. Porgras was a first-year senior in 2009, and even at 15 she exuded elegance. Of her three World Championships, 2009 was not her most successful -- Porgras went on to become World champion on beam in 2010 and took home the Longines Prize for Elegance in 2011, but it was the one where she reminded us all what wonderful gymnastics looked like, and how much promise the new quadrennium held.
Watch the routine here: bit.ly/14EDrkC
4. Marian Dragulescu, ROM.
Event: Floor: The McKayla Maroney of men's vaulters rolled into the 2009 World Championships at the end of a long career where he had almost singlehandedly re-established the Romanian men's program as one of the best in the World. He walked through the competition like it was one of his easier workout sessions, and came away with the World titles on vault and floor after sharp and clean performances.
Have a look at his floor here: http://bit.ly/17QtGlB
5. Alexei Nemov, RUS.
Event: Floor. Up until even finals, the 1997 Worlds were a disappointment for Nemov, who had been the most decorated athlete of the 1996 Olympics with his six medals (including golds in the team competition and on vault.) The Russian men had looked weak in team finals and scraped through with bronze after rallying on their last event. Nemov had broken his grip on rings on the second rotation of the all-around final and had not been able to finish the routine, resulting in a seven-something score that eliminated him as a contender for any medal. But in the men's floor final, he rallied with an exceptional routine that packaged all his class and elegance. Nobody could beat it.
Watch it here: bit.ly/1fONU1U
6. Svetlana Boginskaya, USSR.
Event: Floor. The Belorussian swan gave one of her most courageous (and most avant-garde) performances at the 1989 Worlds, honoring her late coach Lyubov Miromanova, who committed suicide days after the 1988 Olympics. In doing so, she rewrote most of the rules of the post-Nadia era, showing that you didn't have to be 14 and four-foot-nothing to be a great gymnast. This wonderful routine is often pointed to as one of the best examples of artistry on women's floor.
Check it out here: bit.ly/uhXJh
7. Oksana Omelianchik, USSR.
Event: Floor. Not that the gymnasts who were 14 years old and four-foot-nothing didn't produce stunning work as well! Omelianchik's capped her Worlds debut -- the most successful competition of her career -- with this charming, beautiful exercise to music of chirping birds. Rarely does a piece of music and choreography fit a gymnast as well as this glorious routine.
Watch and be transported here: bit.ly/1dUiF8O
8. Daniela Silivas, ROM.
Event: Floor. Silivas's last World Championships were the encore of a long and splendid gymnastics career. She ended on floor with this lovely clap-your-hands piece that showed off her charm and beauty on the event. And like so many other times in her career, the result was the same: a gold medal for Romania, tying with Boginskaya.
Watch it here: bit.ly/15cxijo
9. Jani Tanskanen, FIN.
Event: High Bar. Tanskanen came into the high bar final in Lausanne in 1997 with the chance to become the first Finn to win a medal at a Worlds in more than a generation. He didn't disappoint either: his clean work and two Kovacses earned him the title over high bar stars like Spain's Jesus Carballo, Jr., Russia's Evgeni Zhukov, Ukraine's Alexander Beresch and that great unbreakable Belarussian Ivan Ivankov, who came down on the bar on his chin while trying to connect two Kovacses swinging in the opposite direction than he had warmed up. Tanskannen carried the day.
Check out his routine here: bit.ly/1euyPVa
10. Svetlana Khorkina, RUS.
Event: Vault. Since we started with Khorkina in 1997, let's revisit her in 2001, when she was again disappointed (and let's admit it, enraged) by the vault fiasco that marred the women's all-around final at the 2000 Olympic Games. It was the 1997 Worlds all over again: Khorkina won the all-around, bars, and this time, to the great surprise of some, vault. (There never was a less likely World vault champion, but Khorkina's second signature vault, a roundoff, half on, tucked Rudi off, was revolutionary and perfect for someone of her body type. It also must be harder than it looks, given how few gymnasts have done it since, even in the tucked position.)
Watch it here: bit.ly/1aj4KoO