ANTWERP, 11:06 a.m.: Japan's Kenzo Shirai, a 17-year-old phenom who excels at twisting, landed a nearly stuck triple twisting Yurchenko as casually as most elite gymnasts do Yurchenko doubles. The Japanese around the vault applauded. Shirai flashed a brief smile as he walked off, and didn't vault again.
Welcome to the new era in men's gymnastics. Podium training is underway at the Lotto Arena in Antwerp. The mats are peaceful shades of blue, and the podium a bright eggshell white. I asked Leslie King from USA Gymnastics whether she preferred snow white to the Barbie pink of the London arena last summer. "I'd like something between the two," she replied drily.
Over on floor exercise, the U.S.'s Sam Mikulak is going through the manoeuvres on floor. Mikulak will compete in the first men's subdivision on Monday, which is why he's training now. He's the only American in this subdivision. This being an individual Worlds, the gymnasts are competing, well, individually. So gymnasts from all teams are all spread out over five subdivisions. The U.S. men and women will compete individually (and train individually) in subdivisions 1, 3 and 4.
Looks like Kenzo Shirai has a second vault as well -- if I'm not mistaken, it's a handspring front double full.
11:28 a.m.: Even from the lofty heights of the press seats in this arena, Mikulak's good form was palpable. He looks similar to teammate Jake Dalton when he twists, which is a compliment to both gymnasts. Mikulak looked rougher on high bar and parallel bars, but with men it's not always evident from podium training how well they're going to do in the actual competition. You can get a better read from watching women train.
Whoever the kid from Brazil who just went on floor is, that was impressive. He showed a whip to Arabian double pike, Randi side pass and full in tuck dismount. Also beautiful lines. His coach followed him around the mat, making corrections as he went through the routine. The 2016 Olympic hosts have begun preparing their teams well.
Also on floor now: Romania's Flavius Koczi, the 2011 European champion on this event. Koczi was the king of twisting before Shirai came along and usurped the title, but looks to be taking it easier in podium training today.
11:55 a.m.: Now on floor is India's Ashish Kumar, the much-celebrated 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist on the event, and he just overrotated his 2.5 twist to immediate double front, which is very sharp. Nice punch front full to immediate Randi, too. His technique on this event is very good. It was less good a few minutes ago on high bar, but we won't go into it.
Switzerland's Cluadio Capelli, a veteran who always looks great at these meets, is also in this rotation. Capelli is the leader of a younger Swiss team that includes 18-year-old Christian Baumann and 2010 Junior Euros competitior Oliver Hegi. Notably absent is Euros silver medalist Lucas Fischer, whose emotional reaction to his medal was one of the highlights of the meet.
12:07 p.m.: Mikulak is using this podium training as a full training session, and showing routines on every event, but frankly most of the men here are not. Therein lies the difference between men's and women's gymnastics: the guys save their strength for the competition. The women ramp up in the training sessions, doing full routines or close to it.
Frankly what I'm seeing this morning from the men of subdivision one is a lot of falls, especially on vault and high bar. A lot of nearly made handspring double fronts, which might be sat on purpose, to preserve a gymnast's legs.
One highlight was the pommel horse set of Ukraine's Andrii Sienichkin or Maksym Semiankiv, a taller guy with excellent lines and a knack for scissor to handstands.
12:25 p.m.: For his grand finale, Shirai goes to floor, and he's just fabulous there -- so clean, so sharp, so.many.twists.
1:22 p.m.: The first subdivision over, Sam Mikulak said he was feeling good. It is weird training in the arena without his teammates, he confessed, but he likes the transition music ("The transition music, Animals? I was right at home!") and even danced to it, to the amusement of his competition.
"I love the energy that comes from having other teammates out there with me," he said, "but today everyone works out together that will be in the same rotation in qualifications. I was dancing a little bit, everyone was kind of smiling, I I got a little good vibe coming from everyone. That's kind of how I work."
Both he and Michigan coach Kurt Golder assured everyone that Sam was completely healthy, almost to the point where it's startling (gymnasts usually have something that hurts, after all.) "I think he's very well prepared and he's very healthy and I think he can contend for a medal," Golder said.
2:14 p.m.: Subdivision II includes Fabian Hambuechen of Germany (currently up on rings), rings specialist Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece (ditto, and impressive double double layout dismount!) and Ukraine's Oleksandr Saprun, a curly blond haired kid who does typical Ukrainian gymnastics on floor -- hard stuff, well executed, triple full dismount and what appears to be a roundoff, Arabian double front half out side pass. The skill level and intensity here feels higher than it did in the last subdivision. Or maybe everyone has just woken up a bit now.
2:24 p.m.: As a gymnast you know you're pretty good when you notice that other coaches from other countries gather around to watch you closely whenever you look like you might touch an apparatus. Such is the case for Petrounias. And no wonder -- he looks in the best shape he's ever been in, and he's been cranking those double double layouts off rings like a machine all rotation.
2:41 p.m.: Watch out for Switzerland, people! Aside from Capelli, who's 26, they have a very youthful team, with 21-year-old Michael Meier, 20-year-olds Oliver Hegi and Pablo Braegger and 18-year-old Baumann. I'm not sure who's who, but they have guys on pommel horse and rings right now. The guy on pommel horse has lovely form, and the one on rings just tossed off a double back to double full out dismount, if that was seen correctly!
2:50 p.m.: France's Arnaud Willig, the only all-arounder of the six French men here, looked very clean on parallel bars. Willig, an alternate for the French Olympic team in 2008 and 2012, has always one of their top generalists. He had a great day on the first day of competition at Euros, where he qualified fifth to the all-around final, too. You never know what a really good day can do for you...
3:04 p.m.: Gymnast of the hour: Pay attention to the Netherlands's Bart Deurloo. He's young, but has a ton of experience on the Dutch team, but he's always been injured for the biggest meets. Right now he's on high bar and has been going at it like Epke Zonderland with better form (but without big connections). He does connect a pirouette (I think) with a Kolman, and he's got a Cassina as well, but the form! And a wonderful stuck double double layout dismount that he just makes look easy. He's a good generalist too, and the Dutch men can certainly use him as they rebuild.
3:07 p.m.: Good gymnastics all over the place. Russia's Denis Ablyazin, currently on vault, just did the most amazing Tsuk double pike. He didn't look like he was going for a stick, but that's nearly what he got -- just the tiniest hop back. It's extraordinary how he has so much force during the vault and then can basically land on a dime.
Also one to keep an eye on is Spain's Fabian Gonzalez, who has been ascending through the senior ranks for the past few years. Gonzalez is a gymnast's gymnast -- he does hard tricks, he does double saltos with twists on floor, he really goes for it...
Speaking of going for it, Ablyazin just went for a Randi, which should be his second vault. Not even close -- landed on hands, knees and stomach. Whoops. He goes back to doing handspring front layout timers, and I take a moment to admire the clean lines and calm way of Canada's Ken Ikeda on parallel bars.
3:15 p.m.: It must be "Gape at Greeks" day here at the World Championships. (Why wasn't there a press release?) At the moment the coaches are all staring and almost salivating at Vasileos Tsolakidis, the parallel bars bronze medalist from the 2011 Worlds, as he quickly and efficiently executes a series of Diamadovs and pirouettes and makes it look easy.
His work reminds me just a little bit of 1992 and 1996 Olympian Sebastien Darrigade of France on the same event (Darrigade on p-bars here.) Funnily, Darrigade, now a French men's coach, is one of those gaping at Tsolakidis.
3:24 p.m.: Loving Deurloo's form on floor as well -- exceptionally clean. Wonderful Russians. (How often do we say that Russians on floor -- the skill, not the people -- are wonderful?!) This kid. Seriously.
3:31 p.m.: The first full-arena round of applause of the day comes for Germany's Fabian Hambuechen on high bar after he makes his layout Tkatchev to hop 1.5 to layout Jaeger full combo. The rest is typical Fabian high bar, muscular yet very smooth, with just a tiny shuffle on his double double layout. More applause. He's looked very impressive here as well, as he has all year. Could he take down Kohei, should the King make a mistake?
3:36 p.m.: Ukraine's Igor Radivilov, one of the more explosive vaulters in gymnastics history, purposefully sits down his handspring double front. (In competition, he should be showing a Dragulescu and Tsuk double pike.) Still, the height he gets off the table is breathtaking.
3:45 p.m.: China's gymnast in this subdivision looks a bit...unseasoned. He does have a powerful Tsuk 2.5 on vault. But rings were iffy and even parallel bars, an event China is so strong on, was not what it normally is for them. China's Olympic stars are not here, and instead the People's Republic has opted to send several inexperienced gymnasts and 2009 World pommel horse champion Zhang Hongtao.
3:49 p.m.: If Britain's Max Whitlock were an animal, he'd be a panther. He almost looks too muscular to be really elegant, to flow so smoothly into his gymnastics, but that's where he surprises you. Even his Yurchenko timers are things of beauty. Somehow since the Olympic Games he went from being the team rookie to being this extraordinary world class all-arounder. He's living up to expectations here in training -- absolutely one of the best in the world.
3:54 p.m.: Making a nice impression over on floor is Canada's Scott Morgan, who just did a great looking full routine, beginning with an extremely sharp and high whip half to double front pike. Got a well-deserved pat on the back from his coach as he came off the podium.
4:02 p.m.: Hambuechen's floor was a bit rough -- he looked a tad uncertain at times, but at the end he did a great 2.5 twist to immediate double front. He used to open with a double double layout, but I don't know if that's been seen since he tore his Achilles a few years ago. He ends with a good high double tuck. All-around medal podium for Fabian? It looks possible.
4:06 p.m.: And what about the host country? The Belgian men have at least two potential finalists in Donna-Donny Truyens (pommel horse), Jimmy Verbaeys (all-around) and a promising young gymnast in Daan Kenis. Truyens, who just finished up a set on pommel horse, has perhaps the most beautful feet in men's gymnastics. Wonderful toepoint.
4:21 p.m.: Russia's Denis Ablyazin appears to be the next candidate who could get everyone in the arena right now to applaud for him as he trains floor. Massive difficulty: Double double layout. Front double full to double front pike (wow, that got some applause). Arabian double pike side pass. 2.5 to front layout full. And a double layout to end, replacing the triple full he competed last year (the double lay actually looks like it's a bit easier for him to land well.) Yeah, that got a lot of applause.
4:36 p.m.: And that wraps the second men's subdivision. The third subdivision begins at 6 p.m. I'll be attending a wedding in England tomorrow so won't be around for this last subdivision nor tomorrow's men's/women's subdivision I and II podium training, though I anticipate being back on Sunday, and the quick hits will recommence then. Thanks for your time and attention, and hope you find these notes useful!