Russia will seek to maintain its dominance in the 26th International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) Acrobatic Gymnastics World Championships due to start in Antwerp tomorrow.
This event will once again showcase a discipline which later this year will make its debut at the Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
Some 170 gymnasts representing 19 countries are set to take the stage at Antwerp's Lotto Arena to contest six world titles - women's, men's and mixed Pairs; women's and men's groups; and the team title.
"In sport, we like to compare the athletes who dazzle us to diamonds," said FIG President Morinari Watanabe.
"Some can be rough gemstones, others are already polished.
"In Antwerp, I am sure that, like diamonds in a precious setting, these World Championships will offer a splendid showcase for the best athletes in Acrobatic Gymnastics today.2
"Twenty eighteen will be a memorable year for the discipline, which will be included in the Youth Olympic Games programme for the first time in Buenos Aires."
Russia have topped the medals table on eleven of the last 12 editions of this biennial event – Britain broke their sequence in 2010 – and will expect to finish in the same place by the time this version comes to a close on Sunday (April 15).
The margin of their superiority at the last Championships in Putian in China two years ago was huge as they took gold medals in five of the six events, with the host nation winning the final discipline of the men’s group.
Daria Guryeva and Daria Kalinina will defend their women’s pair title and also seek a second gold in the team event.
Their standing as favourites in the women’s pair was underlined by their victory at last year’s World Games in Wroclaw.
Igor Mishev and Nikolay Suprunov are in a similar position to Guryeva and Kalinina, coming into a defence of their men’s pairs title having won a silver amedal t the previous year’s World Games.
Both will also seek to add another team gold to the one secured in 2016.
But the Russian pairing will have some serious opposition in the form of Belgium’s World Games bronze medallists Robin Casse and Kilian Goffaux, and Britain’s Charlie Tate and Adam Upcott, winners of bronze at the last World Championships and gold at the World Games in the men’s group event.
Toughest opponents of all could be Germany’s World Games men’s pairs champions Michail Kraft and Tiim Sebastian.
Marina Chernova will be seeking a third mixed pair gold as she and Georgii Pataraia defend the title they won two years ago.
The pair won at the World Games last year, although Chernova’s first world mixed pair title was won in conjunction with Revaz Gurgenidze in 2014.
A strong challenge is expected from the World Games silver medallists from Belarus, Volha Melnik and Artur Beliakou, who will also help the challenge for team honours having won World Games silver in that discipline also.
Chernova will also be seeking a hat-trick in the team event having picked up gold in that discipline in 2014 and 2016, with Pataraia also contributing to the latter victory.
The victorious 2016 Russian team in the Women’s Group – Daria Chebulanka, Polina Plastinina and Kseniia Zagoskina - is also back to defend its title
Belarus, bronze medallists two years ago will seek to gain higher place on the podium this time around – Veranika Nabokina and Karina Sandovich, both of whom contributed to team silver in 2016, are back with new partner Julia Ivonchyk, with whom they earned World Games silver last year.
China will be pushing hard to retain their men’s group title with the same quartet – Li Zheng, Rui Liuming, Zhang Teng and Zhou Jiahuai - who won World Games silver last year.
All will also seek to equal or better their world bronze in the team event two years ago.
Israel’s men’s group silver medallists from 2016 are also back – Daniel Uralevitch, Lida Dana, Yannay Kalfa and Efi Efraim Sach, who won the World Games bronze medal last year.