Russians Aim for Rhythmic Revival

BEIJING -- Russia's women drew a blank in the artistic gymnastics at the Olympics for the first time, leaving it up to their rhythmic cousins to make amends when they take to the stage with their ribbons and hoops on Thursday.

Rhythmic gymnastics swaps the daredevil swings of the artistic competition for balletic twirling, as girls armed variously with hoops, balls, ribbons, clubs and ropes mesmerize the spectators with their dexterity, grace and rhythm.

Russia is aiming for a third successive group gold, while team mates Olga Kapranova and Yevgenia Kanayeva are among the top contenders for the individual title.

The Athens all-around gold and silver medalists from Russia, Alina Kabayeva and Irina Chachina, have both since retired, opening the way for their compatriots, and for 2004 bronze medalist and 2007 world all-around champion Ganna Bezsonova of Ukraine.

Bezsonova's preparations for the games in Beijing were overshadowed by one of her coaches, Irina Deryugina, being banned for four years by the sport's governing body FIG for influencing judges and displaying unsportsmanlike behavior in her time as a judge.

Deryugina had originally been told she would have to stay away from the Olympics but has been allowed attend as a coach.

Bulgaria's Simona Peycheva, who won world titles on three apparatus in 2001, is in contention for a prize after recovering from surgery on a spinal problem last year, although her coach was aware she faced some tough obstacles.

"The Russians are extremely good," coach Mariela Dukova said. "But I think that Simona can fight for a medal in Beijing."

Qualifying for the all-around event will be held on Thursday and Friday, with the top 10 advancing to Saturday's final. Each gymnast will perform with four apparatus -- rope, hoop, ribbon and clubs.

The top eight teams will perform Sunday's final.