. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rhythmic Gymnasts to Grab Spotlight

ATHENS -- Like synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics registers on the global sporting radar only once every four years, at the Olympic Games.

There is no doubt about their artistry and poise, but girls twirling ribbons and juggling clubs do not capture the worldwide imagination in the same way as their artistic counterparts do with their gravity-defying skills.

Instead of floating through the asymmetric bars or showing off their balancing skills on the beam, rhythmic gymnasts try to grab the spotlight with an array of hand-held props.

The discipline, however, does share something with its artistic counterparts -- judging controversies.

While the artistic gymnastics competition in Athens has been marred by disputed medals and scoring errors, the rhythmic athletes are well versed on the issue.

Before the 2000 Games, the sport was engulfed in a major judging scandal that resulted in the International Gymnastics Federation, or FIG, sanctioning 14 judges.

An investigation by the FIG into scoring at the 1999 European championships revealed widespread incompetence and a judging conspiracy.

Eight judges were banned from working at the Sydney Olympics while six others received one-year suspensions.

More recently, a judge was excluded from the panel for this year's Games for "serious errors" made during the competition's test in Athens in March.

When the action begins on Thursday, the Russians will be aiming to prolong their supremacy in the discipline.

Gold medal favorite Alina Kabayeva is making a second stab at Games glory.

Known for her extreme flexibility, two-time world champion Kabayeva had been expected to take the title four years ago, but an uncharacteristic mistake with the hoop ruined her Sydney dreams.

Kabayeva won every medal on offer at the world rhythmic gymnastics cup earlier this year and will be hoping to continue in the same fashion, but her teammate Irina Tchachina may hold a psychological edge after capturing the all-around title at the test event held at the Olympic venue in March.