SPORTS

[Weekender] World-renowned competitors vie for gold

By Sohn Ji-young
  • Published : Jul 3, 2015 - 21:39
  • Updated : Jul 6, 2015 - 16:45
World-renowned athletes have gathered in Gwangju for the 2015 Summer Universiade, the biennial university sports competition organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU).

As some 13,000 athletes from about 150 countries are competing for 272 gold medals in 21 sports disciplines at Universiade Gwangju 2015, a number of world champions are expected to take the lead in their respective sports.

From artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, badminton and archery to basketball, diving, judo, taekwondo and tennis, several notable star athletes from around the world are set to deliver impressive performances at the 2015 Summer Universiade.

Star rhythmic gymnasts from Belarus, Ukraine, South Korea

In rhythmic gymnastics ― one of the most popular disciplines in the international sports event ― top-ranked gymnasts from Europe and Korea are set to receive international attention.

Son Yeon-jae of South Korea, ranked No. 4 in the world in rhythmic gymnastics, will compete closely with Belarus' Melitina Staniouta and Ukraine's Ganna Rizatdinova.

Russia’s Margarita Mamun, the top-ranked female gymnast in the world and Yana Kudryavtseva, No. 3 in the world, were set to compete at the Universiade but withdrew at the last minute, citing the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in South Korea.

Belarusian rhythmic gymnast Melitina Staniouta, the individual all-around bronze medalist in the 2013 Baku Universiade, is a high-profile athlete competing in the event. In 2014, Staniouta led the Belarusian team to win a silver medal at the European Championships, finishing seventh in the individual all-around. 

She won a silver medal in hoop behind Mamun during the 2013 Kazan Universiade and was the only gymnast to claim a medal in all four apparatus at the 2014 World Rythmic Gymnastics Championships.

Ukraine's Ganna Rizatdinova, 21, joins the university games in Gwangju after winning two silver medals in ball and clubs at the Baku 2015 European Games.  

After competing in the 2012 London Olympics, Rizatdinova won her first world title in hoop and the Longines Prize for Elegance at the 2013 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Kiev.

She was also the winner of the all-around bronze medal in the 2014 World Championships. Though she is a skilled performer on all four apparatuses, Rizatdinova is best known for her strengths in hoop.

Meanwhile, Son, 21, is considered one of the most popular sports celebrities in South Korea. She is the first Korean rhythmic gymnast to reach the all-around final at the Olympics. Last year, the star athlete brought home Korea’s first-ever gold at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.

Competing on home turf at Universiade Gwangju 2015, Son is looking to repeat her golden performance in her event.

Ukraine, Germany, South Korea to shine in artistic gymnastics

Three high-profile athletes from Europe and South Korea are set to go after golds in artistic gymnastics. Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev is expected to show off his athletic capabilities on the parallel bars.

After clinching two medals at the Kazan Universiade in 2013, Verniaiev, 21, rose to stardom by winning the event at the Glasgow World Cup Gymnastics in 2014. The Ukrainian gymnast became the parallel bars world champion by winning the 45th Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in China in 2014.

Verniaiev also claimed his second gold medal recently at the Baku 2015 European Games, rising as a strong contender for the gold at the university games in Gwangju.

Germany’s Fabian Hambuchen is another internationally famous gymnast expected to excel Gwangju. A silver medalist in horizontal bar at the 2012 London Olympics, he claimed a bronze medal on the same apparatus four years earlier in Beijing.

The student from German Sport University Cologne is ready to add another title in Gwangju after winning two silver medals in the 2013 Kazan Universiade.

Yang Hak-seon, the first-ever Korean gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal, is a strong candidate for the gold in his specialty, vault. He took golds in vault at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2011 and 2013 World Championships.

Yang, a graduate student at Korea National Sport University, is hoping to repeat his golden performance at Gwangju, after settling for a silver medal due to a thigh injury at the Incheon Asian Games last year.

Though Yang reportedly injured his hamstrings three weeks ago and has not been able to prepare for the Universiade in full fitness, he nonetheless has expressed high confidence in the upcoming games to the local media.

China’s Yang Haoran and the Luo sisters

China’s Yang Haoran, the world champion in men’s 10m shooting, and Luo Ying and Luo Yu, ranked third in women’s doubles badminton, will make their way to Gwangju for the Universiade.

At the age of 18, Yang brought his home country a gold medal in individual men’s 10m air rifle at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, also leading China to win the team title in the event as well.

The young Chinese shooter, also the champion of the 2013 ISSF World Cup in Munich, is poised to capture another gold at the 2015 Universiade Gwangju.

In women's badminton, the Luo sisters, twins, have rapidly risen to stardom in the past two years, quickly moving up in the world rankings from No. 55 in December 2013 to take the No. 3 spot in the present.

The winner of the 2015 Malaysia Open Superseries Premier, the Luo twins have been runner-ups at the 2014 Korea Open, semi-finalists in Singapore, Australia and Paris, on top of winning the 2014 Badminton Asia Championships and the 2014 China Masters Grand Prix Gold, among others.

In men's badminton, Korea's Lee Yong-dae, 26, who took the mixed doubles badminton gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and his partner Ko Sung-hyun, are also looking to capture the gold at this year’s Summer Universiade.

The winner of the 2013 Badminton Asia Championships in men’s doubles badminton, the duo won a gold medal at the 2013 Kazan Universiade. They are looking to bag a new gold together in Gwangju, after having settled for a bronze at the Superseries Finals in 2013.

U.S. baskball stars Perry Ellis and Frank Mason III from KU

In basketball, Perry Ellis and Frank Mason III from University of Kansas ― one of the most elite college basketball teams in the U.S. ― are set to deliver a top-class performance during Universiade Gwangju 2015.

First established in 1898, the University of Kansas basketball league is one of the oldest and most successful programs in the history of American college basketball. The KU Jayhawks’ first coach is James Naismith ― the man who invented the game of basketball.

The NCAA’s Division I Jayhawks team is recognized as holding some of college basketball’s most elite players. The team has made an appearance at the NCAA Tournament for 26 consecutive years, including last season.

Averaging 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, the 6’8” Ellis is the starting power forward for the KU Jayhawks. During the 2014-2015 season with KU, the sophomore led the team with a field-goal percentage of 54.9 percent while still averaging 47.1 percent from beyond the arc.

This past season, Ellis was selected as part of the All-Big 12 first team ― a high honor given to university basketball athletes ― for his outstanding numbers on the board.

In 2012, the star college athlete was also a member of the McDonald’s All-American team ― an annual all-star basketball exhibition game that features players considered the best high school athletes from the U.S. and Canada.

Some of basketball’s most iconic players were former All-American team members, including Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and many others.

Playing alongside Ellis is the Jayhawks’ starting point guard Mason, who last season averaged 12.3 points and 4 assists per game and led KU on the year with 50 steals. The 5’11” sophomore guard made the All-Big 12 Second Team for his numbers last season, as well as the Orlando Classic All-Tournament Team.

Preparing for the Olympics

Following athletes who achieved Olympic glory or turned pro and succeeded after making a mark at Universiades, athletes competing in Gwangju will eye the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

The biennial Universiade games have traditionally served as a platform for the young athletes to flex their competitive abilities in preparation for the Olympic Games. The results of the university games in Gwangju are slated to act as a gauge for how these athletes may perform during the upcoming Olympics.

According to FISU, 48 percent of those who won medals at the 2012 London Olympics had been medalists at the Universiades or the World University Championships.

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)