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Mustafina makes her mark

Rebecca Bross of the United States performs during the beam final en route to a silver medal at the World Championships Rebecca Bross of the United States performs during the beam final en route to a silver medal at the World Championships (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)
By Raf Casert
Associated Press / October 25, 2010

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — With less than two years until the 2012 Summer Olympics, all-around champions Aliya Mustafina of Russia and Kohei Uchimura of Japan established themselves as the favorites for the London Games.

The 16-year-old Mustafina, in her first year of eligibility for major competitions, won two gold and three silvers in six events at the world championships, a stunning arrival on the international scene that highlighted Russia’s return as a top power after several lean years.

Uchimura overcame an inflamed shoulder that worsened during the nine-day competition that concluded yesterday to successfully defend his all-around title from London last year, and added team and two event medals for four overall. The 21-year-old was among the youngest of the top men. And both should benefit from the international gymnastics federation’s move toward bigger rewards for elegance, with both displaying airy grace in the toughest exercises at the Ahoy Arena.

Overall, China again had the depth to lead the medals table with nine, including four gold, with Zhang Chenglong winning the concluding high bar event ahead of local favorite Epke Zonderland. Russia was second with Mustafina winning five of its six medals. The United States came in third, also with six medals, with Alicia Sacramone of Winchester earning gold in the vault.

It appeared as if Mustafina would become the first woman since Romania’s Daniela Silivas at the 1988 Olympics to get six medals from six events, but the grind of competing caught up with her on the beam yesterday.

On a rare fumble, she wavered and then fell off when it seemed she could have recovered.

“I didn’t have enough strength. I just lost balance,’’ Mustafina said. “I was no longer 100 percent on the beam.’’

It left the way open for Romania’s Ana Porgras to take gold ahead of American Rebecca Bross, the all-around bronze medalist. Bross, 17, won four medals, two silver and two bronze. She also looks like a major contender for 2012.

“I hope it keeps going strong in the years to come,’’ she said.

Combined with the anticipated return of Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin, Bross could help set up the US team as a main challenger.

Showing her resilience, Mustafina came back from the beam for a last show, on the floor.

Fatigue also showed in the concluding event, where she took an uncharacteristic sidestep. But her jumps and leaps of unmatched elegance were enough for one last medal before going home to study.

Mustafina leaves with the same medal total that Russian great Svetlana Khorkina won at the 2001 world championships. But Mustafina said through a translator that she isn’t trying to emulate anyone.