Antwerp, April 14, 2018 - Among a mass of exhilarating displays of strength, artistry and flexibility, defending Mixed Pairs World Champions Marina Chernova and Georgii Pataraia (RUS) shone the brightest on a thrilling first day of qualifying at the 26th FIG Acrobatic World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium.
Led by Chernova, who is going for her third successive World Championship gold, the Russian duo established a vast lead of 2.02 points over the field after the opening dynamic exercise.
"It's very hard work what they do, it's very impressive," said Belarus' Artur Beliakou, who with partner Volha Melnik lies in third. "We will have to upgrade our difficulty two-times or three times more to beat them."
For the pair themselves, it was not quite a perfect day at the office.
"We are satisfied, I would give us 95% for that," Pataraia said.
It was a similar tale in the Women's Group with fellow all-conquering Russians, Daria Chebulanka, Polina Plastinina and Kseniia Zagoskina relegating the rest to a fight for second in the qualifying rounds. After flawless dynamic and balance routines, the trio sit comfortably ahead of their opponents.
"It's a little bit annoying that they (the Russian group) keep beating us but it means they must be working harder," said Veranika Nabokina, who is part of the Belarus team that sits in second.
New moves light up magnificent Men's Group competition
Despite a pair of immaculate performances from China's two leading quartet, it was another Russian team that stole the limelight in the Men's Group. German Kudriashov, Alexander Sorokin, Valeriy Tukhashvili and Kirill Zadorin may just be fifth after the opening qualifying round, but their extraordinary new move, featuring three of them holding up the top via one-armed handstands (as pictured below/above) captured the hearts of those inside the Lotto Arena.
"This move is very difficult, not everyone can do it, but as we had three tops and just one base (in their four) we tried it," Sorokin explained afterwards. "We have other surprises for the next exercises."
Portugal's quartet also thrilled the fans with their signature 'Acro Snake' move.
China's 2016 World Championship winning team of Li Zheng, Rui Liuming, Zhang Tengand Zhou Jiahuai lead the way with the dynamic and combined exercises to come in qualification.
Shocks and surprises
Not all the favourites had it their own way, with the shock of the day coming in the Women's Pair. Russia Double Darias - Guryeva and Kalinina - unexpectedly fell during their balance exercise and sit sixth.
Israel's Mika Lefkovits and partner Roni Surzon took advantage of the surprise slip up by the 2016 World Championship and 2017 World Games gold medallists with a delightful routine pushing them into first position with two exercises to come.
Another Russian 2016 World Championship winning pair, Igor Mishev and Nikolay Suprunov also dropped below their usual standards in the Men's Pair. A misstep in the morning balance exercise left them fourth before a strong showing in the dynamic left them second, behind 2017 World Games gold medal winners, Tim Sebastian and Michail Kraft (GER).
Mixed day for home hopes
For the home crowd in the Lotto Arena it was to be an up and down day. Poster boys,Robin Casse and Kilian Goffaux (BEL) admitted to feeling the weight of expectation ahead of their opening balance exercise in the Men's Pair.
"I think it got to us a little bit, a lot of home fans, it was big pressure," Goffaux said, who with Casse has won gold in both of the World Cup events this year.
A stumble left the duo well off the pace before the highest score in the afternoon's dynamic exercise dragged them back up to eighth position.
The Belgian Men's Group also suffered, with their pyramid collapsing. In contrast, the Mixed Pair of Marte Snoeck and Bram Roettger were happy enough with their closing position of seventh while the Women's Group of Anna Hyde, Eva Hyde and Lena De Moor flew the Belgian flag the highest, ending day one in fourth.
The Championships continue tomorrow with qualification for all five disciplines to be decided and the medals for Men's Pair and Women's Group handed out.