In the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, all eyes are on quite possibly the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles. Since the beginning of her international career in 2013, Simone has won twenty World Championship medals (14 of them gold) and 5 Olympic medals. Just over a year away from 2020, Simone looks poised to sweep the field and could be in the running for all five gold medals up for grabs in Women's Artistic Gymnastics. But while Simone's difficulty and longevity are unprecedented, and she often seems unbeatable, there are plenty of other gymnasts from around the world who have the potential to make the podium in Tokyo or even top it. Here are 8 of the top contenders for medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Aliya Mustafina (Russia)
Often called the "queen of gymnastics", Mustafina certainly has the accolades to prove it. She is a three-time World Champion and a seven-time Olympic medalist, four of those won in 2012 after returning from a devastating ACL injury the year before, the most of any Russian athlete at the London games. In 2012 and 2016, Mustafina took gold on the uneven bars, her best event and Biles' weakest. After a year-long break, she returned to training in the fall of 2017 after the birth of her daughter, Alisa, in hopes of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and winning a third uneven bars gold. If Mustafina wins in Tokyo, she will become the most decorated Russian gymnast of all time, ahead of gymnastics legend Svetlana Khorkina.
Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos (France)
After winning two gold medals at the 2019 European Championships, Melanie de Jesus dos Santos has become one to keep an eye on. Before the competition de Jesus dos Santos was only planning on competing on two events due to a nagging finger injury. However, at the last minute she decided to compete in the all-around, which led to her claiming two gold medals and a silver for France and marking her as one of the top gymnasts in Europe. After her success in Szczecin, she said her goal is to medal at this year's World championships, and to"tickle, annoy Simone Biles!"
Angelina Melnikova (Russia)
Melnikova is one of Russia's top all-around gymnasts, and often called "the team leader" by coaches. Despite struggles with nerves and motivation in 2016 and 2017, Melnikova remains an asset to Team Russia and more than capable of competing for individual medals. At the 2018 European Championships, she proved her value when she led an inexperienced, young Russian team to victory over France in the group competition. While she is more than capable of performing well on all four events (vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor), her best events are the uneven bars and floor exercise, where she is the 2017 European Champion and finished fourth at the 2018 World Championships. With some of the most difficult tumbling in the world, she will certainly be vying for all-around and floor exercise medals in 2020.
Morgan Hurd (USA)
Hurd, one of the leaders of the U.S. team, became a rising star after winning the World Championships during Biles' absence in 2017. In 2018, they competed side by side at Worlds in Doha, where Hurd matched Biles in consistency, earning medals in the all-around and on floor exercise just behind her teammate. With routines packed with grace, passion, and difficult skills, Hurd is almost a lock for the all-around podium in 2020.
Nina Derwael (Belgium)
Like Mustafina, Derwael's strength is Biles' weakness: the uneven bars. In fact, Derwael beat Biles by a wide margin of .500 to take gold on the event at the 2018 World Championships. Looking to the future, Derwael hopes to help the Belgian team qualify to Tokyo at this year's World Championships, and looks to be a strong contender on the uneven bars and the all-around events. Derwael is one of the tallest gymnasts currently competing at 5'6" (mosts gymnasts average about 5'0"), but she doesn't let her height– which could be seen as a disadvantage by some– stop her from achieving her goals!
Jade Carey (USA)
Simone Biles' incredible power on vault and floor are only able to be rivaled by one gymnast: Jade Carey. Carey burst onto the Elite scene in 2017 after previously only training at Junior Olympic (recreational) level, with some of the most difficult tumbling skills in the world, such as the Moors, two laid out flips with two twists. She and Biles are among the only gymnasts in the world able to perform this skill. Carey hopes to secure a spot for herself on the U.S. Olympic team by competing in several apparatus World Cups over the next year.
Mai Murakami (Japan)
Murakami has been competing internationally since 2013 and competed along with Team Japan in the 2016 Olympics. But she only burst onto international podiums in 2017, when she became World Champion on floor exercise. In 2018, she placed second in the All-Around just behind Simone Biles herself and won the bronze on floor. Murakami is a powerful, consistent gymnast, with fun and energetic floor routines that are always worthy of a medal. She will certainly be fighting for one at the 2020 Olympics in front of a home crowd.
Maria Paseka (Russia)
Russia's Maria Paseka seems to be the definition of resilient. Over the past eight years, she has won two Olympic medals and two World titles on her best event, vault, all while competing with severe back pain. In 2017, Paseka took a break from training to receive spinal surgery. Many doctors told Paseka that she would be forced to retire after the procedure, but after a year of recovery and training, she is back and better than ever. After winning gold on vault at the 2019 European Championships, Paseka is eyeing the vault podium at this year's World Championships and at the Olympics next summer. She and Biles are evenly matched on the event; both perform two of the most difficult vaults, the Amanar and the Cheng.