Bulgaria, Israel, and Spain punched their tickets to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in group rhythmic gymnastics by taking gold, silver and bronze, respectively, at the 2022 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria on Friday (16 September).
Though Bulgaria entered as the reigning Olympic champions, all five members of that team sat and watched in the stands inside Armeec Arena.
Their new squad of Sofia Ivanova, Kamelia Petrova, Rachel Stoyanov, Radina Tomova, Zhenina Trashlieva and Margarita Vasileva, however, picked up right where the nation left off, claiming Bulgaria's first group world title since 2014. It's their 11th world gold in the event all-time.
"We're so happy, so proud. We couldn't believe it," said Trashlieva, the team captain. "We are so happy that we did our job well. I don't have the words to explain it."
They totalled 66.600 for gold, ahead of Israel's 64.650. Spain's 63.200 was third.
Israel's silver is a first medal for the nation in group competition at the worlds.
"We are very excited, very proud to represent our country in the big competition," said Israel's Shaham Ofir. "It is an amazing feeling and opportunity for us to be here and to win this medal."
They were the first of the medal contenders to go, putting up a 33.850 with a Lady Gaga-inspired five hoops performance in the first half of Group B competition. Spain competed shortly thereafter, earning a 33.450 for their own five hoop routine.
The competition continued to heat up as Bulgaria, the hometown heroes, scored 33.800 in the single apparatus routine to immediately become contenders.
Meanwhile, pre-event favourite Italy performed in the lower scoring three ribbons and two balls earned 27.900. The fourth best mark on the event at the time, it put the reigning European and world silver medallists in a deep hole after one event.
In the second rotation, Israel laid down the gauntlet early, posting the top mark of the day in the mixed apparatus at 30.800. That left the rest of the competitors to chase their 64.650 combined score.
Spain came up just short after producing a 29.750 second event score, but Bulgaria delivered to the delight of the home crowd. Their 32.800 boosted them to the top of the scoreboard.
The final challenger to compete was Italy, winner of four world group all-around titles in history. They needed better than a massive 35.300 score to land on the podium.
Their Michael Jackson-themed five hoops routine was spectacular, but not enough. Their 34.150 put them fourth overall.
Competition in Sofia continues Saturday (17 September) with three more quota spots for Paris on the line in the individual competition. The championships wrap up on Sunday (18 September) with the group apparatus finals.