All eyes on Nikita Nagornyy, Artur Dalaloyan in first artistic gymnastics Tokyo 2020 training session

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 21: Nikita Nagornyy of Team ROC walks up to the Pommel Horse during Men's Podium Training ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 21, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 21: Nikita Nagornyy of Team ROC walks up to the Pommel Horse during Men's Podium Training ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 21, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The 2019 and 2018 world all-around champions tested out the equipment - and their bodies - at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre

With the first of three men’s gymnastics official practice sessions underway at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the fates of ROC artistic gymnastics stars Nikita Nagornyy and Artur Dalaloyan are very much in flux.

Nagornyy has dominated the sport, winning the 2019 European and world titles, as well as a second European crown in April. But in Wednesday’s (21 July) training, he appeared to be something he hasn’t in recent memory: beatable. Though 24-year-old started his training session with relative ease on the still rings and vault, an hour later on the floor exercise things got dicey.

Known for his incredibly powerful tumbling, Nagornyy appeared to be limping throughout the session on floor. After having issues with a front tumbling combination pass, he sat on the end of the floor exercise mat, head in his hands. Eventually, he seemed to get more comfortable with the timing of the combination but his frustration was clear. He ended the workout with a triple back pike, an element he debuted in April and is now named after him, despite his limp.

For Dalaloyan, the questions regarding his participation here started in mid-April when he tore his Achilles tendon just prior to leaving for the Europeans. In June, he told Olympics.com that he would be in Tokyo for his team.

"I really want to be helpful to the team, really want to make my contribution to the team result," he said. "That's why I'm doing everything for it, I do my best for it."

At first Dalaloyan looked tentative, performing a double-twisting, double back dismount off the still rings in ROC’s first training event. His first attempt, he rolled through the landing. Minutes later, he performed one with a small hop.

But it was on the vault in ROC’s second training rotation, vault, that surprised. Dalaloyan began with two simple timers but then three two front handspring, double front. His first two attempts came up short, but his third try was nearly stuck.

Toward the end of the session, he had a similar progression on floor. Starting slowly, but building to half routines that included two difficult sequences: a front layout to double pike and front full to Randi.

"No, it doesn’t mean that. I am the fourth member of the team, I will do just four apparatus," said Dalaloyan when asked if he plans to compete on all six events, "but vault and floor exercise is going to three up, three count in the team. There is no room for mistakes. Since I am the fourth member, I have to be there and replace someone, if needed, if something God forbid happens."

China was also in the days first session, but after a rough start on the vault were simply stunning. Their performances mark them as a strong contender, especially after the question marks among the ROC athletes

Japan's Uchimura wins All Around Gymnastics gold
02:06

World and Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura wins gold for Japan in the men's artistic gymnastics individual all around final at Rio 2016.

Whitlock, Uchimura delight in Olympic atmosphere


The day’s second session featured the teams from Switzerland, Brazil, Great Britain and Japan.

The home team was solid across the apparatus with two-time Olympic all-around champion UCHIMURA Kohei receiving loud applause for his stunning horizontal bar catch and release elements. Though Uchimura will not defend his all-around titles in Tokyo, opting only to participate on one event, he is a favourite for high bar gold.

“Although I made some errors, I was able to work on parts that I wanted,” Uchimura told Olympics.com afterward. “Because there aren't any people, I was able to grasp the atmosphere in which I would compete.”

Uchimura is also soaking in what he has said will be his final Games off the field of play.

“I love it, especially because it's in Japan!” he said. “This is my fourth Olympics, and this is probably the best one yet.”

Team GB’s Max Whitlock, the 2016 gold medallist on floor exercise and pommel horse, echoed Uchimura.

“It’s exciting. It's really, really crazy, a bit surreal to be here now,” he said. “You know, somehow, delayed a year, but it's come round really quick, and these days of flying by, which is a really good thing, as well. I think everyone's just loving being out here and the atmosphere in the village. Everything is incredible.”

Like Uchimura, Whitlock, who in addition to his apparatus golds finished third in the all-around at Rio 2016, comes to Tokyo as a specialist, confirming his plans to compete on parallel bars, high bar and his signature event, the pommel horse.