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Saturday 24 October 2015

Day three of the World Gymnastics Championships will see Britain’s men take centre stage at The SSE Hydro, hoping to build on recent team successes at London 2012 and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Returning to the city, where the stars of the UK’s World Championships team amassed a hoard of Commonwealth medals, the likes of Max Whitlock, Louis Smith and Dan Purvis will be hoping Glasgow remains a happy hunting ground.

The leading eight nations after the next two days of qualification will progress to the all-important Team Finals, where the medals will be determined. And while competition for top honours is set to be fierce on October 28, each nation will perform safe in the knowledge that their Rio 2016 berths are secured.

Adding further importance to the championships and, in particular, the qualifying stages, Glasgow also doubles as the main qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games.

And while Britain’s men’s squad is considered, perhaps, to be the strongest it has ever been, each individual will have to be at his very best to place amongst the highest ranked of an impressive list of nations gathered on Clydeside.

“China and Japan are up at the top, and there is definitely the USA and Russia in the running,” said Max Whitlock, who took All-Around silver in the Nanning ‘Worlds’ last time around.

Speaking ahead of GB’s qualification bid, he added: “But at the end of the day, we just have to focus on our own jobs. We’ve done all [the preparation] we can, and if we go out there and perform clean routines, that’s the best we can do. The results come after.”

But considerable opposition awaits. Current All-Around World Champion, Kohei Uchimura of Japan, taking aim at a sixth consecutive World title and widely considered to be the finest gymnast of his generation, will also feature on a star-studded day.

In an interesting quirk of fate, Japan’s charges are placed in the same qualification sub-division as their Chinese rivals. China ousted Japan for Nanning gold in 2014. Similarly coincidental is the fact that last Olympic Games hosts, GB, will take to the field of play alongside Brazil, playing home to the greatest spectacle in sport in 2016.

Despite the pressure of competing on perhaps the toughest qualifying day of all, London 2012 Olympics Pommel Horse silver medallist, Louis Smith MBE, is confident of a performance befitting Great Britain’s recent ascension to the upper echelons of the sport.

Following the final opportunity to take to the podium ahead of men’s qualifying, he said: “When you’re in the training gym you don’t have the adrenaline of the massive arena. So, out there nerves were kicking in a bit and everyone was a bit shaky.

“In no way do I go into a competition feeling cocky but it definitely helps to be confident. I’ve gone nine for nine for clean competition routines this year, so my consistency is there. I feel good about the shape I’m in.”

The USA leads the nations, alongside Ukraine, The Netherlands and Romania, who will be doing their utmost to surpass the Brits on the second day of men’s qualifying. Respectively, each of the latter will rely on the mercurial talents of talismanic individuals, in 2014 Parallel Bars World Champion, Oleg Verniaiev; current Olympic and World Horizontal Bar Champion, Epke Zonderland; and a resurgent eight-time World Champion, Marian Dragulescu.

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