ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Already in a class of his own in men's gymnastics, Kohei Uchimura is on the brink of becoming the greatest ever, full stop.
For four years, the Japanese star has won every major all-around gold — three world championship and one Olympic title — and he could well start another four-year cycle at the new worlds opening on Monday.
The women's side of the weeklong championships looks more open, especially since the United States will be without defending world champion Jordyn Wieber and Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. It may open the door for Russia's Aliya Mustafina to reclaim the world all-around title she first won in 2010 before her career was hampered by a serious left knee injury the next year.
Unlike other worlds, this one at the cavernous Sports Palace will not have team events, leaving the all-around titles at stake on Thursday and Friday as the highlights of the competition. The weekend has six more apparatus titles for the men and four for the women.
The first three days of qualifying will give a first indication of who to look out for. With the men, that is pretty easy — Uchimura, known as much for his elegance and serenity as his strength and discipline.
"He's definitely the one we are all still chasing," said U.S. team coordinator Kevin Mazeika. Even though Uchimura holds the men's record for all-around world titles, he still shares it with retired women's great Svetlana Khorkina of Russia.
Chances are he will be on his own next Thursday, especially since the two gymnasts closest to him recently, Germans Philipp Boy and Marcel Nguyen, will not be in this port city. After finishing runner-up to Uchimura in the last two worlds, Boy retired after the London Olympics. Nguyen has said he was already too focused on preparing for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics to come.
It makes it tough to look for a legitimate threat to the 24-year-old Uchimura. University Games winner Mykola Kuksenkov could have been one to threaten but it remains unclear if a rumored finger injury will keep him out of the all-around competition.
The United States, too, could have had an established top challenger in Danell Leyva, but his year took a nosedive when he was forced to withdraw from the team last month because of a shoulder injury. Instead, 20-year-old national champion Sam Mikulak is poised to match his talent with a major podium finish.
The U.S. men had only one top-three finish at the London Olympics, Leyva's bronze in the all-around, and will be seeking to do better this year. The women's team hauled in a lot more, with three golds and five overall and expectations here too are bigger than for the men.
But as so often in the sport, especially after an Olympics, the turnover is fast. Simone Biles was a surprise as the U.S. champion this year and she will have to prove she can handle pressure at the highest level to challenge veterans like Mustafina. Her teammate Kyla Ross at least already has the experience of winning Olympic gold at last year's team event and it could come in handy at the all-around final.
AP Sports Writer Nancy Armour contributed from Chicago.