Olympic champion Nina Derwael wasted no time in reasserting her dominance on the uneven bars as the Belgian star dazzled on the opening day of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
The 22-year-old has not competed at international level since winning gold in Tokyo but put her pre-event nerves behind her to score 14.700 and leap above American duo Shilese Jones (14.566) and Jordan Chiles (14.066) in the opening subdivision of women's qualification.
Derwael's score is the third highest of the year across all competitions and should leave her well set for a tilt at a third World Championship gold on the apparatus following her successes in 2018 and 2019.
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"I think it should probably be enough [for the final]," she said.
"Shilese [Jones] has an amazing bar routine, and she was just a little bit behind me, so if I am above her in qualifications I should be fine.
"It is my first competition since the Olympics and I was really nervous.
"I tried to just get into my zone, get into my routine and tried to do what I knew I was able to do. I prepared well, I was ready to compete and I'm really happy I pulled through.
"We have done some mock meets in our own gym but it's very different to this. The adrenaline is next level when you compete in an arena like this, especially with the crowd – which has also been a long time for me, as the Olympics had no crowd."
Derwael was no stranger to success in her post-Olympic break, winning Belgium's ‘Dancing With The Stars', but admitted after her podium training she was feeling the weight of expectation from back home.
That perhaps told in her opening performance of the night, a slip on the beam proving costly before she bounced back in style in her favoured discipline.
"I started badly on beam. I fell on my mount," she said.
"That's a bummer, especially for the team, because I really wanted to start off the qualification well for them and it didn't work out the way I wanted it to."
Derwael was joined in the Belgian squad by World Championship debutant Ylea Tollet, a late replacement for Noemie Louon after she picked up an injury in training.
Tollet helped Belgium to a team score of 156.063, just over 11 shy of the star-studded USA, and said: "I found it awesome, it's an amazing and incredible feeling to participate in such a great competition.
"[My teammates] said I just had to believe in myself and do what I could do, that I was able to do it and just do it as in training."
The World Gymnastics Championships Liverpool 2022 will be one of the largest international sporting events ever to be held in the city. Over 500 gymnasts from more than 70 countries will compete at the M&S Bank Arena from 29 October to 6 November 2022. Tickets are available at www.2022worldgymnastics.com/tickets.
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