Gymnastics / World Championships / Raising the Bar

Alex Shatilov's prospects at the 2009 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships look brighter than ever. The 22-year-old is considered a solid contender for the gold medal in the floor exercise at this year's event, which began yesterday.

The Israeli's coach, Sergei Vaysburg, however, is cautious about setting expectations too high. He says Shatilov needs to display what he's capable of, but should not get in over his head.

If Shatilov starts off on the right foot, everything else will follow, said Vaysburg, who qualified his remarks by saying he would not be surprised if his gymnast claims a medal.

Shatilov says his goal is to reach the final of the men's all-around exercise, but he has his eyes set on gold in the floor exercise. "After all, everything depends on me," he said.

Shatilov's career thus far has been right on track. Over the past three years, above and beyond his practices with Vaysburg, Shatilov has been working with Valentin Potapenko, a Ukrainian coach known for cultivating Olympic medalists during the Soviet era.

Articles from the Soviet period refer to Potapenko as a genius on technique and movement.

Shatilov says Potapenko has worked with him on fine-tuning his execution, and credits him for helping him make the leap forward on his optionals and handsprings. Shatilov says he met with the coach five times - twice in Israel, including recently in preparation for the World Championships.

Vaysburg believes Shatilov is ready for the task at hand.

"Nothing is impossible among the top gymnasts," he said. "Three years of working with Potapenko is bearing fruit. It's raising the bar on the level of complexity of the exercises, technique and confidence."

He added that Shatilov's improvement was on display for the world to see at last summer's Olympics in Beijing.

Shatilov was born in Uzbekistan, where he began practicing gymnastics at age 5, and immigrated to Israel just seven years ago.

He is a floor exercise specialist, and though the term "artistic gymnastics" may sound to some like a terrestrial form of synchronized swimming, it is in fact the most popular and recognizable form of gymnastics.

Shatilov has registered a number of impressive achievements over his short career, and his trajectory has been steep.

He took first at last year's World Cup in Glasgow, third at this year's European Championships, fifth in 2008 at the World Championships and seventh the year before, and was the first Israeli to reach an apparatus final at the World Championships.

"I really feel like in the last years I learned a lot of new things related to the higher levels of the sport," he said. "It's not only greater technique. It's also the approach - how you do it, and self-confidence."