PREVIEW-Olympics-Rhythmic gymnastics-Israel's Ashram to challenge Russian dominance

CHICAGO, June 30 (Reuters) - Russia has won every rhythmic gymnastics gold medal since 2000 but that dominance could be under threat in Tokyo due to the emergence of Israel’s Linoy Ashram.

Since the 1984 Soviet boycott of the Olympic Games, rhythmic gymnastics has been dominated by Russia and other former Soviet states, which have won 35 of the 42 medals up for grabs.

Russian twins Dina and Arina Averina are widely expected to win gold and silver in the individual all-around category in Tokyo, but Ashram is in the form to push them hard.

The 22-year-old, who won six silver and five bronze medals in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 world championships, claimed two gold and one bronze medal at this year’s World Cup.

Ashram also took home an individual all-around gold medal at the 2020 European Championships, when many of the leading teams, including Russia, were absent and she was declared this year’s all-around World Cup series champion by the International Gymnastics Federation.

“I think she’s been knocking on the door for a while. She’s been medalling consistently in world cups and she could definitely make an upset,” Stefanie Korepin, Chief Programs Officer at USA Gymnastics, said.

“Really for the first time in the last few Olympic Games, Israel has a fantastic gymnast in Linoy Ashram, and I think she is going to be really favored to grab another medal and really challenge Russia,” Korepin added.

Reporting by Richa Naidu, editing by Ed Osmond