This past weekend was an exciting one in the world of gymnastics. While the American Cup marked the first major post-Olympic competition to take place on U.S. soil, the Russian Championships were well underway in Penza. Although it is still very early in the season and unwise to make confident predictions about the 2013 World Championships (held in October), much less about the new “quad” heading into the 2016 Olympics, it’s still fair to say that both the American Cup and the Russian Championships gave a preview of what’s to come.
Keeping in mind that one was a World Cup event and the other a National Championship, of course, there was an immediately recognizable difference: While the American Cup featured two first-year U.S. seniors (Katelyn Ohashi and Simone Biles, who finished in the top two spots), the Russian Championships were captured mostly by returning, already successful senior-level athletes. While it remains to be seen how many of the Fierce Five return to competition in time for the U.S. Nationals later this year or in time for a second Olympic bid, it is clear from the Russian Championships that their second-place Team Final finish left them hungry for more. All but Viktoria Komova (resting a back injury) were present and competing well, making it clear that they wouldn’t be making much room for the up-and-comings anytime soon.
2010 World All-Around Champion and 2012 Olympic gold, silver, and bronze Medalist Aliya Mustafina won the All-Around, winning her third national title with first-place finishes on vault, uneven bars, and balance beam, posting a total score of 59.850. Although her top score of the day was on uneven bars, her most exciting event was arguably the balance beam, where new combinations clearly have the revised Code of Points in mind and her usual risks have been reorganized. Fans may be disappointed that she no longer includes a double-turn dangerously early, but the new switch-leap to Onodi to double turn combination later on will reveal the reason for the change. It’s very cool.
It’s also clear that while the rearrangement in coaching duties and the controversy surrounding it may have caused some frustration, her gymnastics doesn’t seem to have suffered.
After a disappointing showing in London, Anastasia Grishina solidified her rightful place on this year’s European Championships team (to be decided soon) by placing second all-around with a total score of 57.400. Though the floor exercise continues to be her nemesis, she posted solid scores on the other three events, posting her highest score on uneven bars (15.000).
First-year senior Evgenya Shelgunova came in a close third, most notably topping Grishina with her balance beam and floor exercise routines. (14.950 for beam, 13.600 for floor exercise, tying Mustafina.)
Two –time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva finished just out of the medals but no one came close to topping her first-place score floor exercise, a 14.350. As a floor specialist with a reputation for buckling under the pressure (the major exception being the 2011 World Championships FX final, where she placed first) it’s always nice to see her deliver what she’s capable of on this event.
It goes without saying that had Viktoria Komova (Team and All-Around Olympic Silver Medalist) competed, the results would very likely have been different. It’s interesting that she and Aliya have dominated the Russian gymnastics story for the last few years, but they’ve never competed against one another in the national championship. (Aliya won in 2009 when Viktoria was still too young to compete, Viktoria won in 2010 when Aliya was out with an injury, Anna Dementyeva took the prize in 2011, and Aliya won again in 2012 while Viktoria nursed an injury.) Going into the 2012 Olympics, their coaches were mostly resistant to naming either of them as the “one to beat.” Perhaps that’s because despite “peaking” around the same time, they had each won their titles in the other’s absence! It will be interesting to see how both of them mature in the 2016 Olympic cycle, and whether they will continue to toss the top spot back and forth.
While the All-Around competition delivered few surprises, the Team Competition provided a bit more drama. Containing the most national team members between the two of them, the Moscow and Central Federal Okrugs waged a close battle, each dominating on two events. The Central Team, led by team captain Ksenia Afansyeva, won with a slim margin, posting a final score of 166.850 over Moscow’s 166.750.
Dominating where Russia typically scores well, Uneven Bars and Balance Beam were Moscow’s strongest events. They had to swallow Maria Paseka’s 12.650 on bars, but Mustafina’s 15.4000 and Grishina’s 14.750 kept them ahead.
Here is Grishina on bars:
On the balance beam, Mustafina again delivered a commendable performance (if a bit more wobbly than the day before), sealing her team’s top-place finish on that event.
The Central Team sealed their title with solid performances on the vault and floor exercise. Although Olympic Vault Bronze-Medalist and Moscow Team member Maria Paseka posted the highest score of the competition with her (much cleaner!) Amanar, the Moscow team had to swallow a 13.200 from Grishina. With solid performances from each of their three athletes on vault, including a 15.000 for Afansyeva, the Central Team was able to clench the top spot on that event.
Here is Paseka’svault:
Floor exercise, however, is where the Central Team ultimately closed the deal. A very low score of 11.750 for Moscow’s Ala Sosnitskaya (unfortunately her only event) and another very high score of 14.450 for Central’s Afansyeva was enough to put Central on top.
Here is Afanasyeva on floor in the team competition:
It will be interesting to see which gymnast are chosen to compete for Russia at the upcoming European Championships, considering the amount of Olympians continuing through, and how they will stack up to the other competitors in this post-Olympic year.
Article: Sara B. Dorrien
Photo: E. Mikhailova from the Russian Gymnastics Federation website.
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