Russian Championships Set to Begin Wednesday

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The 2015 Russian Championships get underway with qualifying rounds to be held for both the women and men in Penza on March 4.

The women’s field will include 2014 World Championship bronze medalists Maria Kharenkova, Ekaterina Kramarenko, Tatiana Nabieva, and Alla Sosnitskaya along with alternate Polina Fedorova. We’ll also see 2014 Youth Olympic Games champion Seda Tutkhalyan in her senior debut, as well as the returns of 2012 Olympians Ksenia Afanasyeva, Viktoria Komova, and Maria Paseka, all of whom have been dealing with injury over the past year. Though each of these three competed at the Russian Cup in September, none were physically ready for Worlds a month later.

Yuliya Borienko, Daria Elizarova, Anastasia Kadysheva, and Ksenia Molozhavenko round out the senior women’s field. Aliya Mustafina was not expected to attend, though should be back in play in time for the European Games in Azerbaijan this June, and though Anastasia Grishina was hoping to make her comeback here, another injury – this time her knee while attempting a DTY – has unfortunately set her back. World team member Daria Spiridonova is also out for this meet, though is expected to be in play for European Championships.

From last year’s men’s Worlds team, we’ll see Denis Ablyazin, David Belyavskiy, Nikita Ignatyev, Nikolai Kuksenkov, Vadislav Polyashov, and alternate Daniil Kazachkov, with Ivan Stretovich the only one sitting out. Also on the list are Dmitri Kharkov, NIkolai Kovinov, Dmitri Lankin, Nikita Nagorniy, Pavel Pavlov, Nikita Simonov, Sergei Stepanov, Ivan TIkhonov, Dmitri Turayev, and Vitali Vanifatov. Missing from the picture are Emin Garabov and Alexander Balandin, both of whom are recovering from surgery.

Valentina Rodionenko spoke to the press to address several issues, namely the condition of Komova and Afanasyeva, both of whom could be a big help in the team competition this year. They both still are working through some pain, and though Komova hopes to get a solid all-around set back together, Rodionenko stated pretty clearly that Komova’s role this year would be to help on bars and beam.

Rodionenko is happy with the younger girls on the team, especially Kharenkova, Spiridonova, Tutkhalyan, Maria Bondareva, and Anastasia Dmitrieva. She’s hoping for the best for those born in 1999 and making senior debuts, though recognizes that they still have time before they need to be fully ready for the Olympic Games in Rio.

The biggest thing on Rodionenko’s mind right now is preparation for European Championships, to be held from April 15 through April 19 in Montpelier, France. This year’s Euros feature individual finals only (so no team final) and of course, Rodionenko really, really, really wants medals. She’s looking to fill a team of healthy gymnasts with lots of difficulty who can compete well under pressure, “the same criteria we always have.”

Right now, “if nothing goes wrong,” Afanasyeva, Kharenkova, Komova, Sosnitskaya, and Spiridonova are her top contenders for the Euros team, and she’s sure this group could earn two finals spots in every event final. She also brings up Evgeniya Shelgunova as someone who could potentially replace Mustafina in the all-around, and notes that Elizarova has been training “very seriously” in her comeback and could also fit into the picture.

On the men’s side, Rodionenko gushes about Ablyazin, saying the work he’s done on floor since his surgery at the end of 2014 has been “brilliant” and “awesome.” She considers him a big threat for Euros, though thinks while the women’s team could see some younger competitors break in, “this probability is less” for the men’s, expecting to see mostly veterans compete this spring.

Again, the Russian Championships will be held from March 4 through March 8, with Wednesday’s competition serving as the all-around final in addition to acting as the qualifier for team finals (men on Thursday, women on Friday) and event finals (held over the weekend). Our coverage guide has a detailed schedule and will include streaming info once we find it.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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