At the conclusion of this weekend’s Russian Championships, Valentina Rodionenko named the nominative team for European Championships, just about a month away in France.
This year’s Euros are individual championships only, and Russia has opted to send the four apparatus gold medalists from the weekend – Alla Sosnitskaya (vault), Daria Spiridonova (bars), Maria Kharenkova (beam), and Ksenia Afanasyeva (floor). This is the nominative list according to Rodionenko, though reportedly Yevgeny Grebyonkin says only Spiridonova, Kharenkova, and Afanasyeva are locks. The final spot should be chosen among Sosnitskaya, Seda Tutkhalyan, Viktoria Komova, and Maria Paseka.
Kharenkova also won all-around gold with a score of 58.033, making her very competitive for that podium at Euros in addition to being a huge threat in the beam final. She was especially impressive during qualifications, hitting every event and of course looking best on beam, where her packed routine included a punch front, bhs + bhs + layout, front aerial + sheep jump, side aerial that she’s probably hoping to connect to her switch + back pike, a switch ring, switch side + back tuck, and a double pike dismount, earning a 15.367 with a 6.8 start value.
In event finals, she added a sissone to her punch front, but looked a bit wobbly throughout and missed some connections, earning a 14.533 but still managing gold by three tenths. She also placed 4th on bars in finals, and looked more consistent on this event overall, though she did show a few form issues (namely leg separation). Her floor routine earned bronze with a 13.967, including a double arabian to stag, a 1.5 through to double pike, a whip whip through to triple full (stumbled over and weak in terms of form), and a double tuck.
I think with Kharenkova, I was most impressed that she managed to get through the whole meet – all-around, team finals, and event finals making for 11 total routines – without any major problems. Overall she looks like she has the most medal potential for her country going into Euros. With hit routines, she could medal on beam and in the all-around, and she is also looking like she has a good shot at the floor final if she can work on landings and boost her endurance in the next month.
Afanasyeva is only competing vault and floor, and she could be a shoo-in for medals on both in April. Her vault difficulty isn’t the highest – she has a DTY and a Lopez – but she’s clean on both when she hits, and she’s excellent on floor. Her choreography isn’t what it once was, but her opening double layout is great, she has a whip whip through triple full (though like Kharenkova, the landing needs work), her 2.5 to front layout looks nice, and she finishes with a solid double pike.
She makes much more sense than Maria Paseka, who despite nice difficulty on vault still doesn’t compete cleanly. She’d probably nab a vault medal even without the Amanar (she’s doing a relatively solid DTY instead and has also added a Cheng, which she hit in prelims and crashed in finals), but she wouldn’t be much of a threat elsewhere while Afanasyeva could easily walk out with two. Her bars actually looked decent in prelims and finals, but it’d be hard to do much in what should be a really strong field, and her floor definitely wouldn’t turn any heads. Afanasyeva is absolutely the right choice for this individual final setup, though I can see Paseka potentially breaking into a team situation for Worlds later this year.
The other vault medal threat is easily Sosnitskaya, who placed 4th on the event in finals at Worlds in 2014. After Paseka’s fall, she won gold pretty easily in Penza and also made both the beam and floor finals, though looked pretty messy on both and also counted big mistakes, including a crashed double tuck beam dismount and OOBs on both her double pike and double tuck on floor after landing her whip whip through to triple pretty badly as well). She’ll never make a beam final, especially with her super low difficulty, though could conceivably make the floor final if she hits the way she did in the team final this week.
Spiridonova looked unbelievable on bars this weekend. She’s definitely a favorite to bring home gold on the event in France, especially after earning a 15.367 in qualifications, a 15.533 in team finals, and a 15.033 in event finals at Russian Championships. Her routine has an awesome inbar to inbar full to inbar shaposh to pak salto to van Leeuwen combination as well as an inbar half to piked Jaeger and a toe full to half-in half-out dismount, and if she’s clean, she’ll be super hard to beat.
She does struggle on her other three events, mostly due to lack of difficulty. Her beam shows promise, but she isn’t very consistent there, falling two out of three times this weekend but hitting well enough to pick up silver in the final. Even so, the bars medal will be worth it, and I expect if Kharenkova is the one expected to grab the first all-around spot for the team, Spiridonova and Sosnitskaya will battle it out for the second spot, and it really could go either way. They each have their one standout event, so it’ll come down to whoever can hit the other three weaker events with the least amount of damage (unless Kharenkova falls apart and they both make it in, which is entirely possible, though Kharenkova has seemed to make big strides in her consistency and is easily the strongest all-arounder of the three).
Now what about Viktoria Komova? Rodionenko mentioned her as one on her list for Euros potential, but I don’t think Komova lived up to it in Penza, where she had some good work (notably in qualifications), though struggled both in team and event finals, walking away without an individual medal.
When she hits, her bar routine is lovely, but it’s not super impressive and there’s been little improvement in the past six months. She has a 6.1 start value, but it looks easy compared to what she used to do, and though her height really accentuates her lovely long lines, she misses handstands and isn’t really exact with all of her movements. It’s the same story on beam…when she hits, again, it’s great, but again, she’s inconsistent and it lacks in difficulty, considering she’s a specialist. In her finals routine she had multiple wobbles as well as a kind of scary fall on her double tuck dismount, getting it about 1.5 rotations around before landing on her back.
Considering there’s been so little change between the Russian Cup and this meet six months later, her future in the sport is difficult to pinpoint. In another six months, it’s possible she could contribute on a six-member team, but it’s pretty clear why an individual Euros isn’t right for her at the moment. I will say that there has been one big change – her attitude. She no longer seems destroyed by mistakes and actually looks like she enjoys competing. She may not be ready for major international assignments just yet, but if she’s happy doing what she’s doing, I’m happy for her.
Seda Tutkhalyan’s another one who maybe wasn’t right for Euros but who could be a great contributor at Worlds. In her senior debut, Tutkhalyan earned the bronze all-around medal in addition to grabbing a spot in every event final, adding another two bronzes on vault and beam. I think her problem is that she doesn’t really have a standout event yet…she’s good enough on each to make an impression as an all-arounder (and I actually think she’s a much better all-arounder than Spiridonova or Sosnitskaya) but she wouldn’t do well in an international event final at the moment, even on her strongest event.
On vault, she’s doing a DTY and a Lopez, though they’re not really consistent enough to trust in a final. Her beam is actually excellent and is packed with difficulty, but she’s still struggling to piece everything together. She does a roundoff layout (which she fell on in event finals), a roundoff layout full (showing super impressive skill there), and a great double pike dismount. Her dance elements could use some form corrections, but overall it has the makings of an awesome routine. Someday she could be a big standout on it, but there’s work to be done before she takes it on the road.
Evgeniya Shelgunova is one Rodionenko said could be a good all-around replacement for Mustafina, though it was pretty evident that she was trying to impress with her difficulty without paying as much attention to actually hitting it with good form, and struggles all week kept her from being able to challenge for a spot on the team. Anastasia Dmitrieva had the same problem with hitting, except her difficulty was also a bit low, though her floor showed clean skills and lots of promise.
After their surprisingly solid comebacks last year ended with spots on the Worlds team, St Petersburg ladies Ekaterina Kramarenko and Tatiana Nabieva didn’t look ready at all in Penza this weekend. Kramarenko made mistakes even on her best events at every stage of the game, though did come away with bars silver after a relatively clean routine. Overall it’s hard to see how she fits into the Russian team picture in the future aside from in emergency situations, but she seems to enjoy being there whether or not she’s on a major team.
Nabieva is in a similar boat. Her difficulty is super low, and during beam qualifications she had big wobbles as well as falls on her full L turn and side aerial before competing just a double full dismount, coming in at just a 4.8 start value for a 10.733 total score. Nabieva failed to make event finals, and fell on bars in the team final, though it’s not unlike her to show up for a national meet totally unprepared. She’s never phased by multiple mistakes at these meets, and then always seems to pull something together if she’s actually needed internationally.
Overall, these championships were a mess, to put it frankly. But it’s not totally bleak. The little core group going to Euros should do very well there, and can realistically aim for at least one medal in every final, even without Queen Mustafina. And in addition to this group, there is so much promise. If everyone can stay healthy all year, they could have a considerable amount of depth going into Worlds.
Article by Lauren Hopkins