The all-around final at this year’s Russian Cup showed some improvement after a messy team final on Wednesday, but the fact remains that without Aliya Mustafina, their best gymnast right now is a junior.
Angelina Melnikova, the 15-year-old who won the junior all-around title at European Championships last year, bested official champion Daria Spiridonova by just over a tenth in Penza on Thursday, again proving to be the most consistent in a land of unpredictable competitors. With a score of 57.234 to Spiridonova’s 57.1, Melnikova is technically the champion this year, but because she was there as a junior guest, Spiridonova is the official winner.
The junior gymnast showed a clean FTY, a gorgeous bars set, and a solid beam. On floor, her leg form was all over the place on her piked full-in, she was a tiny bit under-rotated on her whip whip to double tuck, she stumbled slightly out of her wolf to pirouette sequence, and then her double full was super short, landing far forward with bent knees causing her to take several large steps out of it, though she did save it from being a fall and still managed a 13.6 for her effort.
Spiridonova actually had a very good meet for the second day in a row, hitting all four events including a 15.4 on bars, where she looked much more fluid than she did in the team final, showing only minor issues like slight leg separation, flexed feet, and her chest slightly down on her dismount. Otherwise, she earned a 14.0 for her clean FTY, another 14.0 on beam (there was just a single slight wobble), and then a 13.7 for her hit floor routine.
She came up from behind to best first-year senior Seda Tutkhlanyan, who actually performed very well on her first three events and was leading going into floor, but then skidded and sat the punch layout out of her 2.5, counting a fall there for a 13.1. A shame, as the rest of her day was so strong, especially on beam where she had a big balance check but was otherwise clean, hitting for a 14.867.
In third was Maria Kharenkova, who hit four-for-four but worked with downgraded difficulty due to a lingering back injury. With a 56.466, Kharenkova’s best event was beam, earning a 14.5 after a hit, albeit somewhat tentative, routine.
Evgeniya Shelgunova once again showed her potential value as a consistent competitor on beam and floor, posting scores of 14.2 and 14.0 and placing fourth in the all-around with a 56.1. Though Alla Sosnitskaya seemed like she might also have another top five finish after her good work on vault and bars, she fell on her layout on beam and then crashed three floor passes, earning just a 10.1 there to finish ninth with a 52.567. She wasn’t really in the picture for the worlds team this year anyway, but that kind of crash-and-burn performance certainly didn’t help her cause.
Of the specialists, both Viktoria Komova and Maria Paseka competed, but Ksenia Afanasyeva did not. I believe this had something to do with giving Komova another chance to prove herself on bars and beam, and Paseka to prove herself a second time on bars and floor. There was no need to test Afanasyeva again after she had a solid effort in team finals, and so she was given the day off to save her body and focus on event finals. Anastasia Grishina and Tatiana Nabieva also didn’t compete, but likely because they’re not being seriously considered for worlds.
Komova looked a hundred percent better on bars this time around, earning a 15.467 – the highest of the day – for a routine that included a Komova II to pak to van Leeuwen, inbar half to layout Jaeger, toe full to piked Tkatchev, and then just a full-out dismount instead of the double double she attempted in team finals. Her only issue was a bit of a struggle to get the toe full around before the Tkatchev, but she paused in handstand for a moment to regain her composure and finished up with no problems. She also hit beam, but it’s still not a clean or confident enough set to trust in a team finals situation at worlds.
Paseka looked about as excellent as she did in team finals, though she took it a tiny bit easy on herself on bars, letting herself kip cast between her pak and van Leeuwen. She also had a step forward on her slightly under-rotated double front dismount, but otherwise it was a great set, earning a 14.8. On floor, she posted a 14.133 after hitting an excellent 2.5 to front full, a 1.5 to Rudi, and a double tuck with a step.
Of the other juniors to compete, Daria Skrypnik and Natalia Kapitonova, neither did the all-around. Kapitonova had a nice bars set, and though Skrypnik had a horrible DTY, she pulled through with one of the best bar routines of the day and then a steady set on beam, sitting in fourth place going into the final rotation. Unfortunately, however, she injured her foot in warm-ups on floor and was carried out of the arena, unable to finish the competition.
Following the competition, Andrei Rodionenko talked to AllSport, stating that the Russian gymnasts “have to look better at world championships” because their results in Penza so far “are not enough to fight for medals in Glasgow.” He’s concerned that their top all-arounder earned only around a 57, adding that they’ll need a gymnast with at least a 59 to challenge for the podium.
“There are serious problems in the all-around,” he admitted. “We do have two athletes that can fight for medals there – Mustafina and Komova. But right now, neither is in a state of readiness to contend and show good results. In their absence, we must look to the younger athletes. They have a skill level lower than that of their leaders, and they all struggled at the Russian Cup.”
The Russian Cup continues with event finals held over the weekend, with the women contending on vault and bars on Saturday, and then on beam and floor on Sunday. Full results of everything that’s happened so far can be found here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins