Shelgunova’s Epic Start to 2016

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When Evgeniya Shelgunova swept the podium in Latvia early in February, I saw the scores and rolled my eyes. A 14.8 on beam? A 58.666 in the all-around? Typical Soviet bloc nonsense scores.

Then she did it again in Belarus. The top scores on every event in a weak field? A 57.35 with mistakes on two events? I’ll believe it when I see it.

It wasn’t until her Volga District Championships sweep – her third sweep in a month with a 58.65 all-around – that I started seeking out videos, expecting to see mediocre performances getting over-rewarded, as if Shelgunova could ever be THIS good.

But I was fully blown away. Like, I see scores all the time and make snap judgments on whether they’re accurate or not without seeing video and usually I’m on the money, but here, I absolutely couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The alternate for last year’s Russian worlds team, Shelgunova spent most of 2015 on the spectrum from “dreadful” to “meh,” putting up some of her best work at the Russian Cup in the month leading up to worlds to nab the alternate spot, but then disappointing with multiple falls at Massilia in November. She had promising work on bars, beam, and floor, but would muck it up when it counted, falling at least once at every competition she attended. Even when she did manage to become alternate, I never legitimately considered her a contender for anything in the future.

Until now.

The scores were the draw for me at first, but when you think about it, there’s someone that can match or outscore her pretty much everywhere, like Viktoria Komova and Daria Spiridonova on bars, Maria Kharenkova on beam, Ksenia Afanasyeva on floor…for the most part, the scores themselves aren’t anything super special, and once she comes face to face with the other top Russian contenders, the sweeps will definitely be a thing of the past. Competing against your Olympian and world champion teammates is quite different from competing against girls who will mostly never see an international stage, so I don’t expect her to take every medal, but I do think she has something the team needs.

What does she have that the others don’t? A little thing called consistency. I don’t think I need to remind you of Russia’s issues with consistency at worlds last year, with their four falls during the team final competition costing them a medal in what should’ve been an easy field given that their main rival Romania was out of contention. But no, they lost the bronze to Great Britain, a team that had never once finished on the medal podium in major international competition, a huge blow given that the Russian team included three of its 2012 Olympians in addition to gymnasts who were once some of the top junior prospects in the world.

At worlds, throwing Shelgunova into the team final would’ve been as much of a crap shoot as it ended up being with the actual team, but Shelgunova in her current state could’ve been a game-changer. Of the 16 routines she’s competed in the past month, she’s had only two with big mistakes for 87.5% accuracy. The sweeps on their own are relatively meaningless given the weakness of the fields in which she was contending, but her own solid and confident performances even with big upgrades were a major accomplishment for the 18-year-old late bloomer.

In addition to upgrading to a DTY on vault, Shelgunova has made efforts on her other three events, but none is more striking than her beam, which now boasts a 6.9 start value, highest in the world. Some of her many combos there include a roundoff layout, side aerial + loso + loso, front aerial + sheep jump, and a punch front + wolf jump. It’s a HUGE performance, reaching the mid-14s even with wobbly sets and a 15.25 for her excellent set in Minsk (see below). While her form there and elsewhere isn’t always the greatest (she still struggles a bit with her pak and double layout on bars looking a bit arched), I think she finally is giving us a reason to look beyond her form.


At the Antonia Koshel Cup in Minsk..

Obviously it’d be nice to see these things cleaned up and worked on a bit more, but great technique doesn’t come easily to everyone and she’ll get the deductions she deserves. It happens. I personally am way more excited about the potential she has to help the Russian team get back on track this summer if she continues this new-found ability to calmly get through huge routines like it’s no big deal.

With four already named to Russia’s Olympic team – the 2012 Olympic silver medalists Komova, Afanasyeva, Aliya Mustafina, and Maria Paseka – it leaves only one spot for several contenders hoping to impress Valentina Rodionenko enough to make it theirs. It won’t be easy for Shelgunova, who has gymnasts like the 2015 bars champion Spiridonova, her worlds teammates Kharenkova and Seda Tutkhalyan, and superstar new senior Angelina Melnikova to outperform. But each of these gymnasts has dealt with inconsistency a great deal over the past year, and Shelgunova’s current scores rival all of them.

I’m no Rodionenko, but based on her big hit routines thus far in 2016, Shelgunova would be first on my list for that fifth spot if she can continue this work. Of course, after her fantastic month, she’ll be under even greater scrutiny and thus greater pressure to succeed, but I’m excited to see how she deals with it and how the other Russians stack up in terms of their own routines and confidence this year.

No matter what happens, the Shelgunova who exists now in February and March of 2016 is like a completely different gymnast compared to the one competing just three months ago. Her transformation has been awesome, and I can’t wait to see what else she can do.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

9 thoughts on “Shelgunova’s Epic Start to 2016

  1. How explain such a transformation ? Russian championships in april will be so intersting. And Rodionenko’s choices depend on the results.

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  2. I think you forgot to finish the sentence in the paragraph after “Until now”. But I agree: this kid has come leaps and bounce since last season. She was never on my radar to make the Olympic team….. now she’s the dark horse that could take the last spot if she continues like this!

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  3. when they name the Olympic team so much ahead is like asking for their program to fall apart.. it´s like telling a gymnast “I don´t care how good you are, you will never be on the team” and giving younger gymnast a good reason to leave the sport… russia will end up like romania at this pace..

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  4. I still don’t understand the logic behind picking your Olympic team this far in advance. The girls who have made the team (the stars, as it were), have less motivation to maintain given that they know that there aren’t any strong gymnasts standing behind them ready to take their place. And what about the five or six girls who are literally fighting for ONE spot? Wow.

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  5. If you recall she was 57+ in 2013 Russian champs for 3rd abut dropped to give Grish another chance. She can have an excellent beam ,she had been working an Amanar before the elbow injury of 2013-14. If she could get that then she would be on the team. That & this new consistency is her ticket.

    But either way , she is a tiny little thing who could have a very long career ahead of her. Maybe a later international breakthruer like Jessica Valente. It could be much easier for her now she has some more strength & maturity .

    Yevgenia is capable of some very nice beam lines especially. Her chances greatly improve with the AA emphasis returning in the next code. In 2020 she will still be only 23.

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  6. I’m so torn between Evgenia, Angelina, Seda and Ekaterina Sokova. Skrypnik, Natalia and Maria Kharenkova have all kind of fell off for me. Sokova had a lot of upgrading potential sat year, so it’ll be great to see how much she can grow this year. Seda has always been great pretty much everywhere. While she’s messy, her vault is so high and it looks like she bounces off the horse, her bars look so much better every time she goes up, her beam is so spectacular when she hits and her floor is so energetic and powerful. It just amazes me in the worst way possible how a gymnast with Sedas talent can be so ridiculously inconsistent. It’s like the better she is at an event, the less she hits it, beam being the one where my heart is in my throat when she goes up. She rather hits big, or absolutely collapses, no in between. Melnikova is pretty well rounded. She doesn’t stand out on any event. Her vault is alright and at times high, but not explosive. Her bars are nice to watch with good difficulty, but it doesn’t have the world class flow and poise of her teammates. Her beam is good, but there’s nothing particularly gorgeous or amazing. Her floor isn’t explosive or weak, and she hasn’t quite found her style. But Melnikova, with a little bit more consistency, can contribute anywhere if they need it, which is crucial when you consider that all members of the current team has had at least two surgeries or nagging pains that have had to been treated in the past 2 years. Shelgunova is right now my top pick. She’s been the only consistent Russian so far this year, and she’s pretty decent on floor, vault and bars and if she were to go to Rio and hit beam, I wouldn’t be surprised if she came from behind and nabbed gold or silver from gymnasts who have been more favored on beam like Biles or Iordache(I still have faith that if she’s healthy she can hit an event final). My only question on shelgunova is whether or not she has the mental strength to go up against a world class field. It’s easy enough to hit in a field of unknowns, but it’s completely different when you’re in a field where 5 of your teammates are world champions.

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  7. Pingback: Evgeniya Shelgunova – Beam | Excellent Liquid Chalk for Weight Lifting

  8. Your conclusions about Russia’s need for consistency are true, but what they really lacked at 2015 worlds is leadership. I truly believe that if Mustafina had been able to compete at worlds, they wouldn’t have had such a disaster. Even if she didn’t do as well as we’d all like to see, she’s a leader who hits when it counts. Mustafina is training, but she’s been so fragile lately that I am afraid to believe she will compete in Rio until I see her there, and I just don’t know that Shelgunova could fill that leadership role no matter how consistent she is.

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  9. I’m not convinced as much as everyone else about Shelgunova. There are still some major form issues but at least her Pak salto has improved. Beam has some terrific combinations and I agree she is capable of lovely lines but she doesn’t show them! I would like to see how she compares to her team mates after the Russian championships.

    I’m actually surprised how people have gone off Maria Kharenkova and Seda Tutkhalyan. It seems to me that people are holding their performances at Worlds against them. Yet Kharenkova was an AA medallist at last year’s Europeans (no DTY possibly kept her out of the gold medal spot) and Tutkhalyan had a pretty good outing in the European Games in Baku. I think if they show good results (let’s see what happens in Stuttgart next weekend) in the coming months one of them will be on the Olympic team ahead of Shelgunova. I personally would like to see Melnikova on the team but there doesn’t seem to be room and she doesn’t have the high level international experience.

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