Great First Day for Russians in Penza


With four falls at last year’s world championships, the storied Russian program failed to put a team on a podium in a weak field with longtime rival Romania out of team finals.

It was a dark time for Russia, with three of their 2012 Olympians on the squad alongside three of their most promising young seniors, but after today’s qualification session at Russian Championships, it seems the clouds may be lifting. Russia has SO much depth in their senior pool at the moment, with both Seda Tutkhalyan and Maria Kharenkova starting to really step it up as new seniors Angelina Melnikova and Natalia Kapitonova threaten to push their way onto the team.

Melnikova leads going into the all-around finals with a huge 60.067, followed by Tutkhalyan and Kharenkova tied for second with matching scores of 58.266 and Kapitonova in fourth with a 57.634. The judging was a little on the wild side, especially on floor, but aside from a fall from Kapitonova on beam, the four looked fantastic. At the beginning of the year, Valentina Rodionenko stated that she already has four of her Olympic team spots locked in with her 2012 Olympians Viktoria Komova (missing this meet due to back pain), Aliya Mustafina, Maria Paseka, and Ksenia Afanasyeva, but at this point it doesn’t look like they’d need to rely on veterans the way they once did. The depth is SO solid right now, a team made up entirely of gymnasts who turned senior this quad could do very well in Rio.

From start to finish, Melnikova was on her game today, proving how badly she wants a spot she’s been favored to earn since early in her junior days. Her long resume includes the junior Russian and European all-around titles in 2014 and an unofficial Russian Cup win in 2015, where she had the highest all-around score in the senior field but was unable to claim the gold as she wasn’t yet of age.

Today’s bars set showed great lines and minimal form breaks, though she lacks some of the finesse shown by her older teammates and her DTY can use a little bit of work. Her real magic came on beam, where only the tiniest of checks kept her from looking like utter perfection. She nearly connected her jump series to her flawless layout series, and otherwise seemed clean and confident, like she could go up in a team final and hit without a care in the world.

And though her floor was vastly over-scored at a 15.2 (her highest career score for an equally strong routine prior to this was a 14.433), it was still an excellent effort, opening with a big double layout, a messy-ish piked full-in, intricate turn sequences including a triple wolf turn spun up to a double pirouette, whip whip to double tuck, and a solid double pike all set to a different cut of Aly Raisman’s fantastic Russian folk music. It’s exactly the kind of routine Russia needs in their floor lineup, with music that gets the crowd clapping along even if Melnikova isn’t the most natural of performers.

Tutkhalyan, meanwhile, made everyone’s day with yet another hit beam routine, making her two-for-two this season after missing half last year, including three of her four sets at worlds. She nailed big elements like both her layout and layout full, and then debuted her piked full-in dismount, one of the most difficult in the world and done pretty well considering it was her first try. Like most of the inflated scores here, a 15.333 was probably a few tenths too high given her form on most of her elements, but hey, she’s hitting, and that’s what matters.

Her floor was also an important step, featuring a double layout, whip whip to double pike, 1.5 to front full to stag, and a cowboyed double tuck. It earned a 15, which is basically a fantasy score given that her previous high score on this event was a 14.167 at Russian Championships in 2014 and that her form and landings here didn’t merit that level of execution, but again, they can give her whatever they want as a score. She did a stellar job on an event the Russians could desperately use this summer.

Her battle with Kharenkova is interesting, because she had a fall on bars limiting her, but Kharenkova – who had a great day – is limited by her own lack of difficulty on vault, where she only performs an FTY. Like Tutkhalyan, Kharenkova’s strengths are beam and floor. She was a couple of tenths behind her teammate on both, but aside from a few awkward landings on beam, I think her set is the better of the two…her form is far superior and she has much better lines, both of which will be more appreciated on an international stage. She’s also a bit more refined on floor, with a version of “Dark Eyes” that suits her very well (and her dance elements were fabulous as was her brilliant whip whip to triple full). It’s a shame she didn’t get her chance to compete at the world cup in Glasgow. She is clearly going after 2016 like it’s nobody’s business.

Kapitonova is in the same boat as Kharenkova with a lower-valued vault, and she had to count a weaker floor and her beam fall on top of it. But the new senior had the best bars score of the day with a 15.567, showing fluid connections, beautiful form, and a perfectly stretched body line, capping everything off with a stuck full-out. It was your standard Russian bars routine, nothing super special in terms of the construction, but her form makes her a clear standout there, and she’s consistent as heck, not missing a single routine last year and racking up two scores in the 15s internationally.

Given that two-time world bars medalist Daria Spiridonova would only be used on bars in a team situation and fell there today to earn just a 13.967, I’d say if they’re looking to fill one of their final Rio spots with a supreme bars specialist, Kapitonova is proving why she should be the number one choice. When she hits beam, it’s a good routine and could be used as a reliable backup in a team final – unlike Spiridonova’s – and she’s superior on vault and floor, making her an all-arounder who also happens to have a killer bars set whereas Spiridonova is a killer bar worker who can do all four events but not very well. With issues on floor in addition to her bars fall today, Spiridonova placed tenth with a score of 54.067, behind a number of gymnasts who aren’t even being seriously considered for the Rio team.

Ahead of Spiridonova was Evgeniya Shelgunova in fifth with a 57.499, Daria Skrypnik in sixth with a 56.933, Tatiana Nabieva in seventh with a 55.667, Anastasia Dmitrieva in eighth with a 55.233, and Polina Fedorova in ninth with a 54.567. None of these will bring a major threat this year, with Shelgunova, Dmitrieva, and Fedorova the team’s perennial alternates – good, but flawed. Skrypnik, last year’s junior champion, has regressed in her ability since an injury last fall despite a still lovely bars set, and Nabieva is surprisingly still strong on vault and bars considering she retires about once a week, though she isn’t top three on either and lacks elite-level routines on beam and floor to make her a contender there.

No all-arounders outside the top ten are in the mix, but the Olympians Mustafina, Paseka, and Afanasyeva are, and they each competed two events apiece. Though Mustafina’s camp warned fans to keep expectations low, the most-decorated 2012 Olympic gymnast has nearly her full difficulty back on bars and looks great doing it, earning a 15.333 for her set. Beam is where her difficulty is lacking, and she somehow still hasn’t figured out a real flight series, which is worrisome given their annual drama on that event. Right now, she’s doing a sissone to front aerial to side aerial which is looking pretty broken up and definitely wouldn’t be credited…why can’t you just do a basic bhs loso like everyone else, Aliya?! That said, it’s a unique set, and what she did compete looked pretty solid, including a stuck double tuck at the end, so hopefully she’ll keep up the solid work there when she adds upgrades in the near future.

Paseka hit a solid bar routine, though unfortunately sat both of her vaults, while Afanasyeva performed a hit but heavily watered-down floor for a 13.8 before withdrawing from the remainder of this week’s competition. As Rodionenko said, both of these are supposedly locks, and I think with her vault medal potential Paseka will continue to maintain that status even after this fluke of a day…but as much as I love Afanasyeva, it seems her body only holds up one week out of the year and given how great the wee ones looked today, I could see her spot potentially being in jeopardy.

In the Master of Sport (MS) junior level, Anastasia Iliankova qualified first with a 57.867, showing a lovely routine on bars for a 15.267, her standout event. Uliana Perebinosova was second with a 57.301, the 2002-born Angelina Simakova was third with a 55.466, and Elena Eremina was fourth with a 55. The Candidate Master of Sport division (KMS), which is a lower level than the MS featuring some 2002-born gymnasts alongside all of the 2003 babies, saw Ksenia Klimenko top the rankings with a 56.233 followed by Gymnix fan favorite Varvara Zubova in second with a 56 and Aleksandra Shchekoldina in third with a 55.733.

Both MS and KMS gymnasts participated in the junior team final, which the ladies from the primary Central Federal District team (featuring Simakova and Perebinosova) won with a 272.098. They were followed by the Ural Federal District (featuring Klimenko and Shchekoldina) in second with a 268.431 and Moscow (featuring Zubova) in third with a 262.4.

Full results are available here. The competition continues tomorrow with the junior all-around finals. For more information, see our coverage guide.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

7 thoughts on “Great First Day for Russians in Penza

  1. Inflated score aside ithink russia definitely has the most depth aside from us right now…I am surprised how strong Melnikova is even relative to others at this comp even w the inflated score if she cont to do well I dont see why she wouldn’t be in rio and giving musty/vika a run for the aa slot


  2. Although Aliya gambles slot with her difficulty on beam since her entire routines are connections, and she insists on doing front flight series, I actually really like her beam set. It’s very unique. with gymnasts like simone, Larisa, and basically every non Dutch medal contender, the beam sets look very similar. I like how Aliya shakes it up a little and I absolutely love that she consistently does actual beam choreography.


  3. Pingback: Natalia Kapitonova – Bars | Excellent Liquid Chalk for Weight Lifting

  4. It’s funny how people keep complaining; saying the Americans are overscored. But the Russian s are notorious for being overscored. I believe not only is Madison’s and Ashton ub routine just as good but better. And they get all kinds of slack but I don’t here anyone complaining that the Russian are overscored if Laurie or anyone else gets a 60 poeple cry foul


    • First round looks to have been a subjective scoring looking for certain things to rank girls. The next round had scores more in line with expectations . Any nation is allowed to conduct their Nationals & selection process as they see fit.


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