Too often we fall in love with Russian juniors only to see them not live up to the hype. For Angelina Melnikova, who turns 16 two weeks before this summer’s Olympic Games, this thankfully is not the case.
Melnikova was unstoppable at the Russian Championships in Penza over the last week, qualifying in first place with a huge 60.067 and then tallying a 59.267 on her second day for a 119.334 total, nearly five points ahead of second place. Given that Russia was so short on all-around talent at last year’s worlds – they qualified only Seda Tutkhalyan into the final where she placed just 15th – Melnikova could very well secure a spot on the Olympic team for this feat alone.
But that’s not all. Melnikova also picked up the gold medals on beam and floor for fantastic routines there, and while she placed fifth on bars, it was with minor form and combination breaks in a terrifically deep field, and she still earned a 14.7 for her effort. Essentially, she had a near-perfect week, and her performance here makes her the strongest Russian all-arounder of the quad by a long shot. In fact, should Aliya Mustafina end up returning on all four events (right now she’s hoping to get vault back for the European Championships but likely won’t return on floor anytime soon as she’s been struggling with a lack of endurance), I’d give the super balanced and impossibly consistent Melnikova the edge. According to Valentina Rodionenko, Melnikova and Mustafina have “the most secure spots” on the Olympic team.
Behind Melnikova in the all-around was Tutkhalyan, who is anything but consistent. With a 58.266 on her first day and a 56.667 on her second for a 114.933 total, Tutkhalyan had another bars fall in the final on her Church in addition to stopping her swing to regroup after her Bhardwaj, and while she did a great job on floor, she earned nearly a point less there than she did for her heavily over-scored prelims routine.
Tutkhalyan’s beam looked promising after her first two days, but falls in event finals left her in last place with a 12.533. She then went on to fall again on floor, placing last there with an 11.9, though she did win the vault gold with a 14.55 average after Maria Paseka sat both of her vaults for the second time this week. For Tutkhalyan, it was not the meet she needed to prove her worth to the selection committee, especially after she hit only 50% of last year’s beam routines. Andrey Rodionenko expressed his disappointment in her lack of consistency following the competition, noting that they need to be able to trust their gymnasts to go up in a team final, which Tutkhalyan failed to do last year and hasn’t yet learned how to control. He also stated that what she gained in difficulty, she lost in execution, and that from the standpoint of choosing teams for major international events, the gymnasts can upgrade all they want but it won’t matter if they can’t hit clean routines.
Even with her lower overall difficulty, Maria Kharenkova was only a tenth behind Tutkhalyan with a 114.832 combined total after tying her 58.266 on day one and earning a 56.566 in finals, where she was – as usual – not very strong on bars and had a somewhat rough floor routine after skidding out of her 1.5 through to double tuck and under-rotating her whip whip through to triple full (though overall, it’s a great routine and probably my favorite to watch among the Russians).
Kharenkova did well in event finals, earning a 13.9 on bars before going off to get the silver on beam with a 15.0 and bronze on floor with a 14.267. She is still on Valentina Rodionenko’s list of those considered for the Olympic Games, especially as she becomes more and more consistent on beam with each turn. Aside from Melnikova, she has the greatest combination of difficulty, execution, and consistency on the Russian team at the moment, so given that it’s the event that took them down in Glasgow, this could work very well in her favor going forward.
The next four all-around spots belonged to Daria Skrypnik with a 114.266, Evgeniya Shelgunova with a 114.032, Natalia Kapitonova with a 113.067, and Daria Spiridonova with a 110.799. Skrypnik did a great job fighting back from her errors on day one, and once again put up one of the best bars scores of 15.3, which she repeated yet again in event finals to share the title with Spiridonova. Spiridonova’s own all-around performance is lacking due to her weaker difficulty, but with a hit bars set on day two and a solid – for her – beam performance, she managed to earn a 56.732 all-around, one of the better scores of her career.
Shelgunova has cooled a bit since her fiery start to the year, and likely won’t be a strong contender for the team, though she remains in consideration thanks to her solid beam and floor sets. She placed fourth on both in event finals, with a 14.667 on beam and a 14.133 on floor, a good finish in addition to her fifth place all-around spot. Unfortunately, Kapitonova had some errors in finals that brought her down a bit in the ranking after looking so good in prelims, falling on beam and lacking difficulty elsewhere to make up for it. Her bars were great once again, but Rodionenko remarked that while her technique is very nice, her difficulty is far too low for her to realistically earn a spot in Rio, though she does remain on the shortlist thanks to her bars, which placed fourth in event finals.
I mentioned before that Paseka sat her vaults in finals, similar to her landings in prelims, though the Rodionenkos didn’t have much concern about their world champion. Her fourth-place finish with a 14.0 average here is due to illness and back pain, and while Valentina wasn’t quite as forgiving as Andrey, she recognizes Paseka’s difficulty as being the highest combination in the world along with Simone Biles and Hong Un Jong, and doesn’t see this week’s issues as a long-running problem, especially after the huge strides Paseka made in 2015.
Mustafina brought in a pair of bronze medals with a 15.2 on bars and a 14.8 on beam, something the Rodionenkos were thrilled to see given her downgrades. Mustafina seems to be much more motivated than she was last year, and despite her lack of endurance on floor, is doing a great job getting back into her top competitive form, hoping to peak by the start of the Games. The plan is to bring back her full difficulty on bars and beam for European Championships, where she also hopes to compete on vault for the first time since last year’s European Games.
Finally, while Ksenia Afanasyeva was somewhat limited here due to a slight foot injury, she still managed to pull out a win on floor, tying Melnikova with a 14.567 for gold. The Rodionenkos want her to work hard on getting her difficulty back if she wants to go to Euros, but her finals routine was leaps and bounds better than what she performed in prelims and she always tends to put everything together when she needs to, so they don’t seem too worried.
In addition to the above, Viktoria Komova is also still in consideration for the Olympic Games. According to Andrey Rodionenko, she is training at Round Lake and has a lot of potential, but her back pain is very limiting at the moment. They don’t think she’ll be able to contend for a spot at Euros, so they plan to keep an eye on her in training and judge her that way since if she does get to compete this year, it won’t be until the Russian Cup in July, which would be cutting it close.
Anastasia Iliankova won the junior title with a combined score of 115.268 after a consistent two days, which actually would’ve had her in second place in the senior field. She was strongest on bars and beam, though while she picked up the bars event title, a fall on beam put her in seventh place with just a 12.433. She bounced back nicely to win the floor title with a 13.8, however, a great win considering her low difficulty, and she also averaged a 14.15 in vault finals for bronze there.
In second was Uliana Perebinosova with a 113.967 while Elena Eremina was third with a 111.633 and Angelina Simakova was fourth with a 111.633. Perebinosova won vault gold with a 14.367 average in addition to beam silver (14.167) and bars bronze (13.633), though a fall on floor put her in last place with a 12.533. Eremina was the beam gold medalist with a 14.567, and also had the silver medals on vault (14.317) and bars (14.2), while Simakova had the floor silver (13.767) and beam bronze (13.9). The top four all-arounders dominated the event finals, but Polina Borzykh managed to sneak floor bronze away from them with a 13.467 there.
Ksenia Klimenko won the espoir title with a 112.867, followed by Aleksandra Shchekoldina in second with a 111.733 and Varvara Zubova in third with a 110.334. Klimenko also won bars (13.833) and beam (14.6) while placing third on floor (13.6), Shchekoldina won vault (13.733) and was second on beam (13.4), and Zubova won floor (14.2), though unfortunately fell in beam finals to place fourth there.
In addition to these, Viktoria Gorbatova and Anastasia Budylkina tied for vault silver with a 13.684 average, Anastasia Agafonova was the bars silver medalist (13.7), Elizaveta Serova was the bars bronze medalist (13.067), Taisia Borozdyko was the beam silver medalist (13.4), and Gorbatova won floor silver (13.767).
Full results from the Russian Championships are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins