The latest news out of Russia is that two-time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva, who was hoping to make her third Olympic team this summer, has retired.
Afanasyeva, who is 24, competed vault on Russia’s European Championships team this spring, and then immediately went to Germany for surgery, though was hoping to still factor into the Olympic team picture. However, according to R Sport, Afanasyeva is currently dealing with a very serious kidney problem that will take her out of training and competition for more than a month.
I urge fans to take the news with a grain of salt, as it’s coming from Valentina Rodionenko rather than Afanasyeva herself. Remember that the Rodionenkos also announced Viktoria Komova‘s retirement, though Komova herself later said that while she wasn’t contending for a team spot this year, she hadn’t decided yet whether or not she was leaving the sport for good. The same can be said for Tatiana Nabieva, who has retired roughly three hundred times in the past five years, and yet always shows up looking competition-ready, and shockingly even made the worlds team in 2014.
Evgeniya Shelgunova, 18, will replace Afanasyeva as the traveling alternate for a team that includes Aliya Mustafina, Angelina Melnikova, Seda Tutkhalyan, Daria Spiridonova, and Maria Paseka. Natalia Kapitonova and Lilia Akhaimova are the non-traveling alternates.
“Shelgunova is a good gymnast, but clearly weaker than Afanasyeva, who is a world champion on floor,” Rodionenko told the press. Shelgunova is hit or miss in competition, though looked great at the Russian Cup earlier this month, where she finished fourth in the all-around and on floor and won the bronze medal on beam.
The change comes after news that Melnikova is dealing with a hamstring injury and Mustafina isn’t at full strength, a tough situation with only about two weeks left before the Games, so it’ll be interesting to see whether they’ll be able to shape up in time to go after the bronze. The medal should conceivably be within their grasp, though if they’re performing at a lower standard due to injury, several other teams have the potential to rise up and take advantage of Russia’s situation, including a very healthy and strong Great Britain, which defeated Russia at worlds last year.
At the very least, the team can be thankful that while they were hoping Afanasyeva would end up contributing, she was at this point only an alternate, so there is no need for last-minute team swapping. And honestly, while Afanasyeva at her best could’ve challenged for a floor medal (she won silver at worlds last year), Tutkhalyan contributes so much more to the team in that she’s usable on all four events, something that’s necessary when the team features two specialists. With Afanasyeva on the team over Tutkhalyan, the team would only be able to put up three gymnasts (instead of the allowed four) on beam in qualifications, and they would’ve relied on Spiridonova in a three-up three-count beam situation in both qualifications and finals. That’s not a lineup you could trust, making Tutkhalyan the much safer option.
The Russian team travels to Rio de Janeiro next week. Hopefully this will be the last of their injury drama so they can put up a strong competition before moving on from this somewhat disastrous quad.
Article by Lauren Hopkins