Russian Juniors Outshine Olympians in France

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The Russian team came out victorious at the Elite Gym Massilia competition held in France over the weekend, but with Olympians Daria Spiridonova and Seda Tutkhalyan faltering, the juniors Anastasia Iliankova and Elena Eremina were able to step up into the spotlight.

In the masters competition, Iliankova and Eremina took the top two all-around podium spots, and then went on to win a small collection of medals in event finals, with Iliankova getting the floor gold as well as silvers on bars and beam, while Eremina got silver on vault.

Iliankova, who will be a senior in just about six weeks, won the all-around title with a 56.55. She vaulted a clean FTY, hit a gorgeous bars set that included an awesome Hindorff to pak to Maloney to clear hip half to Ezhova series for a 14.95, got through beam with some wobbles and form issues but no falls for a 13.55, and she got through a good enough floor performance to seal her win by over a point.

Her performances in event finals were also excellent. She didn’t connect the pak into the Maloney on bars, but still hit well to finish with a 14.4. Her beam was actually much stronger, still with some form issues (her legs on her layout are very rough), though she had much better control on most of her skills, aside from a big wobble out of her illusion turn, and she earned a 14.133 there. Her floor was once again sturdy for a 13.833, the best-executed of the day.

I’m so excited about her bars, which are incredibly unique, but I’m frustrated with her leg form on many skills on beam and floor, so hopefully that becomes a focus. She definitely needs some work if she wants to be a big threat in the coming years, but with many of Russia’s top seniors taking breaks and retiring, she should definitely be a mainstay on any upcoming teams.

I think Eremina might actually be the more talented of the two, though she’s still working on getting consistent and building on her skill level. She had a great all-around performance, earning a 55.25 after hitting her Yurchenko 1½ a little short, a clean routine on bars for a 14.45, beautiful work with only slight bobbles in her low-difficulty beam set for a 13.35, and hitting a strong floor routine with a 13.55, taking a step out-of-bounds on her 1½ to 2½ but otherwise showing good attention to detail.

Her D scores on beam and floor weren’t high enough to get her into finals on either event, though she did get the silver medal on vault thanks to decent work on her two Yurchenkos, and she placed sixth on bars with a 13.033, showing some messier work on some skills (especially the van Leeuwen) in addition to hitting her feet on the low bar after her toe full. I hope she’s able to add more difficulty to her repertoire in the coming years, because she’s a beautiful gymnast with crazy potential.

Spiridonova competed in the all-around for the first time since April at this meet, placing sixth with a 53.15 with noticeable mistakes on all four events. Her FTY was a bit short, and her form on bars was quite messy in addition to falling out of a handstand, earning only a 13.9 there. On floor, she hit her opening double tuck out-of-bounds, and came up short on her 1½, sitting the punch front tuck out of it for a 12.25.

Her beam was surprisingly my favorite of the day, looking mostly solid aside from a bobble on her Onodi and then the bulk of her deductions coming from her super short double tuck dismount, though I think she looked her sharpest there for the most part. The 13.5 got her into the event final, but she placed fifth with a 12.767 after some bobbles, including a big one on her side aerial and a near-fall on what was supposed to be a switch ring. She was also extremely short on her double tuck again, which has just about the scariest jolted landing imaginable and I hope for her sake she switches things up and goes for a 2½ or something.

Poor Tutkhalyan again had the kind of meet we have come to expect from her, sadly. In the all-around, she struggled with a rough DTY for a 13.9 and a couple of falls on beam, including on her layout and layout full before dismounting with just a layout, getting a 10.4. She did well enough on bars, aside from a few minor errors and a hop on her dismount, and she also had no major mistakes on floor, though the damage had been done on beam and she finished her day with only a 51.9.

She made it to event finals on vault and floor, but placed last on both. In the vault final, Tutkhalyan crashed her DTY and averaged a 13.733, and then on floor she counted two falls, putting her hands down on her double pike and sitting back her double tuck, getting just an 11.567. I think right now, there’s nothing more Tutkhalyan needs than a break. If the Rodionenkos want to keep her for the next quad, pushing her right through without any time off isn’t going to be good in the long run at all.

The French girls also did well at home, with Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos placing third with a 54.45 and Lorette Charpy finishing just behind her with a 53.6. De Jesus Dos Santos did well everywhere but floor, taking a big step out-of-bounds and later on sitting a front full, though her second pass was incredible, a stuck-cold full-in. She went on to place fourth on bars after arching over a handstand, though she did a great job to stay on the apparatus, and still managed a 13.5 with the mistake…the rest of the routine was great! She then won the beam title with a 14.167 for a smooth and steady routine to the delight of the home crowd, one of the loudest crowds I’ve heard at a meet.

Charpy, still a junior, didn’t hit bars, but everything else went well for her. Her beam has lots of promise, despite a few mistakes here, and she made the beam final, placing fourth there with a 13.4. She’s still a little green, competitively, but she’s definitely one of France’s biggest upcoming talents, so keep an eye on her going into next year.

I was pleasantly surprised with Sophie Marois of Canada, who placed fifth with a 53.3 in the masters all-around after qualifying along with her team from the open. A couple of British juniors, Alice Kinsella and Taeja James, placed seventh and eighth all-around; their teammate Georgia-Mae Fenton was also expected to do well here, but she unfortunately had a scary fall at the beginning of her bars, and had to withdraw from the rest of the competition. It turns out she has a knee injury, though seemed to be doing fine after the fall, and got to attend the banquet, where she and her teammates enjoyed hanging out with their Russian friends.

The open competition, held a day before the masters meet, is a qualifier for the masters. Some teams — Russia, Great Britain, France — get direct invites to the masters, but the open gives others a chance to get to the main competition and generally, the overall level of gymnastics is just a tiny bit lower, featuring mostly young and less internationally experienced juniors.

Yet one of those juniors was Irina Alexeeva, formerly of Russia but now in a kind of gymnastics limbo as she only has her green card in the U.S. and can’t represent the country internationally. Occasionally, WOGA sends the 2016 U.S. Classic junior champion out to open invitationals like this one and Gymnix, and she ended up winning the open competition with a 57.1, the highest score both there and of those who competed in the masters session.

Alexeeva, 14, hit a clean FTY on vault before going on to nail bars for a 14.833, performing a toe full to van Leeuwen, a big layout Jaeger, a great Maloney to Gienger series, and a double front, looking super clean throughout. She also did very well on beam, killing the opening roundoff loso loso mount super well and then having only slight bobbles elsewhere, though her Onodi looked very smooth. On floor, Alexeeva stuck her double layout and also hit a 2½ to front full, a double full, and a double pike, finishing her day brilliantly.

She also performed in the bars and beam finals, winning the gold on bars with a 14.733 and bronze on beam, where she had big wobbles on her opening sequence and on her layout series, getting a 13.967 with a 6.4 D score, the highest of the meet by nearly a point!

Alison Lepin, a member of France’s Euros team this year and known for her fabulous bars, placed second in the open, earning a 53.167. As usual, bars was her standout, matching Alexeeva’s 14.833 with an inbar full to Komova II to Ricna, Galante, toe on to bail to inbar half to Endo half to Ray, and stalder full to stuck full-in, a marathon of a routine performed super well both there and in the event finals, where she won the bronze medal with a 14.4.

In the masters all-around, she was 12th with a 52 after another hit bars routine but two falls on beam, including a really bad one during which she landed on her head on top of the springboard. No one moved the board out of the way, and so when she slipped backwards on her bhs bhs loso series and flew off the beam, the hard wood met her rather than the mat, which looked horrifying. She took a moment to catch her breath but eventually got back up and on the beam, finishing things off nicely, with a stuck double full as a bonus.

Other top all-around finishers in the open division included Melissa Poitreau of France in third with a 52.917, Alisson Lapp of France in fourth with a 52.667, Victoria Jurca of Canada’s Quebec team in fifth with a 51.967, her teammate Laurie Denommee in sixth with a 51.883, Celia Serber of France in seventh with a 51.567, and Manon Muller of Belgium, representing the Flemish region, in eighth with a 51.133.

Overall there were just under a hundred competitors in the open, with some familiar names like Tzuf Feldon and Ofir Kremer of Israel, who placed 21st and 43rd respectively, as well as the Merkova twins of the Czech Republic, both of whom had off-days with falls, with Vendula finishing 25th and Adela placing 27th.

Event medalists not yet mentioned include Coline Devillard of France with the gold medal on vault after hitting a handspring front pike 1½ (an unusual option, and I can only imagine she’s shooting for a layout Rudi eventually!) and then a big FTY to average a 14.133, finishing just a tenth ahead of Eremina. Naomi Lee of Australia won the bronze with a 14.017 average, hitting a big FTY and a Yurchenko half-on front pike.

On floor, Taeja James of Great Britain won the silver medal for a clean routine that earned a 13.767, while Victoria Jurca of Canada won bronze with a 13.5 for a strong performance of her own.

Full results from the competition are available here, and you can see many videos on the Elite Gym Massilia YouTube channel.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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3 thoughts on “Russian Juniors Outshine Olympians in France

  1. Really, Seda needs a year or two off, then slowly get back into gymnastics and make worlds. Pushing her hard after the olympics to hit is really just a stupid idea by the Rodionenkos.

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    • I was mistaken when i thought they would reward Sedas good performance in Rio by resting her. This next quad I would like to see Seda get more consistent while keeping the big skills she already has, Komova return (apparently she’s training again), Melnikova come up to be the world leader they’re expecting her to be, Muatafina to at the very least come back to be a contender to three peat her bars crown and the juniors live up to their potential and improve. Iliankova is a little innovator, she doesn’t have identical sets on any of the apparatus that the Russians typically have and Eremina has the elegant, Soviet esque style to her gymnastics and is beautiful to watch.

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  2. I really liked what I saw of Alice Kinsella– on beam especially once she gets her consistency up. I love the fact that she’s doing a double turn. Do you know what her mount’s called? I don’t remember seeing it before.

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