Voronin: The Last Meet of the Year

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Now that the holidays are winding down and I have a little time off from work, I’m getting around to watching the Voronin Cup, hosted in Moscow a couple of weeks ago as the final meet of the 2016 elite gymnastics season.

In the senior field, 25-year-old Daria Elizarova won the title with a 56.757, beating out 2010 worlds alternate Polina Fedorova who placed second with a 55.634, and Iceland’s 2016 Olympian, the former Russian gymnast Irina Sazonova, who won bronze with a 52.667. Lilia Akhaimova finished just above Sazonova with a 53.5 to finish third, but the two-per-country podium rule meant she wasn’t eligible to medal.

Elizarova did mostly good work, hitting all of her routines pretty solidly, though her beam score of 14.8 was maybe a little high. She had some good upgrades there, though, and if there’s anything Russia needs, it’s a solid beam worker. She actually said following her all-around win that her goal is to make the Olympic team in 2020, so while the rest of her teammates scurry to upgrade their bars, she’s smart for doing things her own way by building her skill level and aiming for consistency.

She won the gold on that event in finals, getting an even larger (and equally too high) 14.967, which probably translates to an international 14.5 or so, but good for her. In addition to that, she placed third on floor with some minor issues, and fourth on bars with a fall. Overall, a fab day for her, especially considering she hasn’t really competed in about seven or eight months. I look forward to seeing what she’ll be able to do with the coming of the next quad.

In second, Fedorova showed that she too is continuing to kill it on beam, getting a 14.634 in her all-around competition and a 14.567 to take silver in the final. The rest of her routines, you can take them or leave them, though she did look clean on floor and she won the gold medal on bars with a 13.0 in what was probably the weakest Russian bars field ever (someone actually commented on the results page for this competition and was like “this is Russia’s best event, what is happening?!”) but calm down, everyone. It’s the field, not the system breaking down and imploding like a dying star.

I love getting to see a little more of Akhaimova, who has been the red-headed stepchild of the Russian program all quad, somewhat easily winning floor at just about every domestic meet but getting passed over for international teams because the remainder of her events just don’t hold up, at all. True to her nature, her floor was great at Voronin, getting a 14.2 in the all-around competition and winning the gold with a 14.1. She also showed clean work on her low difficulty vaults, winning the gold there as well with a 13.716 average, though her vaults absolutely wouldn’t be usable on a major team for the Russians.

Sazonova has been competing pretty regularly since the Olympics, and this was her second-best all-around meet since Rio, which is nice for her. She didn’t have the best day, but based on what I saw, she seemed a little downgraded? Which is still an incredibly high level for Iceland, though, and in this relatively weak field, she managed to pull off the silver on vault with a 13.317 average, the bronze on bars with a 12.733, and the bronze on beam with a 13.933 for her hit routine.

Rounding out the top eight, we saw Carina Kröll of Germany in fifth with a 52.567, Russian Olympic alternate Evgeniya Shelgunova in sixth with a 51.7 (Lord beer me strength with this one), Thea Nygaard of Norway in seventh with a 51.668, and Ksenia Artemova of Russia in eighth with a 50.867.

Bars aside, Kröll is a fantastic gymnast who has been working really hard in her first year as a senior, and bars aside, this was another great meet for her. Floor is where she really excels in general, and she won the silver there with a 13.7 for clean work after getting a 14.0 in the all-around competition. She also did well to hit beam both days, and while I think it’ll take some big upgrades before she can threaten to make a major German team, I’ve enjoyed seeing her grow in her confidence this season, which will only help her get better down the line.

Now, Shelgunova. Shelgy, Shelgy, Shelgy. This was actually painful. Her vault was messy, she fell on her side aerial to layout in an otherwise messy beam set, and after sticking her piked full-in on floor, she went off to have some truly scary tumbling, including a triple full that was a disaster in the air (and landed a quarter short) and two super low double backs, including a cowboyed double tuck and a low double pike to finish.

But bars was the worst. She actually hit her pak! And it didn’t look like a sheep jump! But then she made up for that by falling three times to earn a 10.7. It was really a bummer to watch. I’ll chalk her day up to not having competed since the Russian Cup, but to see her decline that much in only about six months was kind of shocking. Her poor all-around perfomance meant no event finals for her, but maybe that was a good thing, because she really looked like she wasn’t on top of it enough to be competing, which never leads to good endings.

Nygaard, meanwhile, had probably her best competition ever? Seriously, she was fantastic, hitting pretty much all of her events like I’ve never seen her before. I have a little love for the Norwegian team because their difficulty is quite low but they work super hard on executing well and it’s great to watch pretty and clean gymnastics from them, though they do struggle regularly on the international scene. But they have a great group of girls right now, with Nygaard one of those leading the pack.

She made all four event finals, where her only mistake came on bars. She did great to place fourth on vault (averaging a 13.117) and on beam (with a 13.9, huge for her and her best score ever! #ThanksRussia) while also placing fifth on floor with a 13.3 for another hit set.

Finally, Artemova was one of a group of low-key Russians who generally don’t stand out on the national level. She did make the vault final, though, and while she fell on her first vault, she still placed fifth with a 12.983 average.

Other standouts…oh, I was super surprised to see the Serbian gymnast Aleksandra Rajcic get the silver medal on bars! That’s a big deal for her, and it was one of the best sets I’ve seen her do, getting a 12.733. Bars was the one event Rajcic performed at Voronin, so it was cool to see the long trip pay off with a medal. Anna Geidt of Kazakhstan picked up the vault bronze with a 13.25 average, showing clean work on both, Jenni Grönroos of Finland had a solid floor routine on the first day of competition (though made mistakes in the final to place seventh), Alina Circene of Latvia showed promise on beam, and Yekaterina Chuikina of Kazakhstan had a lovely performance on floor.

Oh, and Anastasia Sidorova competed all events but bars, but not for Russia…for Georgia! Quite a few Russians have made the nationality change this year, bringing Georgia’s roster up considerably. The program was brand-new to the elite world in only 2014, but next quad could have a full team at worlds, which would be huge and is kind of exciting to see it all play out. Sidorova isn’t officially set with the FIG at this point, but given that her career didn’t work out as she’d hoped in Russia, it’s nice to see her kind of get a second chance.

The one huge shocker of the senior meet was Anastasia Dmitrieva. I almost forgot about this, but she went from being an Olympic alternate option to falling so flat here, struggling so much on every single event but vault, it was even sadder to watch than Shelgunova’s demise. Again, most of the Russians haven’t competed in about six months or more, so I blame the time off for taking her out of competition shape, but ugh, it was just sad to see her so far below her usual standard.

Her score of 47.634 was nearly ten points below the score she earned to win the silver medal at this same meet one year ago, a performance that had gym fans wondering if she’d be an Olympic team threat after all. But instead of returning to former glory, big errors on beam and floor alongside a veritable meltdown on bars made this a truly heartbreaking meet for the 17-year-old.

Now for the juniors. Rising star Elena Eremina won the all-around title with a 56.433, followed by teammates Elizaveta Kochetkova in second with a 53.966, Viktoria Trykina in third with a 53.733, and Varvara Zubova in fourth with a 53.566, though Elina Vihrova of Latvia in fifth with a 51.601 picked up the bronze, again due to the two-per-country rule.

Following the top five, we saw Andjela Djurdjevic of Serbia in sixth with a 51.067, Emelie Petz of Germany and Enni Kettunen of Finland tied for seventh with a 50.5, Mariya Lastovskaya of Belarus in ninth with a 50.067, and Maria Butskikh of Georgia — another Russian transplant — in tenth with a 50.034.

Eremina showed an upgrade on bars, debuting her Nabieva — a toe-on layout Tkachev, for those who may have forgotten — into a pak salto. The Nabieva was a little sketchy, making it over the bar okay but she had to bend her knees a bit before catching. It’ll get there eventually. Otherwise, she had good work, going four-for-four to pretty easily win this thing, though event finals didn’t quite go her way, as she got only the silver medals on both vault and bars with a mistake on her Nabieva in the latter.

Kochetkova had a fall on beam but nailed bars in event finals for a 14.6 to win the gold, and was otherwise a tidy kid with mostly low-difficulty routines, also coming back to win the gold on floor with a respectable 13.634. Trykina, who had a mistake on bars, was otherwise good and won the beam bronze with a 13.667.

Zubova exists for beam and beam alone, with the rest of her events nowhere near her level on beam, though her fight there makes me forgive everything else. She earned a 14.7 there in the all-around, and though she had mistakes in the final to get a 14.034, the gold still ended up going to her, less than a tenth above the silver medalist. Her biggest mistake in finals was a break in her Onodi, which got close to the halfway point, but she couldn’t rotate forward out of the handstand and had to abort the skill as well as the connection into her front aerial and illusion, both of which had bobbles. She fought back, though, and looked phenomenal for the rest, so I forgave her, as always.

I was actually insanely impressed with Vihrova and Djurdjevic, both of whom performed close to the best of their ability at this point. Coming from smaller gym programs, it often isn’t easy to stand out, but Vihrova showed great promise across the board while Djurdjevic was superb to watch on floor and had some lovely skills and lines on bars.

Vihrova ended up winning the bronze on floor with a 13.267 for a solid routine where her only real fault was a low landing on her double tuck, and she also placed fourth on beam with a 13.433, another good result for her. Djurdjevic ended up falling in the floor final, coming last with a 12.167 there while also placing seventh on bars with a 10.233 after two falls.

Petz had a bit of a rough go in the all-around with a few uncharacteristic mistakes, but she made up for them with the vault gold after averaging a 14.233. Kettunen, the Finnish junior champion, made all four event finals, with her best work coming with her 12.5 on floor and 13.0 average on vault, though she made mistakes on her other two events.

Lastovskaya had a decent all-around performance, but the true killer routine for her was her beam final set, which earned a 13.967 for the silver medal. Truthfully, I would’ve liked seeing this get gold over Zubova…the 14-year-old was lovely and steady, with her only big bobbles coming on her bhs bhs loso series and then her switch side.

In addition to the medal on beam, she showed strong work on floor, where she had a smile on her face and a bright energy the whole way through, placing fourth with a 13.0. Seriously, Belarus will have no need for American imports if Lastovskaya sticks around, and her teammates weren’t far behind, with Dziyana Kirykovich in 11th with a 49.866, Hanna Traukova in 12th with a 49.134, and Anastasiya Harodnaya in 13th with a 48.467. There’s good stuff in all four of them, and they looked stronger than most Belarusian senior teams have in recent years.

Butskikh was without fellow Russian-turned-Georgian teammate Polina Borzykh, the beam phenom who withdrew due to injury, but she pulled through with a decent floor set that placed fifth in the final.

The biggest surprise was Arailym Meriam of Kazakhstan on bars. No other juniors came close to the Russians who topped the podium, but Meriam came in with a clean and steady routine that ended up a point above the other competitors, earning a 12.767 for a routine that has potential, including a bail to toe on to clear hip to Ray combo and a floaty Tkachev before a stuck double pike dismount. It’s one of the best routines I’ve seen from her country in a good while, so I was happy to see her hit. I was also impressed with Uzbekistan’s Alyona Kuyarova on floor, though she unfortunately fell in the final, and the new home-grown Armenian gymnast Anna Grigoryan, their national champion, also competed, so it’s cool to see their life after Houry Gebeshian, the country’s first major international player.

The bummer for me was Iceland’s Margret Kristinsdottir struggling on a few routines. She’s generally quite good, and often comes out on top among the other juniors in the country, but she seemed to get tripped up on bars, which really affected the rest of her performance in the all-around, where she earned a 46.966, several points shy of what she’s capable of.

Full results from Voronin are available here, and if you search Voronin 2016 on YouTube, you’ll come away with lots of gems from the competition. What were your favorite routines?

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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