Of everyone coming into this year’s Russian Championships, 16-year-old Natalia Kapitonova wasn’t at the top of my list.
The second alternate for last year’s Olympic Games and last summer’s Russian Cup bars champion, Kapitonova has often struggled for recognition in a field full of stars. But when this year’s young stars all imploded at the national championships in Kazan today, Kapitonova was there, slow and steady, to quietly slip in for the gold with a combined two-day score of 108.231.
There was nothing really thrilling about Kapitonova’s gymnastics today. Bars was her best event, earning a 14.333 for a routine that included a stalder full, Komova II to pak with leg sep, van Leeuwen, inbar full to Tkachev, and a toe-on to full-out with a solid landing. It’s not one of the more difficult Russian routines, but after the other competitors with stronger routines all fell or had issues, it ended up being the best among those doing the all-around.
That aside, she had an FTY with a step, a solid bhs bhs layout series, double spin, and hit dismount on beam for a 13.7, and a 13.133 on floor to total a 54.799. In yesterday’s qualifications, she performed about the same, but with a fall on beam, to earn a 53.432. Neither scores are really all that tremendous, and wouldn’t be super competitive internationally on any event, but she’s the one who hit while everyone around her fell apart.
First-year senior Elena Eremina was the silver medalist, earning a 107.732 combined score after a 55.366 in qualifications and a 52.366 today. In the final, she hit a questionable Yurchenko 1½ and her floor routine, but counted falls on bars and beam.
Her bars fall was actually a shame, as she started out fantastic with a huge Nabieva to pak and clean van Leeuwen, but then she muscled out of her inbar to inbar half, landing with her hips on the bars before continuing with a layout Jaeger, toe full, and full-out. She had a better time with the routine yesterday, though it still had its mistakes, and she also hit beam and a cleaner vault in qualifications, so all hope is not yet lost with this one. She still has some of the greatest promise among all of the young Russians at the moment, and at 15, she still has a few years before anyone needs to worry about her.
I have a secret love for Evgeniya Shelgunova, the 19-year-old first alternate for last summer’s Olympics, so seeing her get the bronze medal with a 106.597 was kinda fun…although worrisome, because in this field, Shelgunova should not be winning bronze all-around medals.
She had mistakes and form issues on both days of competition, but her finals performance was much better overall. I saw her bars, which were messy but hit, and her beam, which looked similar. She has definitely improved a bit, form-wise, but she’s still not someone we should put a lot of faith in, with no events that are strong enough to make her a real contender.
Her beam is good enough, and her 13.866 there today was actually the strongest on that event after she hit a roundoff layout, punch front, front aerial to sheep jump, and solid double pike dismount, but she can’t actually be counted on to always hit it at a solid enough level to make her worth taking around internationally, and she had mistakes there in qualifications.
2016 Olympic silver medalist Seda Tutkhalyan, 17, qualified second coming into finals with a 54.198, showing some mistakes but looking promising, though her finals performance today shattered all delusions, as she counted three falls to earn just a 52.032 for a two-day total of 106.230, finishing ninth today and fourth overall.
Tutkhalyan opted to compete her Lopez instead of the Yurchenko double on vault, probably because her double tends to give her trouble, and her bars were actually shockingly solid, with a Maloney to Bhardwaj, van Leeuwen, and toe full to Tkachev all done nicely, though she then sat the double front dismount, earning a 13.0. On beam, she fell twice within about the first ten seconds, first on her wolf turn 1½ and then on her layout full, earning an 11.833, and while she didn’t fall on floor, she had some shaky landings and managed only a 12.933.
It was disappointing, to say the least. I get my hopes up about her all the time and she always manages to struggle. I’m not sure why they keep giving her chances to represent the country internationally, but I’m sure even despite today’s errors, she’s still on top of Valentina Rodionenko’s Euros list.
In fifth was Lilia Akhaimova with a 106.031 combined score (53.332 quals, 52.699 finals), Viktoria Trykina was sixth with a 105.931 (52.899 quals, 53.032 finals), 2016 Olympic silver medalist Daria Spiridonova was seventh with a 105.164 (52.766 quals, 52.398 finals), Daria Elizarova was eighth with a 105.098 (51.832 quals, 53.266 finals), Daria Skrypnik was ninth with a 104.899 (52.066 quals, 52.833 finals), and Elizaveta Kochetkova was tenth with a 103.197 (52.198 quals, 50.999 finals).
Of these, there’s not too much to note…Trykina stood up her Yurchenko double which is about the best way to describe how that went, Akhaimova showed a solid athleticism on floor as always but even with that as her best event, she lacks the difficulty to be competitive internationally and likely won’t make any teams for that alone, Spiridonova isn’t close to her full ability on bars (and her other events frankly don’t matter), and Skrypnik’s bars were a mess today after she qualified first on that event yesterday (though she did surprise me with a hit beam).
Way down in 11th was 2016 Olympic silver medalist Angelina Melnikova. Yes, 11th place overall with a combined score of 102.831 after reaching just a 49.499 in her second day of competition, where she placed 14th. She came in from qualifications in fourth with a 53.332 after falling on bars, but I figured hey — first day jitters, right? She’ll be fine.
She wasn’t fine. In fact, she was much worse. Opening with a Yurchenko double, the one thing she actually hit today, 16-year-old Melnikova went on to fall on every event, getting an 11.333 on bars, a 12.1 on beam, and an 11.6 on floor. It was heartbreaking, for real. She just looked so defeated from the second she walked in the room, and I don’t know why that is. Rodionenko was calling her the program’s star coming into this meet, but she completely fell apart and maybe it was the pressure or maybe it was reduced training time or something, but she in no way looked like someone who has the mental strength to carry this program in the absence of Aliya Mustafina.
Her bars were especially sad, as she actually started out with some great work, including fantastic form on her inbar full to Maloney to pak and van Leeuwen. But then she missed her Jaeger, falling to the mat, and when she got back on to try it again, she caught it super close to the bar with her coach literally carrying her through it before she finished up with a giant full to full-in with a hop.
The skills are there, but her mind just isn’t right now, and that’s tremendously sad. Like with Tutkhalyan, though, I’m sure this meet means little in Rodionenko’s mind. I absolutely don’t see someone like Kapitonova getting a Euros spot over someone like Melnikova, because when Melnikova’s actually hitting the skills she has, she has the potential to finish on the all-around podium. Maybe they’re just waiting for a little of that Mustafina Magic that somehow turned her from mess to gold medalist between the domestic meets and the international competitions, but she’s way too good a gymnast to fall this far behind, and I’m sure once she figures out what she needs to do to start hitting again, she’ll be back at the top of the Russian food chain.
To end on a positive note, Anastasia Iliankova hit two fabulous routines on the uneven bars, one in qualifications that earned a 14.633 and one today that scored similarly. It was an awesome routine, with a Hindorff to pak to Maloney to clear hip half down to the low bar again and then right back up on a clean van Leeuwen before going into a giant full to full-out.
It’s a routine that’s great as-is, quick and to the point, but it’s also easily upgrade-able and I think we’ll see her making changes to it over the year to take advantage of a few more difficulty bonuses. The 15-year-old competed only this event in her senior debut, but based on how everyone else looked, if she’s not back in all-around shape by Euros, I could still absolutely see her going to Cluj for her bars alone.
The women have a day off tomorrow while the men contest an all-around final of their own, and then they’ll head back out on the floor over the weekend for event finals. Full results from today’s competition are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins