So, the event finals at Russian Championships weren’t all that more impressive than the team and all-around competitions, but 2016 Olympic silver medalist Seda Tutkhalyan still ended up with two golds and a bronze over a weekend that could’ve been anyone’s game.
Bars aside (they didn’t show her full routine but I believe she had two falls there on Saturday), Tutkhalyan did end up improving a good deal after her rough all-around performance on Thursday. The 17-year-old still had some form issues, but when has she not? Even with some loose knees and piked hips, she still managed a solid enough Yurchenko double and Lopez on vault to average a 14.233 for gold there, and she made it through floor with a great opening double layout and no major landing errors to win bronze with a 13.366.
While I was hoping she’d come back and revenge-hit beam, she still isn’t quite there on her layout full, but it’s been years at this point and we’re still waiting for her to hit it regularly so frankly I’m not too surprised anymore when she doesn’t hit. That’s where she had her one fall on Sunday, though she hit the rest of the routine — back handspring mount, wolf turn, and double pike with a hop — well enough to still win gold with a 13.533.
Our other questionable young Olympian, Angelina Melnikova, didn’t get to compete in the bars final due to her rough prelims routine, and she had falls on both beam and floor that added more drama to her weekend. However, she did end up with two bronze medals after averaging a 13.783 for her Yurchenko double and wild Lopez on vault (both were messy to the point of being almost scary) and getting a 13.466 on beam after a fall on her barani upgrade, but an otherwise hit set (though again, with major form issues…she has deteriorated more than Tutkhalyan, I think).
Floor was her weakest of the weekend, earning just an 11.233 to get the bottom spot in the final after stumbling her double layout and then falling on her double arabian and full-in before landing her double pike out-of-bounds.
After saluting to the judges — still outside the white line — Melnikova walked over to a mat at the side of the podium and collapsed onto her back, clearly frustrated with what should have been a meet she could dominate. Shockingly, though, Valentina Rodionenko took to the press not to scold the 16-year-old, but to defend her.
“We shouldn’t draw conclusions about her abilities [based on this meet],” Rodionenko said. “In her first year as a senior, she showed the maturity to deal with the very difficult task of performing in the Olympic Games. She still isn’t fully recovered from her injuries and illnesses following the Olympic competition, but we believe in Angelina’s potential.”
Her 2016 teammate Aliya Mustafina said something similar, that the Olympians who participated at Russian Championships aren’t at full strength because they all took some time away from training full routines. Without this time off to let their bodies heal, they’d be in even worse shape coming into the beginning of a very long road to Tokyo, so I’m going to hope that the Melnikova and Tutkhalyan we’re seeing right now aren’t going to be the gymnasts we see a month from now for Euros, or seven months from now for worlds. They have time to improve and clean up and work on problem areas. Rodionenko did say that Tutkhalyan’s consistency — or lack thereof — is an issue that needs work, but otherwise she’s not stressing. Yet.
National champion Natalia Kapitonova came back for two finals, and did especially nicely on bars, where her 14.7 tied 2015 world bars champion Daria Spiridonova for gold. Her routine included a lovely stalder full to Komova II to pak to Chow half, inbar full to Tkachev, and toe half to front giant half to toe full to full-out with a small hop, that last combination a bit weird, though I think she just meant to do a toe full to full-out but ended up botching it the first time. If that’s the case, it’s actually impressive that she so quickly was able to get back into her swing without really showing any indication that something went wrong!
Spiridonova, meanwhile, performed an inbar to Komova II to pak to van Leeuwen, toe half to piked Jaeger, and toe full to full-in with a step. She was a tiny bit cleaner, but if it had to come down to these two for Euros, I’d take Kapitonova in a flash. She’s shown the highest level of consistency of any Russian so far this year, and has the potential to medal both in the all-around and in the bars final, whereas Spiridonova would basically only be there for bars. I’d love to see some new faces getting international assignments, so I hope she ends up having a good showing at the selection camp beginning March 13.
In addition to her bars gold, Kapitonova also competed in the floor final, though we missed her on beam due to a fall there in prelims (a shame — she now has a gorgeous double Y turn on the event!). On floor, she’s nothing spectacular, and struggled with the landings on some of her tumbling, landing with her chest down on her low piked full-in and stepping out of bounds on her 2½ to punch front layout full. Her turns are gorgeous, though, and she uses some of my favorite music from Don Quixote. Her choreography isn’t bad, but my one wish is that she ramps it up a bit in her performance level because this routine could be excellent if she did.
Spiridonova’s other event final was beam, which was mildly disastrous. The Olympian had several huge fights after wobbles, including on her flight series and on a full turn of all things (though not on her full Y turn, go figure), and then she landed her double tuck so far forward that she rebounded right onto her head, earning a 12.1.
Our favorite little new senior, Elena Eremina, competed in all finals but vault, placing fifth in a tough bars field with a 14.333 and winning floor silver with a 13.4. Her huge bars set went off without a hitch, including her Nabieva to pak and layout Jaeger, though despite some sky-high difficulty on individual skills, overall the routine isn’t quite as difficult as what we see from the girls who connect a mess of D and E skills, and the G-level Nabieva kind of gets negated because later on in the routine, she has to count a B. But it’ll get there eventually, and it looked solid this week.
On floor she took a big step on her full-in and was a little short on her triple full, but showed a great 1½ through to 2½ to punch front, putting up one of the most solid routines of the competition on this event. She did have a fall on beam, missing her bhs loso loso series to place fifth with a 13.166, but she looked good even so, and if she gets these things under control by next month, she could easily end up leading the all-around in Cluj.
Last but not least was the surprisingly impressive Lilia Akhaimova, something of a veteran in this field despite not ever getting any big international assignments. I still don’t think that’ll happen for her, unfortunately, as her difficulty is a bit too low even on her best events…but next year when Russia is scrambling for a solid competitor to balance out a talented but nervous worlds team, Akhaimova could be that person.
Akhaimova won silver on vault and gold on floor, while also placing fourth on beam as one of the only gymnasts in the final to stay on, though her difficulty is a bit low there at just 5.0. Her vaults included a solid Yurchenko 1½ with a step forward and a decent front layout half, averaging a 13.849 with solid E scores on both, and on floor she hit a big double layout, piked full-in, double arabian, and tucked full-in for a 13.8, not only the top floor score in Russia, but also one of the top floor scores in the world thus far.
Rodionenko praised her after the competition, but while she does have some qualities that would be beneficial to a team, she’s not quite what Russia needs in a year that focuses on the individual medals. Judging by the state of other relatively weak floor routines in the world right now, she could rather easily make the final and probably even contend for a medal, but I think they’d rather risk Tutkhalyan’s wild power and hit-or-miss beam over Akhaimova’s clean but basic routines.
There were a couple of other good bars gymnasts in the mix here, including Daria Skrypnik and Anastasia Iliankova, both of whom performed well in finals and I love Iliankova’s routine a ton, but I’m not sure if they’re really high on the list right now, as good as they might be. Once Iliankova gets back on all four events, I think she could be pretty unstoppable, but for now it might not be the right time.
In the same boat is new senior Viktoria Trykina, who didn’t come into this season as one of the big new seniors to watch, but who impressed with some consistent routines throughout the competition. She ended up having a bit of a rough floor routine in finals, sitting her double arabian in addition to having a couple of other bad landings, but she ended up showing some of the highest beam difficulty among the Russians and actually stayed on, tying Tutkhalyan for gold with a 13.533.
Of course, Tutkhalyan won her gold with a fall and Trykina won hers while staying on, so that should pretty much show how great the divide is, and Trykina wasn’t perfect herself, showing a number of large wobbles throughout. But still, given that she came into this meet as a relative unknown and walked out sixth all-around with a gold medal on beam, she gets a special shoutout for doing a great job despite having almost no competitive experience.
The selection camp for Euros begins March 13, and I’d imagine the team that ends up going will consist of Melnikova, Tutkhalyan, Eremina, and either Kapitonova or Spiridonova in the final spot. I think even with their mistakes in Kazan, Melnikova and Tutkhalyan are still Rodionenko’s go-to gals. She’s not giving up on them yet, so I won’t either.
Article by Lauren Hopkins