It’s been quite some time since Ukraine — once a fairly large gymnastics power for a solid decade following the dissolution of the Soviet Union — has produced any notable gymnasts. In terms of the women, I should add. Obviously they have a pretty good thing going with Oleg Verniaiev and several of those on the men’s team.
There have been a few strong enough ladies in the mix in recent years, with Yana Demyanchuk making the beam final at worlds in 2010 and Angelina Radivilova — née Kysla — one of the biggest names of the past quad after winning several international medals including the Mexican Open title in November. But in terms of those who are major contenders, the field has been pretty scarce, especially as most of the country’s most promising juniors tend to peak by the time they reach the senior level.
When Diana Varinska — who turned 16 today! — showed up at the European Youth Olympic Festival back in 2015 placing fourth in the bars final and 17th in the all-around, I got a little nervous because we all know we should never give our hearts to juniors, no matter where they’re from. Varinska had some good meets in her final year as a junior, but a bit of a meltdown at Euros kept her from any finals, so coming into her senior debut it was hard to know what to expect.
Thankfully, I was thrilled with her performance at the world cup in Baku last weekend, where she qualified in first place even with a mistake and just a layout dismount, and then went on to win the title with a 13.933 after hitting a solid and difficult routine in finals.
If you ask me, Varinska was a bit low-balled in terms of execution, going just 7.933 despite no major mistakes and generally clean form. Varinska performed a clean inbar to Komova II to pak, Maloney to clear hip full, incredible Tkachev half to Jaeger, and full-in dismount with a step back. Execution scores have been a bit on the low side for the majority of this year at most meets, but it’s still surprising to see a routine like that end up much lower than you’d think, with her score not really reflecting her ability on the event at all. I think she’ll absolutely be in the mix for the bars final and possibly even a medal at Euros, so keep your eyes on this one because she’s the real deal.
The other golds went to the self-proclaimed old ladies of the meet, with Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan winning the vault title averaging a 14.333 and Catalina Ponor of Romania in her 2017 debut winning beam with a 13.833 and floor with a 13.433.
About as consistent as a gymnast can be, Chusovitina was about as solid as she looked when I saw her at Gymnix a week earlier, performing a handspring layout full and a tsuk 1½ with a hop. I was actually super impressed with her tsuk, which had her usual pre-flight form issues but looked pretty tight in the air. She also competed beam in qualifications, but low difficulty and a hard fall on her punch front kept her out of the finals.
Ponor looks super ready to be the face of Euros in Cluj, and I don’t think we even saw her at her best in Baku finals. She actually showed a bit more difficulty in qualifications for both routines, so I think we can expect even more from her when she’s in the spotlight next month than we got here.
The Romanian veteran was terrific on beam, with the highlights her layout stepout mount, witch leap to Kochetkova, and incredibly smooth and fluid Onodi to split jump to Omelianchik series. She did have a bobble on her layout series and full turn (of all things!), and then stumbled back her double pike pretty heavily, but overall it had the makings of a showstopper routine, which is what I’m sure it’ll be in Cluj.
Her floor still isn’t one of my favorites, but she did her job there with a fab double layout and whip whip to piked full-in to start off her tumbling, though her twisting form on her 2½ still leaves a little to be desired and she took a big stumble forward on her double pike, nearly putting her hands down and coming close to handing off the gold to second-place Emily Little, who finished just 0.033 behind.
Little, though, had a fabulous enough weekend of her own, even if she didn’t get to cap it off with a gold. With three strong performances, she became the only gymnast to walk away with three medals, including silver on vault with a 14.067 average and floor with a 13.4, as well as a bronze on beam, where she’s been steadily improving all season and earned a 13.433.
On vault, Little’s Yurchenko double and tsuk full are both looking strong and powerful, with the tsuk almost begging to be upgraded so I’m sure that’s something we can look forward to at some point in the coming years. She also looked her best doing her power skills on beam, like her punch front and nearly stuck double pike, I think the best I’ve seen her do that dismount.
Floor gets better and better for her as well, I think. In Baku she showed off a big double layout, tucked full-in with a bounce, front tuck through to double tuck (stuck cold!), and a solid double pike to finish. I honestly think the routine was considerably better than Ponor’s, and don’t think the E scores separated the two routines enough, giving Ponor the edge thanks to her higher difficulty. But either way, kudos to Little for her great performances and adding another three world cup medals to the three she picked up in Melbourne last month, and double kudos for her because she now leads the world cup ranking series on all three of the events she competes!
Australia’s good fortune didn’t stop with Little. On bars, they went home with a silver and bronze, with Rianna Mizzen earning a 13.6 and Georgia-Rose Brown earning a 13.366. Mizzen actually came back from a disturbingly rough qualification, a routine she competed in a bizarrely dark arena (I’m assuming the event organizers must have received complaints after all bars competitors but one had major mistakes, because the lights were back on in full force for the second day of qualifications).
Mizzen’s finals routine included her excellent Weiler work, Maloney to Hindorff to messy pak, and toe full to full-in with a hop, not her best work, but obviously preferable to the way things went a couple of days earlier. In addition to winning silver, she now leads the world cup bars rankings, meaning Australia for the time being has the top spots on every event! Brown, pretty much the only gymnast to not botch anything in qualifications, improved on her execution a little bit in finals, showing clean work and beautiful lines on all of her skills.
Most of the other bars finalists had mistakes or form issues, though new senior Wang Cenyu of China came close to the podium even after sitting her double front. Wang would’ve topped the podium with a hit routine after some very impressive work, so that was an incredibly unfortunate ending for her, giving her a 13.033 with the fall. In fifth was Angelina Radivilova of Ukraine with a 12.533, Yuliya Inshina of Azerbaijan was sixth with a 12.3, her teammate and recent Russian transfer Ekaterina Tishkova was seventh with a 12.2, and Shang Chunsong of China was eighth with a 1.533.
No, that’s not a mistake. From what I heard, Shang didn’t compete in the bars final at all, and yet the results have her with a 0.3 D score, 9.733 E score, and -8.5 in neutral deductions, meaning the routine lacked enough elements to make it a complete routine, and received the short exercise penalty. In prelims, Shang fell twice, including on her shaposh, and then didn’t attempt to qualify on either beam or floor. Pulling her from the bars final also would’ve made sense if China was trying to take precautions with her, but what’s weird is that a bars reserve didn’t go in, meaning Shang was likely there and expected to compete.
So yeah, I’m not entirely sure what happened. Normally an athlete who scratches receives a zero, so if she didn’t get up there and do anything, I don’t know why they populated a score for her in the system. A score like the one she received basically tells us she mounted, kip cast to handstand, and then hopped off, getting a 9.733 for near-perfect execution of those basic skills, but then ended her routine there for whatever reason. I’m going to guess she didn’t compete anything at all, ended up scratching, and the score is just crack. But I’m still puzzled as to why they didn’t have one of the three reserves waiting in the wings knowing she wouldn’t be competing. One of the greatest mysteries of life.
In vault qualifications, 2016 Olympian Teja Belak of Slovenia had a fall on her handspring front layout full, coming in fourth to the final, but with a clean and expertly-landed 1½ alongside her downgraded front tuck full, she was able to capture bronze with a 13.75, just barely edging out local favorite Marina Nekrasova, who was a bit cleaner but had lower difficulty by nearly half a point and ended up with a 13.7 average.
Other vault finalists included recent Greek national champion Argyro Afrati in fifth with a 13.283 for clean but low-difficulty vaults, Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia in sixth with a 13.116 after sitting her Yurchenko 1½, Gaya Giladi of Israel in seventh with a 13.117, and Rosanna Ojala of Finland in eighth with a 12.233.
The third member of Ponor and Chusovitina’s old lady club, Vasiliki Millousi, got the silver medal on beam with a 13.633 while looking elegant as always on her flight series, split leap to front aerial to ring jump (a little slow but a great mixed series!), fully extended side somi, and gainer dismount, all while “Zorba’s Dance” played in the background, special shoutout to the organizers for picking up on her whole Greek thing. There were a few minor wobbles, but overall it was a solid and lovely routine and she could again find herself in finals at Euros with it.
Nekrasova got another fourth-place finish, earning a 13.1 for her hit routine, while Wang was fifth with a 12.833 after a fall on her layout series, Emma Nedov of Australia was sixth with a 12.5 after slipping and falling on her switch ring, Göksu Üctas Sanli of Turkey was seventh with an 11.766, and Ofir Kremer of Israel was eighth with a 10.466.
It was floor where the home crowd favorite Nekrasova finally got her medal, winning the bronze with a 12.833 after coming within tenths on vault and beam. She opened up with a huge stumble on her tucked full-in and came dangerously close to sitting her double arabian, but recovered well from the mistakes to nearly stick her double tuck before finishing with a good 2½.
Behind Nekrasova, we saw Ioanna Xoulogi of Greece place fourth with a 12.633 after a clean routine, Üctas Sanli in fifth with a 12.5, her teammate Doga Ketenci in sixth with a 12.433, Giladi in seventh with a 12.0, and Mariia Butskikh of Georgia in eighth with an 11.9.
On the men’s side, I didn’t get to watch much, but Tomas Kuzmickas of Lithuania was a bit of a surprise to win the floor title with a 14.166; Weng Hao of China upset Krisztian Berki of Hungary to win the pommel horse title with a 15.4 to Berki’s 15.266 while Filip Ude of Croatia came in a close third with a 15.2 and Cyril Tommasone of France was less than a tenth behind that with a 15.133 (seriously, such a great final!); Greek superstar and reigning Olympic champ Eleftherios Petrounias won rings with a 15.466; the powerful Christopher Remkes of Australia stuck his tsuk double pike to help him to a 14.866 average to win the vault title (he also currently claims the highest overall world cup ranking on vault after also getting silver in Melbourne!); Liu Rongbing of China won parallel bars with a 15.133; and Naoto Hayasaka of Japan was the high bar champ with a 14.333.
Full results from Baku are available here. This week, the world cup action takes us to Doha, where the apparatus world cup series finishes for the season, though there’s still one more all-around world cup coming up in London, and the world challenge cup series will begin in May.
Article by Lauren Hopkins