Valentina Rodionenko went to the press today with an announcement about her preliminary team for this year’s world championships, a team chosen based on how her national team gymnasts have trained and performed so far this year.
At this moment, the team for worlds, to be held in Montreal from October 2-8, includes Elena Eremina and Angelina Melnikova for the all-around, Maria Paseka for vault, and Anastasia Iliankova for bars and beam. It’s the same team that competed at European Championships this spring, with Iliankova in place of Natalia Kapitonova, who won the Russian all-around title and bars titles this year but hasn’t performed well internationally.
At Euros, Eremina won the silver medal on bars and placed fourth all-around, while Melnikova surprised to win the gold on floor after an otherwise iffy meet, where falls in qualifications kept her from challenging for the all-around, bars, and beam finals. She’s had a lengthy break since then, focusing on training for worlds after competing at five meets in a row throughout March and April, so hopefully she’ll be back in fighting form and ready to challenge for medals in Montreal.
Rodionenko hopes sending a mostly young team to worlds will be good preparation looking forward to the 2020 Olympic Games, but says since the four-time Olympic medalist Paseka is the only gymnast in the country training her speciality, vault, at a high level, she is an automatic choice for that spot, especially as she hopes to continue through yet another quad with a third Olympics on her mind.
Noticeably missing from the team is Daria Spiridonova, though because the Russian teams generally change at least three times between the preliminary announcement and the competition, she still has a chance at fighting for the spot currently being held for Iliankova.
Spiridonova — currently in Taipei with Paseka, where the two are headlining the country’s Universiade team — is at about the same level as Iliankova on bars, though Iliankova has been far more consistent this season and spent the summer increasing her difficulty there to make her stand out a bit more. Iliankova is also a much better competitor on beam, where she has an outside shot at making the final, having won the silver medal on the event with a nice routine in Osijek this year.
Also missing is 2016 Olympian Seda Tutkhalyan, who hasn’t been in top form this year and didn’t receive any international assignments. Thanks to her higher level of consistency, Eremina, a first-year senior, has kind of stepped into the role once filled by Tutkhalyan, that of a top all-arounder who also happens to be a standout on a couple of events. Tutkhalyan was given many chances to prove herself in her first two years at the senior level, but never quite made it work out, with a European Games vault silver and a couple of challenge cup podium spots her only major international medals.
It might be obvious, but because people always ask, we also won’t see Aliya Mustafina or Ksenia Afanasyeva, both of whom had babies this summer and are taking time away from the sport. Nor will we see Viktoria Komova in the mix, as she’s still training for her comeback, which she’s hoping to make happen in time for the Voronin Cup in December.
The real test for the Russian women going into worlds will be the competitions coming up in the next couple of weeks. Paseka, Spiridonova, and their Universiade teammates will use that meet as their trial, while the rest of the women will compete at the Russian Cup, to be held in Ekaterinburg beginning August 21.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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