First-year senior and European bars silver medalist Elena Eremina was out-of-this-world in her performance in qualifications at the Russian Cup today, earning a 57.900 to qualify first into the all-around final while also taking over the leader spot on the “best scores of the year” list, breaking the record Ragan Smith set on Sunday by just half a tenth.
Eremina, 16, had immense difficulty and precision throughout most of the day, catapulting her into the spotlight as a frontrunner for a worlds all-around medal if she keeps it up. I haven’t seen her vault yet, and her score of 14.0 tells us she either went back to the Yurchenko 1½ and performed it well, or didn’t have a great time with the DTY, but either way a 14 is a solid enough score on that event, and it’s one she exceeded on the remainder of what she did today.
On bars, she showed a super impressive Nabieva to Pak to Chow, inbar to inbar half to layout Jaeger, and a toe full to full-out, earning a 15.175 with a 6.4 D score to steal the show. I do think she and a few of the other top contenders here were pretty gifted, as her layout Jaeger was actually fully piked and she had three handstands that didn’t finish close to vertical, including the one in her toe full.
But honestly, the rest was done so well, and it’s hard to say whether judges at worlds will be this nit-picky. At European Championships this year, they were pretty tight with almost everyone, but Olympic judging on bars was a free-for-all, so we never really know what we’re gonna get. If you can go big with E scores at home, you might as well, because it’s a great confidence boost for these kids to see huge scores, and it also sets a standard for future meets. Judges are human, and they totally know how the more successful gymnasts have been performing and scoring all season. A score like 15.175 really stands out and it could help a judge who is on the fence between a one-tenth and a three-tenth handstand deduction end up going with the smaller of the two, giving the gymnast the benefit of the doubt based on past scores. It’s subconscious, but it absolutely happens, and programs should take advantage of that if they can. There’s been so much talk about the Americans overscoring at nationals, the Russians overscoring here…but it’s always happened, it’s going to keep happening, and if almost everyone is doing it, it evens out.
Eremina performed a switch leap mount, a full Y turn with a break at the hips, a bhs loso loso, a front aerial to needle scale, a split leap to side aerial, a switch leap to split jump, and a triple full with a step back for a 14.45 on beam, and then on floor, introduced a double layout, landed a little low, in addition to a 1½ through to 2½ to punch front, a lovely double attitude turn to full pirouette, and a triple full that finished a little short, earning a 14.275. Again, there are nit-picky things in both, but for the most part Eremina showed that she is an incredibly well-balanced all-arounder with the potential to medal on pretty much every event, adding to the already exciting battle as we head into worlds.
As incredible as Eremina is, I was more excited to see Angelina Melnikova come into this competition looking rested and happy. After Rio, Melnikova — now 17 — had almost no time off before getting back to the gym, and earlier this year she competed at five meets within the span of about six weeks, which is absolutely bonkers. Despite struggling at most of the meets — including a rather heartbreaking start to her Euros competition, going as far as taking to Instagram to apologize to her fans for letting them down — she ended up closing up the early part of her season with the gold on floor in Cluj after a surprisingly fantastic performance that fully made me cry.
Ending on a high note and then getting four months off is an incredible way to come into worlds selection, and Melnikova killed it today, getting a 57.575 total while qualifying in the top three going into every single event final. Melnikova competed a mostly solid DTY and Lopez on vault, a bars set that included an inbar full to Komova II to pak, van Leeuwen to inbar half to piked Jaeger, and a toe full to full-in dismount for a 14.775, easily her most solid beam set in as far back as I can remember aside from a huge wobble on her layout series for a 14.3, and a freaking gorgeous floor routine (I seriously love this so much, especially her middle section of choreo) that included a double arabian, double layout, a piked full-in, and a double pike with a big stumble for a 13.875.
As with Eremina, a few of her scores were questionable, especially with her bigger beam mistake, her several rough landings on tumbling and turns on floor, and with her overall form on bars, but the big takeaway here isn’t any of these mistakes or issues…it’s that she hit all four events, and did it moderately well. She and Eremina were pegged early on by Valentina Rodinenko to be the stars of this year’s worlds team, and based on what they did in Ekaterinburg today, they absolutely will be.
This competition marked the solid return of Uliana Perebinosova, who became a senior this year but hasn’t been able to compete yet due to injury. Perebinosova qualified third into the all-around with a 55.075 in her senior debut, looking to be at her best on bars, where she competed my favorite combo ever, the Tweddle to Ezhova, as well as a Maloney to stalder full, Tkachev to Pak, van Leeuwen, and full-in for a 14.550. She wasn’t quite as strong on beam or floor, and won’t really factor into the worlds picture this year, but it was great to see her back and at a relatively high level across the board, adding to the overall depth of the program and likely to contribute on big teams down the line.
We also saw a comeback from Maria Kharenkova, the two-time worlds team member who attempted a run for last year’s Olympic team, but was unable to get that far in her season due to injury. Now 18, Kharenkova is actually one of the older girls in this increasingly young program, and she had a great day on beam and floor to put herself back in the mix for the future, especially with so many of the other veterans either having babies or underperforming, putting them in Rodionenko’s direct line of fire.
Finishing fourth overall with a 54.125 after struggling on bars, Kharenkova qualified in second on both beam and floor, with scores of 14.3 and 14.0, respectively. Her beam included a punch front, a layout series with a saved wobble, a lovely split leap to front aerial to ring jump mixed series, a switch ring to ring leap not quite connected but pretty damn close, and a solid double pike, while on floor she had, er, a bizarre music choice, but a freaking huuuuge opening double layout, whip whip to 2½ to punch front, double tuck, and double pike, all done to a pretty impressive level. I’m getting my expectations up so high for her right now because if this is how she looks after not doing a single thing in nearly 18 months, imagine what a few more months of training will do?! But I’m simultaneously scared she’s just going to crush my dreams again, because this is all about me.
Anyway, I low key want Kharenkova at worlds over Maria Paseka. I know Paseka is a favorite for the vault gold, but she was also a favorite for vault gold at Euros and at the Summer Universiade, and yet she finished off the podium in Cluj and got the bronze in a super weak field in Taipei after mistakes at both meets. Kharenkova has also had her fair share of chances in the past, but she just looks so much better than Paseka right now in general, so if Rodionenko is as over Paseka as I am right now, I’d love to see her get a shot for beam and floor.
Rounding out the top ten were Polina Fedorova in fifth with a 53.000, Viktoria Trykina in sixth with a 52.950, Eleonora Afanasyeva (née Goryunova, she got married) in seventh with a 52.150, Elizaveta Kochetkova in eighth with a 52.050, Viktoria Gazeeva in ninth with a 50.425, and, sadly, Natalia Kapitonova in tenth with a 49.650.
Yeah, that last one right there was the biggest bummer of the day. It seems impossible that she’d go from doing well earlier this year, winning the Russian Championships title and making several international teams, and then kind of crumbling, but it seems that after Euros, Rodionenko kind of gave up on her, giving her the impression that she wasn’t really wanted or needed as part of the national program, which completely messed with her mentally. I don’t understand that at all, because it’s one thing to be disappointed with how someone performs at a meet like Euros with medals on the line, but even if you never want to use her on another team again, you keep that to yourself! Isn’t having her training at a moderately decent level so she can contribute when there’s a lack of depth far better than having her melt down and disappear entirely? Big picture, Valentina. You’ve never been great with that.
Anyway, Kapitonova hit her Yurchenko full on vault, but was otherwise kind of a mess, lacking not only the ability to hit, but also not looking as clean as we’ve seen her in the past. On bars, she crashed her full-out dismount, I loved her awesome split jump to punch front tuck on beam, but the routine was otherwise wobbly with a fall on her side somi, and on floor she sat her 2½ to punch front in addition to several other low landings, so it was just kind of a rough day, especially as she’s no longer one of the ‘chosen ones’ who receives the little E score gifts some of the top girls get. Again, it’s a shame…I really liked her and think she was far under-utilized during her career, but if that’s kind of it for her in Russia, there’s always Azerbaijan or Georgia.
A few gymnasts competed just a handful of events, with Anastasia Iliankova the only one we kept an eye on. Iliankova qualified third into the bars final and fifth into the beam final, behind both Eremina and Melnikova, which could render her specialist spot kind of useless at worlds if those two hit and outscore her in qualifications.
I do think her bars are much better than Melnikova’s, though, with a Shang, Hindorff to Pak to Maloney to clear hip half to Ezhova, van Leeuwen, and toe full to full-out. Her form is much stronger than Melnikova’s, and this is a packed routine that has legitimate potential to go 15+ internationally when hit, though she got a lower than expected score today after catching her Ezhova at her hips to break the flow of her routine. It’s an incredibly exciting set, though, and with her biggest competition for this specialist spot at worlds being Daria Spiridonova, I’d much rather see Iliankova end up in Montreal, especially based on how Spiridonova looked at the Summer Universiade in Taipei this week.
Oh beam, Iliankova performed a solid layout stepout mount, a roundoff layout series with the layout almost fully tucked, a full L turn to full pirouette, a full Y turn, an illusion turn (gosh I hope she connects the two eventually), and a nearly stuck double tuck dismount. Her difficulty is a little easier here than some of the others, but it was easily the best-performed routine of the day, and given the beam consistency issues Eremina and Melnikova generally face, it could be good to have Iliankova go up with a solid set at worlds to pick up a spot should either (or both) of those two end up missing out.
Which brings me back to Kharenkova (I know, I know, hear me out again). A hit routine from Kharenkova would almost definitely end up in the beam final over Melnikova and/or Eremina, and absolutely would do it over Iliankova. I’d just love to send Melnikova and Eremina as the main medal hopefuls in the all-around and on most events, but then also have Iliankova compete only on bars, and then Kharenkova go up on beam and floor.
I know that even with Paseka’s problems so far this year, they’ll probably send her anyway because the likelihood of her getting her life together in time for October and winning gold is far more realistic than the likelihood of Kharenkova ever not breaking my heart. But she’s an older, wiser, more badass Kharenkova now, and if she hits every beam and floor set over the remainder of this weekend, I’d much rather see her get the spot so she can be tested now that she’s a killer veteran rather than the nervous kid in the shadows of the 2012 team last quad. Rodionenko did say her choice to include Iliankova over Spiridonova on her nominative team was partly because she wanted to give a new kid some experience, so while that’s not exactly Kharenkova’s situation this year, I think it’d be worth it to test her out internationally again, given that her last major international meet was nearly two years ago. Sometimes people change, and if they don’t give her the opportunity to get back out there, they’ll never know what she could potentially offer the team in the future.
The Russian Cup continues with the all-around final on Friday, and then event finals will be held over the weekend. Full results translated into English are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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