Russians Medal Everywhere But Bars in Cottbus

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The nation known for producing some of the best bar workers in the world didn’t end up getting anyone into the bars final at Cottbus, the first in the 2017-2018 world cup series, but Lilia Akhaimova and Maria Kharenkova picked up some hardware on the other three events, making Russia the most decorated at this meet.

Akhaimova won the silver on vault and the gold on floor, the first world cup title of her career. On vault, she had a stumble forward out of her Yurchenko 1½ and a slide back on her tsuk full, averaging a 13.733 to narrowly take the silver, but her performance on floor was a commanding one, including a double arabian to punch front, double layout with a step back out-of-bounds, a Dos Santos with a slight step as her third pass (a new upgrade for her!), and a tucked full-in to finish.

This routine would’ve been competitive for a medal at worlds, earning a 14.0 in Cottbus with a strong command of her skills throughout. I’ve always wanted Akhaimova to be a standout on this event, and I’m glad she’s finally growing into someone who could legitimately be a big help to the team in the future, especially as floor tends to be a weaker event for the Russians.

Akhaimova also made the beam final, finishing sixth with a 12.8 after a few large wobbles and several huge steps to the side and off the mat on her Patterson dismount, another huge arabian upgrade for the 20-year-old. She’s not particularly graceful or fluid there, but they’re doing a good job bringing in higher-difficulty elements that don’t require grace or fluidity, and making a world cup final on this event is huge for her, especially considering she has only made one Russian beam final in the course of her senior career.

Kharenkova is another who excels on floor, getting a 13.6 for the silver this weekend. Her surprisingly excellent comeback at the Russian Cup nearly got her a last-minute spot on the worlds team, but she didn’t seem too bothered by not making it and now has the time to continue to finesse her skills while working on consistency so she can hopefully make major international teams in the future. Though Kharenkova was a nervous competitor when she was younger, she seems to have really grown into herself as an athlete, and could be one of those “fine wine” gymnasts who gets better with age.

She wasn’t at her best in the floor final, coming up a little short on her double layout and on her whip whip to 2½ to punch front at the beginning, and then landing her double tuck with her chest super low before finishing with a stuck but low double pike. On beam, she was able to pull out a bronze despite a series of wobbles and missteps on nearly every skill. The tentative performance definitely showed the kind of nerves that come with not having competed internationally at this level in nearly two years, but she looked relieved and happy at the end to have made it through, and her huge 6.2 D score could make her a major threat on this event in the future.

The other Russians to compete in Cottbus included Eleonora Afanasyeva, née Goryunova, who returned to competition after taking time away to get married and have a baby, as well as Uliana Perebinosova, a strong junior who hasn’t quite been able to transition well to the senior level.

Afanasyeva’s comeback is one of my favorite Russian stories this year, though the 21-year-old struggled a bit in Cottbus with her Yurchenko double. She made the final no problem, but that first vault was a little weak, and in the final round she stumbled it back and had kind of a scary fall, in the sense that as she stumbled, her right leg twisted sideways and looked to be still twisting into the ground as her body rotated toward the leg into the fall.

Thankfully, she wasn’t injured, and came back to hit an excellent Yurchenko half-on pike half-off, taking a step out of bounds but scoring a 13.533 to average a 13.366 after the 13.2 on her first vault. It put her out of medal contention in fifth place, but aside from the fall, her vault actually looked really strong and she’s another one who will be a great B-team option in the future for her abilities there and on floor.

Unfortunately, Perebinosova didn’t make it past qualifications on her one event, bars, after getting a 12.8 in qualifications. I didn’t see her routine there, but am assuming she had a fall, because her difficulty is actually quite good at 5.9. At the Russian Cup a couple of months ago she had cool skills like a Tweddle to Ezhova, but was a little messy on everything and not quite as polished as she used to be, so that also could’ve contributed to her low score last week.

Because she was the only Russian to compete bars with a shot at the final (Akhaimova also competed in qualifications but isn’t really strong enough there to make finals a realistic possibility), the strongest bars country in the world was left without a competitor who could contend for a medal. But I actually like that the Russian B team flip flops the strengths of the A team we saw at worlds. Put them together, as will happen next year for the European and world team situations, and they have the makings of a superb team.

The German veterans and the young Chinese team also had a solid meet, winning three medals and one title apiece. On bars, Elisabeth Seitz — who placed fifth on the event at worlds — won the gold with a 14.9, narrowly edging out China’s Lyu Jiaqi, who won silver with a 14.866, while her teammate Wang Cenyu got the bronze with a 14.2. On beam, Wang came back to get the title a little over a tenth ahead of reigning world champion Pauline Schäfer, with her 14.166 beating out the 14.0 from Schäfer, who also got the bronze on floor with a 13.5.

Seitz’s bars set in finals was stupendous, featuring a Maloney to Ricna, Jaeger, Downie to Pak, and a giant full to stuck full-in, walking away with a giant smile on her face after hitting what was probably her best routine of the year in front of an appreciative home crowd. Lyu was also brilliant on the event, adding incredible B-team bars depth to a superb Chinese bars team, showing only a few minor form breaks throughout the routine that included a Healy to Ling to piked Jaeger and Healy half to unique layout double full dismount.

On bars, Wang showed a big Pak, Maloney to Gienger, and Healy to Ling before her double front half-out with a big hop forward, not a great routine by China’s standards, but good enough for this competition. Her beam was incredible, though, with a big switch ring, perfect layout series, and a stuck double full dismount. It’s an easy set, but she was so controlled and effortlessly brilliant in every movement, it was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime routine that so rarely happen in the sport and she seemed thrilled to make it happen here.

Schäfer had a knockout routine of her own, and actually outscored Wang’s execution by a third of a tenth, though she finished behind due to lower difficulty which I was glad to see because Wang’s routine was definitely superior. She hit her switch leap mount directly into a split leap to Y turn very well before nailing her back handspring layout stepout, switch ring with a bobble, double spin with a wobble, a perfect eponymous side somi half, and a stuck gainer layout.

One of the most exciting things we saw on floor was Schäfer debuting a front layout to double front opening pass, bringing her difficulty up a tenth. The skill itself is worth less than double layout she had previously competed, but the connection from the front layout brings in 0.2 in bonus, so it was a valuable change, and if she can add the double layout back in as a second high-valued pass in the future, replacing one of her lower-valued dance skills, she’s going to be very competitive here.

The double front itself was a bit cowboyed and low, but definitely not bad for a first attempt, and she continued with a stuck front double full and a solid double pike, with her leaps and turns looking beautiful as always. She wasn’t going to come close to the Russians with her difficulty more than half a point behind Kharenkova and over a full point behind Akhaimova, but she more than made up for it with her performance, which ended up finishing just a tenth behind Kharenkova’s score to easily take the bronze.

Seitz also competed in the floor final, finishing sixth with a 13.0, showing her typical fun and entertaining routine but not having enough difficulty to challenge. In addition to Schäfer and Seitz, we also saw Michelle Timm in the vault final, where she finished fourth with a 13.566 average after two super clean vaults, a handspring front pike half and a Yurchenko full, both of which had large bounces back. Timm also competed on bars in prelims, finishing 18th with a 12.2, while last year’s Cottbus floor champion Carina Kröll showed a mostly okay beam set in prelims, but she missed the final by just half a tenth after finishing 9th with a 12.5.

The other women’s medalists in Cottbus both came on vault, where Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan won her her third consecutive and 11th overall vault title, while Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia snuck in for the bronze, taking her first world cup medal of the season after missing out at Baku and Doha.

Chusovitina competed a front layout full with a step forward and out-of-bounds and followed it up with a nearly stuck tsuk 1½, which I’m pretty sure was one of her best attempts ever at that vault, earning a 14.4 to help her to a 14.283 average. Her combined difficulty was so far ahead of everyone else’s, it would’ve taken a fall to bring her down, but I love that she didn’t rely on difficulty alone. Though she generally tends to struggle with her form on occasion, she actually looked pretty fabulous here, defeating a field of gymnasts mostly half her age or younger.

For the bronze, Kysselef competed a handspring front tuck full with a hop, looking a little messy in her tuck form, and then she landed a great Yurchenko 1½ with a small hop forward, one of her better attempts at that vault. She did have a slight knee bend on the latter, but overall it was a strong effort, getting lots of air and landing better than she usually does.

2016 Olympic beam champion Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands also competed in Cottbus, making the bars and beam finals to finish fourth and fifth, respectively. Her bars set actually went super well, with her execution score of 8.833 the best in the bunch, though her difficulty of 5.1 was too low for her to challenge, leaving her a few tenths back with a 13.933. Watching the routine, she looked lovely, and like what she’s doing there is far too easy for her, so I look forward to her beefing up this event in the coming years.

Overall her beam was quite good and she seemed likely to take the title, performing a back handspring mount, a double L turn with a bobble, a good side aerial to side aerial to straight jump full, a front aerial with a wobble, a split jump to a full-twisting back handspring, an excellent triple turn, a full L turn to full turn to double turn, and a split leap to tuck jump half.

Then came time for the Steingruber dismount, and it just looked like she didn’t get the lift she needed, as she piked considerably throughout the gainer full, landing super far forward requiring her to somersault out of it. She looked rightfully frustrated with herself, especially as she went over to wait for her score, which ended up being a 13.133. A shame, as the rest of the routine was fantastic, but it was good to see her come back with a more confident routine than we saw at worlds.

Another notable competitor at Cottbus was Diana Varinska of Ukraine, who made the beam and floor finals, but missed out on bars after a disastrous prelims routine on which she scored just a 10.75. I didn’t see the routine, but based on the 4.1 D score, I’m assuming not only did she fall, but also ended up not counting whatever skill it was that she fell on, taking away not only the value, but probably also some CV and CR as well.

Varinska ended up seventh on beam with a 12.7 after a few wobbles and then placed eighth on floor with a 12.4, going out of bounds multiple times to incur six tenths in neutral deductions. Her tumbling itself was okay, but just a little more powerful than usual, taking a giant bouncing lunge out on her opening 1½ through to 2½ and a step back after her front tuck through to double full. Not the best meet for the up-and-coming fan favorite, but even with the mistakes, it was impressive to see her make it to finals on both of these, and her beam has a lot of promise if she can get some of it under control.

My favorite standout of the meet was Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska in her first international competition back after the Rio Games. She’s understandably a little downgraded at the moment, but looked clean as heck with a front toss to back handspring, side aerial, front aerial, side somi, full L turn, illusion turn with a slight but easily-managed check, and a stuck gainer layout dismount.

The routine earned a 13.433, coming within about three tenths from the podium even though her difficulty was just a 4.8 in a field full of competitors with D scores between 5.2 and 6.2. Tremendous work, and I’m so excited she’s back to lead the show in Poland now that Marta Pihan-Kulesza is off raising her infant daughter.

Great Britain brought Kelly Simm and Maisie Methuen to Cottbus, both of whom have been out of commission for much of the season due to injury. Each made a final, with Simm placing fifth on bars after her solid set earned a 13.666 while Methuen finished fifth on floor, showing a tidy and well-performed routine for a 13.066, though she missed out on making the bars and beam finals, mostly due to lower difficulty and some form issues. Simm and Methuen are both hoping for spots on next year’s Commonwealth Games teams for England and Wales, respectively, though I’m not sure either will be in contention for the Euros or worlds teams without some more work, especially if everyone is at full strength next summer.

As for other finalists, on vault the Canadian Sophie Marois fell on her Yurchenko double to finish sixth with a 13.25 while Gabriela Janik of Poland sat her handspring front tuck full to finish seventh with a 12.916. On bars, Nora Fernandez of Spain and Rose-Kaying Woo of Canada both had good routines, finishing sixth and seventh with scores of 13.466 and 13.166, respectively, while Ukraine’s Angelina Radivilova placed eighth with a 10.8 after falling on the Maloney in her stalder to Maloney to Pak series and then again on her van Leeuwen, just not getting enough momentum off of the low bar for either of her toe-on transition elements.

Woo also competed in the beam and floor finals, finishing eighth with a 12.633 after a fall on her switch ring in an otherwise strong beam set, and coming in fourth on floor with a 13.166 for a solid routine. We also saw Laura Bechdeju of Spain in the floor final with a 12.5 for seventh place, showing some good work but nothing that could’ve challenged for the podium.

China’s B team dominated the men’s competition with a total of five medals, including titles on pommels and p-bars. Wang Junwen took the pommels gold with a 15.2 while teammate Tan Di got the bronze there with a 14.833 before going on to take the p-bars gold with a 15.566, though he missed out on a high bar medal despite scoring a 14.0 — the same as the bronze medalist — after losing the tie-break. Finally, on rings, Lei Peng and Lan Xingyu captured the rings silver and bronze with scores of 15.066 and 14.633, respectively.

Igor Radivilov and Oleg Verniaiev snagged some hardware for Ukraine, with Radivilov winning the rings title with a 15.133 as well as the silver on vault with a 14.833 average after killing it on both of his runs. Verniaiev competed only two events at this meet and made both finals, winning silver on p-bars with a 15.166 while placing fourth on pommels with a difficult but weak set that earned a 14.466.

Germany picked up the high bar title thanks to an excellent routine from star gymnast Andreas Bretschneider, who earned a 14.566 for a half-point win over the rest of the field, while Marcel Nguyen got the bronze on p-bars with a 15.133 for a clean set of his own. Nguyen also placed fifth on rings with a 14.5, Andreas Toba was eighth there with a 13.733, Felix Remuta placed fifth on vault with a 14.316 average, and Ivan Rittschik was fifth on p-bars with a 13.333, with all of the German MAG competitors making finals aside from Lucas Herrmann, whose falls and out-of-bounds issues on floor in qualifications put him in last there.

Japan’s Keisuke Asato showed tremendous difficulty and skill on vault with his full-twisting tsuk double tuck and his handspring Randi both looking solid and much better than they did in the worlds final. Aside from landing errors, both of his vaults were solid and showed tons of power, giving him the edge to take the gold with a 14.966 average. Ryuhei Nashimoto also picked up a medal with his silver on pommels, showing excellent control for a 14.933. The country did have some misses, though, with high bar hero Hidetaka Miyachi unable to pull off a medal in either p-bars or high bar, while mistakes also kept Mizuki Hasegawa off the podium on floor and vault.

The top three men on floor each ended up with a 14.133 total, though Rok Klavora of Slovenia won the title with the highest E score in the bunch. Bram Verhofstad of the Netherlands ended up with the silver, his E score three tenths lower than Klavora’s, while Kirill Prokopev of Russia took the bronze with an E score six tenths back.

Christopher Remkes of Australia looked back in good form on vault, winning the bronze with a 14.816 after two of his better attempts this season, and the high bar final saw Marvin Kimble of the United States take the silver with a 14.033 while Pietro Giachino of Norway came in as a surprise to take the bronze with a 14.0.

Full results from the competition are available here.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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5 thoughts on “Russians Medal Everywhere But Bars in Cottbus

  1. in Cottbus the Germans got hilarious scores for execution on floor. Kharenkova had trouble in some of her passes, but she was way ahead in terms of leaps and spins, body posture. So we now have a stronger B Russian team. Let’s hope they will push the A team. These girls are more powerful and less afraid of difficult tumbles.


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