After her all-around wins at the Birmingham World Cup and then at Russian Championships a month later, 17-year-old Angelina Melnikova continues to lead Russia as the best in the country, winning her third Russian Cup title in a row in Chelyabinsk last week.
Melnikova, who also topped the all-around podium at the Russian Cup in 2015 but was ineligible to take the gold as a junior, looked fantastic on all three days of competition despite coming in a bit under the weather and originally planning on only competing bars.
After finishing first in qualifications less than half a tenth ahead of the rest of the field, Melnikova expanded her lead to three points with a two-day total of 109.363. Melnikova also won the bars title with a 14.566, though she missed out on the beam final and opted to skip floor.
There were some mistakes in her competition, with her DTY coming up short and she also has a few technical deductions on beam and floor, especially with her leaps, as well as some mistakes like steps and the occasional wobble, but overall she looked fabulous. Last year, she was at a point where she physically looked like she should not be doing gymnastics and I was terrified that we were going to see her get injured right in front of us, but for this point in the season, and given whatever ailment had been holding her back in training, she looks healthy and strong, especially on floor, where every tumble looks safe, if not exactly super powerful.
Bars was consistently her best event in all three days of competition. She took out some connections in her earlier routines, but in the final, she went for an inbar full to Komova II to Pak, van Leeuwen, inbar half to piked Jaeger, and toe full to full-in with minimal deductions aside from the occasional short handstand or split legs, all of which will be easy enough for her to fix as it gets closer to Euros and worlds.
I’m thrilled that Melnikova seems to have gotten her groove back, and to know that her hit performances earlier this season were signs of a strong comeback rather than a fluke. She’s always been full of potential, and she did huge things as a junior, so I’m glad she’s getting back to that place as an almost-adult (she turns 18 next week!) and hope that she finds great success at the international level once again.
Compared to Melnikova, the rest of the all-around field was kind of hit or miss. We saw great things from Anastasia Iliankova on the first day of competition, but that tends to be the case with her — she’ll come out looking amazing, and then will kind of lose that steam as she goes forward.
Part of that this time around had to do with her botching bars in the all-around final, taking her from a 15.3 in qualifications to just a 13.4 in the final. Iliankova gets props for a big upgrade, officially joining the Tkachev half to Ezhova club, with a toe-on version of the skill (aka a Tweddle). She did a great job to catch the Tweddle in the all-around final, but then she lost all of her form in the Ezhova, tucking her knees before catching and then dragging them on the mat, causing her to be a bit labored throughout the rest of the routine.
She had similar problems in the apparatus final, catching her Shang like it’s easy, but then making a mess of her Ezhova and dragging her legs on the mat once again. I like that she can drag her knees and simply cast out of it like nothing happened, but it does obviously affect how the rest of her skills look, taking her from tight and controlled to a bit sloppy and weak.
Iliankova placed just fifth in the bars final with a 13.1, a big drop for the girl who came close to a medal at worlds last year, but it’s really just that one skill (or pairing of skills) that has her down right now. We know she can do an Ezhova, and we know she can do a Tweddle, so I’m sure once she gets over this hump, she’ll absolutely be a top contender on that event.
And I also don’t want to glaze over her all-around accomplishments! After surprising to take the bronze at Jesolo, she missed out on the podium at nationals, but swept in for the silver medal here, her first big all-around domestic medal since she won Russian Championships as a junior in 2016. While her vault isn’t very difficult, and while she isn’t a top earner on beam or floor, she’s doing what she needs to right now to keep herself afloat ahead of her teammates, and though not winning a bars medal here was disappointing, she did come away with the bronze medals on these other two events.
Beam definitely has the potential to be the better of these two events for her, with her event finals routine showing a few nervous wobbles and some leg form issues throughout most of her skills, and she also had a kind of wild fall on her side somi, but with a bit more confidence and clean-up, this could be a very strong set for Russia, if not exactly a world medal contender. And her floor doesn’t have a ton of difficulty, but she’s pretty consistent with what she’s doing there, so for a country that considers this a weakness, having her able to bust out a solid set here on top of her bars is a plus when figuring out team selection.
Viktoria Komova picked up her second bronze of the season here after also placing third at nationals in April, falling on beam in prelims, and then also falling on beam and floor in the final, but she was apparently dealing with bronchitis just before this meet and wasn’t at full strength, which was evident in how she was barely able to breathe walking away after her floor routines.
Her DTY is still a bit loose in the air, and she’s landing it a bit low, and back problems may prevent her from ever getting her inbars back on bars, though she looked great here, performing a toe full to Maloney to Pak to van Leeuwen with almost perfect form, before also hitting a toe half to piked Jaeger, piked Tkachev, and full-out dismount, which she stuck in the all-around final. It was a truly excellent routine that showed shades of the old Komova, and well worth the 14.4 it received.
On beam, Komova nailed her punch front and flight series, and she had just a wobble on her arabian (she also wobbled on choreo after it which seems super on-brand for her), though she fell on her side split jump half before nearly sticking a high double tuck, and she came up a bit short on her double layout and arabian double front on floor before sitting her double tuck, but the routine as a whole is great and shows so much more style and sass than we’re used to seeing from her.
Komova came back to win the silver on bars with a 13.7 after not connecting the toe full or the van Leeuwen to her Maloney to Pak sandwich, losing some important CV, and while stuck, her dismount was a bit low, though otherwise this was clean and lovely, and she placed seventh on floor after a stumble out of her double layout before sitting her double arabian and stumbling her double tuck and landing her double full quite low, though I think swapping those two last passes around was a super smart decision given the current state of her lungs.
Was it a perfect meet for Komova? No. But aside from that brief moment around 2015 worlds, she looks the strongest and healthiest she has since the 2012 Olympic Games, and she actually also looks happier than I think she ever has in her entire career. After any of her mistakes or falls, she laughed and rolled her eyes, which is quite a change from the meltdowns over minor mistakes in her early days. I love seeing this Komova, and though I’ve been a bit ambivalent about her in the past, she’s now making me want to root for her and I need her to have a great Euros.
Rounding out the top eight in the all-around competition were Angelina Simakova in fourth, Tatiana Nabieva in fifth, Daria Elizarova in sixth, Varvara Zubova in seventh, and Lilia Akhaimova in eighth. It’s a fun mix of newcomers and veterans, with Nabieva certainly a surprise, though it doesn’t seem like her comeback is being taken super seriously, as she’s not in the mix for a Euros spot despite this strong finish.
Simakova, the best of the new seniors, fell on beam in the first day of competition, though had an otherwise excellent day for a 53.532, and in the final, she crashed her Rudi vault in addition to struggling on beam, getting a 51.933 total.
Despite her nervous mistakes on beam — she put her hands down on a side aerial and fell on the stag ring jump in her dance series — she actually looks better than any of the Russians there. She’s clean and lacks the soft knees that all of the older girls have, with especially nice extension in her flight series, which she hit in the all-around final. It was a shame to see her struggle on two skills that are relatively quite easy, but I think she has the potential to be the top earner on this event internationally, and hope she can get her nerves under control.
Simakova also crashed vault in the final, which she was hoping to lead, but despite this and despite her beam issues, she’s a no-brainer for Euros. Simakova is fantastic on floor, getting a 13.9 in the all-around competition and then a 13.933 to win gold in the final, showing gorgeous form on a 2½ to front full, nearly sticking her tucked full-in, hitting the best triple full I’ve seen from a Russian in a million years, and then finishing with a solid double tuck.
She still looks like a junior, and her floor routine matches that vibe, with her choreography and mannerisms a bit cutesy, but it works for her. And as on beam, her form is refreshingly lovely and tight, setting her apart from everyone else and making her a strong medal contender at Euros.
I think of all of the Russians right now aside from Melnikova, Simakova is the most complete all-arounder in that she doesn’t rely heavily on one event (usually bars) to see her through. With hit routines, Simakova is capable of placing top two or three on every event but bars, and she isn’t even bad there…for her ‘weak’ event, she actually looks quite good, performing a routine that works for who she is as a gymnast. She’s very tidy, and this actually ended up being her most consistent event of the meet, going 14.0 in qualifications, 13.6 in the all-around final, and 13.566 in the apparatus final, getting her the bronze medal.
A truly hit day from Simakova could mean close to a 55 all-around, and while everyone else has lots of clean-up work and endurance training in addition to fighting nerves in order to reach their full potential, for Simakova it’s literally all about the nerves.
With a DTY and a hit bars set, Nabieva shocked to reach a 52.865 in prelims, leading the St. Petersburg team, and though she had some misses in the final, a fifth-place finish from her was far beyond my expectations. She and fellow veteran Elizarova won’t be top choices for international teams, because despite both of them winning titles — Nabieva on vault, Elizarova on beam — on a good day with everyone at their full potential, they’d barely be in the top three on any of their strongest events. I think we’re looking at alternate spots at best here, but as in 2014 when both Nabieva and Ekaterina Kramarenko made the worlds team, I could definitely see both end up being options if everyone’s injured.
Zubova actually hit beam in the all-around competition, but fell in finals to place fifth, and Akhaimova continues to look good on floor, winning the silver medal in the final, though the rest of her events are too weak to make her a solid first-choice contender for teams. The same goes for Viktoria Trykina, who placed 10th all-around and won silver in the vault final, but the rest of her events are virtually unusable in a team situation, so she’s hard to justify for a spot.
Finally, there’s Maria Kharenkova, who looked great on both beam and floor in prelims, but in the event finals, she fell on her layout series, crashed her double tuck, and had lots of wobbles throughout the rest, taking her D score down as she broke up several of her series.
She earned just a 10.866 to place seventh here, and when you thought it couldn’t get worse, she went to the floor final, where she crashed her double layout, 2½ to front tuck, and double pike, with her double tuck the sole hit pass in the routine, putting her in last place with a 9.566.
It was depressing, to say the least. Knowing she was on the nominative team for Euros and that she looked so good in prelims, it was hard seeing her just kind of give up on both of these routines, though I can see her still being part of the Euros team if this was a fluke, a problem with injuries, or “because the beam is soft,” as everyone else was saying to excuse their own beam falls. Clearly she’s been doing something at camps to make her worth adding to the nominative roster, and I don’t think one bad performance will be enough to take her off the list, especially when the options are limited.
As it stands right now, it’s Kharenkova, Komova, Melnikova, Simakova, and the injured Uliana Perebinosova on the Euros nominative roster, with Perebinosova not appearing at the Russian Cup and likely to be replaced by Iliankova. Perebinosova aside, I could see this team staying as-is, but with Kharenkova injured and possibly not attending the camp at Round Lake, I wouldn’t be surprised if Akhaimova steps in. She’s not a perfect solution, especially as she’s dealing with ankle injuries of her own, but in this group, she’s certainly the next best thing, unless the Russian federation decides to up their chances for another shot at a vault medal by bringing someone like Trykina.
Another option to consider is Irina Alexeeva, who missed the Russian Cup due to injury, but she will be attending the selection camp at Round Lake. Alexeeva was seventh all-around at nationals in April, but with Perebinosova and Aliya Mustafina out, that bumps her up to fifth, behind Melnikova, Simakova, Komova, and Iliankova, aka the rest of the potential team for Euros.
Alexeeva actually fits onto this team better than anyone into that last spot with her ability to contribute strong and clean routines anywhere that’s needed, which no one else on the short list could handle. Akhaimova could cover floor, Trykina could cover vault, Elizarova could cover beam, Nabieva could cover vault and bars…but none of these would realistically be able to handle more than one or two events at best, while Alexeeva has three up to par with the rest of the team.
Of course, if she’s still too injured to be at her best, she’s out as well…but if healthy, she’ll be more than sufficient to take that spot and bring in strong results anywhere she’s asked to go up for the team.
Full results from the Russian Cup are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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