The nominative roster for his year’s world championships came out today, and we’ll get to that soon, as many teams are being finalized with the finishing touches at internal competitions and friendly meets over the next week before being officially announced. But a few programs have recently made their selections public, and we’re excited to talk a bit about them.
The Russian Cup was held at the end of August to give us a last look at the Russian gymnasts in contention for worlds, and in an ironic twist of fate, the gymnast who unofficially won the Russian Cup as a junior in 2015, Angelina Melnikova, finished second to the junior we now wish was old enough to compete at worlds, Vladislava Urazova.
Urazova and fellow junior Elena Gerasimova won the all-around gold and bronze, with Melnikova sandwiched between them after two days of competition, while another junior, Yana Vorona, finished fifth just behind Lilia Akhaimova in fourth. Three juniors in the top five is a bit painful at a meet with the goal of determining a senior team, but Melnikova looked mostly strong and I was especially impressed with Akhaimova on her best events, vault and floor, with these two the clear top choices for Stuttgart.
Also selected in Valentina Rodionenko’s first draft were Angelina Simakova (sixth all-around), Aleksandra Shchekoldina (eighth all-around, second on floor among the seniors in a finals field that didn’t include Melnikova), and Daria Spiridonova, who looked pretty fantastic on bars, where she’ll contribute a much-needed 14+ in the absence of Aliya Mustafina, who is retired forever according to Rodionenko, but we all know she’ll come back next year and win a bars gold in Tokyo so we’ll continue to ignore the ramblings of the insane.
With this team, the Russians should be able to get at least two decent scores on every event, which isn’t ideal, but is also better than most countries in the top 12 could manage. Melnikova is essential on all four events, with vault and floor also covered by Akhaimova and Shchekoldina, bars getting a good score from Spiridonova, and Simakova (hopefully) producing on beam.
It’s hilarious to me that this team has the potential to look better on floor than on bars, but alas, Anastasia Iliankova has seemingly lost the magic that helped her to the bars gold at Euros, so she’s out, though I could see her as someone Rodionenko slips onto the team at a later date…and I’m also low-key rooting for Viktoria Trykina, who is only competing vault and beam right now, but she looks solid on both, and she had the highest senior beam score in the country during finals. Neither of her scores would save the team necessarily, but it’s good to have options.
Another option is Maria Paseka, who is attempting to qualify a nominative spot through the world cups, though she’d still be eligible for worlds this year because Russia already qualified a team to Tokyo in 2018. Paseka…wasn’t great in Penza, to put it mildly…though if we want to get dramatic, we can just directly quote her: “It was a complete failure! I’ve never been so embarrassed, I want to disappear so that no one will see me.” Way to be chill.
But she says she’s still working towards worlds as a goal, and though replacing someone like Simakova or Shchekoldina with Paseka will mean losing more balanced all-arounders who can contribute on beam and floor, Paseka’s Amanar when looking strong has the potential to add a full point more to the team total, which is something I can see the Russians desperately needing considering the Italians just earned a team score at a friendly meet that could absolutely upset the Russian team sans Paseka.
Speaking of the Italians, the federation announced its team yesterday, with the Brixia Four — Giorgia Villa, Elisa Iorio, and Alice and Asia D’Amato — named alongside Desirée Carofiglio following a friendly meet in the Netherlands held over the weekend.
It’s probably the least surprising team I can imagine, at least in the absence of Lara Mori and Vanessa Ferrari. I was hoping one or the other would be stepping in to round out the team on beam and floor, but both seem to be set in hoping to qualify nominative spots at the world cups, and with the pair currently ranked second and third on floor behind Jade Carey — who will be expected to earn her spot on vault — it’s looking like it’s a realistic possibility for one of them, so I understand their decision to go this route.
At the friendly, Villa won with an impressive 55.633 that came with a fall on bars (her 14.467 beam routine can’t be missed!), while Alice and Asia followed in fourth and fifth place, respectively, with Alice looking incredible on vault and bars, and Iorio finished eighth. These four round each other out incredibly well, but floor is a weak spot for them, and so in comes Carofiglio, who has been quite outstanding with the work she’s been doing this season, and will add some much-needed tenths on that event.
As it stands, Villa and the D’Amato twins will do the all-around in qualifications, while Iorio will compete vault, bars, and beam, and Carofiglio will do floor, which I think makes sense based both on this weekend as well as previous results for all of these gymnasts this season. Iorio can also do floor quite well, and Carofiglio has impressive work on both vault and bars, so if something does arise to meddle with this initial plan, I can see either of these two stepping into additional roles if needed quite seamlessly, which is what most teams dream of.
The score the Italians earned at the friendly was three tenths higher than what the Russians managed at world championships in Doha last year, and three points higher than Russia’s team final score in 2018, so based on how the Russians look right now in comparison, I think it’s safe to say we can expect the Italians to be right up there in the mix for the podium at worlds.
Being able to talk about this as a legitimate scenario is so satisfying in itself. Every year the young Brixia girls have faced off against Russians at junior competitions — EYOF in 2017, Euros last year — I would always bring up their potential to upset the Russians, which they managed to do at Euros, but I never imagined they’d be in a similar position as seniors, and yet now they’re on the right track to make it happen and it’s certainly going to spice things up.
Gymnastics Canada also announced its team yesterday, with Ellie Black leading the squad alongside her 2018 worlds teammates Ana Padurariu, Brooklyn Moors, and Shallon Olsen, not at all surprising if you’ve been following the Canadians in competition throughout the year.
That fifth and final spot was going to be incredibly difficult to choose, however. In a perfect world, Brittany Rogers would still be competing, because a Yurchenko double and a solid bars set would make this team almost unbeatable as a huge podium threat, but even without Rogers or a similar “perfect fit,” there are plenty of gymnasts in the mix who would be capable of contributing strong routines.
But the gymnast who ended up getting the spot was Victoria-Kayen Woo, who is the most obvious choice based on what she’s done this year. I’ve said it a few times throughout the season, but Woo has looked better than ever in terms of absolutely everything she’s doing, from technique to performance quality to consistency, and while anyone at this level would be “deserving” of going to worlds, Woo to me is extra deserving having looked a step beyond the rest of the pack in all she’s done.
At nationals, Isabela Onyshko put together a really incredible meet after struggling over the year prior, and she ended up edging out Woo — who had a fall on the first day of competition — for a higher ranking, with Onyshko finishing fourth while Woo was half a point back in fifth. But at Pan Am Games, Woo ended up surprising to make the all-around over Moors, a testament to the kind of competitor she’s become this year, and so I’m overjoyed to see that her hard work paid off and that she will get to compete in Stuttgart.
Once again, this Canadian team has what it takes to upset a historically stronger program, and though another Yurchenko double or big bars routine could take them a step further on their quest to making the podium, this is an incredibly tight and balanced team as a whole and they should have some great individual success on top of whatever outcome the team can earn.
Leading the team are Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, Lorette Charpy, and Marine Boyer, while Coline Devillard will be on hand to vault, and first-year senior Aline Friess rounds them out. Friess, who added a Rudi to her program this year, has always been a decent competitor, but she really stood out to me as someone who has improved vastly with her performance at the European Games, where she finished a shocking fourth in the all-around final.
I love this team, but it’s also wildly unbalanced, especially with Devillard vaulting and neither Bossu nor Heduit on hand to balance her out. It means Boyer will have to return to bars, where her top score in the past year is just an 11.966, and even though she’ll likely only compete bars in qualifications with a routine they’d likely drop, it’s still a bit risky.
Bars was the one event Boyer needed to bring back to become an all-arounder again (it’s been more than a year since she’s competed all four events at once), but with three super strong vaulters on the team in De Jesus Dos Santos, Devillard, and Friess, it means there’s only room for one other gymnast on vault in qualifications, and given Charpy’s recent international all-around results that include the silver medal at this year’s European Games, it’s likely to be her.
I do think once the team gets safely out of qualifications and into the team final, the balance issues that throw them off a bit aren’t as apparent, though bars will just be slightly weak with Friess — who averages around a 12.9 there for hit routines this year — necessary as the leadoff performer on the event. But elsewhere, they’re as good as they can be, and they’ll be able to make up more than enough of that bars deficit on vault.
When this team announcement came out over the weekend, I almost passed away. It’s a literal dream team for Mexico, featuring 2016 Olympian and 2018 world vault medalist Alexa Moreno; 2012 Olympian Elsa Garcia; Ana Lago, who was the alternate both years; 2019 national champion Anapaula Gutierrez; and her twin sister Jimena, who is one of the strongest vaulters in the program.
This is almost as perfect as this team could get. I was expecting Frida Esparza to play a role in helping out after her incredible run in 2018, where she became the national champion and got super close to making the all-around final at worlds, but Esparza has unfortunately been injured this year and was only able to get back to full strength on bars, so she’ll serve as the alternate.
After a rather rough showing at Pan Am Games with most of these top gymnasts unable to compete in Lima, this team shows quite the potential for a complete turnaround and could end up being a bubble team when looking at who might qualify a full team to Tokyo.
While it’s not super realistic that this will happen, it’s not impossible, and this team also has a really strong chance at qualifying multiple gymnasts to the next Olympic Games, with Moreno a likely qualifier through vault while an all-arounder should also get through, and then next year, I could also see Mexico qualifying another all-arounder through the Pan American Championships.
In terms of the makeup of the team, we’re getting a bunch of solid all-arounders with no real specialist standouts aside from Moreno, so the rosters could come down to how everyone’s looking closer to qualification day. The team is missing its three top bar workers with Esparza, Ahtziri Sandoval, and Nicolle Castro not in the mix, so I could see that as a problematic event, but overall I think the team is capable of some of its strongest results in history.
Article by Lauren Hopkins