The two Russian with the most anticipated careers since Angelina Melnikova will finally make their senior debuts this week at Russian Championships, held in Penza.
16-year-old Vladislava Urazova, the 2019 junior worlds all-around silver medalist who won both the Russian Cup and junior national all-around titles that same year, and 15-year-old Viktoria Listunova, who won both the junior world championships and European Youth Olympic Festival all-around titles in 2019, are two of the country’s top prospects for the Olympic team this year, and will return to competition for the first time in 16 months after missing out on the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As juniors, both Urazova and Listunova were fantastic all-arounders with textbook execution in basically every element on every event. Most importantly, they’re consistent, including on beam most of the time, which has often been the downfall for the Russians in major international competition. Both also have excellent difficulty, including Yurchenko doubles on vault, making them total package gymnasts who could help make Russia a leader in the sport over the coming years.
They’ll go head-to-head with Melnikova for the first time as seniors, though Urazova defeated her at the Russian Cup in 2019. At the Friendship & Solidarity Meet in Japan late last year, Melnikova seemed to be in her best shape ever, with especially noticeable improvements on beam. If she’s continued at that level over the past few months, I can see things ending up pretty close between her and the newcomers. As the baby of the 2016 Olympic team, Melnikova is now the veteran, so it will also be awesome to see how she steps up in that roles, especially going into Tokyo where it looks like the team is going to be a young one.
Other young seniors to keep an eye on are 2019 junior world beam champion Elena Gerasimova, 2019 EYOF all-around bronze medalist Yana Vorona, 2019 EYOF bars silver medalist Irina Komnova, 2019 Russian junior bars medalist Olga Astafyeva, and first-year senior Maria Minaeva, who is fantastic on bars.
As for the veterans, there’s 2019 worlds team members Lilia Akhaimova, who has made a name for herself internationally on vault and floor, and Aleksandra Shchekoldina, who should also bring strong vault and floor work to this competition, while 2018 worlds team member and 2019 national champion Angelina Simakova is also back, as are 2019 Euros bars champion Anastasia Iliankova (who is a favorite to take Russia’s non-nominative berth), 2020 national champion Uliana Perebinosova, and fan favorite Elena Eremina, who won all-around and bars medals at worlds in 2017, but hasn’t been able to compete in top shape since undergoing back surgery.
While Russia was once a team that struggled with depth and found it difficult to replace injured worlds competitors with gymnasts of similar caliber, the young senior depth added over the past year will completely turn the program around, and instead of wondering how they’ll piece together a solid team, they’ll be leaving home quite a few potential individual medalists when they go to Tokyo this summer. Bittersweet, but it should make the national competitions so exciting, especially since nearly everyone is expected to compete this year.
A full list of the competitors is below. The women will compete in qualifications on Thursday, March 11, followed by the all-around final on Friday, and then the apparatus finals held over the weekend. While the first two qualification subdivisions won’t be streamed, you’ll be able to watch the third subdivision live here beginning at 5 pm local time (9 am ET), and all finals will be live at that link as well.
Article by Lauren Hopkins