2019 Russian Cup & Worlds Team Implications

It’s fair to say that the 2019 Russian Cup was all about the juniors. We had Vladislava Urazova dominating the all-around competition and winning by 4.5 (across two days of competition)..

..and her fellow 2004 babies Elena Gerasimova and Yana Vorona finishing in the top 5 along with her. There will be plenty of time to prognosticate regarding the various Olympic hopes for all three over the next year (they’ll be senior in time for 2020), but Urazova certainly looks on track to be on that 2020 core Olympic team with the four very realistic scores she provides—and the fact that she went an entire competition of qualification, all-around finals, and event finals, without a fall despite being Russian. Tremendous achievement.

Gerasimova and Vorona excel on beam—they went 1-2 in the beam final where the podium was swept by juniors—but probably have fewer events overall to contribute, so it’s going to come down to individual event strength and how they potentially complement the locks when we get closer to the 2020 selection process and see who’s healthy. It’s interesting that Vorona is working her way into the group with these results as she has not been in the BIG CORE JUNIORS for Russia this year.

But mostly today, I want to focus on the seniors and what their results mean for immediate world championships team selection purposes, especially with the news that Mustafina is officially out of worlds sending us all into a hearty depression—but also clarifying the approach to team selection a bit. A bit.

We’ll start with the top-finishing senior, Angelina Melnikova, who placed 2nd to Urazova in the final standings and is a lock for worlds, no matter what Valentina might tell you about the matter. Melnikova had a rough-ish competition on day 1 with a fall on beam but improved on day 2 and remains necessary for Russia on every event at worlds, both in qualification and the team final.

Two other seniors did their world championships cases very well here—Lilia Akhaimova and our old pal Daria Spiridonova. For being an event specialist, Akhaimova sure did finish 4th in the all-around and 2nd among seniors. That’s a testament to her high vault and floor scores (she won a gold medal in the vault final and placed as the top senior in the floor final) but also to the fact that she got through beam every time with a score over 13. Before this meet, I would not have considered using Akhaimova on beam in a team final as an option (and I mean, still a horrifying prospect now), but she had the 2nd-best senior score in the beam final…

But really it’s about vault and floor for Akhaimova. Russia can’t go to worlds without her Rudi and her floor score.

Meanwhile, Daria Spiridonova is officially back. She was in the wilderness for a while at the beginning of this quad, but she returned to her previous level enough last year to be an alternate for the worlds team, and she’s continuing that trajectory in 2019 with the Russian Cup bars title. She even hit beam on one of the two tries, so she’s basically walking on air. At a time when her bars successor Anastasia Iliankova is struggling to hit a routine (she kept plummeting to earth like a meteorite on her dismount at this competition), Spiridonova’s ability to hit bars routines is particularly significant.

Spiridonova also complements Akhaimova fairly well on a potential worlds team since you can’t use Akhaimova for bars and you would definitely use Spiridonova there, and beam is…well it’s just terrifying for everyone so whatever. Just pick three names out of a hat.

Especially if Maria Paseka were to be on a worlds team with Lilia Akhaimova, you would absolutely need everyone else to contribute a TF-level bars routine like Spiridonova does…but what’s going on with Paseka?

Paseka finished 5th in the vault final at Russian Cup after putting her hand down on her Amanar and performing a Podkopayeva as her first vault (they’re probably saying that’s a Lopez, but it’s not) with the legs…you know the usual. That certainly wasn’t an auspicious showing for her, and if you take the best scores from any day of competition and put together the highest-scoring team from that, Paseka wouldn’t be on that team. It would be Melnikova, Akhaimova, Spiridonova, Simakova, and Schekoldina.

(Note: Paseka is eligible to compete at worlds this year and still pursue the apparatus world cup route because Russia already qualified a team at last year’s worlds, when she did not participate.)

At the same time, it’s Paseka. We’ve seen her be a mess-and-three-quarters all over the place in the lead up to worlds before and then pull it together exactly when necessary (and by pull it together, I mean somehow find a way to hurl her limbs through a monsoon and come out standing). She’s still Paseka, and that could still carry some weight—even if she wouldn’t be the lock for a vault medal that she has been in previous years given the international field.

There are also the usual team permutation complications with Paseka. In addition to neither her nor Akhaimova being usable on bars (Paseka did compete bars here in qualification, but for 12.100), neither Paseka nor Spiridonova would provide a floor score at all right now, so you’d potentially be going with three up in qualification. Not ideal. In the past, it has been worth it to mold the team around the events that Paseka is doing because she had such a necessary vault score and could get that vault medal. But right now…?

In other news, solving a problem like Simakova and Schekoldina is an issue. Simakova has fallen out of favor over the past year or so because of consistency problems—as we’ve watched vault go from being her must-have event to an unusable weakness—and these inconsistency problems showed no real sign of abating at Russian Cup. We’ll see flashes. She got some 13s on floor (and Russia needs a third floor score to go with Melnikova and Akhaimova) and did put up a 14+ on beam in the AA final, along with some higher 13s on bars. But these solid scores are always peppered with misses.

You can nonetheless make a really good argument for Simakova’s use to the Russian team. She provides a potential third floor score and is a…maybe?…on other events, but conversely, if Valentina decides that it’s time for her to go to the inconsistency dungeon and play canasta with Seda and think about her behavior, it wouldn’t really be one of those irrational Valentina decisions. It would be justified based on the results.

We also have to look at Schekoldina, who outscored Simakova by a couple tenths on floor in the event final, which provides a mark in her column in the race to contribute that third floor routine. In general, I’d rank Schekoldina as the stronger bars worker and Simakova as the stronger beam worker, but it’s…I mean…Schekoldina had a bars disaster on the first day to compromise her all-around total, and Simakova is Simakova, so…

If you’re picking one of the two for the worlds team, I think I’m picking Schekoldina, but if you’re not sold on Paseka’s current status, you can put both on the team to try to cover the bases as much as possible. That’s the peak-score team from Russian Cup and would provide the Russian squad with more event options. That’s important because it would allow them to look at how training goes, how qualification goes, to decide who looks like the more reliable routine on any given event rather than being locked into a necessary 3-up before the meet begins.

I mean it’s all terrifying, but…

I do also want to mention Viktoria Trykina, who is never in the mix for teams but did score well on both vault and beam in qualification and was the highest-scoring senior in the beam final. Just to keep in mind. Especially if Paseka is a no, Trykina would legitimately be my worlds team alternate because who else even is there? Under-the-radar infant Daria Belousova could also fit the bill as an alternate because she has been “Well, I’m here on all the events” throughout Russian Cup.

Sadly, it was not an awesome time for the likes of Elena Eremina or Ksenia Klimenko, and we’ll just leave it at that. It’s not going great.

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19 thoughts on “2019 Russian Cup & Worlds Team Implications”

  1. I have always been of the American school of needing the QF drop routine to be usable in TF if needed, instead of a clear “please drop” routine (unless the upside was really good) or literally nothing (never worth it no matter what), so I have always been queasy about teams including both Paseka and Bars Specialistova on the same Russian team, and now that Paseka isn’t even the best vaulter on the team… no sense to include her. If she doesn’t come up with her usual Instant Cheng Soup (Cooks In 3 Minutes, Starfish Flavor), she is out.

    My preferred team would be, in fact, the one pre-announced by Valentina today:

    VT: (Simakova), Shchekoldina, Melnikova, Akhaimova
    UB (Akhaimova), Shchekoldina, Melnikova, Spiridonova
    BB: (Spiridonova), Akhaimova, Melnikova, Simakova
    FX: (Simakova), Shchekoldina, Melnikova, Akhaimova

    Akhaimova being given the AA in qualification over Simakova, she clearly earned it despite Simakova having the better bars. Shchekoldina could do the AA too but eh, Spiridonova deserves a chance at BB to see if she might be usable in TF.

    I really wish Spiridonova or Agafonova had any form of backup VT/FX so both could be on the team though. They would make the “please drop” routines worth it for the iconic bars lineup.

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    1. Yes. Paseka is pretty good at UB and FX but seems to need enough injury-free/rehab-free time to train them to a decent level, which she hasn’t had in awhile.

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  2. I still remember when they pulled out a great vt rotation when needed to secure the silver in rio.. Paseka did one of her best amanar that time

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  3. Urazova went a whole competition with no fall is actually better consistency than a lot of the US gymnasts…. Has RU finally found the secret consistency sauce? Lol

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  4. What is the deal with Urazova‘s Handstands on UB? She doesn’t hit any of them… but is it counting as “close enough” with judges? How long is that going to last?

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      1. Sure, but my question is whether they’re taking the 0.1 for 30 – 45 degrees or not. It looks to me like she is never under 30 degrees, but it doesn’t look like she’s getting 0.4+ off her E score just on handstands, so maybe I’m wrong? Urazova’s handstands look significantly worse to me than any other strong UB worker in elite, and her routine at Jr Worlds features 5 of them so… Also, if she doesn’t get deducted for those, why is anyone else bothering to hit theirs?

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      2. Her routine shows everything that is wrong with this rule and I hope it inspires a rule change sooner rather than later. Frankly, it should be more important to cast to a handstand than to pirouette in one and her routine is so ugly.

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  5. http://eng.gymnovosti.com/russian-worlds-teams-announced/

    Not sure how real this is (plenty of time to break all the remaining gymnasts) but V Rodionenko quoted saying the Russian WAG team is Melnikova, Akhaimova, Spiridonova, Schekoldina, and Simakova.

    It’s weird to me that Russia’s ‘failed stars’ keep training and stay on the scene for years but almost never break through and get back on the A/B team. If Kharenkova, Perebinosova, Klimenko etc. etc. etc. are still training, why aren’t they doing better? At their prime all of these gymnasts showed real talent, and they’re not so injured that they’ve had to completely give up. Russia’s team coordination and coaching seems to be failing them. Especially if depth is a problem for your team, WHY does Russia seem to immediately give up on the gymnasts who don’t earn medals as first-year seniors?

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    1. It’s as real as anything else Valentina says, which means take it with a grain of salt. But sometimes the team she announces does hold through (I believe last year’s Euro team did) so you never know. She likes to keep us guessing until the last minute. Would not surprise me at all to see one or both of Paseka or Iliankova on the team at the end of the day.

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    2. Russia having to take a bars specialist is indicative of just how depleted the Russian team is since strong bars used to be a given regardless of team selection.

      While I believe we’ll see several Russians in event finals, I don’t forecast a single medal for any Russians outside of a team bronze. I don’t see Melnikova making the AA podium and Akhaimova doesn’t have a clean enough second vault or quite enough difficulty on floor to snag bronze.

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      1. I think even a team bronze may be out of reach! Canada has a much stronger team compared to the Russian worlds team (assuming E Black, A Padurariu, B Moore, S Olsen, WK Woo) – will certainly be a fight for the team bronze

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  6. I think currently RUS is not the favourite to get a bronze – FRA, ITA, and CAN are better. But don’t be surprised, RUS did not finish on TF podium in 03, 07, and 15, basically all WCs right before Olympics, so that’s a time-honoured tradition.

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