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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