Qualification and all-around finals are complete at the Russian Cup, and so even though event finals are still to come, two days of competition provide a clear enough picture to examine where things stand with the Russian team. Or, if you’re Valentina, a clear enough picture to just outright name the team before the end of the competition. Imagine asking Valentina about petition selection procedures. She would put a cigar out on your tooth.
The Russian women are currently facing an even more dramatic version of the Big Three Problem that currently consumes discussion of the US women. Viktoria Listunova, Vladislava Urazova, and Angelina Melnikova are so far out in front of the rest that putting those three up on every event in the Olympic team final would be a completely viable and understandable approach.
At the Russian Cup, it was Melnikova who led after qualification when everyone had some degree of nightmare on beam and Listunova fell both there and on floor. In the all-around final, however, Listunova resolved her life, while Melnikova fell on beam, allowing Listunova to take gold, Urazova silver, and Melnikova bronze. The order at this point is insignificant because all three are locks for the Olympic team, but it will be significant at the Olympics when someone gets Wiebered.
In contrast to the US fourth-spot mess heading into trials, at this point there are pretty much only two viable choices for Russia’s remaining spot: Elena Gerasimova and Lilia Akhaimova. (We had all entertained the potential of Yana Vorona for a moment, but she has not had a nice time at this competition.)
Discussion of who best fits for that fourth spot is basically moot because Valentina announced that she already picked the team and you’re not on it, saying, “For girls, it’s Melnikova, Listunova, Urazova and, likely, Gerasimova. The choice is between Gerasimova and Akhaimova but Gerasimova is a bit more reliable.”
The fanciful proclamation about Gerasimova’s reliability notwithstanding, the scores from Russian Cup would support this team.
Using both the best score over the two days…
And average score over the two days…
The team with Gerasimova in the 4th spot comes out on top by a clear margin.
The issue with this Gerasimova team is that it’s largely based on Melnikova struggling on beam—with a fall on day 2 and a dismount race-walk on day 1—which means that the squad needs a beam score from someone else. If Melnikova starts hitting beam, Gerasimova doesn’t end up adding a whole lot, and we potentially return to that scenario where the top three just do all the events in the team final.
Akhaimova has the potential to add to this team, but unfortunately for her, she has been clattering all over the place on her handspring rudi, meaning it has scored lower than the DTYs from the big three. Her floor, meanwhile, has only been scoring about equivalently to Urazova’s, with both of them enduring some landing adventures.
If you imagine a scenario in which Melnikova hits beam and Akhaimova gets her vault landing under control, then we’re looking at a team where Akhaimova makes the most sense, but it sounds like Beam Fear is the strongest determining factor right now given the favoring of Gerasimova for the final position.
A team with Gerasimova on it would leave a pretty straightforward selection for Russia’s +2 individuals, as Akhaimova could go into one of the spots to try to do something on vault and floor, while Anastasia Iliankova seems an obvious choice for her bars ability.
Part B…how might this Russian team stack up at the Olympics? Let’s do a little comparison between Russian Cup, US Nationals, and Chinese Nationals, with all caveats about comparing domestically inflated scores with different judging assumed.
If we take best-score-of-the-meet teams, that Gerasimova squad for Russia is at 173.697, compared to the best-score team from Chinese Nationals, which came in at 173.428, and the best-score teams from US Nationals, where 9 different combinations all came in within a half point of each other, ranging from 176.500 to 176.950.
By average scores, the Gerasimova team is at 171.530, compared to the best average-score Chinese team at 171.029, and the average-score US teams, where the 9 combinations range from 174.800 to 175.125.
So very very roughly, what we have is an extremely tight race between Russia and China that could go either way based who hits on the day, with the US enjoying about a 3-fall buffer over both.
And what of Valentina’s favorite talking point, that without Biles the Russian team would obviously be superior to the US? Well no, but competitive? Absolutely. Without Biles’ scores, the US team would be right in the midst of the Chinese and Russian scores by each metric, 173s by best score and 171s by average score.