Russia at the 2015 European Games

The return of Vikoria Komova

It has been almost three years since the last time we saw Viktoria Komova participating in a major international competition and I don’t think there’s even one gymnastics fan who isn’t delighted to see her leaving Baku healthy and happy. At this point it doesn’t even matter whether you are a fan of her gymnastics or not. When you see a gymnast being set back by health problems every time they try to come back but still continuing to fight so hard to return to the sport’s biggest stage you can’t not respect her. There have been so many times when we thought she was finally going to be part of a major team, but then, it turned out she was sick, or injured or just not ready. Because of that, I wasn’t too eager to believe she was actually going to compete at the European Games. I certainly didn’t believe it when her name started being mentioned, I didn’t believe it when I saw the nominative list, I didn’t really believe it until she saluted the judges and entered the vault runway. But at the end, not only she competed but she also showed an incredible level of difficulty.

On vault she already has her DTY back. It wasn’t perfect and we’ve seen her performing it much better in the past but if we take into consideration that she hasn’t competed this vault for three years we can forgive her small errors. Vika has shown some very clean DTYs during her career and I am sure her execution will be great in a couple of months.

During this quad, bars really is the only event where she had shown routines that could potentially be competitive internationally. Because of that, this is the only routine I wasn’t too concerned about and she did not disappoint. She actually showed a brand new combination that she had never done before, a Komova 2 + pak + van leeuwen. She struggled with it, she bent her knees and it looked like her feet hit the low bar but I think it’s a good upgrade for her. The rest of her routine, which included an inbar 1/2 + piked jaeger, a piked tkatcev and a high full in dismount, showcased all the qualities that we love about Komova. Her swing looked as fluid and effortless as ever, her handstands were all lovely, all her skills had great form and amplitude and her lines are as gorgeous as they always were.

Then it was time for the event that typically causes the most tears, the balance beam. The last time Vika competed beam in a major international competition was the Olympic event finals, where she had two falls before sitting down her dismount. We have seen her having falls here even when she was in the best shape of her life and we’ve seen her failing to handle the pressure even at small competitions. At Baku, she was coming back from injuries and illness, she wasn’t incredibly well prepared and she was competing in front of a big crowd for the first time in years so we were all holding out breath while she was performing. She showed fabulous control, holding her leg high through her L turn which was right connected into her front aerial and she hit a gorgeous position in her sheep jump. Her bhs + loso was very pretty and her arabian was sky high. She also had a fair amount of wobbles but what I loved the most about this routine was that she actually fought to stay on the apparatus. Vika has been widely criticized for “giving up” too easily on this event and during this routine there were so many moments where she could have easily fallen. But she did not. She showed a good fight and determination and she stayed on the beam. Of course, just staying on the beam is not going to be enough once she’s competing against the very best in the world and she has lots of work to do on this event but I think this is a step on the right direction.

The only other routine we’ve seem from Vika on this event in the past three years included a layout with a full twist. I obviously didn’t expect her to come to Baku with a level 9 floor routine but considering all the ankle problems she has had and the low level of the competition on floor, I expected her to play it safe. I thought we’d see her do a double arabian, a 1.5 step out into a double tuck, a double full and a double pike. So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that not only she has all her tumbling from London back, but she also added a new double lay out. I personally do not think she was ready to handle this level of difficulty. Her DLO was very low, her double arabian was uncontrolled and her triple was barely around and she looked like she was in pain after landing it. I was very relived to see she wasn’t hurting after this routine was over. Her choreography is not nearly as complicated as her tumbling. I understand that she’s just coming back and she’s not in the best shape yet, but once she builds more endurance I really hope to see her actually dancing, using her entire body and working well with her music. So, I think there are reasons to be concerned with her floor, especially because if she consistently lands her first tumbling run as low as she did in Baku, her very fragile ankles will be suffering again very soon. However, we are only her fans, not her coaches and since we can’t change anything in her routine we can only hope she manages to perfect it. The truth is that it would be a very competitive exercise if she got it under control.

Over all, I think that was a successful comeback for Komova. Yes, she didn’t make any individual finals, yes, only one of her scores counted towards the team total but I don’t think that this is the point. There were nerves and mistakes for her on all four events but this is expected from someone who hasn’t compete in front of a big audience for three years. The important thing for her was to put herself out there and show to the world that she is still here. All the mistakes we saw, the bent knees, the wobbles, the out of bounds, are stuff that can be fixed in the next couple of months. Ι’m afraid to say I think she’ll be a serious contender for worlds because it’s Vika. She could trip on a mat and break her ankle, or she could slip while waiting for a bus, but if she actually manages to stay healthy and polishes up her routines I don’t see why she shouldn’t be in the mix. Viktoria tried to be ready for 2013 worlds but she was sick and couldn’t compete. She came back in 2014, showing great promise on bars and beam and then, she was injured again just a couple of days later. She was still in contention for 2014 worlds but once again, injuries got in the way of that. She wasn’t healthy enough to compete, and because of all the health problems, she wasn’t able to prepare as well as she would have wanted to. Hopefully, after all those struggles, those problems and those disappointments, 2015 will finally be her time to shine.

The leader of the team

There were lots of surprises during European Games. We saw some top contenders struggling and some underdogs shining, but there’s one thing that was very predictable. Aliya Mustafina was the absolute star of the competition. There was some doubt surrounding her. After all, she hadn’t competed for a few months, she had to take some rest in order to take care of her body and she had been working with a new coach. However she managed to live up to everyone’s high expectations and she leaves Baku as the most successful gymnast of the games, having won one silver and three gold medals.

On vault she showed an improved double twisting yurchenko. It was nowhere near perfect and there are still lots of problems with her block and her form but I think she cleaned up quite a bit since last year. There is some talk about Aliya getting her amanar back. Some people apparently want that to happen because they think she is not competitive in the AA without it but I disagree because, well, she also won’t be competitive without her knees. In my opinion there are plenty of things she needs to improve on her DTY before even thinking of adding that extra half twist.

Aliya once again proved that she is one of the world’s best on bars bars and walked away with a gold medal. Her execution has deteriorated at all during the past few months. Her handstands were still breathtaking, her flight elements were high and clean and her dismount was landed well every single time. There are still some minor errors, like the flexed feet during her inbars and the bent knees in her last giant before the dismount but there’s no doubt she is one of the cleanest bars workers out there. She also revealed a new combination, an inbar full + maloney + pak + van leeuwen. It’s not the most original connection out there but it works for her and it improves her start value. I’d love to see her bringing her seitz back, but it’s much more likely for her to upgrade her maloney to a komova 2 since it would give her the exact same start value and it would be less risky. That would make her start value a 6.7 and she could have a 6.8 if she also competed her own original dismount. With a difficulty value like that there’s no doubt she’ll be in contention for gold medals on bars.

Her beam wasn’t spectacular. What always set Aliya apart on this event was her original combinations. In 2010, we had the onodi + front aerial + side aerial. In 2011 we saw an onodi + front aerial + back handspring + back tuck and in 2013 we all loved her switch half + onodi + double spin. Of course, she didn’t always execute them perfectly but they were what made her beam exciting so it’s it’s rather disappointing to see a routine where she doesn’t connect anything other than two front aerials. The program she showed during European Games is world class. It starts out of an absolutely respectable 6.1 and it included difficult elements that she executed without any major breaks. She landed her standing arabian with her chest quite low but other than that she was very clean. Her knees were straight, her toes were pointed, her leaps all hit 180 degrees. Ιt’s a clean solid set which is going to get good scores. However, it didn’t have the wow factor that sets apart a good routine from a great routine and I think she’ll need more than that if she wants to be on the beam podium for the third year in a row. I was hoping that she would learn from what happened at least year’s event finals and get a solid flight series. I am sure she will now be ready to improvise if she doesn’t connect her two aerials but I would feel much more confident about her routine if she had a solid combination like a back handspring – layout step out.

Aliya’s floor is one of the most discussed programs of the Games and understandably, lots of the comments she received were not positive. She is an athlete who could pull of a dramatic floor routine better than most people so the slow piece of music is a rather surprising choice. I think people wouldn’t mind it though if her routine had some actual choreography. Aliya can dance and perform. We’ve seen her doing complicated choreography beautifully, we’ve seen her showing personality through her routines. There’s no reason for her floor to only include two poses low to the floor and a leg lift. The Russians often get new choreography twice in the same year so I really hope she will have something new to show by worlds. Thankfully, her tumbling is much more promising than her artistry. She has plenty of work to do in that department as well but there are things we can be optimistic about. First of all, Aliya seems to have worked on her endurance. Last year, she was out of breath after a routine with three tumbling passes. Now she has four passes as well as three turns and she seems to have more than enough energy to pull them off. Her double lay out is a bit low but it’s much better than I expected it to be and it’s a brand new skill for her so hopefully it will improve. The problems with her twisting form are still there but at least the atrocious triple full is out. Unfortunately, the double arabian + stag seems to be gone too, at least for the time being. It was by far her cleanest tumbling pass and even though she fell on it a couple of times, it’s not a skill that has given her problems consistently so I hope she’s planning to bring it back once she’s in a better shape. An other risk she takes during this routine are her turns. Don’t get me wrong, I live for well executed spins. I think her opening combination is one of the most exciting things we saw on floor during the Games and I was thrilled to see her performing her Mustafina as well as she did. However, spins are easily downgraded and it’s very rare to see them performed flawlessly, so having three of those in the same routine is probably not a smart idea. Her attitude turn + memmel is fantastic but she fell out of it all three times she competed it. It’s a new combination for her so maybe she just needs some time to perfect it, but if it keeps being inconsistent I hope they’ll take it out. Having a memmel and a mustafina in the same exercise can also cause problems, if the mustafina gets downgraded so I wish she replaced the memmel with an other spin, like a semenova. Despite all the improvements she needs to make, I think that this is a very promising routine that can potentially earn a post in worlds finals in the future.

The rising star

First year senior Seda Tutkhalyan, has left Baku with lots of valuable experience, since she got to participate in the biggest meet of her career so far and to compete along side Olympic medalists. She started getting lots of attention at last year’s junior European championships. She entered the competition as one of Russia’s most talented juniors but she left without any individual medals. She had the talent, she had the skills but she could never show it when it counted. Later the same year she represented her country at the Youth Olympic Games, where she finally got her chance to shine. There were falls and mistakes, but she seemed much more confident and determined, and she became one of the most successful gymnasts of those Games. That was very exciting, but it was clear that she had to get it together before she made her transition into the senior ranks, where there’s much less room for error. Her senior debut at Russian nationals was rather disappointing. She really didn’t perform at the best of the abilities and she didn’t show any routines that could make her a contender for a major team. Because of that she did not get a ticket to Montpelier. Many people started losing hope on her, but then she won the AA title at Torino, after hitting her routines on all four events and showed that we should not count her out just yet. After lots of changes, it was finally decided that she would participate at the European Games, where she desperately needed to prove herself. And in my opinion she achieved that. She ma have had a fall at event finals but she was brilliant during qualifications. She made no major mistakes and she delivered big scores three of which counted for the team total. On top of that, she was the only athlete in the competition to earn a score that could qualify her into event finals on every single apparatus. Of course, she could not actually compete in all finals because of the one per country rule but that was still a fantastic achievement for her.

On vault she competed her usual DTY and a Lopez. Her double full was much higher and more dynamic than any other vault we’ve seen from her but there were still notable form errors. Her Lopez is a work in progress. She has only competed it a couple of times and she’s still trying to perfect it. Her block and her form could be better but she managed to put this vault on her feet and win a silver medal. I’m always happy to see athletes training second vault and challenging for event finals medal, even though I’m not sure if Seda would be competitive at worlds with her current difficulty. She seems to be perfectly aware of that since she’s apparently very serious about learning an amanar. It looks like she crashed it at podium training and thankfully she decided not to perform it during the competition. I don’t think she’s ready for this vault. Her knees are so bent even during her DTY that her amanar would basically be tucked. But I guess there’s nothing wrong with her safely training this skill into the pit as long as she doesn’t compete it unless it’s ready. Seda is in the same training group with Maria Paseka and Alla Sosnitskaya so I’m sure we’ll hear about her playing around with Chengs pretty soon.

Seda’s 5.8 start value on bars was one of the highest ones we saw during the competition but it’s not anywhere near the highest start value in her own country. I don’t expect her to ever be part of a team finals line up. If Russia ever needs to use her on this event they’ll be in a really, really bad situation. However, it would be great to see her getting stronger here in order to improve her AA chances. There are definitely lots of potential upgrades on her routine. She is Russian, so one would expect to see her learning inbar stalders. It’s true that Paseka and Sosnitskaya, who are in her training group, are not capable of those skills but Seda has different strengths, more flexibility and better swing than they do so I don’t think it’s an unrealistic upgrade for her. She could also try to connect her van leeuwen with her pak or maybe add a pirouette out of her maloney, like her training partners did.

There was no other athlete in the entire competition whose skill level on balance beam was as impressive as Seda’s. She performs plenty of difficult skills and combinations, like a round of  + layout, a front aerial + sheep jump, a switch ring and a double pike. And of course, she is capable of the hardest element one can do on beam, a layout full. Her routine from qualifications left us all speechless and she entered the finals as the top contender for the title. And yet, she did not win a gold medal because of a fall. She was off line during her opening combination and there was nothing she can do to stay on the apparatus. In her defense, after this nasty fall she still got up immediately and finished her routine without any other major errors but the damage had already been done. Of course, one missed routine is not going to make or break someone’s career, but in her case, we are not talking about one unfortunate moment. Seda competed multiple beam routines during 2014 and she only hit a single one of them. This year, she has competed on this event four times, and she has been successful at two of them. This is definitely an improvement and hopefully, she will stay on the beam much more times in her senior career, but her inconsistency is still a major problem and she doesn’t have endless time to fix it. I just hope she manages to control her nerves because never seeing her beam routine at worlds would be a crime against gymnastics.

Her floor during Baku also made me extremely happy. Ι always enjoyed watching her on this event and I love how she shells her routine and shows personality trough her choreography. I would absolutely love to see her becoming stronger and she is definitely trying to achieve that. Her opening combination is one of the most exciting tumbling passes I’ve seen in the last couple of years and her 1.5 + front full looks so effortless. There’s so much room for upgrade in her routine. Of course, we saw a double lay out from her during Russian nationals, and since she seems to be comfortable with twisting, she could probably add a more difficult combination, like a 2.5 + front full, or a 1.5 + front double full.

There is absolutely no doubt that Russia was the most successful country of the European Games in women’s gymnastics just like they were the most successful nation of the European championships earlier this year. After those great achievements, and Romania’s struggles it’s clear that Russia is the strongest gymnastics country in the continent. Of course, we don’t know what is going to happen by worlds, and who is going to be healthy and ready. Gymnastics is an unpredictable sport, and Russia has a long tradition of injuries and inconsistency. However, they seem to have much more depth and much better difficulty level than they did last year. I have to admit I have high expectations from them and I hope I won’t be disappointed.

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