After Saturday’s friendly quad meet between Russia, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, Aliya Mustafina, Tatiana Nabieva and Ksenia Afanasyeva would seem to be locks.
Russia — and Mustafina — won the meet, of course, scoring 232.1 and 60.1, respectively, while the Netherlands (217.45 and 157.45 from a not full B-team), Spain (211.45) and Sweden (62.4) trailed far behind. With that score, Mustafina will make a strong play for the World all-around title next month in Rotterdam. Her biggest competition is likely to come from the U.S.’s Rebecca Bross.
Mustafina debuted an Amanar on vault and stuck it cold. Better than McKayla Maroney’s on day two of the U.S. Championships? Well, comparable. She also seemed more energetic on floor than she has of late. Mustafina does not strike me as an athlete who can be “go go go” all the time — she likely has to be carefully timed to peak in fitness. And that peak seems to be approaching.
Nabieva showed she’s tamed “the Nabieva” on bars and is capable of connecting it to a Pak salto, though she’s still having difficulties with an Amanar of her own (alas, no triple twisting Yurchenko from her at Worlds this year, I think.)
Nabieva’s falls on vault and beam in Waalwijk this weekend don’t really matter, because as long as she continues to hit that bar routine, she could be World Champion on the event in a month. Her vault, when controlled, will provide a decent team score for the Russians whether she goes up first or second.
2008 Olympian Afanasyeva, who was left off the golden 2010 European Championships squad, has earned her place with excellent, consistent performances and obvious leadership throughout the season. Anna Dementyeva, one of those gymnasts with near perfect lines and flawless execution, is probably the best beamworker of the bunch (even if she fell in Waalwijk) and would also be a good lead off on bars.
That leaves two spaces — and four women (Ekaterina Kurbatova, Ksenia Semyonova, Anna Pavlova and Anna Myzdrikova) contending for them.
There are reasons to add each to the team: 2009 European champion Semyonova is not a standout on any one event but continually posts decent all-around scores and has several years of international experience; Pavlova is the most experienced and one of the most well-loved gymnasts in the world by fans (she’s also come quite a ways toward regaining her form after a torn ACL late in 2008); Kurbatova is the reigning European champion on vault and could provide a World medal for Russia there; ditto Myzdrikova on floor.
That being said, Pavlova’s absence in Waalwijk speaks volumes. She announced earlier this year that she would be retiring at the end of 2010, and I have to wonder if she’s on this list for sentimental reasons, if it’s a way for the Russian coaches to honor her for her great career.
Kurbatova has competed like a vault/bars specialist for the past two years. Unfortunately, she’s vying with Nabieva for the job. Nabieva wins because she has more spectacular difficulty and can be a factor on floor too when she doesn’t look too disgusted by the prospect of dancing and keeps her tumbling inside the lines.
Myzdrikova is a wonderful gymnast, and her floor routine can be magic. But this year, she might be a victim of being on an uber-talented team and wind up an alternate.
A three-up, three-count scenario for the Russian women in Rotterdam might look something like this:
Myzdrikova (5.6 D-score) / Kurbatova (5.8 D-score plus second vault with 5.6 D-score) / Pavlova (5.8 D-score plus second vault with 5.6 D-score) / Afanasyeva (5.8 D-score)
Nabieva (5.8 D-score)
Mustafina (6.5 D-score)
Dementyeva (5.7 D-score) / Semyonova (6.0 D-score)
Mustafina (6.7 D-score)
Nabieva (6.8 D-score)
Dementyeva (6.1 D-score) / Pavlova (unknown D-score)
Semyonova (5.8 D-score)
Afanasyeva (6.0 D-score)
Myzdrikova (5.6 D-score) / Dementyeva (5.7 D-score) / Nabieva (5.5 D-score)
Mustafina (5.9 D-score)
Afanasyeva (5.9 D-score)
The verdict: Mustafina, Nabieva, Afanasyeva are locks; Dementyeva, Semyonova and Pavlova make the team; Kurbatova and Myzdrikova are alternates.
But this scenario leaves out the specialists — in my opinion Kurbatova and Myzdrikova are more likely than Semyonova and Pavlova to win individual medals at Worlds. It’s doubtful whether their presence would lower the team score enough for Russia to lose the gold. So it’s hard to say.
Your take: Who would you put on Russia’s women’s World team?
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