In the Road to Bern, the Russian team had to leave behind Maria Paseka, who was withdrawn from the team that had been originally announced due to injury. Her absence meant there would be no Amanar to give the Russian team an advantage on vault.
Once they arrived in Bern it was announced Afanasyeva would only compete vault, and that Mustafina who was originally only meant to do bars and beam would do Floor as well. Floor, a weak apparatus for the team, would now suffer even more as they would not have Afanasyeva to boost their scores and they would have an unprepared Mustafina performing.
In the qualification round they finished second by a mere 0.102. Both teams had one bad beam routine and Russia had lost 0.6 in out of bounds from Mustafina and Melnikova. With those precedents the team final was expected to be one of the most exciting ever, yet it was not meant to be as one of the teams would have one of the most inconsistent performances of their history and no, it was not Russia, surprisingly it was Great Britain.
On vault both teams were even with three DTYs that were performed up to standard, on bars Great Britain saw their first fall while Russia showed a lot of improvement with Daria Spiridinova showing a 6.7 difficulty bars routine against her 6.3 routine from qualification. Then came beam which is usually the undoing of Russia, however the team only had one major mistake, Seda’s fall, but Melnikova and Mustafina showed high difficulty routines that were also cleanly executed. This was Russia’s redemption from Glasgow where all three gymnasts fell from the beam. With Russia passing their greatest obstacle successfully the competition was set to become interesting until, in a sad turn of events for the British girls, it was now them who were forced to count three falls from the beam and in that moment the competition was over, Russia was the new European Team Champion.
Great Britain’s meltdown in the team final makes hard to see where Russia succeeded and where they have to continue to work in order to secure a podium finish in Rio. Russia’s performance in Bern has a lot of merit because two of their stars, Afanasyeva and Mustafina, were recovering from injury and not performing to their full potential and given these circumstances it was crucial for the team to be consistent and they were, only Seda had a major mistake; they also managed to sum up a 72.6 difficulty against Great Britain’s 72.4 in the team final despite the fact that Mustafina was far from her best on Floor.
But what must Russia take into account from their Bern experience in the Road to Rio? First of all the team must be remember that even though it was in qualifications, once again, Great Britain surpassed them and while it is true that the Russians had 2 recovering gymnasts not performing to their full potential, we can’t assure either one of them will be completely healthy in time for Rio.
So let’s suppose the team has to take an injured Mustafina to Rio, the team will not be able to take the luxury of missing a connection on bars or going out of bounds on Floor like it happened in the qualification round in Bern. Daria Spiridinova had an only 6.3 difficulty bars routine against the 6.7 she was capable of and Melnikova had a two-feet out of bounds and lost 0.3. Those two mistakes could be enough for Russia to finish behind Great Britain if, for some reason, they can’t send a completely healthy team.
Beam has always been an issue for Russia, having their three gymnasts fall during the team final at the 2015 World Championships was a warning signal that Russia needed to improve or their wouldn’t be a team medal for them in Rio. Aliya Mustafina has come back with a strong and consistent beam routine and their debutant gymnast Angelina Melnikova showed enough mental toughness in the three beam routines she performed in Bern, so the problem is more or less covered.
Yet there is another apparatus where they need to improve, is not as obvious as beam, but it could make a difference particulary since it is Great Britain’s strongest event, Floor Exercise. You won’t see Russia fall on Floor but the team is far from being clean, a proof is no Russian gymnast reached the Floor Final in Bern and Russia must take into account that in the team final the British team scored 1.6 higher than they did. And let’s remember that at the World Championships in Glasgow during the team final Russia placed 6th in the apparatus while Great Britain was 2nd.
As for the individual performances, Seda will have to improve on her European showings to have a real shot at the Olympic Team as for Daria Spiridinova, her position remains the same, she’s very helpful to the team but only on bars and that might not be enough to secure her spot on the team. Regarding Ksenia Afanasyeva, if healthy, she is a lock, her Floor can greatly help the team and she could also deliver an Amanar, she has already done so in the past.
Angelina Melnikova had a performance at Europeans that seriously increased her chances of being selected as she showed she is a complete gymnast with mental toughness to fight through a beam routine and enough difficulty to help the team where she might be needed.
As for the Queen of Russian Gymnastics, Aliya Mustafina, she continues to show why she is the best gymnast Russia has had in the last 6 years. She is beautiful to watch, consistent, with high difficulty and a fighting spirit that will give everything to take her team to the podium.