Both Aliya Mustafina and Seda Tutkhalyan were competing in the first group as they had both finished in the top 6 in the qualification round. Starting on vault they both delivered the standard Double Twisting Yurchenko’s expected from them with Aliya having a much better form and a near stick in the landing.
Going into the bars the pair needed to gather as much lead as they could in their strongest event to stand a chance for a podium finish and they both delivered. Mustafina so did her job that surprisingly she was leading ahead of super star Simone Biles, while this result was not expected to last it showed Mustafina had gathered enough cushion to cover any mistakes that could come on beam and floor.
Seda after two rotations was third behind Biles and ahead of Raisman who has on bars her worst apparatus. While it would be hard to keep that placement given Raisman’s strength on Floor, it was a hopeful standing for a lucky bronze medal if something went wrong with Raisman’s routines or a proud 4th place if everyone delivered.
But surviving beam truly poses a challenge for the Russians, Mustafina went first and she was close to having the same mistake that in qualification when a missed connection caused her to fall. While this time she stopped just in time to avoid the fall, the missed connection meant there would be no acrobatic series in the beam earning an automatic 0.5 deduction.
Seda followed Aliya and a new responsibility had been put on her shoulders, she was expected to top Mustafina to ensure Russia would still have a medal if Aliya’s score was not high enough. And she did an excellent routine up until the last minute when she fell on her dismount. Given Seda’s weakness on Floor, she would not be able to fight for bronze if Aliya did not make it, so all the responsibility of Russia’s result in the all-around was again on Aliya’s shoulders.
Aliya went on Floor and as graceful and beautiful as she is she did struggle with dance elements, but given her strong results on vault and bars and her quick decision on beam to stop to avoid a fall had given her enough margin of error for a less than perfect routine. A medal seemed highly probable although she still would have to wait a long time since several gymnasts were still competing among them teammate Seda Tutkhalyan.
What happened with Seda on the Floor Exercise was a gymnast’s worst nightmare come true. Because one thing is to fall on the beam dismount and another is to fall twice while going out of bounds added to a poor landing in the first pass and a questionable wolf turn. Many jaws must have dropped in disbelief after watching a routine gone so terribly wrong for a gymnast that one routine earlier had been in serious medal contention.
The scariest thing was Seda was used on the Floor Exercise during the team final and had this happened then Russia would have fallen into sixth place. These are the scary contrasts in Russian gymnastics; they can do extremely well or sink into a falling spiral. And it is not about one gymnast is about the full team. From Beijing 2008, where a fall on beam was followed by another fall off the beam and then by a major mistake on Floor, all the way to Glasgow 2015 where a fall from bars was followed by three falls from beam. This is what is worrisome about Russian Gymnastics and what always has fans hanging off a thread every time they appear in a competition arena.
After 8 routines well executed throughout the Games the 9th came with a fall of the beam and the 10th was an absolute nightmare that dropped Seda from a 5th place in the all-around to the 22nd. While this is definitely unsettling it will be a learning experience for Seda and whatever Seda’s next meet is or whenever it may it be hopefully it will be a redeeming opportunity for her to show she can deliver the two routines that went wrong for her in the all-around.
As for Aliya a very well deserved bronze came to her, rewarding her artistry, tenacity and leadership. Aliya still has one more final where she’s expected to medal and then we can only hope she will continue to compete in the road to Tokyo 2020.