If this competition had taken place in the 90s it would have been very interesting as the Russians would have had to fight Romania in their own territory. However so much has changed in the last two decades: Romania has been struggling and Russia has become so inconsistent that the two major European powerhouses would not face each other in Cluj-Napoca as Romania was expected to dominate beam while the Russians are known for being unable to stay on the beam.
Russia was expected to earn a medal during the all-around final they won three consecutive golds (2009, 2011, & 2013) then in 2015 they dropped to silver so even if it was not gold, still Russia was expected on the podium with Angelina Melnikova as their top contender and Elena Eremina as their second. But what was the surprise, Melnikova did not even qualify after falling from bars and of course on her acrobatic series on beam. She truly cannot perform that acro-series and should be performing something easier that ensures she will stay on even if it is at the expense of a lower D-value.
With the upsetting qualification result from Melnikova, Eremina then became Russia’s top contender with Kapitonova a distant second. Kapitonova who qualified 12th did not improve much during the final where she finished 9th because she fell off the beam on both days.
Eremina did her best to stay on contention, she did a double twisting Yurchenko, hit her Nabieva to Pak on bars but then came beam and she fell on her round off layout mount. Should she be doing such a risky mount? Falling off on the very first skill can seriously affect her mental performance and Russian gymnasts are well known for not being mentally tough so this kind of mount is not advisable for a team like Russia.
Despite the fall, Eremina’s beam routine in the all-around was an improvement from qualifications where she had a very big wobble on her mount and then had an awful fall on her acro-series. Her floor routine was good but still she finished a distant fourth, she was 0.800 away from a the bronze medal. So the first competition was over and Russia had scored its first fourth place.
For the vault final Melnikova and Paseka had qualified. Melnikova did not have a realistic chance of a medal however she was still expected to do well, and after a good double twisting Yurchenko her second vault was a complete mess she even incurred in a neutral 0.3 deduction for stepping out of the sideline. She finished last not helping Russia’s reputation.
For Maria Paseka it was her first competition since the Olympics and she has been struggling with a back injury for a very long time so it was a surprise to see her in Cluj-Napoca and to watch her perform an Amanar gave Russia hopes for a medal. Sadly Maria had a very bad first vault which had been performed by several gymnasts before her making it very obvious how poorly executed the vault was. Her Amanar was good but she did take steps back in the landing so even though she had the difficulty it was certainly not going to be enough for a medal and Russia collected its second fourth place in Cluj-Napoca.
Uneven Bars is the apparatus where Russia so strongly dominates yet they only qualified a single gymnast. So Elena Eremina had a big responsibility on her shoulders to secure what seemed Russia’s sole chance of a medal however it would not be easy as she needed to perform her Nabieva release well. Elena’s turn came and she delivered the much needed hit routine for Russia, marking also a personal victory as she had now hit three consecutive bars routines that included a Nabieva into immediate Pak.
With Elena’s success Russia would not walk out empty handed as they had not qualified a single gymnast to the beam final and while they had two on Floor, Russia’s execution on the Floor Exercise in the last two years has been quite questionable.
When Elena Eremina’s turn on Floor came she did well but had just to low difficulty to make her a contender, even without a fall Eremina finished last. However a magical surprise came when it was Angelina’s turn, she did extraordinarily well. She landed her first pass a double Arabian without trouble, in the past she had gone out of bounds trying to control the landing, her double layout was among the best she’s ever done, and then her full twisting double pike was perfect, in the qualification she had gone out of bounds, and to finish her double pike was well landed. Angelina had also included several turning elements, double L-turn into double turn, double wolf turn, Memmel and everything was extraordinarily executed, plus her new floor music really suits her making her routine not only remarkable in the technical component but also in the artistic component.
The main lesson for Russia from this competition continues to be the same, they need to work on their beam consistency if not all-around and team medals will begin to slip from their hands, it was absolutely unacceptable that Russia missed 5 out of 5 beam routines. Once again they should look at Romania’s experience they allowed their uneven bars problems to escalate and we all know how it ended.
As for the rest of the apparatus, on vault everyone needs to have at least a double twisting Yurchenko. Aside from her beam inconsistency Kapitonova could not contend because she had a single twisting Yurchenko and Kapitonova is a second year senior. As for bars the elements are still there but the execution is starting to fail a bit, Kapitonova only made it to a reserve spot and Eremina had a 6.0 difficulty against Nina Derwael’s 6.1 and still finished over three tenths behind her.
As for Floor more routines like the one Angelina delivered are needed. Angelina’s unexpected triumph demonstrates Russia’s capability when they live up to the expectations. This kind of routine needs to be the standard performance for Russia so we can talk about dominance and not just an “amazing potential” that never materializes.