The 2016 Russian Cup is currently underway in Penza until next Sunday and even though this isn’t an official Olympic Trials competition, this is one of the last opportunities for gymnasts to show their readiness and prove they should get those tickets to Rio.

With Ksenia Afanasyeva out after a recent ankle surgery in Germany, Viktoria Komova withdrawing from the fight for the Olympic Team and Maria Kharenkova scratching the competition due to injury, the drama was on before the meet even begun and things only got worse during qualifications. Competing in two separate subdivisions, the first day of the competition served as both qualification for the All-Around and Event finals, as well as a team final, with Central District winning Gold, Volga winning Silver and St. Petersburg taking Bronze, while 2015 winners Moscow finished in fourth place after several mistakes.

Despite having some problems herself, new Senior Angelina Melnikova managed to qualify into the AA Finals in first place thanks to her difficulty and mistakes from other top contenders. Starting on beam, Melnikova had a strong routine, aside from a big wobble on her layout that forced her to touch the beam to avoid a fall, but unfortunately put her hands down on her double pike dismount after a low landing. Next on floor, things were much better and she was able to perform cleanly and score in the mid-14s, while on vault her DTY was very solid and scored just below 15. Finishing on bars, Melnikova had a fall on her piked jaeger but still got a score in the mid-14s (don’t you just love home scoring?) for a total of 57.625. Aside from the All-Around final, Gelya also qualified to every event final except vault and should challenge for medals on all of them.

Just six tenths behind Melnikova was the gymternet’s favorite headcase Seda Tutkhalyan who once again had issues on beam, with a big wobble on her layout and falling on her full-in dismount to score in the low-14s. Fortunately for her the rest of the competition was much better with hit routines on all three events for scores in the low-14s on floor and high-14s for her DTY on vault. On bars, Tutkhalyan presented an upgraded routine (6.4 difficulty) but had some issues, bending her knees on her pak and over-arching a handstand, which brought her score down to just below 14. Seda managed to finish with an AA score just above 57 and qualified to every event final in second place, except bars where she was fifth.

Qualifying in third place over a point behind Tutkhalyan was Evgeniya Shelgunova with a 56 AA score. Competing in the first subdivision, unlike the main contenders for the Olympic Team, Shelgunova also started on beam for a score just below 14 which indicates some issues probably happened there. Next on floor she got a score in the mid-13s, while on vault her DTY was a bit messy on the legs and she took a big step back but managed to score in the mid-14s. Finishing on bars, she achieved another score in the high-13s and qualified to the All-Around finals in third place, ahead of much stronger contenders. Aside from this final, Evgeniya also qualified to all event finals except vault.

Surprisingly in fourth place was Tatiana “retired but still better than you” Nabieva with a score just below 55. Despite her “retirement”, Nabieva still performs a pretty good DTY that got her a score in the mid-14s and her bars look nice even if the difficulty isn’t very high. Beam and floor are a different conversation and even though her triple twist is still as beautiful as ever, she didn’t manage to break the 13s on floor and only scored in the mid-13s on beam after a routine with several long pauses. Nevertheless, Nabs also qualified into the vault, bars and beam final and could even medal on vault. Such a successful retirement!

Also surprising but for the wrong reasons was Aliya Mustafina’s fifth place finish. Starting on beam with a somewhat shaky routine and missing some connections, Mustafina only scored a 14.325 in an event where she can get to 15+. Next on floor she performed her brand new full-in mount, which was actually pretty good, and a Mustafina connected to a double turn, but her difficulty is still very low and she didn’t managed more than a mid-13 score, while her DTY on vault was her usual and she got a high-14 for her effort. Finally  bars was where everything went wrong. Her routine started off cleanly but she had to muscle some handstands before her Van Leeuwen and eventually hoped off the low bar. She got back on the bars and performed the transition to high bar with very bad leg form and jumped off again, getting back up just to finish her routine and missing the release move requirement, which hurt her score even further for a 12.125. As expected with such a low score, Aliya didn’t qualify to the uneven bars final, though she will likely get an exhibition spot, but she qualified to the beam and floor finals and could still get some medals there.

Rounding-up the top 8 where Natalia Kapitonova in sixth after a rough beam routine and low difficulty on vault and floor, Daria Skripnik in seventh also with problems on beam and floor, and finally Lilia Akhaimova in eighth after low scores on vault and beam but posting a 14.150 on floor to get her into finals.

World Champions and Olympic contenders Maria Paseka and Daria Spiridonova only performed two events, with Paseka vaulting an Amanar and a Cheng for an average score in the low-15s that obviously got her into the vault final in first place, but unfortunately fell on the uneven bars for a score in the low-13s. On the other hand, Spiridonova hit bars for a score in the mid-15s that qualified her in first place for the final nearly a point above second place Angelina Melnikova but then had problems on beam falling on her Onodi and wobbling on some of her other skills scoring in the mid-12s.

Overall, this first day of competition at the Russian Cup had trouble for most of the gymnasts, bringing up more questions than answers when it comes to the potential members of the Olympic team. When one top gymnast injured (Afanasyeva), two still recovering from injuries (Mustafina and Paseka) and several talented but very inconsistent girls, the selection for the Olympic Team is very much open and some (looking at you, Seda) could take this opportunity and sneak in if they prove they’re up for the challenge. Let’s see how the rest of the competition goes.

Full results here (team final, EF qualifiers and AA qualification).

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