Russian head coach Alexander Alexandrov recently stated that Aliya Mustafina, Viktoria Komova, and Anastasia Grishina were essentially locks for the Olympic team. Based on the way things have played out this year, that’s certainly the way it was looking to all of us too.
The other two spots have appeared to be up for grabs amongst seven additional gymnasts: Ksenia Afanasyeva, Anna Dementieva, Yulia Inshina, Yulia Belokobylskaya, Anastasia Sidorova, Tatiana Nabieva, and Maria Paseka. Most fans have assumed that Ksenia Afanasyeva would likely get the nod for one of these available spots, given the huge boost her career received from her memorable world title on floor last year, and the fact that Russia has always been in need of strong, consistent floor scores. With Mustafina still returning to top form on this event and Viktoria Komova often inconsistent here, this event is just as much a priority as ever. Afanasyeva is also versatile enough to step in on any of the other three events if needed – in fact, she was an Olympic finalist on beam in 2008 and competed in the all-around finals at last fall’s world championships.
But what about the 5th spot?
After this week’s Russian Cup, the front runner suddenly appears to be Maria Paseka, who successfully stood up an Amanar and scored a very strong 15.8 at this competition. This gymnast has been rumored to have competed this vault before, though most of us have never seen it.
Vault is clearly the event that currently separates Russia from the United States – and it’s a BIG separation. The Russians haven’t competed an Amanar in major team competition since the 2010 world championships, where high-scoring Amanars from Mustafina and Nabieva helped the Russian team win its first ever world team title. Viktoria Komova has competed the vault successfully before, but as she was still recovering from ankle injuries at last year’s world championships, she watered down to a DTY at that competition. Mustafina hasn’t competed the vault since tearing her ACL on this every skill at the 2011 European Championships, and Nabieva hasn’t performed the vault since…well, possibly since the 2010 worlds, as far as I know.
If Paseka continues to show she can land this vault, she HAS to be given the 5th spot on the Russian Olympic team. Leaving this huge gun at home would be a serious mistake for the Russians, at least if she is hitting it reasonably consistently. Landing on her feet at the Russian Cup – where she knows Olympic spots are being finalized – is an excellent sign for this gymnast. It is now very possible that the Russians could have not only one Amanar in the Olympic team finals, but THREE. Aliya Mustafina has clearly stated intentions to perform the vault at the Olympics, and all of the recent DTY’s she has been competing this year certainly look capable of the upgrade. And Viktoria Komova looked extremely close to being able to land the vault during training at the worlds in Tokyo last fall, and having a few more months under her belt since then has hopefully given her time to get it competition-ready again. Three Amanars on vault for the Russians would totally change the entire Olympic team final in London. Rather than being 2-3 points behind the Americans, where they likely currently sit, they may suddenly be within 2-3 tenths of them. If these three gymnasts can all have this vault ready to land in London, we may now have an incredible race for the 2012 Olympic team title.
I don’t yet have a video of Paseka’s vault from this week’s Russian Cup, but here’s a look at an excellent DTY she showed in this year’s European team finals in April: