Anna Dementieva Floor 2010 World Team Finals



Ksenia Afansyeva Floor 2010 World Team Finals



Since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and began competing as separate individual nations after the 1992 Olympics, many fans have yearned for some form of the gymnastics that dominated world and Olympic competition in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  When many fans envision the quintessential women’s gymnastics team, Soviet teams such as those from Rotterdam 1987, Seoul 1988, Stuttgart 1989, Indianapolis 1991, and Barcelona 1992 quickly come to mind.  Although the beauty, technique, innovation, and artistic expression that characterized those legendary Soviet teams have been seen in small remnants among several Ukrainian gymnasts (like Lilia Podkopayeva) over the last twenty years, it has always been the republic of Russia that, as a team, most closely resembles its revered Soviet ancestor.


Russian greats like Svetlana Khorkina, Dina Kochetkova, Roza Galieva, Ekaterina Lobaznyuk, Elena Produnova, and Anna Pavlova have captivated us over the years with daredevil skills, balletic elegance, and in some cases, diva-like attitudes.  However, despite demonstrating the same type of physical attributes of the Soviets of days past, modern day Russians have typically lacked that machine-like consistency and competitive confidence that made the former Soviet teams so unbeatable.  We’ve seen more than a couple spectacular Russian teams leave world or Olympic competitions with a much lighter medal haul than they were capable of, and never once with the team gold medal – until Rotterdam last year.


In 2010, the Russians put together a truly special team that consisted of two 2008 Olympians – Ksenia Afanasyeva and Ksenia Semenova, one world team member from 2009 – Ekaterina Kurbatova, and three first-year senior stars –  Aliya Mustafina, Tatiana Nabieva, and Anna Dementieva.  When this highly touted team suffered THREE falls on the uneven bars in team finals, though, most considered their chances for gold gone for good.  However, in traditional Soviet style, this team rallied with three strongly hit beam routines and three magnificent floor performances to finally win its first world team title as an independent nation.


Dementieva and Afanasyeva, shown above, were two of those three final floor routines that sealed this historic world team gold.  Dementieva smiled and pranced her way to a solid 14.533, and Afanasyeva followed with the top floor score of the entire women’s team final – a 14.8.  Soon-to-be world all-around champion Mustafina anchored with a 14.666, enabling Russia to eclipse the United States by just 0.201.  It was a moment filled with pride and emotion, not only for the entire Russian delegation, but for many gymnastics fans who have longed for a return to the days of old when Soviet stars prevailed.

This year Dementieva and Afanasyeva have rejoined the Russian charge in Tokyo, and will help lead another very talented squad against powerful teams from the United States, China, and Romania.  They will do so without last year’s team leader and world all-around champion, Aliya Mustafina, who was unbeatable in Rotterdam but suffered a knee injury earlier this year.  They are equipped with a replacement all-around favorite, first-year senior Viktoria Komova, as well as multiple difficulty upgrades from Dementieva in particular.  Watch for Dementieva and Afanasyeva to compete for Russia on multiple events in the team final, and both could be contenders in the all-around and event finals.  Their spectacular floor routines are sure to once again be a highlight for this Russian team, which will likely face a tougher quest for gold than the one it conquered a year ago.