With the Games in London set to begin in less than seven months, the Olympic selection season is essentially here for all participating countries in London – the final four of which will be determined at the Olympic Test Event in just a couple of days.
Russia has already solidified Olympic team berths on both the men’s and women’s sides, which means, like the rest of the top 8 nations from the 2011 world championships, the heated battle for the five available spots for London has essentially already been underway.
The Russian women, who won gold at the 2010 worlds and silver behind the USA at the 2011 worlds, will have a tricky selection process. Like the USA, this team has a great deal of depth right now and will be leaving home more than a couple of world class gymnasts when the five final survivors board the plane to London. Right now, I see exactly 10 legitimate contenders for this summer’s Russian women’s Olympic team:
Aliya Mustafina: 2010 world all-around champion
Viktoria Komova: 2011 world all-around silver medalist
Ksenia Afanasyeva: 2010 world floor champion and 2008 Olympian
Anna Dementieva: 2011 European all-around champion
Anastasia Grishina: 2011 Russian junior champion
Anastasia Sidorova: 2011 Russian junior silver medalist
Yulia Belokobylskaya: 2011 world team member
Yulia Inshina: 2011 world beam finalist
Tatiana Nabieva: 2010 and 2011 world team member
Maria Paseka: 2011 world team alternate
It’s essentially five “pairs” of gymnasts who are evenly matched with one another: a pair of all-around favorites (Mustafina and Komova), a pair of all-around “back-ups” with some individual strengths (Afanasyeva and Dementieva), a pair of young talented Anastasias (Grishina and Sidorova), a pair of Yulia’s from the 2011 world team (Belokobylskaya and Inshina), and a pair of big vaulters who can do Amanars (Nabieva and Paseka). A very interesting dynamic!
I’m sure many Anna Pavlova fans will be disappointed that I didn’t include her on this list. Although Anna has regained her overall fitness level and many of her skills on beam, I wouldn’t quite include her as a serious Olympic contender at this point. She’d have to pull out an Amanar on vault and a floor routine even better than her memorable 2008 one to have a chance for this Olympic squad. I’m afraid I don’t see that happening right now.
I think that Mustafina, Komova, and Grishina are the three most likely, and all three could easily be used on bars and beam, with possibly Mustafina and Komova being used on both floor and vault (Grishina could potentially be used on floor as well). That would mean these three would only need an additional floor routine and an additional vault to round out a powerful, gold-medal contending, five-woman squad.
Afanasyeva would be an obvious choice for floor, given she is now the world floor champion and has loads of experience to go along with it. Belokobylskaya also did an outstanding job on floor in the 2011 world team finals, and Dementieva looked to have a very usable floor routine for the Russians prior to the 2011 world championships, where she became sick and looked nothing like the gymnast she was earlier in the year. As for vault, Tatiana Nabieva and Maria Paseka are the only Russians besides Mustafina and Komova I know of who are capable of an Amanar at this point. Could this highly rated vault alone put one of these two on the Olympic team? I think it could. Think how much more powerful this team will become with THREE Amanars in team finals, as opposed to the three DTY’s they used in 2011.
Regardless, this will be a serious dogfight for this Russian Olympic team, and the whole process that will take place over the next 6-7 months will only make the five who survive even stronger.
My best guess for the Russian Olympic team as we begin this Olympic year is:
Aliya Mustafina (V, UB, BB, FX)
Viktoria Komova (V, UB, BB, FX)
Anastasia Grishina (UB, BB)
Ksenia Afanasyeva (FX)
Tatiana Nabieva (V)
Alternates: Anna Dementieva and Maria Paseka
Of course these predictions may change in the coming months.
Of these 10 contenders, who do you think the five survivors will ultimately be?