Ashram writes history, Bulgaria demonstrates power and Russia faces trouble in Guadalajara

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the rhythmic gymnastics World Challenge Cup in Guadalajara was memorable. Linoy Ashram recorded the biggest win of her career, Bulgaria showed its full power in groups, Russia has a question to decide and a lot of problems in group, plus we unfortunately saw one of the worse in-competition injuries lately.

LINOY ASHRAM EMERGES GOLDEN IN GUADALAJARA

The fact that Linoy Ashram is set to be a top gymnast this cycle does not come as a surprise to anyone who follows RG. The CoP fits her like a glove, she’s brilliant and spectacular on the carpet – and she’s improving with an amazing rate. The latest proof for this is that she was able to record her first World (Challenge) Cup all-around – a highly impressive deed.

All-around is a Russian dominion, plain and simple. Meanwhile Russian top gymnasts can be beaten in apparatus finals, usually their dominating difficulty means they clean up at the all-around competitions. Linoy Ashram is someone who matches and even outscores them in difficulty, and when she gets the execution right, she can be a bigger threat to Russian all-around domination than any gymnasts lately.

Anna Rizatdinova, Melitina Staniouta, Katsiaryna Halkina, Son Yeon Jae and Neviana Vladinova all won World Cup all-around events, but apart from Rizatdinova (Corbeil, 2013) neither beat two top 3 Russians for the win. Even more impressively, Ashram beat two world champions, Aleksandra Soldatova and Arina Averina for the title. The last one who could beat two world champion Russians at a major FIG competition in all-around was Anna Bessonova in 2007, Patras – 11 years before! Since the World Championships in Patras 2007 there were 87 major all-arounds (Olympics, World Championships, European Championships and World Cups) and only 9 were won by non-Russians – only 2 when the Russia had multiple world champions in the field.

World champions flanking: Linoy Ashram beat two Russian top stars to win the all-around (Photo: RFEG)

BULGARIA SHOWS FULL POWER

So to say, the group all-around was as one-sided as it could be, after Bulgaria blew the rivals from the fields with two amazing routines. The really shocking thing is the gap between Bulgaria and the closest rivals – they won by more than 4 points over Italy and more than 5.7 points over Russia. That is, quite simply, a knockout. Italy recovered to take one gold in the mistake-ridden apparatus finals, but it looks like that if Bulgaria hit both their routines (relatively) cleanly, it is near-unbeatable. And don’t forget: they compete now with a reserve in the group!

RUSSIA MEETS DISASTER

The only group possibly matching Bulgaria (and Italy) are Russia, but if Irina Viner did not hit the panic button before, she should do so now. Russia got to the bronze in all-around, but completely fell apart at the apparatus finals. When a 13.200 is the total score of a Russian group and not the D score, there is major, major, major trouble.

Note: I remember Russia’s group melting down as spectacularly only once, in 2009 and then Viner fired the whole group, if I remember well. The European Championships might be too close to do so now, but the thing is that we have 4 months to the World Championships and right now Bulgaria are on a different level to Russia (they will also have home ground advantage). And this is something we rarely ever see in RG. So to say, it’ll be a nice job to recover from this – given the depth of the Russian talent pool, they might well do so, but Guadalajara will stay as a nightmare for them.

Aleksandra Soldatova thanking the Spanish fans (Photo: RFEG)

ARINA OR SASHA?

Russia officially nominated Arina Averina and Dina Averina to the upcoming European Championships. This does not mean all that much, probably, as the strong rumour going around was that Viner is to decide after Guadalajara and the nominative deadline was during the event. The number 1 spot is unquestionably Dina’s. The number 2 is still wide open.

Arina faced injury trouble earlier on and seems to be far away from her 2017 level, on the other hand, Aleksandra Soldatova is on the upswing lately after her troubles last year. In Guadalajara they were balanced: Sasha was better in the all-around, Arina was better in the apparatus finals.

The main question is not easy to decide. Form and star power shows to Soldatova, who could compete in the European Championship in front of a huge fan base that adores her. Sasha also loves competing in Spain and the fans visibly gave a boost to her in Guadalajara. The Guadalajara hall would be like a home ground to her.

On the other hand, if Arina improves her form, she is a more stable gymnast than Sasha. And there is the mental question. The Averina twins give the best possible support system to each other – the sum is even greater than the parts, they draw strength from each other. We rarely see them competing apart from each other. The question is: how can Dina cope with the absence of her twin at such a major competition, if Sasha gets the nod?

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WE DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT AGAIN

On the first day of the competition Ana Luiza Filiorianu’s knee gave way and she had a horrible fall. Luckily we rarely see such in-competition injuries. This looks very serious: a severe knee dislocation is confirmed and further scans are likely to show further ligament damage.

It looks like there is a debate starting whether the revamped Code of Points with its focus on difficulty might be behind injuries. We surely have to wait on that, but we can remember that the “Kabaeva code” wreaked havoc in the ranks, because it focused on flexibility and it made a demand that a lot of gymnasts were not prepared for. The jury is out on this one – what is certain that we do not want to see such in-competition injury in the near future. Hopefully Ana Luiza can make a complete recovery!

A STORM-IS-A-BREWIN’

The international fans (and the Spanish ones) went into a full-scale meltdown because there was no TV and no livestream for Saturday. That was highly unfortunate. On the other hand, the very complicated TV deals probably tied the hands of everyone involved. It does not work like “the federation/RTVE should stream it.” This is an area with very complicated deals and lot of money. Essentially the TV rights money that gets paid to FIG and federations allows gymnastics to function on this level. There should be more done to cater to fan needs, however – I tried to clean the situation up in this post.

Gymnast of the weekend: Linoy Ashram (Israel)
Group of the weekend: Bulgaria
Surprise package of the weekend: Milena Baldassarri (Italy)
Negative surprise package of the weekend: Russia

COMPLETE RESULTS FROM GUADALAJARA ARE HERE