Thiais GP: A festival for Italy and a festival of drops

Italian group competing in Thiais. Photo: Ulrich Faßbender for Ginnastica Ritmica Italiana

Dina Averina of Russia won a clear victory in the mistake-ridden individual all-around final at Thiais GP, but by far the best sight was Italy with its group.

Italy were searing hot in Thiais

It’s late March, but the form for nearly everyone looked like late February: the always much-anticipated Grand Prix event at Thiais, France was a right drop-fest from the beginning to the end, especially in individual. The groups had a lot of mistakes as well, barring Italy, who reigned supreme.

The field lacked the direct rivals of the Italians – the World Cup in Sofia will have the first showdown between Bulgaria, Italy, Russia and Japan -, but the Farfalle azzurre showed a power demonstration. They won the group all-around competition by more than 6 points in front of Ukraine, registering a 19.550 for their 3+2 routine and 20.300 for their 5 hoops – both super strong and amazingly executed routines will have a chance for gold at this year’s big competitions. Over to you, Bulgaria, Russia and Japan…

Cold streak for Arina

While Italy were in searing hot form, the individual competition was riddled with a lot of mistakes – it surely has something to do with the open-ended difficulty and risktaking now paying off. Reigning AA world champion Dina Averina was able to win the competition by four points despite having an out of bounds hoop throw and a serious mistake in the clubs routine – still, she was the only gymnast registering 17+ scores for all four routines.

Her twin sister, Arina Averina has been fighting injuries all early season and it showed. Arina had one of her worst all-arounds in recent memory, mistakes here, there and everywhere, culminating in a modest 5th place finish. She was very far from her best, but it’s somewhat understandable in the light of the recent injuries. A nagging question still lingered: wasn’t she rushed back to soon to competing?

Bulgaria: best depth in long time

Ekaterina Selezneva of Russia and Boryana Kaleyn of Bulgaria can also be somewhat satisfied: Selezneva turned in a pretty good job with three high-level routines and Kaleyn took a surprise bronze, propelled by her amazing, 19.000 ball score. The emergence of Kaleyn and the continued improvement of Katrin Taseva promises the best Bulgarian individual team for a long time, especially if injured frontrunner Neviana Vladinova will come back with a bang in Pesaro, at the World Cup. This trio looks like a clear favourite for silver in the individual team competition of the World Championships (Russian gold can only be prevented by a natural disaster).

While Bulgaria can be really satisfied with their depth, the same cannot be said about Belarus – or, better said, there is concern about form. Number one gymnast Katsiaryna Halkina withdrew from Thiais at the last moment because of medical reasons. Alina Harnasko is mounting a comeback after a serious knee injury and surgery, while number 3 Julia Evchik is quite unstable so far – she was out of the top 10 in Thiais with a lot of mistakes.

Olena Diachenko at Pesaro World Championships. Photo by Ulrich Fasbender.

Diachenko: are we seeing a specialisation?

When this idea first popped into my mind, I branded myself nuts, but it is not a crackpot theory after all. We dedicated a longer feature to Ukraine’s downward slide, and the picture is not much brighter.

Ukraine needs results badly for financial reasons, as state funding and sponsorship are not easy to come by, and a “look, this is a nice 15th place from the Worlds” will not cut it, given the high standards they have set for themselves. A World Championships medal would do quite good to Ukraine.

The problem is, that medal has to be found. The individual team competition does not play: with Yeva Meleschuk, Olena Diachenko, Vlada Nikolchenko and Janika Vartlaan Ukraine have four good but not great gymnasts (Nikolchenko seems to have great potential though!), and that is not enough against opposition who have top 10 competitors. Russia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Japan, Italy, Israel and maybe even the United States can get in front of Ukraine.

Individual all-around is probably way outside of reach. The best Ukraine can hope for is 2 places in the AA final with a possible top 15 berth. Nothing more, realistically.

There is the group, which is very good, but not on the level of Bulgaria, Italy, Russia and Japan. Their rivals will be able to score in the 19s and maybe in the 20s, Ukraine at their best is probably a 18-19 range. Outside chance of medal, but a chance if the major powers mess up. And group competitions are known for having mess-ups.

That leaves individual apparatus finals. They have Olena Diachenko, who seemingly cannot get a clean all-around – this year she’s showing a top class hoop routine and usually makes a ton of mistakes in the other three routines. But that hoop is good. Very, very good. In fact, all the Ukrainians have excellent hoop compositions.

A hoop and a medal hope

Probably that 10+ difficulty hoop routine of Diachenko is the only thing that can bail Ukraine out for a medal. It’s a super routine, executed well, scoring in the high 18s, so it will be on par with the best. Diachenko’s other three routines were messed up in this season, but even if she does them very well, they will be so far behind the hoop routine that it looks like a specialisation for one apparatus.

Ukraine needs a breakout result, that might be one. If Diachenko beefs up the hoop and focuses on that, it might be a good chance. Okay, this is out-of-the-box thinking for RG, which is a sport of all-arounders and frowns upon specialisation.

But it makes sense in Ukraine’s current situation.

It’s very early, but some numbers back it up. If we examine the top 50 at the 2017 Worlds AA qualification, the numbers are telling. That was a Worlds with a lot of inexperienced gymnasts and lot of mistakes. But only Salome Pazhava had a 4+ point difference between her best and worst routine (4.250) and only 6 out of 50 gymnasts had a 3+ point difference. The average point difference between best and worst score is 1.850, the median point difference is 1.800.

However, Olena Diachenko has an average difference of 6.100 (!!!) this year between her best and worst score. We need more numbers, but that hints at specialisation, which would be highly unusual. For comperison: Arina Averina had major mistakes in Thiais, but the difference between her best and worst score is 4.350. A difference of 6.100 is basically far out of the normal – we will see how this evolves during the year.

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Ulrich Faßbender

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Thiais GP 2018 Results – Individual All-Around

Hoop Ball Clubs Ribbon All-around
1 Dina Averina (RUS) 17.300 19.600 19.050 18.250 74.200
2 Ekaterina Selezneva (RUS) 18.000 17.400 16.800 18.000 70.200
3 Boryana Kaleyn (BUL) 16.950 19.000 16.750 16.450 69.150
4 Katrin Taseva (BUL) 18.000 17.700 17.250 15.350 68.300
5 Arina Averina (RUS) 17.650 14.500 18.850 15.800 66.800
6 Nicol Zelikman (ISR) 15.100 17.550 17.400 15.650 65.700
7 Yeva Meleshchuk (UKR) 17.050 15.450 16.600 15.900 65.000
8 Polina Khonina (RUS) 15.050 18.300 15.750 15.700 64.800
9 Vlada Nikolchenko (UKR) 17.350 15.350 15.900 13.750 62.350
10 Sara Llana (ESP) 14.400 16.050 14.650 14.850 59.950
11 Julia Evchik (BLR) 15.900 15.900 12.300 15.750 59.850
12 Nastasya Generalova (USA) 14.000 17.000 13.700 15.100 59.800
13 Janika Vartlaan (UKR) 14.200 15.850 15.600 14.050 59.700
14 Alessia Russo (ITA) 15.100 16.050 14.300 14.200 59.650
15 Olena Diachenko (UKR) 18.600 11.500 15.850 12.950 58.900
16 Sabina Tashkenbaeva (UZB) 14.350 13.850 16.650 13.550 58.400
17 Selina Zhumatayeva (KAZ) 15.400 15.550 14.350 13.050 58.350
18 Denisa Mailat (ROU) 14.650 16.050 14.400 12.700 57.800
19 Nicol Ruprecht (AUT) 15.750 14.200 14.500 13.200 57.650
20 Axelle Jovenin (FRA) 14.300 14.800 14.800 13.650 57.550
21 Alina Chamzina (CZE) 14.300 14.600 14.100 13.250 56.250
22 Yana Kramarenko (ISR) 15.000 14.250 15.100 11.800 56.150
23 Polina Berezina (ESP) 14.400 15.400 14.600 11.700 56.100
24 Zohra Aghamirova (AZE) 14.650 13.900 13.600 13.500 55.650
25 Míra Váray (HUN) 13.600 14.500 14.550 11.850 54.500
26 Valerie Romenski (FRA) 13.550 12.650 13.450 12.450 52.100
27 Denisa Stepánková (CZE) 12.300 13.500 11.600 10.200 47.600
28 Inessa Rif (FIN) 11.600 9.550 10.600 11.150 42.900
Katsiaryna Halkina (BLR) DNS DNS DNS DNS DNS

Thiais GP 2018 Results – Groups All-Around

5 hoops 3+2
1 Italy 20.300 19.550 39.850
2 Ukraine 18.700 15.050 33.750
3 Azerbaijan 17.150 15.050 32.200
4 Belarus 16.600 13.400 30.000
5 USA 15.200 12.900 28.100
6 Canada 15.100 12.800 27.900
7 Uzbekistan 13.300 14.400 27.700
8 France 14.200 13.350 27.550
9 Latvia 14.400 12.800 27.200
10 Poland 12.050 12.500 24.550
11 Hungary 11.350 13.200 24.550
12 Slovenia 7.300 10.500 17.800