Anastasia Guzenkova

Israel's Linoy Ashram is the next big thing in Rhythmic Gymnastics

Israel’s Linoy Ashram has impressive difficulty over all the apparatus, but especially with the hoop, where she’s capable of scoring 12.5 in D-score alone.

Israel’s Linoy Ashram has impressive difficulty over all the apparatus, but especially with the hoop, where she’s capable of scoring 12.5 in D-score alone.

The 2019 Rhythmic season is barely underway and Dina Averina is already queen of the carpet -- for now. After ruling the competition at last week’s Moscow Grand Prix, the reigning world all-around champion took her talents to Spain this past weekend, where she casually picked up the all-around title at the Marbella Grand Prix.

Good as Averina was in the general competition, she wasn’t the sole victor in Marbs. In her 2019 debut, rising star Linoy Ashram of Israel came out stronger than ever, claiming the titles with the hoop, clubs and ribbon and confirming what everyone suspected at the end of last year: here finally is a gymnast who will challenge even the best of the Russians.

Who is going to crack the Russian dominance has been the Big Question in Rhythmic gymnastics for years. The Russians are so good in this domain that the last time they didn’t win one of the Olympic gold medals available in the domain was in 1996. They haven’t lost a world title in any event since 2013, the year Ganna Rizatdinova won hoop at home in Kiev.

Ashram is already well established, having collected six medals at the past two world championships, including all-around silver to Averina last fall in Sofia. The key to her success lies in her difficulty and her ability to control it, matching the A-team Russians. That’s important in Rhythmic these days now that the D-score ceiling, previously capped at 10, has been lifted completely, something akin to what happened in artistic gymnastics in 2006. As a result, since the new Olympic cycle began, we’ve been seeing routines jam-packed with difficulty as gymnasts from the top countries fight to outdo each other.

The good news for Russia: Dina and Arina Averina’s biggest strength is that they’re capable of realizing exceptionally difficult routines. The bad news: Ashram (and a few others) are the same way. The new benchmark for world medal-worthy routines is those with D-scores greater than 12. Ashram’s 12.5 difficulty with the hoop, especially at this point in the season, is remarkable.

Dina Averina generally leads the way in potential difficulty score, and Marbella was no different (46.7 of her 82.95 points came from difficulty), as compared to runner up Aleksandra Soldatova, whose difficulty maxed out at 45.6. Ashram, the reigning world silver medalist in the all-around, would have finished higher but for a blown ball routine, which dropped her to eighth.

Bronze medalist Anastasia Salos of Belarus, a rising star who finished 10th at the 2018 World Championships, sometimes performs like an uncut diamond. But the difficulty she’s capable of -- 46.2 in Marbella -- will stand her in good stead as she continues to improve.

Two-time world champion Dina Averina of Russia (center) collected the all-around title at the Marbella Grand Prix, followed by Aleksandra Soldatova and Belarus’s Anastasia Salos.

Two-time world champion Dina Averina of Russia (center) collected the all-around title at the Marbella Grand Prix, followed by Aleksandra Soldatova and Belarus’s Anastasia Salos.

2019 Marbella Grand Prix - All-around final

1. Dina Averina, Russia, 82.95
2. Aleksandra Soldatova, Russia, 82.
3. Anastasia Salos, Belarus, 79.35
4. Vlada Nikolchenko, Ukraine, 79.0
5. Ekaterina Selezneva, Russia, 77.8
6. Arina Averina, Russia, 76.85
7. Daria Trubnikova, Russia, 76.5
8. Linoy Ashram, Israel, 74.85
9. Anastasia Guzenkova, Russia, 73.8
10. Irina Annenkova, Russia, 72.9

Hoop final

1. Linoy Ashram, Israel, 21.05
2. Dina Averina, Russia, 21.0
3. Vlada Nikolchenko, Ukraine, 20.8
4. Aleksandra Soldatova, Russia, 20.15
5. Nicol Voronkov, Israel, 18.85
6. Viktoria Onopriienko, Ukraine, 18.6
7. Maria Ano, Spain, 17.6
8. Anastasia Salos, Belarus, 16.6

Ball final

1. Dina Averina, Russia 21.45
2. Katsiaryna Halkina, Belarus, 20.800 ️
3. Arina Averina, Russia, 20.600 ️
4. Viktoria Onoprienko, Ukraine 18.850
5. Sara Llana, Spain, 18.650
6. Anastasia Salos, Belarus, 18.100
7. Alina Adilkhanova, Kazakhstan, 17.650
8. Vlada Nikolchenko, Ukraine, 16.750

Clubs final

1. Linoy Ashram, Israel, 21.650
2. Arina Averina, Russia, 21.650
3. Dina Averina, Russia, 21.000 ️
4. Katsiaryna Halkina, Belarus, 20.100
5. Anastasia Salos, Belarus, 18.850
6. Maria Ano, Spain, 18.200
7. Vlada Nikolchenko, Ukraine, 17.400
8. Jelizaveta Polstjanaja, Latvia, 17.100

Ribbon final

1. Linoy Ashram, Israel, 20.700
2. Dina Averina, Russia, 20.600
3. Aleksandra Soldatova, Russia, 19.100
4. Anastasia Salos, Belarus, 19.000
5. Viktoria Onoprienko, Ukraine, 17.750
6. Vlada Nikolchenko, Ukraine, 17.500
7. Maria Ano, Spain, 17.150
8. Kim Chaewoon, South Korea, 16.400

Must-sees from the Moscow Grand Prix

With four routines per competitor and 60 competitors in the field, any Grand Prix or World Cup competition in Rhythmic Gymnastics is always a drawn-out affair. That being said, a few routines that stand out in memory long after the awards ceremonies have concluded. Here are 10 picks that should be watched over and over again.

Salome Pazhava, Georgia, Clubs:

It will be hard to top her iconic “Joker” routine of the past two years, but Pazhava just might with this exercise. This routine goes in a completely different, very soft direction, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. Passionate and fluttering with emotion, it’s so smooth Pazhava almost seems to be gliding over ice rather than dancing on a carpet. In short, a new classic from rhythmic’s greatest chameleon.

Anastasia Guzenkova, Russia, Hoop

Like most Russians, she seems predisposed to handle big music well. Mireille Mathieu’s “Padam, Padam” is admittedly a little mature for her, but she pulls it off with aplomb. Quick work, reminiscent of Kudryavtseva. Great ending pose, too.

Irina Annenkova, Russia, Ball

The 2014 Youth Olympic champion is a very different performer than she was five years ago -- and for the better, too. So expressive with whole body, but especially with her hands. Terrific turn sequence that ends with her leg above her head, giving the ball a tiny little kick off her toe. A most entertaining.

Kaho Minagawa, Japan, Hoop

Sheer, floating-on-clouds elegance is what we’ve come to expect from Kaho Minagawa over the years, and she delivers with this new hoop routine, a symphony of softness and light. Beautiful.

Ekaterina Selezneva, Russia, Clubs

Some wickedly original masteries in this routine, including one right off the bat where she does half a back walkover, catch the clubs on the ball of her foot, kicks them back into the air and then stands up as though from a front walkover. Love the routine’s funky, kind-of-Asian choice of music, her uninhabited choreo, the big smile on her face.

Dina Averina, Russia, Ribbon

This new routine to “Une Vie d’Amour” by Charles Aznavour and Mireille Mathieu represents a big jump in elegance for Dina. Elegance is not something that has been associated with the Averina twins to this point, but it’s not something they’ve gone for much, either. With this routine, Dina signals the opening of a new chapter in her artistic evolution.

Daria Trubnikova, Russia, Ball

The 2018 Youth Olympic champion is a rising star. In her first foray into the senior ranks here, she finished fifth among the Russians in the all-around, which probably doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment but is. Supreme elegance and great facial expressions in this wonderfully delivered “There Was A Boy” from Moulin Rouge.

Neviana Vladinova, Bulgaria, Clubs:

This is a routine that should serve the Bulgarian firecracker very well in the coming year. It has everything: feisty Spanish choreography and deeply interesting and original throws and catches.

Anastastia Salos, Belarus, Hoop:

A folksy, Flamenco version of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is a perfect fit for this emerging personality. Salos has been given the moniker “Belarus’s Little Princess,” and this routine belies both her youth and charm. Salos seems capable of routines that are far more avant-garde and envelope-pushing than she’s currently showing, but at the same time it will be a delight to watch her continue to mature.

Arina Averina, Russia, Hoop

An absolutely classic piece of Russian rhythmic with huge throws and confident catches. Leading with this is sure to get her competitions off to a good start.