Katsiaryna Halkina

Outlasting Linoy Ashram, Dina Averina takes all-around gold at European Games

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Consistency carried two-time world champion Dina Averina to the European Games all-around title Saturday in Minsk, the 20-year-old’s mastery of the extraordinary difficulty that packs her routines helping her outlast her Israeli rival Linoy Ashram, the only gymnast in the world who has been able to challenge the Averina supremacy in rhythmic gymnastics.

Even without the in-competition support of her identical twin Arina, Dina, a master of apparatus difficulty (a rhythmic vocabulary word that basically means ‘tricks with the apparatus’) glided and shimmied her way through four impressively tough performances to further gild her legacy as the top rhythmic gymnast of the quadrennium.

A stand-in for her sister, who was originally tapped to represent Russia in Minsk, Dina went about the competition with her typical businesslike manner, consistently and unapologetically showing a difficulty level second to none among the world’s elite rhythmic gymnasts and being richly rewarded for it by the judges, employing a code of points that rewards difficulty more than artistic merit.

Her best score of the day, a mammoth 23.6, came for her performance to an orchestral medley with the ball. A dropped club on what is usually her strongest apparatus was the only flaw in an otherwise faultless overall performance where she tallied a total score of 87.75 points.

Ashram, the only gymnast who has proven capable of challenging Averina on a good day, nearly pulled off an upset. The 20-year-old danced effortlessly through her extraordinary difficulty through the first three apparatus to accumulate a 2.3 point lead over Averina, only to give the lead away after a meltdown with the ribbon in her final routine. Her 17.45 — for a total of 84.7 — did assure her the silver, and even earned her the final spot in Sunday’s hoop final.

“I have a mix of satisfaction and disappointment about today’s performance,” said the affable Ashram, whose 23.3 with the clubs was the high score of her meet. The silver, in any case, is “a positive result,” she added.

Belarusan star Katsiaryna Halkina started slowly but built as the day went on, charming with her signature quirky elegance to finish with bronze four years after compatriot Melitina Staniouta achieved the same result at the inaugural European Games in Baku. Halkina’s 79.3 was enough to hold off the surging Alexandra Agiurgiuculese of Italy (77.95), a double bronze medalist from the 2018 World Championships.

Ukraine’s Vlada Nikolchenko, just 16 and right in the thick of the bronze medal race throughout the day, settled for fifth with 77.875 after numerous problems in her last routine with the ribbon, though her 22.4 with the hoop was the top score of the day with that apparatus.

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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