Moscow Grand Prix

Dina Averina, Russians reign over Moscow Rhythmic Grand Prix

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Led by two-time world all-around champion Dina Averina, Russia’s top rhythmic gymnasts monopolized the top of the podiums as the international season opened this past weekend at the Moscow Grand Prix.

The first Grand Prix of the year is the grand unveiling of new exercises by all competitors, and while certain foreign guest stars, notably rising Belarusian Anastasia Salos and Bulgarian Olympian Neviana Vladinova impressed, it was representatives of the host nation who held the crowd -- and the 75,000 or so who tuned in to watch the live stream -- rapt from beginning to end.

Home rule

Russia’s mighty rhythmic system has turned out champion after champion, and if Dina Averina is queen for today, no fewer than six of her teammates stand poised to assume her mantle. Trailing behind the younger Averina was her identical twin sister Arina, second; Aleksandra Soldatova, third; Ekaterina Selezneva, fourth; Daria Trubnikova, sixth; Irina Annenkova, eighth; and newcomer Anastasia Guzenkova ninth. This kind of court intrigue typically makes for fascinating competitions, but the main conclusion that emerged from Saturday’s all-around final is that Queen Dina’s throne is secure, at least for now.

The 20-year-old was astonishingly good for so early in the season, recording the highest scores of the day (including a pair of 22-somethings) for everything but ball. Her all-around total was a whopping 84.2 points, nearly three points higher than she scored to take her second world title in Sofia last September. Trailing in her wake was Arina, the 2018 European all-around champion, who scored 79.95 for second place. And this is where the plot starts to get interesting: although it was Averina 1-2 as usual, just 0.05 behind Arina came Soldatova, who has upset their plans of world domination more than once.

Soldatova as spoiler

It was Soldatova, whose glorious exhibition of virtuoso with the ribbon last fall (and not Arina’s widely publicized meltdown with the same apparatus) bumped Arina Averina out of the all-around final, and it is Soldatova who despite everything seems the most likely candidate to play spoiler again in 2019. The 20-year-old’s style, in contrast to the magic-trick dexterity of the twins, is a phenomenal, mature elegance -- so much so it’s hard to remember that she and the Averinas were born in the same year -- and while it may not be as well adapted to the current code of points in which difficulty is everything, Soldatova has found ways to play the game to her advantage. In Moscow, her lowest score of the day came with the ribbon, arguably her best event. While Dina and Arina didn’t look like they could get much better, Soldatova could be just warming up.

Soldatova’s achilles heel has always been consistency, and that too was on display last fall in Sofia, when, having wrested the coveted place in the all-around final from Arina Averina and even secured her first world title with the ribbon, she dropped the apparatus twice in the first 15 seconds of her first routine in the all-around final. It thereby being established that she would not actually challenge Dina Averina for gold, she settled down and hit for the rest of the night to earn bronze.

It’s not necessarily the big three, either. Just behind Soldatova is Selezneva, who has been quietly working her way up the reserves bench during the past few years. Her breakthrough Saturday was finishing fourth, just 0.2 behind Soldatova. With must-see, extremely well-planned exercises with the hoop, ball and clubs, Selezneva looks prepared for almost anything, provided she can just deliver the routines she planned. But for a few mistakes here and there Saturday, she would have been on the podium over Soldatova.

Best of the rest

With a top-five finish in Moscow, rising star Anastasia Salos of Belarus continued to prove herself as the next big star from her country, one of the only ones to really challenge Russia’s absolute domination. Salos had the third-best score of the day with the hoop (21.35), an impressive feat in this field. Bulgaria’s Neviana Vladinova, seventh, rebounded from disappointment at the Sofia Worlds and looked focused and strong in Moscow. A pair of fan favorites, 2016 Olympians Salome Pazhava of Georgia and Kaho Minagawa of Japan, finished 10th and 11th respectively, each showing a flash of brilliance (for Pazhava, it was her new hoop routine to Woodkid’s “Run Boy Run,” while Minagawa was magisterial with the ball) and one blown routine (Pazhava: ball, Minagawa: ribbon).

Group love

Though Russia’s group appeared less prepared than its individuals, it still managed to carry away the all-around title. This was less due to prowess on Russia’s part -- though the group’s new 3+2 was carried off quite well -- than the fact that every team had at least one botched performance. Japan, Uzbekistan, Israel and Azerbaijan finished below them in the standings, while several Russian regional teams, including an impressive group from Omsk, put up technically sound and highly entertaining performances.

The problems Russia suppressed to win the overall title surfaced in Sunday’s Grand Prix final, where the top team in the world couldn’t get any higher than the bottom step of the podium. Honors went instead to Japan for both 5 Ball and 3+2, with Israel finishing second with both apparatus. It’s early days yet, but the biggest threats to Russia’s supremacy at the world and Olympic level now appear to come from the land of the rising sun, which stages its own Olympic Games in just 18 months.

2019 Grand Prix Moscow Play-by-Play/Results: Apparatus Finals

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Hoop final:

Kaho Minagawa, Japan: Sheer, floating-on-clouds elegance is what we’ve come to expect from Kaho Minagawa over the years, and she delivers! Her new hoop routine is a symphony of softness and light. Beautiful. 19.4.

Anastasia Salos, Belarus: Loses the hoop briefly twice during a folksy, Spanish guitarified version of Vivaldi’s “Spring”. A bit overexcited after her fifth place AA finish yesterday, perhaps. You can’t win ‘em all. 18.0.

Neviana Vladinova, Bulgaria: High drama with the music and very quick work with the hoop. A couple of awkward moments in this performance, though. Neviana looks a tad sheepish saluting the judges. 18.35.

Salome Pazhava, Georgia: Nobody does theatricality better. This new routine to Woodkid’s “Run Boy Run” is a winner. Finishes a little behind the music, but nobody but the judges will care. 19.3.

Dina Averina, Russia: And the crowd goes wild! People have been commenting all week on the improved quality of her execution, and it’s evident in this jazzy new routine. Perhaps the tricks are always going to take precedence with the Averina twins, but you can’t deny the difficulty or the quality of this set. 21.8.

Arina Averina, Russia: “Don Quixote” this year for Arina with the hoop. Like her twin, execution-wise she’s improved greatly during the past few months. Not a perfect routine -- had to improvise in two places, it seemed -- but a nice one all the same. 21.45.

Nicol Voronkov, Israel: Had an excellent routine going until the last 20 seconds when she overcast a throw that she had to chase out of bounds, then dropped the hoop. The first 70 seconds were terrific, however. 16.25.

Yuliana Telegina, Israel: Sleek, dramatic routine, well done. Does not suffer the same misfortunes as her teammate. 18.25.

Results:

GOLD - Dina Averina, RUS
SILVER - Arina Averina, RUS
BRONZE - Kaho Minagawa, JPN
4. Salome Pazhava, GEO
5. Neviana Vladinova, BUL
6. Yuliana Telegina, ISR
7. Anastasia Salos, BLR
8. Nicol Voronkov, ISR

Ball:

Anastasia Salos, Belarus: Spends the second half of the routine chasing the ball around the carpet. Oh dear...having some trouble controlling her difficulty today. 13.4.

Sabina Tashkenbaeva, Uzbekistan: Pretty work but several control errors in this routine to Pink Martini’s “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love.” 14.8.

Rebecca Gergalo, Finland: Most gymnasts opt for soft and pretty with the ball, but Gergalo goes for a far more aggressive, sultry approach to “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” Best routine so far. 17.85.

Nicol Voronkov, Israel: Beautiful routine from a gymnast developing a style all her own. Much better than her effort with the hoop. 18.05.

Kaho Minagawa, Japan: More signature loveliness. Too bad about losing the ball on her very first element. 17.85.

Neviana Vladinova, Bulgaria: “In the Army Now” -- her one holdover from 2018. A thoroughly enjoyable, highly entertaining routine, punctuated by Vladinova’s quick acrobatics and showmanship. 19.6.

Ekaterina Selezneva, Russia: A big moment for her if she can manage to hold her opening pose. (Takes two tries -- granted, her leg is above her head and the ball is perched on her foot. And she’s on tiptoe.) That done, she delivers an enchanting routine. A gymnast to watch. 20.23.

Dina Averina, Russia: More magic from Dina on an event that’s proven to be her most artistic apparatus. After last year’s Stravinsky, this year’s effort is less in-your-face but no less lovely. 21.0.

GOLD - Dina Averina, RUS
SILVER - Ekaterina Selezneva, RUS
BRONZE - Neviana Vladinova, BUL
4. Nicol Voronkov, ISR
5. Kaho Minagawa, JPN
6. Rebecca Gergalo, FIN
7. Sabina Tashkenbaeva, UZB
8. Anastasia Salos, BLR

Clubs:

Aleksandra Soldatova, Russia: One thing about Soldatova is that unlike some of the others, she’s not too adept at covering up her errors -- when she makes one, as she did on her first backspin, it’s obvious. Not her best effort, perhaps, but the judges reward it with 19.7 all the same.

Neviana Vladinova, Bulgaria: Two dropped clubs in this routine, but this fast-paced Spanish number has so much potential! Everyone’s been performing so well that it’s hard to remember it’s February. 17.45.

Nicol Voronkov, Israel: Another very capable set from Voronkov, 11th in the AA yesterday. 18.45.

Kaho Minagawa, Japan: With “McCavity” from Cats, Kaho goes cabaret. 18.4.

Ekaterina Vedeneeva, Slovenia: The former Russian national team member returns to Moscow to show off her Russian training. Enjoyable performance for 16.7.

Anastasia Salos, Belarus: Several drops in this routine to “Rebel Just For Kicks.” It’s really not her day. 14.3.

Dina Averina, Russia: Seven routines in, Dina finally makes a couple of palpable mistakes, but like at last year’s Worlds in this event, she has so much difficulty packed into this exercise it basically doesn’t matter. This routine, to Azerbaijani singer Arash’s “Temptation” (a nod to Worlds being in Baku this year), is most likely to become the her 2019 routine. 19.3.

Salome Pazhava, Georgia: Speaking of iconic routines, after two years as the Joker with the clubs, Pazhava has gone in an entirely different direction. Her new clubs set is to a melodic, almost melancholic duet to “California Dreaming” and it’s so smooth she almost seems to be ice skating rather than dancing on a carpet. Judges love it too: 19.2.

GOLD - Aleksandra Soldatova, RUS
SILVER - Dina Averina, RUS
BRONZE - Salome Pazhava, GEO
4. Nicol Voronkov, ISR
5. Kaho Minagawa, JPN
6. Neviana Vladinova, BUL
7. Ekaterina Selezneeva, SLO
8. Anastasia Salos, BLR

Ribbon:

Yuliana Telegina, Israel: A routine out of a fairy tale, right down to the rainbow ribbon. 16.8.

Salome Pazhava, Georgia: Classic Pazhava -- a wonderfully constructed routine pulled off with her special aplomb, but two drops of the apparatus.The day Pazhava puts it all together, as she did several times in 2015, the year she was fourth in the world in the all-around, will be a great day indeed. 14.55.

Arina Averina, Russia: Arina looks none too joyous after this dramatic, rather heavy piano piece with the ribbon, but the judges liked it. 20.3.

Anastasia Salos, Belarus: The most serious routine in Salos’s repertoire is also the one she’s performed best in her four finals today. Watching it is like fast-forwarding to the competitor she’ll be in a few years. 17.95.

Sabina Tashkenbaeva, Uzbekistan: A beat-driven ribbon routine closes out Tashkenbaeva’s day here. Essentially one drop. 16.4.

Kaho Minagawa, Japan: The apparatus best suited to her expression and movement, this routine (a holdover from last year) is as enchanting as ever. When she does it well, it’s transportive. Unfortunately this time there was a knot in the ribbon at the beginning and a drop toward the end. Even so, it barely detracted from the performance quality. 16.8.

Neviana Vladinova, Bulgaria: Dramatic presentation. 16.75.

Dina Averina, Russia: 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. As noted, Dina’s been making presentation strides. 19.45.

GOLD - Arina Averina, RUS
SILVER - Dina Averina, RUS
BRONZE - Anastasia Salos, BLR
4. Yuliana Telegina, ISR
4. Kaho Minagawa, JPN
6. Neviana Vladinova, BUL
7. Sabina Tashkenbaeva, UZB
8. Salome Pazhava, GEO