Up-and-coming juniors Part I: Russia and Romania
Posted October 1, 2008on:
With this quadrennium winding down, and speculation still flying about who will continue — Cheng Fei? Shawn Johnson? Nastia Liukin? Anna Pavlova? Jade Barbosa? — the big question is, who is the next big thing?
I addressed some of my preliminary guesses for the Americans, who have a great crop of juniors. But The Couch Gymnast has an absolutely great round-up of some of the top gymnasts from other countries. Definitely a must-read, especially if you don’t usually follow the juniors.
Below I give my top three picks for current juniors from all of the major countries. It doesn’t include recent additions to the senior roster, who will also be major players in the next quad (people like Daria Elizarova, the 2007 junior European champion, who was bumped from the Beijing line-up to alternate).
Pretty much every gymnast on this list, however, faces one major problem: big skills with less-than-stellar execution. Nearly everyone here tends to be pretty sloppy, which is going to be a much bigger problem in the new Code, which is clearly an attempt to mitigate the effect of large skills. It’ll be interesting to see what their respect coaches do about this. Finally, although this is fairly common among juniors, their vaults lag behind their other events — here’s hoping they can all concentrate on this (especially with reference to form) a little more.
Today: Russia and Romania
1. Tatiana Nabieva (RUS)
This one’s easy. Nabieva, who won’t even be eligible for senior competition until 2010, placed first in the AA at the junior Europeans, and qualified to all of the event finals, taking gold on floor and silver on beam, vault and bars. She’s been around the international scene since 2003, at the age of 9! She’s progressed from being an adorable pixie-type gymnast to having a really graceful body type and great form. I am most impressed by her UB — she was cleaner at Europeans than Dufournet, who took first. She has great handstand positions, clean lines, great transitions, including a nice Pak. Her FX is still a little sloppy, but she nailed her double Arabian without cowboying it, and often sticks her triple twist, which at Europeans was a 2.5 twist. She’s got a pretty decent front with a half on beam and her leaps on beam are good. Her VT is probably her weakest event right now, with inconsistent form in the air (then again, she still placed second at Europeans). She’s neither way on the graceful side nor way on the powerful side, but this actually means that she’s a balanced gymnast — good tumbling and dance, maybe a la Anna Pavlova. She hasn’t been around at many other competitions — she was not, for instance, at Gymnix 2008, but in 2007 at that event she placed first in the AA and medalled in every EF, taking first on bars. This is one major AA threat.
Aliya Mustafina (RUS)
Mustafina is a dancer’s gymnast. She’s still a little immature on floor, and needs to grow into her choreography a little, but her dance already exhibits beautiful lines and hints of graceful greatness. I love gymnasts of the Shawn Johnson variety — I tend to prefer them — but Mustafina totally won me over. She needs to beef up her FX tumbling skills level, which explains a fourth-place finish on that event at Europeans, but she is amazingly graceful. I would say she will eventually have Nastia Liukin beat on this front, because I think Mustafina can manage to pull out some clean and elegant tumbling too. Because she’s a slightly less powerful gymnast, Mustafina is also not totally competitive on VT yet, in terms of constistency, where she competes a 1.5 Yurchenko. But I think she has the potential to do it like Liukin does — stuck, with perfect form in the air. On BB she shows great flexibility and has some nice strength moves. And for all the talk of her having fewer big tumbling skills, she does a standing back with a half — not too shabby. On UB, she has — unsurprisingly — nice lines, and good pirouetting skills. She has a tendency to arch in handstand though, which I think is a result of trying to make them too perfect — this happened to Liukin once, notoriously (I think in 2007 Nationals, but I could be wrong). At Europeans she qualified only to two EFs, placing fourth in both. In 2007, she was second to Nabieva at Gymnix and placed second on every event at the International Junior competition in Yokohama in 2007 (to Rebecca Bross, who swept gold in the AA and all four EFs). Overall, gorgeous gymnast.
3. Viktoriya Komova
If I were Elfi Schlegel, I would start here by mentioning how Viktoriya Komova is the daughter of Soviet gymnast Vera Kolesnikova, and therefore has loads of gymnastics DNA. Instead, let’s talk about how Komova placed third at Pacific Rim and the WOGA Classic this year. She also qualified for all four EFs at Pacific Rim, though she finished out of the medals in all of them (and the dreaded fourth in two of these). Her best event may be the vault, where she does a strong but inconsistent DTY. Her floor is not too shabby either — it includes a 1.5 twist to double Arabian and a triple twist dismount, and actual choreography that her dance actually stands up to. Again, some problems with consistency — two falls at WOGA — but if she gets rid of those, she’ll be a powerhouse. Her BB is packed with difficulty, including handspring to two layouts and a standing Arabian. She’s a high jumper too. She’s actually solid and aggressive on bars too, where she does a big piked Jaeger and a nice Geinger. A great all-around gymnast. Incidentally, she’s only thirteen.
The tiny Anastasia Grishina is up first here because, well, she’s strong and talented and … twelve. She placed second among juniors at the 2007 Friendship Classic and sixth at Gymnix 2008. She also won the 11-14 Russian all-around competition in 2007 (none of the above three participated). At Gymnix 2008, Grishina’s biggest international event so far, she placed second on bars, fourth on beam and fifth on floor in EFs. On UB she struggles on her low-to-high transition, but she also is generally aggressive and does a high-flying Tkatchev to Pak. Even in the past year she has improved tremendously on floor, and is quite graceful and shows good flexibility, though she needs to up the difficulty a bit.
Grishina’s my pick for the biggest stand-out beyond the three I’ve already mentioned, but I’d also add Violetta Malikova, one of the Russian juniors at the Pacific Rim Championships in 2008, and Eleonora Goryunova, who placed eighth at Gymnix 2008. Malikova is a solid gymnast. On BB, she has a strong Arabian and good, light tumbling. She actually qualified to UB finals at the Pacific Rim, but after a form break on her Tkatchev to Pak and a fall on the dismount, she finished in seventh. So far, my favorite event for her is FX, where she has a strong, expressive routine, and almost always completes her twists. Goryunova is not a stand-out in terms of scores on any event quite yet, but she is competitive on all four of them, and qualified to EFs in three of these at Gymnix. But I think eventually she will be an excellent floor worker. She has superb dance and choreography, but unlike the other young Russians, also throws big skills, including a 5/2 twist to punch layout front. Incidentally, Malikova and Goryunova finished second and third, respectively, to Grishina at the Moscow Championships last year.
Finally, there are three other Russians who participated at Europeans, all of whom deserve mention: Anastasia Novikova, Anna Dementyeva, and Tatiana Solovyeva. All three placed strongly at last year’s Moscow Championships, with Novikova and Dementyeva placing second and third on vault after Nabieva, and Dementyeva taking second and third on FX and BB, respectively. Solovyeva is an excellent beam worker (though not at the level of Mustafina and Nabieva — though she did place third at Moscow Championships), and Dementyeva is actually a reasonably good bar worker.
ETA 10/7: I should also mention the sister of Mustafina, Nailya Mustafina, who placed third at Gymnix this year, and 12th at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships. She also placed second (to Bross, suffering her sister’s fate there!) at the 2008 WOGA Classic, beating Komova, who placed third. She is also only 12, but will be eligible for senior competition for the 2012 Olympics. She is more compact and stronger than her sister. On BB, she does a back handspring to back with a full. Despite falling on this skill at WOGA, she wound up with a 15.600. She also outscored Bross on FX. Her floor is unbelievable, especially for her age (great combination twists).
The Russian team:
This was the easiest ranking to do because the Russian juniors, led by Nabieva, are unbelievably strong. These gymnasts are not only talented, they have international experience, which makes a direct national ranking less important. Nabieva has routinely beaten Mustafina, mainly because her difficulty levels are higher, although actually — and especially compared to many other juniors — Nabieva has quite good form. The one problem I can see is that there are not as many Russian juniors floating around internationally as there are even Romanians. Either way, these three are excellent — all operating at least on some events at a senior level. Perhaps more importantly, the junior Russians participate internally in a number of competitions that include things like compulsories and work on a single bar, which give them a lot of work on basics at a high level of competition that other girls in other countries simply don’t have. Providing they stay healthy, I think we might need to acknowledge the resurgence of the “Russian threat,” especially if people like Semenova and Afanasyeva stick around. They also have a talented crop of very young juniors, including Grishina, who will be of the perfect age for 2012.
1. Amelia Racea:
Racea’s one of the only juniors of note on the Romanian team right now, which is a major problem. She placed fourth at this year’s Europeans, taking second on balance beam and third on floor. She’s not the most graceful of gymnasts, but she’s got pretty big skills. Her floor reminds me of that of Daniela Druncea, which means good tumbling with light, stuck landings, and questionable dance. Her beam is similar, composed largely of acrobatic skills and fewer dance elements (this will be problematic with the new code). Floor and beam are her best events, but she’s decent on vault too. In fact, in addition to taking the all-around title in Category II (1993-1995 births) in the Romanian junior nationals last year in September, she took gold on all three of those events. On UB she is Romanian — by which I mean low-scoring — but, in the only routine I’ve seen of hers (from Jesolo 2008), she actually had decent form and good handstand positions. UB is the only event in which she did not win gold — she took silver — last year, where her score also beat that of the Category I winner Diana Chelaru (see below). At the most recent Romanian Championships in Ploeisti, in July, she placed second to Chelaru on vault and second on beam. Unfortunately, like the other Romanians I’ll be discussing, she has limited international experience — in fact, it’s pretty much entirely from Europeans. Fortunately, though, she is on the younger side for this quad, so she still has time.
2. Ana Porgras
Porgras placed ninth at Europeans, and second to Diana Chelaru in Category I last year. She also had the highest score in team finals of any Romanian at Jesolo, and placed eighth (the highest Romanian placement) in the all-around. Porgras placed second on floor and first on UB and BB in the Junior Nationals in 2007, with a massive 16.450 on BB (she also won BB event finals at this year’s Europeans, with a 15.700). Her floor is solid, and I really appreciate that she flies high (instead of far) on her twists. My standards for Romanian bars are tremendously low right now (see below) so I’m quite pleased that she has decent form and only the occasional loss of tightness in her back. She’s not the biggest daredevil on BB, but she does the really nice Romanian-style acrobatics, combined with a fair amount of grace. She does one of the best aerials to arabesques of anyone, junior or senior, on the Romanian team (even though I’m not a huge fan of that skill). She looks like a senior on this apparatus. It’s not clear to me, however, where she was during Championships in early summer 2008. Here’s hoping she’s not seriously injured.
3. Diana Chelaru:
Chelaru was last year’s Category I champion in Romania, though she later scratched on event finals because of an injury. This year at the Romanian Championships, she placed first on vault and qualified to the other three event finals, proceeding then to place dead last in two of them. Not sure what was going on there. Chelaru has little international experience, which is a major problem. She actually was not at Europeans, and did not place at Jesolo. She was, however, the third highest-scoring Romanian at that competition in team finals, after Racea and Porgras, and was the only Romanian to compete at DTY. Presumably, the other juniors will be updating their vaults eventually, and I’m thinking Chelaru could go up to an Amanar. Chelaru’s also solid on beam and floor — though she needs to clean up her landings on the latter — and is prepared to compete on all four events, which is unfortunately more than I can say for the other Romanians below. Her weakest event, unsurprisingly, is bars — she scored only a 13.500 on that event at last year’s Nationals, and had major errors plus an A-score of 5.000 that gave her an 11.200 on that event at Jesolo.
There are some interesting Romanians lurking around, but like the three I have already mentioned, they have limited international experience.
Larisa Iordache won Category III (1995-1997 births) last year. She’s tiny, and extremely young (she turned 12 in June), so it’s hard to say how she will hold up, but so far she shows amazing potential. We didn’t see too much of her at Nationals this year, but she did have the second-highest overall score on her Dinamo team during team finals (after Elena Chiric, a senior). She’s also among the more polished of these gymnasts, with especially nice form — and flexibility — on floor (where she placed second in 2007) and beam (first). She actually reminds me of a young Andreea Raducan.
Loredana Sabau, who placed third in Category I last year, was also strong, taking first on floor and vault and second on beam and bars. At this year’s Nationals, however, she only placed in one event final — third on bars — though she did compete respectably for Deva in team finals. She has not really shined yet in international competition, with a disastrous 11.700 on bars (B-score in the fives — she lost her swing on a giant, ending in a dead hang not once but twice) keeping her out of finals in Jesolo, and a sixth-place finish at Europeans (with only one qualification to EFs, on floor). Honestly, her floor is pretty terrible right now on dance, but she has good form in tumbling, particularly twists. Good form (and Dominique Moceanu’s mount!) but a lot of balance checks on BB.
Finally I would mention Diana Trenca and Madalina Neagu. Trenca placed second to Racea in Category II last year, and took two silvers, one bronze and one gold (on bars) in event finals. This year, at Nationals, she took second on bars among all juniors. In fact, I would say she’s probably the best bars worker among Romania’s juniors (though she had a major mistake at Jesolo. Neagu is a floor specialist, though she also placed second all-around in Category III last year. She has won both FX finals she has competed in Romania, and apparently got the biggest reaction from the crowd of any performance at Junior Nationals in 2007. She’s dynamic and only needs a little work on expressiveness. She’s also no slouch on other events, placing in EFs on both beam and bars (though the bars thing is relative).
The Romanian team:
I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Romanian team, and I am seriously concerned about them. To be fair, their juniors rarely see the light of day before they become seniors, so the lack of international experience may not be so terrible. On the other hand, their juniors are exhibiting the Druncea symptom slightly — precise, big skills with almost no style (exceptions include many of the ones listed here, including Iordache and Neagu). The biggest problem here is going to be bars. Recently a big problem for this team has been that they have not kept up with the trends in bars. But from what I’ve seen of these juniors, the problems go much deeper — in Jesolo and at the Pre-Olympic Youth Cup in Bergisch-Gladbach (GER) we saw major form break after form break, falls, dead hangs, extra swings — and this from the girls I have mentioned here, including Neagu and Sabau. Really bad news.
Still to come: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, United States
Up next: France and China