The 2012 Russian Olympic TeamIt has been a long time since Russia won Gold as a team at the Olympic Games. In fact you have to go as far back as 1992 when the Unified Team took Gold in Barcelona. They have achieved two Silvers and a Bronze since then, but failed to medal at all in 2008 in Beijing. So what are the hopes and expectations for the team as they head into London 2012?
Russia have improved their team results since 2008, taking Gold at the 2010 World Championships and Silver in 2011. They have always been successful in Europe and have medalled at every European Championships team event for over fifteen years. They took Gold at the 2011 European Championships but were disappointed to come second to Romania earlier this year. But with the team that they are taking to London I believe they are strongly in medal contention at this year's Olympics.
Aliya is one of the gymnasts that I am most looking forward to seeing in London. Her style and poise make all of her routines wonderful to watch as well as including spectacular difficulty. In 2010 she became World Champion winning the all around competition by scoring over 1.300 more than 2nd place Jiang Yuyan. She looked set to continue dominating the field at the 2011 European Championships, qualifying comfortably in 1st place, but tore her ACL on the first event in the all around final. There were doubts about her being able to recover in time for the Olympics but she has proved her strength and determination by returning to international competition earlier this year. She seemed to struggle somewhat in qualification at the 2012 European Championships but went on to perform brilliantly in the team final, especially on vault and bars. Time seems to be the main factor for Aliya - has she had long enough since her injury to get herself back to full difficulty and full confidence? I certainly hope so, she is a beautiful gymnast to watch and I would love to see her do well in London.
After a very successful junior career, Viktoria turned senior in 2011. Unfortunately she started her senior career with an ankle injury which she had sustained towards the end of 2010. She did not compete at the 2011 European Championships due to the injury, and eventually underwent surgery in May 2011 and started full training again in the July. Her first major international competition as a senior was the 2011 World Championships. She qualified 1st all around and was clearly upset with her Silver medal finish in the all around final, finishing just 0.033 behind Jordyn Wieber. She qualified to three of the four event finals, taking Gold on the bars. Although she performed well at the World Championships, personally I thought she looked somewhat tired throughout. It was clear that there was more to come from her but I feel that time had been against her when recovering from her injury. By the 2012 European Championships Viktoria was looking much healthier. She performed only on bars and beam and made the apparatus finals on both these events, finishing 6th on beam and taking the Gold medal on bars. I feel sure we will be seeing great things from her this summer.
At the age of 20, this will be Ksenia's second Olympic Games having competed in Beijing in 2008. Although she qualified in 6th place to the 2008 all around final she was unable to compete as two of her team mates had placed higher than her. In 2009 she competed at the European Championships where she took the Silver medal in the all around competition. Unfortunately, injury prevented her from competing at the 2009 World Championships. In the 2010 World Championships Ksenia helped the team to take the Gold medal, posting the highest floor score of the whole team competition, but failed to medal in the floor final, finishing 8th. In the 2011 World Championships she qualified to the all around final where she finished 7th. Only a second reserve for the floor final, she nevertheless competed due to two withdrawals and managed to take the Gold medal. She is capable of some beautiful work and I really hope that she performs consistently in London.
Anastasia is a first year senior, and made her international senior debut at the 2012 European Championships. She was the only member of the Russian team to perform on all four pieces of apparatus. She performed cleanly both in qualification and the team final, helping the team to take 2nd place behind Romania. Although there was no all around final, the scores she posted in the team final gave her the highest all around score. She qualified to three of the four event finals, finishing 5th on vault, 4th on beam and 2nd on bars. This young gymnast has a lot of potential and I am sure she will do well in the Olympics.
Maria turned senior in 2011 and has the least senior international experience of all the girls in the team. She is known for her vaulting and in fact this was the only apparatus she performed on at the 2012 European Championships. This has been her only major senior international competition so far. She has upgraded her vault since then and is now training the extremely difficult Amanar vault which will help the team score greatly in London.
I feel that the Russian team can go two ways in the London 2012 Olympics. If every team member is fully fit and performs consistently they are definite medal contenders. However, injuries and inconsistencies do seem to be plaguing the Russians at the moment and it could be possible that they finish much lower down the rankings than they would hope for. I would love to see them all performing cleanly as it will make for an excellent competition - and they are all capable of some exceptional routines.