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Nikita Ignatyev becomes Russia Cup champion!

Nikita Ignatyev with the top six gymnasts at Russia Cup this year.  Left to right - Roman Suetin (6th), Ivan Stretovich (5th), David Belyavski (2nd), Nikita Ignatyev, Mikhail Kudashov (3rd), Daniil Kazachkov (4th).  Courtesy RGF


Nikita, a promising all arounder who has built his strength gradually from one competition to the next, is a repeat national level champion, having won the spring Russian Championships in 2012.  His win here was earned thanks to consistent performance.  His nearest rival, the occasionally brilliant David Belyavski, made too many mistakes to take the gold.  

1991 born Mikhail Kudashov from Chelyabinsk, in third place, is one of Russia's 'reserve' gymnasts, unlikely to make the final line up for Nanning thanks to the prevalence of event specialists on the team. A noteable newcomer to the all around line up is fifth placed Ivan Stretovich, 1996 born and so due to progress to the senior team in 2015 alongside such youngsters as Artur Dalolyan and Nikita Nagorny.  

Full results can be found at www.sportgymrus.ru and for those of you with good eyesight I am attaching screen captures.

The specialists, who this time around include Nikolai Kuksenkov who is battling back problems and so didn't work all around here, are central to the team that is preparing for the Rio Olympics.  In a recent interview, head coach Valery Alfosov emphasised the special physical requirements of particular apparatus, how a variety of different physiques and talents were required by the different apparatus, and how all around gymnasts were becoming increasingly rare (if also essential).  He said that the young Russian coaches are constantly investigating and researching how rival countries, for example Japan and China, are working, and that they try to incorporate the best ideas in their training regimes.  

It can be seen clearly that Russia's strategy has changed gradually over the years from all around- to event specialist-driven.  Specialists like Anton Golotsutskov and Evgeny Pluzhnikov, once the icing on the cake of Russia's all around tradition, have been replaced with ever higher profile specialists such as Denis Ablyazin and Alexander Baladin, who have now become central to Russia's success; the specialists are now the cake rather than the icing.  Specialist Ablyazin is the big gold medal winning star in Russia, rather than the all arounder Belyavsky.   This reflects a change in the sport globally.

Relying on specialists creates all sorts of problems with team selection, especially in qualifications; with different gymnasts specialising on one or two apparatus only, and six apparatus to cover, such talent as pommel horse guru Mattvei Petrov can find themselves left off World Championships teams.  The principle follows through in women's gymnastics : this is doubtless what is behind Rodionenko's requirement that the girls contribute to a minimum of two apparatus, and the same rule for the men explains Balandin's attempts to establish himself as a parallel bars wizard.

Head MAG coach Valery Alfosov has set a very clear team strategy 


Alfosov says that these upcoming World Championships are really only vital to ensure qualification for next year's competition, which will qualify the team to the Olympic Games in Rio, the end target of all their work.  At present, I would add that results could be seen as potentially rather hit and miss, dependent to a large part on the likes of Denis Ablyazin remaining healthy and well motivated.  Russia's fortunes have already taken a bit of a blow as rings specialist Balandin has surgery for a shoulder injury, and will miss this competition, but his absence could make room for Mattvei Petrov who, as we mentioned earlier, may otherwise find himself in the sidelines.  Alfosov's full interview can be found at http://www.sport-express.ru/velena/reviews/47798/

The strategy that Alfosov describes could reap some very good results ultimately, especially if the up and coming juniors he mentioned (Stretovich, Dalolyan, Potapov and Britan, with Nagorny a year younger) can transition to senior level well and bring their strengths to bear - for example, Britan is a talented high bar worker.  Russia does need reserves to add depth to its scoring and to tide them through the inevitable injury crises that are so much a part of the sport today.  

While Britain's team of consistent all arounders (and impressive upcoming juniors) can perform rather more predictably than Russia, and barring disaster are currently unlikely to finish out of the top five teams in the world, Russia's performance can be volatile.  But the day Russia gets it all together could be a spectacular one as they challenge not only for bronze as a team and medals in the event finals, but also begin to fight with Japan and China.  Things develop more slowly in MAG than in WAG, and this won't happen overnight.  There will be ups and downs, but clearly Alfosov knows where his team is going.





The specialists scored reasonably well, including a stellar Kuksenkov with 15.3, 15.15 and 15.05 respectively on pommels, parallel bars and high bar.  Alfosov mentioned that Kuksenkov is working on a 7 D value on pommel horse - this doesn't quite match British all arounder Max Whitlock's 7.2, but Russia are constantly researching and keeping an eye on their rivals.   Ablyazin managed 15.95, 15.8 and 15.4 on floor, rings and vault.  Pommels specialists Andrei Perevoznikov and Mattvei Petrov were rather disappointing with 14.65 and 14.5.  The event finals, and this afternoon's team finals, will give all the gymnasts a second chance to prove themselves.

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