Russia Names Olympic Squads; Women Await Afanasyeva
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Russia announced the makeup of its 2016 Olympic teams following the conclusion of the Russian Cup on Sunday in Penza, although the women's lineup may change depending on the health of two-time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva. Pictured: World and Olympic champion Aliya Mustafina

Russia announced the makeup of its 2016 Olympic teams following the conclusion of the Russian Cup on Sunday in Penza, although the women's lineup may change depending on the health of two-time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva.

The Russian men and women both finished fourth at last fall's world championships in Glasgow and first at this spring's European championships in Bern. In Rio de Janeiro, Russia is expected to challenge for multiple medals, including in both the men's and women's team competitions.

Sixth at the 2012 Olympics, Russia plans to send the same men's team that won the European championship title in May: Denis Ablyazin, David Belvasky, Nikita Ignatyev, Nikolai Kuksenkov and Nikita Nagornyy. Ivan Stretovich and Vladislav Polyashov were named as alternates following strong performances in Penza where Polyashov finished second all-around to Kuksenkov and Stretovich won parallel bars and high bar.


Nikita Nagornyy (Russia)

Ablyazin was a double medalist at the 2012 Olympics in London, where he won the bronze medal on floor exercise and silver medal on vault. Belyavsky, the 2012 European all-around champion and current European champion on parallel bars, returns for a second Olympics.

Kuksenkov, the 2016 Russian national champion, competed for his native Ukraine in London but has represented Russia since 2013. Nagornyy and Ignatyev are making their Olympic debuts; Nagornyy won five medals (including three golds) at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, and is the current European champion on floor exercise.

The Russian women's team is currently Angelina Melnikova, Aliya Mustafina, Maria Paseka, Daria Spiridonova and Seda Tutkhalyan. The team is nearly identical to the European squad from Bern, where Afanasyeva competed instead of Paseka.

Afanasyeva is currently named as an alternate along with Russian Cup floor exercise champion Lilia Akhaimova. Russian Cup uneven bars champion Natalia Kapitonova also remains in the mix, said head coach Andrei Rodionenko.

Melnikova, who won the all-around titles at this year's Russian championships and Russian Cup, has emerged as one of the brightest hopes for Rio. Tutkhalyan, the 2014 Youth Olympic champion, has a high level of difficulty but her inconsistent performances leave her likely to be bumped in favor of Afanasyeva.

"The composition of the Russian women's gymnastics team has been settled for a long time in principle," Rodionenko said. "But a lot will depend on the health of Mustafina and Afanasyeva. The Olympics is a long competition, and we must make sure that they will be in shape the whole time."

The fate of Afanasyeva, who has suffered from a chronic ankle injury the past few years, will be decided next week. Afanasyeva underwent minor surgery to clean up the ankle last month in Germany, and the surgeon will travel to Moscow soon to evaluate whether she can realistically sustain the final push to the Olympics. Afanasyeva was Russia's team captain in London, where the women won the team silver. The 2011 world champion on floor exercise is greatly needed on her speciality, Russia's weakest apparatus.

Mustafina has been plagued by back and leg injuries, and missed the world championships in Glasgow with a torn meniscus. The 2010 world all-around champion was the most successful Russian athlete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she won four medals (gold on uneven bars, silver with the team, and bronzes in the all-around and on floor exercise), more than any other gymnast. She competed the all-around in Penza, finishing third, but was not 100 percent ready.

Paseka, who won the bronze medal on vault in London, heads to Rio as the reigning world champion on vault. Spiridonova was part of the unprecedented four-way tie for gold on uneven bars in Glasgow, along with teammate Viktoria Komova, China's Fan Yilin and American Madison Kocian.

Komova, the 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist, was forced to suspend training last month due to a back injury.

The Russian team plans to depart on July 24 for Rio de Janeiro, where competition begins on August 5. The Russian men compete in the third and final subdivision in qualification, and the women compete in the second of five subdivisions.

External Link: Russian Gymnastics Federation

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