Angelina Melnikova: "I felt like a nobody one second, and an Olympic champion the next"

The Olympic team gold medallist reflects on golden moment in 'All Around' finale: “My journey had to have a happy ending.”

By Scott Bregman
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

It all came down to one routine.

ROC’s Angelina Melnikova needed just over a 10.500 on floor exercise to clinch the women’s artistic gymnastics team gold medal at Tokyo 2020.

“When I walked up, I knew I was the last competitor,” Melnikova says in the season finale of the Olympic Channel series All Around, which is now streaming. “So, I thought, ‘Let’s do this.’”

She delivered.

Melnikova soared through four tumbling passes, including her opening full-twisting double layout, and easily earned enough to clinch the gold medal, tears forming in her eyes before she hit the final beat of the music.

“As soon as I landed [my final pass], I knew that we were Olympic champions,” said Melnikova. “I felt like a nobody one second, and an Olympic champion the next. It was an explosion of emotions. I wanted to cry, laugh, jump in the air.

“You feel so happy when you’ve given everything and are rewarded,” she continued.

Golden after heartbreak, hardship

ROC and Melnikova’s triumph in Tokyo is years in the making. The victory was the first for the national Olympic committee in women’s gymnastics since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia has finished second in the competition four times (1996, 2000, 2012, 2016) in recent years.

The win also ended a run of Team USA dominance, which had taken five-straight world team titles and golds at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Melnikova herself has faced heartbreak on the world stage. At Rio 2016, the newcomer came in with soaring expectations only to be marred with errors in the qualifying round. She missed all but the team final.

Two years later, Melnikova came within striking distance of her first global individual medals, finishing fifth in the all-around and a devastating fourth on the floor exercise at the 2018 World Championships. She missed out on a medal by just .033.

But it was the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, where a breakthrough occurred: Melnikova helped her team to silver, before claiming bronze in the all-around and floor exercise finals.

Her Tokyo medal haul (team gold, all-around and floor bronze) came after nearly a year-and-a-half of isolation at the Russian national training centre, which Melnikova has admitted was extremely difficult for her.

“At last! We have finally left the training centre. I can see people,” Melnikova jokes in the opening scene of the All Around finale as she and the rest of the ROC team prepared to fly to Tokyo.

An uncertain future

Since the Games, Melnikova’s life has been a whirlwind of everything from airport receptions and media appearances to a recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where she – and other Olympic champions – were awarded with new BMWs.

“It was overwhelming to land at the airport and be greeted by so many people,” she says. “It’s obviously really nice but when you’ve just been on a nine hour flight and have to do interviews and smile, when all you really want to do is sleep, it’s difficult.”

Though Melnikova has been named to the World Championships in October, she has repeatedly said she is not sure how her preparation will go. She has had limited training time since Tokyo and had to quarantine for a week prior to meeting Putin.

As for longer term goals, those are also in flux.

“I’ve definitely thought about not continuing until Paris 2024,” Melnikova said candidly in All Around. “I don’t know if I have it in me. I would never want to go through everything I experienced before Tokyo. It was really hard.”

Regardless of her future, Melnikova is at peace.

“I have this feeling of closure because the Olympics are the most important event for any athlete,” she says. “You have to be one hundred percent ready for it, and I was.

“I’ve been on such an incredible journey and at that moment, it all felt worthwhile,” Melnikova continued. “My journey had to have a happy ending.”