What we learned from the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships

Dina Averina and Russia almost swept the board in Baku with Japan's group gymnasts preventing a clean sweep on the final day.

By Rory Jiwani

Five out of six ain't bad.

Dina Averina underlined her credentials as the woman to beat at Tokyo 2020 with a near-perfect haul at the 2019 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships.

Her only blemish came in the hoop where she took bronze behind team-mate Ekaterina Selezneva and Linoy Ashram.

Israeli athlete Ashram just missed out on the gold she craved in Baku, collecting four silvers and two bronze medals in an excellent week.

Dina's twin sister Arina won just two individual silver medals although one did come in the all-around where she just lost out to you know who.

Russia also took gold in the other Olympic discipline contested in the Azerbaijani capital, the group all-around, claiming their fourth consecutive world title.

'Demon' Dina wins Russian fight

Of the two Averina sisters, it is Dina who has had the greater success in recent times.

Since Arina took the all-around title at the 2018 European Championships in June last year, Dina has been the more dominant of the two.

And just as she did in Sofia 12 months ago, Dina won five golds - including a third consecutive all-around title - although this time she added a bronze for her best ever World Championships.

Arina fared slightly better than last year with two individual silvers rather than two bronze medals in addition to team gold.

The pair do almost everything together, including interviews.

After their one and two in the all-around, Arina told reporters they had cried "tears of happiness that this long marathon is finally over. Now we can breathe out."

Having previously revealed their pre-contest ritual, Dina admitted there was real apprehension ahead of the final competition of the week

She said, "We were silent today. Certainly we felt nervous. After all, it's the most important day. We tried not to bother each other."

Coach Irina Viner-Usmanova said afterwards that her girls "won Olympic gold and silver today".

But when asked about that quote, Dina quickly responded, "Not yet. It's only for today."

"Once you step down from the podium you are no-one. We keep working more, right from the start again. We have to think of something new and come up with a program that impresses everyone even more." - Dina Averina speaking after all-around victory at the 2019 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships

The identical twins - who when once asked to describe each other in one word gave the answers "angel" and "demon" - would perhaps still be favourites to go to Tokyo 2020 as Russia's two representatives.

But while Dina - injury permitting - looks a certainty to go to Japan, Ekaterina Selezneva has staked her claim to an Olympic berth after an impressive Worlds debut.

Called up just a week beforehand after an injury to 2018 ribbon world champion Aleksandra Soldatova, 24-year-old Selezneva won gold in the hoop and bronze in the ribbon.

She was delighted at her unexpected success and revealed exclusively to Olympic Channel that Soldatova had been quick to congratulate her on her success in Baku.

Selezneva says reaching Tokyo 2020 would be a dream, but insists she doesn't see the Averinas as rivals for an Olympic spot.

Ashram getting closer

Linoy Ashram may not have won her first world title in Baku, but she came very very close.

Three individual silvers, includlng losing out by just 0.100 to Selezneva in the hoop final, two bronze medals and another silver in the team event made it a week to remember for the Tel Aviv-based 20-year-old gymnast.

Now she can look forward to Tokyo 2020 knowing she has a shot at Israel's first Olympic medal in any gymnastics discipline.

The Olympics is solely an all-around event and, while Ashram was a bit behind the Averina twins here, she was over three points clear of Bulgaria's Boryana Kaleyn in fourth.

Olympic qualification update

The nationalities of 17 of the 26 participants in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic individual Rhythmic Gymnastics competition have now been decided.

The top 16 finishers in the all-around won quota spots for their countries meaning two places each for Russia, Israel, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Italy, the United States and Belarus and one apiece for Japan and Azerbaijan.

Kaho Minagawa's 13th in Baku meant Japan will not use their automatic hosts' allocation with that spot, subject to confirmation, going to Slovenia by virtue of Ekaterina Vedeneeva's 17th place.

Out of the remaining nine berths, three will be decided by the World Cup series, five by continental championships with one spot decided by the Tripartite Commission whose goal is to boost diversity and "universality" at the Games.

Evita Griskenas was the USA's top gymnast in eighth in the all-around and looks set to make her Olympic debut.

Here's what she said after being asked what appearing at the Games would mean to her.

Katsiaryna Halkina had a disappointing week by her standards, finishing eighth in the clubs after silver medals at the previous two World Championships, although she did help Belarus to bronze in the team event.

She finished 15th in the all-around, one place behind team-mate Anastasiia Salos, to clinch Belarus' second quota spot at Tokyo 2020.

The 22-year-old is on course to make her second Olympic Games appearance, and she spoke to Olympic Channel in Baku about her recovery from heart surgery at 14 to become a world-class athlete.

Introducing the 'Agi'

We all know about Simone Biles pioneering new moves named after her in artistic gymnastics.

But the same goes in rhythmic gymnastics and the 'Agi', named after Italian athlete Alexandra Agiurgiuculese, made its debut in the World Championships.

That made her the first Italian in the history of the sport to have an element bearing her name.

The 18-year-old performed the move in ball qualification although she failed to reach the final.

After finishing sixth in the hoop final, she told Olympic Channel all about it.

Russia retain group all-around title but Japan prevent clean sweep

Russian women made it seven golds out of seven with victory in Saturday's group all-around competition.

The team comprising Rio 2016 gold medallists Anastasiia Maksimova and Maria Tolkacheva plus Evgeniia Levanova, Anastasia Shishmakova and Anzhelika Stubailo were only third after the first discipline, the three hoops and two pairs of clubs.

But a season's best score of 30.000 in the five balls saw them take victory by 0.500 from Japan's quintet, who won their first silver in the all-around since 1975, with Bulgaria taking bronze.

Russia, Bulgaria and Italy had already qualified for Tokyo 2020 with Japan, Belarus, Israel, China and Azerbaijan joining them in the 14-strong field thanks to their performances in Baku.

Russia will be favourites to retain the Olympic group all-around title they have held since Sydney 2000, but it will be no foregone conclusion judging from the closeness of this event.

On Sunday, the Japanese five - Rie Matsubara, Sakura Noshitani, Sayuri Sugimoto, Ayuka Suzuki and Nanami Takenaka - stopped a Russian clean sweep of gold in Baku with victory in the five balls.

The timing could not have been better with Japan now serious contenders for gold at Tokyo 2020 having never won an Olympic medal in rhythmic gymnastics.

Bulgaria took the silver with Russia only third.

Normal service was resumed in the final event of the week, the three hoops and two pairs of clubs, with Russia taking gold ahead of Japan and Italy.


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