Aliya Mustafina and newly nationalized Russian citizen Nikolai Kuksenkov continued the Russian team’s gold medal march by winning the men’s and women’s all-around titles Tuesday in Kazan.
Mustafina, who has been battling the flu, looked weaker in the all-around final than she did during the women’s team final on Sunday. She stepped off the beam on her double turn (14.05), but a terrific bars set (15.2, the highest score of the competition) and a mistake-free floor exercise were enough to put her over teammate Ksenia Afanasyeva by just more than a point, 57.9-56.85.
In spite of all her talent and beautiful gymnastics, 21-year-old Afanasyeva has yet to win a major all-around title in international competition, but she came as close as she has yet in Kazan. (Indeed, this is her best finish in all-around competition since the 2009 Europeans, when she was second all-around to Ksenia Semyonova). Afanasyeva, a consummate team player who hits in team finals only to crumple when individual medals are on the line, had her own problems on beam (two near falls, 13.15), though she posted the highest marks of the final on floor (15.0) and vault (14.95 for an excellent double-twisting Yurchenko). With an Amanar possibly to debut later this season, Afanasyeva could become more of an all-around threat.
The battle for the bronze was mostly contested between Germany’s Kim Bui and Canada’s Ellie Black. Black had a chance to take it after solid performances on bars and especially beam (her 14.6 was the highest score of the day on that event), but fell on her second tumbling pass on floor (front layout full walkout to double tuck). Bui, meanwhile, hit clean sets on beam, where she mounted with a roundoff to two layout stepouts, and floor to finish with the bronze.
Black, Germany’s Lisa Hill and Britain’s Hannah Whelan, in her first international competition since the London Olympics, rounded out the top six.
Mexico’s Elsa Garcia looked like an early medal contenders as well, but falls on her pike Jaeger on bars (12.3) and Arabian double front on floor (12.7) took her out of the running. She finished seventh overall.
In the men’s competition, Kuksenkov, who moved from Ukraine to Russia at the invitation of the Russian team, won gold with a dominant six event performance. Kuksenkov has been candid that the facilities in Russia are better than those in Ukraine, and the level of government support is higher, seems to have blossomed in his new environment. His performance in Kazan was more commanding than it has been in the past. It needed to be, given the talent he was battling for his second Universiades all-around title (he won in 2011 in Shenzhen while representing Ukraine.)
Newly crowned European all-around champion David Belyavskiy entered the meet as the man to beat. After his triumphant performance in Moscow in May, he was likely expected to produce the same performance in Kazan. He nearly did, showing five excellent routines, but couldn’t overcome Kuksenkov on high bar, his last event, and settled for the bronze.
So did talented young Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine, who tumbled off the pommel horse during his dismount, flipping upside down after a brillaint routine. Verniaiev with strong performances on rings (stuck full-twisting double layout dismount for an event-high 15.25), vault 515.0, second only to Belyavskiy’s 15.1) and especially parallel bars (a monstrous 16.0), but he was not able to touch Kuksenkov either, and ended tied with Belyavskiy for the bronze (89.6 apiece).
Three-time Olympian Fabian Hambuechen of Germany, who opted to compete at the World University Games partly because his best friend, Fabian Lotz, is also representing Germany here, snuck in for the silver medal after a dominating performance on high bar (15.7, an event high by three and a half tenths). That balanced his weak 13.8 on pommel horse (which is quite good by his standards) and put him squarely in contention for the podium.
Japan’s Ryohei Kato, fifth, looked like a medalist before a bizarre fall off the parallel bars during the fifth rotation. The talented twister did score 15.5 on floor, the highest mark on that event. He was followed by Ukraine’s Oleg Stepko, a fiery young performer still coming into his own. Stepko, a solid generalist just three years removed from winning two gold medals at the Youth Olympic Games, fell on his Arabian double pike during the first rotation and was not able to come back in spite of recording the highest scores of the day on pommel horse (15.0, tied with Belyavskiy), and parallel bars (16.05).
Full results from the all-around competitions at the World University Games can be found here.
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