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Russian men’s team look the part despite painful defeat

Publication date : 30/10/2018

It may now be 22 years since a Russian men’s team stood atop the gymnastics world, but, having agonisingly lost out on top spot to China by just 0.049 points in Doha on Monday, the long-term prospects for the current quintet appear golden.

From Dmitrii Lankin on Still Rings to Artur Dalaloyan and Nikita Nagornyy on Vault; Russia had heroes all over the Aspire Arena during the men’s Team Final at the Doha 2018 World Championships. Ultimately the quintet fell just short, meaning the Soviet Union’s triumph in 1991 is still the last time a Russian men’s team topped the podium at a World Championships. But, even in the pain of defeat rising star Nagornyy acknowledged that his team is very much on the right track.

“There are two ways of making a team,” Nagornyy said after Russia finished on a team total of 256.585, just 0.049 behind gold medallists China. “The first is to make a team based on one leader. The second way is to make a team based on a number of leaders where all the athletes are very strong. In our team the competition is very strong, and by competing with each other we are becoming stronger and stronger."

“Each athlete in our team is a leader and can compete individually and as a team.”

There is no denying the truth of the 21-year-old’s words. Even with several significant mistakes – including an uncharacteristic early slip off the Parallel Bars by 2018 European champion Dalaloyan – Russia still came to the very final routine of a thrilling competition with the gold firmly in their grasp.

While Nagornyy was not quite able to score the 13.783 Russia needed from him on Horizontal Bar – despite thinking as he landed that he had “won it” he actually recorded 13.733 – the fact they came so close and secured their spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games points to an ever brighter future.
“We were very close to winning today and I am sure we are going to get over it,” Nagornyy said. “In Tokyo (2020) the favourites will be the Japanese, of course. But we and the Chinese team will, I’m sure, perform very well.”

Remarkably, the silver was the Russian men’s first world championship team medal of any colour since 2006. The team won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and bronze four years later, but finished out of the medals for the next three Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London. But having now won European championship team gold and a World silver in the last two months, as well as claiming team silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the Russians are starting to make success a habit once again. 

“As sportsmen we know that we won’t know the final results until the very last routine but we also kept all of you guessing,” coach Valery Alfosov joked with the press after the competition.

Added David Belyavskiy, “We didn’t show what we are capable of, but the other teams also didn’t show what they are capable of.”

Despite not being at their best Russia did score highest on Still Rings and Vault – on which Dalaloyan recorded 15.066 and Nagornyy hit 15.033. On the back of such performances it was left to seven-time world veteran Nikolai Kuksenkov to aptly sum up his team’s trajectory.

“I think next year we will be better,” Kuksenkov said simply.

It is a comforting thought for the Russians and perhaps a worrying one for their competitors.