Today we will talk about sport that brought Russia 8 awards of different value at the 2012 summer Games in London, and this sport is of course artistic gymnastics where national athletes are gearing up for the intense post-Olympic season.
Yes this season will be more than intense for the students of Andrey and Valentina Rodionenko because two out of three significant starts will be held in Russia. In April Moscow will welcome the strongest gymnasts from Europe who will be in the hunt for the continental crown. And in July students from all over the world will gather in the Russian city of Kazan where the 2013 Universiade will be staged.
And finally the season-ending event in artistic gymnastics is scheduled to take place in Belgium in September of 2013 and hopefully this world championship will be victorious for the national athletes who have started restoring winning positions in this beautiful sport.
Much has been changed in the Russian team with the arrival of Andrey Rodionenko who managed to build a strong and competitive squad from scratch. Since 2010 national gymnasts have walked away with gold from all the international starts and now all of the pundits are talking about the Rebirth of the Russian artistic gymnastics school.
Hopefully this winning tendency will be extended at the European championship in Moscow where Olympic medalists will represent Russia. Actually the country's roster for the continental summit hasn't yet been announced but obviously gymnasts who shone at the domestic championship in Penza will be granted a spot on the team.
Last week we gave you the names of the athletes who prevailed in individual finals in Penza and today you will know all the champions who earned the awards at the national championship.
The two-time Olympic medalist Denis Ablyazin can be called the hero of the competition in Penza as apart from two gold medals on rings and floor he also won vault final by posting the score of 14,075. Some of listeners might think that the score is rather low, but please keep in mind that this was the first serious competition after the Olympics and the gymnasts did show the full difficulty they are capable of.
So Ablyzin became the Russian champion on vault, Mikhail Kudash from Chelyabinsk settled for silver and the host of the event Pavel Pavlov from Penza took bronze.
A member of the 2012 Olympic team David Belyavskiy happened to be unrivaled on parallel bars where he exceeded the mark of 15 points. Belyavskiy picked up 15.03 points for his routine and deservingly won gold in this final. The 2012 European champion on rings Alexander Balandin finished second and team's newcomer Nikolai Kuksenkov completed the podium with the result of 14. 700.
The former leader of the Ukranian squad Kuksenkov also earned gold on the high bar surpassing the silver medalist Nikita Ignatyev by 10 hundredths of a point. Kuksenkov received 14, 95 points from the judges while Ignatyev collected 14, 85 points and won silver. First year senior Daniil Kazachkov took bronze in this event.
Onto women's part of the championship now where team's rookie Evgenia Shelgunova established herself as a confident and reliable gymnast after she won the title of the Russian champion on a beam outscoring more experienced team members the likes of Ksenia Afanasyeva and Anna Dementyeva.
Shelgunova' s routine was merited 14.050 points which was 150 thousandths more than the score of Polina Fedorova who took silver on a beam. And the silver medalist of the 2012 Games Ksenia Afanasyeva finished third in this final.
By the way this was not the only award won by Afanasyeva in Penza as the two-time world champion dominated the floor exercise where she left behind all of her rivals. Kristina Gorunova grabbed silver and Alena Polyan became the holder of the bronze medal on floor.
As I have already said Russia's line-up for the home European championship hasn't been announced but it's more likely that Aliya Mustafina, Denis Ablyazin and Nikolai Kuksenkov have already guaranteed their participation in the continental meeting.
And to ice hockey now where the Gagarin Cup playoffs in the continental hockey league are now at the conference semi final stage. The remaining eight teams have played two games each already and in this edition of our program we will tell you how they are doing so far.
SKA - Severstal (2-0) 7-4, 4-1
And let’s start with the regular season champions SKA St. Petersburg who are up against Severstal Cherepovets in the best of seven western conference semi final. The Army Men from the banks of the Neva River breezed through the opening two games of the series and now have a commanding 2-0 lead.
After seeing off the visitors 7-4 in game one in St. Petersburg, SKA claimed another convincing 4-1 victory in game two. The series now move to Cherepovets for game three, where I believe it will be evident whether Severstal has any potential whatsoever to produce a comeback. Mind you, SKA needed five games to overcome their quarter final opponent Atlant from the Moscow region, while Severstal needed six to get the better of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
CSKA - Dynamo (1-1) 0-3, 2-1
Lets head to the Russian capital now and the Moscow derby that forms the other semi final in the western conference. CSKA vs Dynamo has always been a top notch encounter, no matter at which stage of the contest these two legendary clubs are.
And this year’s standoff is a very closely fought affair as well. The defending Gagarin Cup winners Dynamo defeated their cross city rivals in game one by three pucks to none. But the Army Men quickly recuperated and claimed a 2-1 victory in game two, making it all square in this best of seven series.
So the teams are now exchanging their arenas as the series moves from CSKA's home ice to their opponents from Dynamo. Games three of the western conference semi finals take place on Monday and we will deliver those results to you in our next program.
Avangard - Traktor (0-2) 0-5, 0-3
And moving over to the east now where it all seems to be upside down... With the away teams both claiming victories in the opening two games. But let’s take it one tie at a time and head to Siberia first and the series between Avangard Omsk and Traktor Chelyabinsk.
Jaromir Jagr’s former club Avangard are yet to score in this tie against Traktor. Instead they managed to concede 8 goals already, that’s after two opening matches. The first game of the semi final was probably the most excruciating for the fans in Omsk after their team let in 5 goals. The second home match was less painful, as Traktor got in only three goals… but still there was absolutely no reason to celebrate as Avangard came out scoreless yet again.
So this series now moves to Chelyabinsk for games 3 and 4 and Avangard will definitely need to pull out all stops in order to get back into this contest… or at least try to score a goal first.
AK Bars – Salavat Yulaev (0-2) 2-3, 0-2
On to the capital of Russia’s republic of Tatarstan where former back to back champions AK Bars could not overcome the visitors from Ufa (also former champions) Salavat Yulaev. Both of the opening games in Kazan were quite intense with Salavat taking the first one 3-2 and producing a shut out in the second, while scoring twice in the process.
Mind you, AK Bars is the only team in the eastern quartet that got to the semi-finals by producing a clean sweep in the quarters. The men from Kazan saw off their Tatarstan rivals Neftekhimik in four games. Meanwhile Salavat Yulaev and the rest of the qualifiers from the eastern conference needed all 7 games in order to determine a winner.
So it makes me wonder whether such a long resting period somehow diminished the strength of AK Bars ahead of the semi-final series against Salavat Yulaev… But according to the action witnessed on the ice in Kazan, the result in this tie is far from determined and anything could still happen.
So game 3 of the eastern quarter final series will be staged on Tuesday in Ufa and Chelyabinsk and we will bring you those results in our very next program.