The Russians had the competition of their life in the qualifying round on Sunday, managing to do what no one has for a decade: outscore the United States. And while, yes, the American women made mistakes, it would be unfair to attribute the result solely to that. The Russian team is formidable on its own merits.
Here’s a look at the four members.
Angelina Melnikova, 21
Melnikova, competing in her second Olympics, is one of Russia’s best all-around gymnasts. She finished fourth in the qualifying round, showing she will be a medal contender in the all-around, the competition for the best individual gymnast. She also advanced to the vault, bars and floor finals. No one else except Simone Biles (who made every final) qualified to that many.
Melnikova has come a long way since the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where she was the youngest member of the Russian team and had a disappointing performance, falling twice in the qualifying round and not advancing to any individual finals. Since then, she has won four world championship medals: two silver and two bronze.
She and Vladislava Urazova are the only Russians who will compete on all four apparatuses on Tuesday. (Three gymnasts per country compete on each.) She’ll be first up on vault, second on bars and beam, and third on floor.
Vladislava Urazova, 16
Urazova only became eligible for major international competitions last year, and because most were canceled amid the pandemic, the Olympics are one of her first big tests on the global stage. That’s a lot of pressure, but she has handled it well so far.
She finished fifth in the qualifying round, just three-hundredths of a point behind Melnikova, and advanced to the all-around and balance beam finals. Her only real outing before the Olympics had been at the European Championships in April, where she won a silver medal on the uneven bars.
Like Melnikova, she will compete on all four apparatuses in the team final. She will be the second Russian up on vault and the first on bars, beam and floor.
Viktoria Listunova, 16
Listunova is an athlete that Russia didn’t expect to have in Tokyo. Born May 12, 2005, she would have been too young to compete if the Games had been held last year as planned. This year, she was the Russian national champion.
She, Melnikova and Urazova are so evenly matched that their rankings at any given competition can depend on the tiniest of mistakes. At the European Championships, Listunova was the all-around champion, Melnikova won silver, and Urazova was shut out of the final by the two-per-country rule. On Sunday, it was Listunova who was shut out by 0.167. She was also shut out of the bars final, but qualified for the floor final.
Listunova will be the third Russian up on bars and beam and the second on floor. She will not compete on vault.
Lilia Akhaimova, 24
Akhaimova was an alternate to the 2016 Games and made the team this year after several tense weeks in which the Russian federation had her and Elena Gerasimova duke it out for the fourth spot.
She competed on all four apparatuses in the qualifying round but had the lowest all-around score on the Russian team, finishing 28th thanks in part to a fall off the balance beam. She did well on vault, however, qualifying to the apparatus final in seventh place.
In the team final, she will compete only on vault, where she will be the last Russian up.