Good news: Anna Pavlova has a new country, and it’s Azerbaijan!!!
When I think of gymnastics in Azerbaijan, only Valeri Belenki comes to mind (as well as a few rhythmic gymnasts that I don’t know anything about!). Belenki was a member of the CIS Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that totally dominated the gymnastics scene, earning the bronze medal in the All Around. Here’s his routine on parallel bars when he was forced to compete as an “Unattached” gymnast the following year since the newly formed Azerbaijan was not yet a member of the FIG.
Valeri Belenki, 1993 World Championships, Parallel Bars Finals
Anyway, from now on Pavlova will represent her adopted country internationally, which means we should see her at the World Championships once again. Woohoo! In the past few years, the powers that be in Russia weren’t even considering her for a spot on World and Olympic teams, which was a real tragedy for gymnastics purists everywhere. Now we’ll get to see her in major competitions as she displays her elegant floor routines and aims for a medal on the balance beam. Here are some of her recent routines that were only seen in minor competition:
Anna Pavlova, 2011 Vault
Anna Pavlova, 2013 Uneven Bars
Anna Pavlova, 2012 Balance Beam
Anna Pavlova, 2013 Floor Exercise
Azerbaijan also picked up a couple of other top Russians, Konstantin Pluzhnikov and Yulia Inshina. Pluzhnikov was replaced as Russia’s rings specialist by Alexander Balandin at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds, so hopefully he will be able to contend for medals under a new flag. Inshina won a silver medal with her Russian team at the 2011 World Championships, but now that she represents Azerbaijan, she will have no trouble qualifying to Worlds and other major events.
Konstantin Pluzhnikov, 2011 European Championships, Still Rings Finals
Yulia Inshina, 2011 World Championships, Balance Beam Finals
UPDATE: December 4, 2013.
Anna Pavlova represented Azerbaijan for the first time at the 2013 Voronin Cup in Moscow this week, placing 2nd in the All Around behind Ukrainian Alyona Vasilyeva. Pavlova’s teammate, Marina Nekrasova, finished 3rd AA.
UPDATE: March 7, 2014.
Azerbaijan has recruited 15 more gymnasts, headlined by 2012 Olympian Oleg Stepko of Ukraine. Stepko won the gold medal on parallel bars at the 2013 European Championships and two golds and two silvers at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. This blow to Ukraine comes on the heels of Nikolai (Mykola) Kuksenkov’s move to Russia.