Koroleva: champion from a lucky loser
Russia kept on rolling on the penultimate day of the European Diving Championships. After two golds a day earlier, two more came on Saturday. Evgenii Kuznetsov, champion in the 3m and maintaining his superb form, dominated the men’s 3m synchro final with Nikita Shleikher. Germany’s Patrick Hausding, jumping with Lars Ruediger, clinched his 4th medal Kyiv, a second silver besides two golds. The women’s 1m final brought some extraordinary scenes as Vitaliia Koroleva who could only compete in the final after a late withdrawal, ended up winning the title after top favourite compatriot Kristina Ilinykh blew her victory with a missed last dive.
Medallists, Day 6
Men’s 3m synchro: 1. Evgenii Kuznetsov, Nikita Shleikher (RUS) 435.69, 2. Patrick Hausding, Lars Ruediger (GER) 398.64, 3. Anthony Harding, Jordan Houlden (GBR) 387.60
Women’s 1m springboard: Vitaliia Koroleva (RUS) 266.70, 2. Olena Fedorova (UKR) 263.45, 3. Kristina Ilinykh (RUS) 263.05
Evgeny Kuznetsov managed to bring on his great shape from Friday and Nikita Shleikher also bounced back from his disappointment to win the 3m synchro title (Shleikher had won the prelims on Friday but due to a dreadful start in the evening only finished fourth in the individual final). Kuznetsov dived a on constant high level in the synchro final as well (all 12 marks between 7.5 and 8.5) and even though Shleikher had two shakier attempts, neither of those were failed dives so the vast majority of their synchro marks remained above 8.0 in each of the six rounds.
It was a kind of start-to-finish victory for the Russians with three jumps above 80 points, the last one was almost a 90-pointer, while their main rivals could perform only one low 80+, so it was no wonder that Kuznetsov&Co. built a 37.05 points winning margin by the end.
Patrick Hausding and Lars Ruediger didn’t fall below a certain level either, apart from a weaker jump in Round 4 they produced fine dives, their synchronisation was also sound, in the range of 8.0s and even 9.0s sometimes. So Hausding, the chief medal collector – it was his fourth in as many appearances here and his 33rd European podium in total – could be relieved as he wanted to see his younger partner standing next to him on the podium after their 4th place finish at the Worlds, and it just happened as he had wished for.
The race for the bronze was rather close, the Ukrainians took off really well, Oleksandr Gorshkovozov and Oleh Kolodiy were keeping their place among the top three for five rounds – only to see the Brits ‘over-jumping’ them with the very last dive of the final. The local duo somewhat faded towards the end, their last two attempts were ‘below-par’, so to say, while Anthony Harding and Jordan Houlden came up with their best when it counted the most. Their 4 and half somersaults became the best effort after the Russians’ dives, credited them 82.08 points, enough the bridge the 10-point gap they had been trailing to the Ukrainians before the last round (they edged out the hosts by 1.05 points for the bronze).
The women’s 1m final saw some real twists. Vitaliia Koroleva didn’t make the cut in the morning, finished 13th, she could compete in the evening only because of Italy’s Elena Bertocchi’s withdrawal. But she lived up to the chance pretty much as she ended up on the top of the podium.
She offered a very balanced performance, no outstanding dives though no mistakes, most of her marks were 7.0-7.5s. She stood 5th after three rounds when the top two, compatriot Kristina Ilinykh and host favourite Olena Fedorova were already in a neck-to-neck battle with only 0.05 points separating them. Ilinykh then gained a 4-point advantage in the penultimate round ahead of Fedorova, but Koroleva also came up with a good one to enter the ‘medal round’ in the third place.
She then opened the final phase with another quality attempt to move first, then had to sit through the remaining time to see who could get ahead of her. When Fedorova produced a slightly erroneous dive and landed behind her by 3.25 points, it was clear that Ilinykh’s last dive would decide the outcome.
The other Russian, who came first in the prelims, needed just a fine last dive as she was the only one in the field to have a 3.0DD jump in the mix (all others max difficulty stood at 2.6). In fact, Ilinykh didn’t make it clean in the morning (5.5s she got) but even that jump would have won her the title. However, nerves took over, she messed it up, got only 4.5s and slipped back to the third place.
She will probably not recall this meet among her fondest memories: after missing the 3m title by 1.25 points, here she had all chance to win but failed in the last hurdle… At the same time, Koroleva was all smiles: she was a kind of lucky loser before the final but deserves all credits for her brilliant and ultimately winning efforts.
Evgenii Kuznetsov, Russia, gold, 3m synchro:
“The whole competition was very exciting. It was a pleasure to be here, and I’m really happy because of this gold medal. This event turned out to be very good for us, the dives were great – but what makes me really happy that the season is over now!”
Lars Ruediger, Germany, silver, 3m synchro:
“This was definitely a very nice end to the season which was really long. We started well and I think that was the best job I ever did. Still, I had two jumps which left the some points in the pool but we fought our way back and, I think, deservedly won silver. The Russians were unbeatable today, and I don’t think we could have beat them today even with our best series. They jumped really perfectly.”
Patrick Hausding, Germany, silver, 3m synchro:
“I agree with Lars on the Russians. They are ahead of us with their level of difficulty. If they perform the quality they show in training, we have no chance of reaching their level right now. Still it was a very good competition except for the third and fourth rounds. We are slowly establishing ourselves through stability in the competitions, we had many events this season with good scores. This is very positive for Tokyo. Here we almost reached our best-ever total score here and we still have a lot of reserves in our dives, so that’s good.”
Anthony Harding, Great Britain, bronze, 3m synchro:
“I was very nervous before my last dive. But I knew that was our favourite and most consistent one so I was sure it was going to go well. We were expecting fourth or third place in the final. We knew that also depended on the others, but I knew we definitely had a chance for a medal. We have the bronze now so we are very happy.”
Vitaliia Koroleva, Russia, gold, 1m springboard
“I was so nervous, afraid of this final. It was extremely hard to do my best but finally I made it. This final was so exciting, I really enjoyed it. It’s incredible that I won, I’m very happy.”
Olena Fedorova, Ukraine, silver, 1m springboard
“I’m so happy, I got silver. The final was good but the last dive wasn’t that great. I kind of over-rotated it a bit. I got marks like 6-6.5s, I would have just needed a little bit higher ones and I could have won.”
Kristina Ilinykh, Russia, bronze, 1m springboard“This bronze is not bad. At least I won a medal… But I can dive much better than this. I made a bad jump in the last round but I know I could perform that better. The small gap didn’t favour me at the end.”