Why Onoprienko and not Pohranychna? The battle for Ukraine’s no. 2
It is pretty safe to say that Irina Deriugina’s decision – eventually deciding for starting Viktoria Onoprienko with 4 apparatus next to Vlada Nikolchenko at the European Championships, omitting Khrystyna Pohranychna – did not go down 100% smoothly, and there were (we live in an RG world, so that was unavoidable) quite a few accusations of favoritism. The decision stands: Onoprienko is Ukraine’s no. 2 for the Europeans, but is it a rational decision, is it backed up by numbers and what does Deriugina herself say?Luxury problems
It’s also pretty safe to say that Ukraine now have luxury problems, compared to the historical low point that was the Pesaro Worlds in 2017. Vlada Nikolchenko broke through to the very narrow elite, and in her footsteps come Onoprienko and Pohranychna, both super talented gymnasts with loads of potential. This is better.
This is much better.
Ukraine needed this very much, otherwise a longer barren period could have set their RG back. Good performances and medals mean visibility. Visibility might mean funding as well. Nikolchenko is obviously top, top “material”, and the two 2003-born gymnasts can break through as well, if given the chance.
It looks pretty sure that Ukraine will get an Olympic quota (unless something catastrophic happens to Nikolchenko, it should be in the sack at the Worlds), and they will compete for another. In 2015, Stuttgart they did not get it. First Eleonora Romanova overtook Viktoria Mazur for an all-around final place, then Romanova was withdrawn and Mazur started in the AA final, in which she never bothered the qualification spots. This left Ukraine with only Anna Rizatdinova traveling to Rio – signaling the first occasion that they did not secure two Olympic spots in individual RG. They want to do it now for Tokyo. And while one spot is quite secure, the other will be very much an edgy affair with a completely stacked, really strong field.Why the 2019 Europeans matter for the Olympics?
I’m not sure that everyone knows the 2019 Europeans have an influence for the 2020 Olympic qualification in an indirect way. Why? Because if you’re a European gymnast, you can go to the Tokyo 2020 Games via three routes.
Route 1: Be in the top 16 at the World Championships (16 places, open for 5 continents)
Route 2: Be in the top 3 of the not-yet-qualified field at the 2020 World Cup Series (3 places, open for 5 continents)
Route 3: Be the best not-yet-qualified gymnast at the 2020 European Championships (1 place, only for Europe, obviously).
Right, but what the hell does the 2019 Europeans have to do with this? – you might ask. Valid enough. The 2019 Europeans qualify gymnasts for the 2020 Europeans, which will be a closed affair. Only the top 24 make it to the 2020 Europeans (places are non-nominative: the federation gets them, not the country). The 2020 Europeans will be held in Kiev, of all places. Let’s quote the directives.
The 3 best exercises will count for the qualification for the All-Around Final. After this competition, the 24 best gymnasts (max. 2 per NF) are qualified for the All-Around Final of the following year.
In other words: the 2020 European Championships is a damn good chance for Ukraine to qualify a second gymnast to the Olympics, if they miss out on 1 of the 2 direct places at the Worlds this year, which is well possible. But only if they don’t mess this Europeans up, with their second gymnast falling out of the top 24.
If you watch the nominative starting lists, countries who really want to keep their chance alive for Route 3 (the 2020 Europeans), all follow the same strategy. Only start 2 gymnasts, both with 4 apparatus. Why? Because the Top 24 qualification for 2020 will be calculated by only the best 3 apparatus, so starting a gymnast with 4 means they can get away with one messed-up routine. It means more safety.
Ukraine do this. Azerbaijan do this. Spain do this. Hungary do this. France do this. Slovenia do this. Austria do this. In short: if you possibly need the 2020 Europeans for one of your gymnasts as an Olympic qualification route, you start only 2 gymnasts, both with four apparatus. Starting with 3 is risky, because if your no. 2 starts with 3 apparatus and badly messes up even one (or messes up two) routine, it might mean she won’t get into the top 24 and the federation will completely miss the 2020 Europeans and the possible sneaky way to the Olympics.
This strategy means that it makes no sense for Ukraine to start with three gymnasts. They will have two. In other words: either Onoprienko or Pohranychna was a goner.What does Irina Deriugina say?
Irina Deriugina commented on the team roster for Sport.ua on Wednesday. She said that the staff decided after comparing how many finals they reached this year in the head-to-head. In Deriugina Cup both made one apparatus final. In Thiais both made two finals. In Pesaro Pohranychna made one and Onoprienko three.
There were no more head-to-heads. In Marbella Onoprienko made three finals, in Sofia none, in Tashkent (which had the weakest field of all World Cups) Pokhranychna made four, and in Baku (which had the strongest field of all World Cups) Onoprienko made two. Having a look at the finals reached, Deriugina went for Onoprienko. The Ukraine head coach said that they plan with Pohranychna for the World Championships. And she basically confirmed the strategy that we outlined earlier.
“Because this European Championships is a qualifier in all-around for the next one, we decided to have two gymnasts compete with 4-4 apparatus. The qualification is decided by the best 3 apparatus, so the risk is less, even when a gymnast makes a mistake”
– Deriugina pointed out and added that this decision makes the chances of Ukraine having two gymnasts for Kiev 2020 higher.
That’s fair enough. Logical enough as well.
But do the numbers add up?
Pohranychna and Onoprienko were really, really, really close all season, so it was never an easy decision to favour one over the other. Their results are almost identical. What Deriugina said can make sense: they looked at the finals (because the 2019 Europeans is mainly an apparatus final-based competition for individuals), Onoprienko having the edge in direct head-to-head finals (6:4) meant that she goes to the Europeans.
Fair enough, again.
Though a devilish little thought enters one’s mind. What if we compare the all-around results, because the 2020 Euros qualification (that matters for Ukraine) is held in AA? And look all the other stats?
The two gymnasts had 3 head-to-heads in AA, all of which were super close. In Kiev Onoprienko was 7th (71.300), Pohranychna 8th (70.950). In Thiais Pohranychna was 10th (73.750), Onoprienko 11th (73.100). In Pesaro Pohranychna was 8th (78.300), Onoprienko 9th (78.250). This is just incredibly close. But it’s 2:1 in all-around head-to-heads to Pohranychna.
The complete all-around average internationally in the season (we are only counting GP and World Cup level) is 74.475 for Pohranychna and 73.392 for Onoprienko. The median is also tilted towards Pohranychna. The best peak result (2nd with clubs in Kiev, making the only podium appearance) is also Pohranychna. And if we watch all routine scores and calculate a season average score, it’s Pohranychna as well by a hair’s width (18.719 to 18.424). STATS SUMMARY
Head-to-head apparatus finals: Pohranychna–Onoprienko 4:6 (Onoprienko is better)
All season long apparatus finals: Pohranychna–Onoprienko 8:11 (Onoprienko, but she had 2 more major competitions, so we might take this out of the equation. Final qualification rate would be a better measure, it’s 8 finals/16 attempts for Pohranychna and 11/24 for Onoprienko)
Head-to-head all-around results: Pohranychna–Onoprienko 2:1 (Pohranychna is better)
Best single peak result: Pohranychna 2nd–Onoprienko 4th (Pohranychna is better, her single peak score is better as well, 21.050 to 20.050)
All season single routine average: Pohranychna–Onoprienko 18.719:18.424 (Pohranychna is better)
All season all-around median: Pohranychna–Onoprienko 74.325–72.750 (Pohranychna is better)
All season all-around average: Pohranychna–Onoprienko 74.475–73.392 (Pohranychna is better)
So we can summarise things pretty much like this: Onoprienko only clearly has the edge in one statistical head-to-head out of six over Pohranychna – one cannot really be compared –, but that was the one statistic that mattered for the team selector.
You know what we can deduct from this?
If you have two very good gymnasts with almost similar results, the head coach will choose whoever she wants.
So much about statistics, logic and RG.