Durunda, Piriyeva lead Azerbaijan to victory

13 May 2017

Azerbaijan secured Islamic Solidarity Games gold in the rhythmic gymnastics team event on Saturday, as Marina Durunda and Zhala Piriyeva did enough to hold off Uzbekistan in Baku to the delight of a large home crowd.

Mariana Vasileva's hosts went into the second and final session with a significant advantage of 3.150 points and did enough despite some mistakes in the clubs and ribbon routines, finishing 4.350 points clear on 128.200 overall, as Turkey completed the podium.

Durunda and Piriyeva also qualified for all of Sunday's four individual apparatus finals at the National Gymnastics Arena, with the two set to battle with Uzbek Anastasiya Serdyukova for top honours.

The 16-year-old Piriyeva, who has been leading the team so far this season as a result of a long injury absence for Durunda, got Azerbaijan off to a great start with 16.050 points for her clubs performance, her third consecutive score of 16 or more.

The Ukrainian-born Durunda, who had not competed since the Rio Olympics final last summer until Friday after hand surgery, struggled with the ribbon though and was given just 15.200.

Serdyukova gave Uzbekistan a boost with her highest score of the week, 16.400, in the clubs.

With the top two scores being counted for both the team result and the individual qualifications, that gave Zohra Aghamirova, 15, the chance to play her part and dislodge Durunda from the ribbon final, which would have ended her hopes of winning five gold medals.

Despite an excellent effort, she missed out on those targets by just 0.050.

Azerbaijan's indifferent start kept Uzbekistan in contention going into the final rotation, paving the way for Serdyukova to produce a wonderful ribbon routine that was deservedly given 15.450 and put some pressure on the home country.

Sabina Tashkenbaeva backed her up with a solid clubs score of 15.500 ahead of Piriyeva's final apparatus, the ribbon.

Piriyeva brushed off any tension with ease though and sailed through a cheeky routine to score 16.100, which left Durunda, 19, with the chance to drink in the adulation of the fans as she walked out for her closing clubs attempt with the gold medal all but in the bag.

Durunda, Azerbaijan's best gymnast since eight-time world championship medallist Aliya Garayeva retired in 2012, didn't disappoint and the judges rewarded her with 15.600.

The team title may just be the start, as all eyes will be on Durunda and Piriyeva on Sunday evening, when they look to make it five home gold medals.

© Agence France-Presse

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