Baku, May 12, AZERTAC
Marina Durunda starred as Azerbaijan took control of the rhythmic gymnastics team competition at the Islamic Solidarity Games, after the first two rotations at the National Gymnastics Arena on Friday.
The hosts lead by 3.150 points at the halfway stage from Uzbekistan on 65.250, with the clubs and ribbon to come in Baku on Saturday.
The best two scores from each country in the hoop and ball routines counted towards the final team result, as well as for qualification to Sunday's much-anticipated individual apparatus finals.
Durunda had the best score in each apparatus, as she competed for the first time this year after several months out of action with a hand injury.
She was well-supported by teammates Zohra Aghamirova and Jala Piriyeva, as Mariana Vasileva's trio streaked clear of their rivals.
After a low-quality opening featuring routines of gymnasts from inexperienced countries Syria, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan, a vocal crowd roared in delight at the sight of Aghamirova, the first home athlete to take to the mat.
The level of difficulty in the 15-year-old's effort with the ball was far higher than the previous competitors, and the judges gave her a decent score of 14.950.
Uzbekistan laid down a serious marker when Anastasiya Serdyukova produced a beautiful hoop to score 16.300, only for Piriyeva to match her.
Azerbaijani number one Durunda was given a raucous reception ahead of her first major performance since the Olympic final in Rio de Janeiro last summer, and although she made a couple of handling errors with the ball, 16.200 points represented a solid attempt with the more difficult of the two apparatus being used in the opening session.
Serdyukova, the 2014 Asian Games all-around bronze medallist, was clean with the ball as she boosted the Uzbek challenge again by 15.950.
Her teammates Sabina Tashkenbaeva and Nurinisso Usmanova were not quite up to that standard though, which paved the way for Piriyeva and Durunda to dominate.
Piriyeva, 16, produced an almost perfect ball to show that she may be able to push her teammate in the individual finals.
But the Ukrainian-born Durunda was imperious in the hoop, her favourite routine, to finish off the day in style with 16.750.
The home nation still have a little work to do on Saturday to shake off Uzbekistan but are in pole position, while Turkey are all but certain to take the bronze.
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