Olegs Go Golden in Baku

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Artistic gymnastics wrapped up at the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan last Saturday with diversity reigning supreme in the men’s event finals. All six finals were held alongside the women’s in the same session for a night chock full of gymnastics for the spectators (and for those of us watching online bright and early in the U.S.).

Floor Exercise Final

The first gold of the day up for grabs went to Spain’s Rayderley Zapata, a floor finalist at last year’s World Championships. Zapata executed an impressive 1.5 to a front double pike and only took a step back on both his 2.5 and his massive double-twisting double layout. He ended with a stuck double layout with a low chest position for the winning score of 15.333.

Silver was claimed by Germany’s Fabian Hambüchen. Competing a different routine from qualifications, Hambüchen opened with a grand double-twisting double layout and continued the momentum with a good showing on his 2.5 to 1.5. He performed some fast-paced flairs and ended with a step back in his tucked full-in for a 15.1.

David Belyavskiy of Russia clenched the bronze with a solid performance, including a clean arabian double pike and a triple full. He lost marks taking a huge hop backwards on his front double pike, scoring a 15.0, just ahead of Ireland’s Kieran Behan.

Behan along with Israel’s Alexander Shatilov were just short of the podium with both struggling on their triple fulls. Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev came last after several mistakes including a low landing on his opening pass and a huge hop back on his 2.5 to front full, leaving him with a 14.233.

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Pommel Horse Final

Slovenia grabbed the next gold with a great performance by Saso Bertoncelj, who came in fourth at least year’s World Championship finals on this event. Bertoncelj competed a nice one-handed circle on the horse and demonstrated great extension throughout the entire routine earning a 14.966, which he celebrated with a flurry of fist pumps and cheers. That’s how you can measure how happy a gymnast is with his routine – fist pumps.

Silver was claimed by Azerbaijan’s Oleg Stepko, who hit a solid routine, demonstrating precise scissor elements and clean handstands. The arena went wild after his routine, for which he scored a 14.6, and he celebrated by giving a big kiss to the apparatus.

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The bond between a man and his pommel horse – very special indeed.

Surprising many, Great Britain’s Brinn Bevan snatched the bronze medal. The just-turned-senior competed without major error in the final, enough to make sure he left the competition with a medal in hand, a good feeling after a rough all-around performance two days prior. His routine garnered a 14.2.

The other three finalists had some difficulties with the horse. Belyavskiy fell out of his opening handstand while both Verniaiev and Slovakia’s Slavomir Michnak counted falls.

Still Rings Final

Greece’s Eleftherios Petrounias, the reigning European champion on rings, returned to continue his domination. Petrounias demonstrated absolute control of the apparatus and impressed with great difficulty (perhaps…you could call him…the Lord of the Rings). Anyone who can make the rings look effortless is truly someone to be reckoned with, and Petrounias is that person. Just a small hop on his double-twisting double layout dismount for a grand 15.633 total.

Silver belonged to Russia’s Nikita Ignatyev, who has grown quite a following thanks to his cheery and playful demeanor at these Games. Ignatyev demonstrated control of the rings, tight positions, and an impressive iron cross. He struggled just a bit with one of his handstands but ended strongly with a clean double-twisting double layout for a 15.333.

Ibrahim Colak of Turkey secured his country’s first medal in gymnastics at these Games with the rings bronze. Colak did not have the same control of the rings that Ignatyev or Petrounias showed but demonstrated good difficulty through his Maltese and support scale. He ended with a much lower-difficulty double pike dismount, scoring a 15.133. If he can upgrade his finish, he could be quite the medal threat!

France’s Guillaume Augugliaro and Stepko did not have the difficulty or execution to challenge the top three, earning 14.033 and 14.466 respectively. Ukraine’s Igor Radidlov struggled with his wide-arm handstands and fell on his dismount leaving him in last position despite his superior difficulty.

rings

Vault Final

Verniaiev, after falling short in his earlier finals, rallied to take home the gold on vault. He started with a beautiful Draglescu, which earned a 15.4, and finished with a Tsuk double with a number of steps on the landing, garnering a 15.133 for the second vault to average a 15.266. He hits!

Casimir Schmidt of the Netherlands won silver. Schmidt competed a Tsuk double but landed with a step out-of-bounds for a solid 15.033. His second vault was a front 2.5 which landed just a bit short, scoring a 15.2, leaving him with a 15.116 average.

Stepko managed to clench the bronze just 0.05 ahead of Finland’s Tomi Tuuha. Stepko started with his tsuk double back tuck with just a step on the landing and cowboying during the flips, earning a 14.933. His second vault, a double front tuck, also had just a step and some cowboying, scoring 15.0 for a 14.966 total.

Tuuha had two cleanly-executed vaults, a Kasamatsu 1.5 and a front double full, but he received a penalty of one tenth for his second vault. Had he not stepped out, he could have tied Stepko for the bronze. Turkey’s Ferhat Arican and Romania’s Cristian Bataga did not have the difficulty to challenge for a medal but competed solidly – and it is always great to have a final where nobody falls. As a matter of fact, all 12 vaults had e-scores above a 9!

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Parallel Bars Final

Cheering with all their might, the home crowd in Azerbaijan finally got to hear their national anthem played. Stepko clenched the gold in a battle on the parallel bars that came down to mere hundredths of a point. The champion executed a wonderful hit routine that energized the audience, scoring a massive 15.733.

Belyavskiy would be edged out by just 0.033 to win the silver. He had by far the highest execution of the final (9.1) but his slightly lower difficulty proved to be the deciding factor of the night. Ending with a stuck double front half, he earned a 15.7.

Bronze was snatched by Romania’s Marius Berbecar after a great routine. Berbecar made sure to hold his handstands long enough to be counted, especially showing off on his single-rail handstand for quite a bit – I actually thought the video had paused. A solid and clean routine with just a hop on his double pike dismount, Berbecar scored a 15.6. An entire podium within about a tenth of a point – now that is fierce!

Reigning world champion on this event, Verniaiev failed to hit cleanly. He struggled with his handstands and did not hold his single-rail handstand long enough. Despite a stuck double tuck half dismount, he was left with a 14.633. France’s Axel Augis started strongly and looked like he would challenge but struggled greatly with his pirouette handstand, earning a 15.0.

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Berbecar was adorably excited about his fantastic finish.

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…as was Stepko, who fist-bumped this official on the podium.

High Bar Final

Ending the night was a high-flying battle of bar workers who spent more time flipping over the bar than actually grabbing it, making for an exciting and satisfying end to a day filled with excellent gymnastics. Gold went to the highly-decorated Hambüchen, who competed a fluid 1.5 pirouette, big releases, and a stuck double-twisting double layout. He secured the gold with a score of 15.533, better than his already great routine in the all-around final.

Silver went to Greece’s Vlasios Maras, the back-to-back world champion on the event from 2001-2002, who wowed the crowd with his Gaylord half. Maknig a one-armed giant look effortless and taking just a step on his double-twisting double layout to earn a 15.366.

The cheeky Ignatyev clenched the bronze with a routine that contained a total of four release moves, complete with a double-twisting double layout dismount (quite popular in Baku!) giving him a 15.166. His form was a bit rough at times but it was enough to make the podium.

Verniaiev and Croatia’s Marijo Moznik both scored 14.9 with a clear difference in execution. Moznik competed cleanly with great handwork on his pirouettes and grip changes though showed slightly lower difficulty while Varniaiev suffered from minor errors like being off-center and off-balanced at times.

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Stepko, Verniaiev, Hambüchen, Belyavskiy, and Ignatyev all had a great showing at these Games and were able to bring home quite a collection of medals between them. Competing in front of a home crowd and for a nation trying to build up their gymnastics program, Stepko has definitely made a name for himself, bringing home five medals for Azerbaijan.

These finals proved to also showcase great diversity, with gold medals going to Spain, Slovenia, Greece, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Germany. Despite only six men qualifying per final, alongside the one-per-country rule instituted at these Games, the finals were competitive and engaging. With eight days between their finish and the closing ceremony, the gymnasts can now get some much-needed rest and enjoy their time in Baku.

The next Games, to be held in 2019, are currently searching for a host city after the Netherlands withdrew earlier this month. This comes after the Games have been criticized for being deemed unnecessary and for being hosted by Azerbaijan, a country with a track record of human rights violations. Full coverage of all sports can be found on the Baku 2015 YouTube channel and official webpage.

Article by Esteban Rodriguez-Vazquez

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