The sixth World Challenge Cup of the season kicked off in Varna, Bulgaria earlier today with all four qualification rounds determining the rosters for the event finals to be held over the weekend.
Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland topped the charts with excellent performances on vault and floor, currently leading both after averaging a 14.8 for her Rudi and DTY combination on vault while tallying a 14.55 on floor to finish half a point ahead of the next competitor. She also managed to qualify second on bars, not typically a strong event for her, but she hit well today in a somewhat weak field to earn a 13.9 to easily make the final.
Steingruber performed on beam as well, hoping to pull off four gold medals to match the magic Ellie Downie made happen in Osijek two weeks ago, but a fall there kept her out of the final there despite her score tying her into eighth place. While the finals rounds at the challenge cups allow for ties, the tie-breaker rule is used in qualifications, meaning Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey made it in with a 13.4 but Steingruber with a matching score was in ninth.
Daria Skrypnik of Russia leads on bars with a 15.0 for her difficult work, while Marine Brevet of France had the top finish on beam, hitting a solid set that included a full Y turn, a bhs loso, and a near-stuck double pike for a 14.2. Skrypnik also attempted to qualify on beam and floor, and just managed to make the floor final with a 12.7 for a routine that was a bit easy and had a few messy and low landings. She ended up missing out on beam, however, earning a 12.6 there after falling on her Y turn (she made it about 1.5 rotations around but I think she may have been going for two) and missing a few connections. Brevet, meanwhile, made the bars final with a 13.55 to finish in fifth and also qualified third into the floor final with a 13.9, showing excellent execution in her Pink Floyd routine.
Phan Thi Ha Thanh of Vietnam was second on vault with a 14.3 average, followed by Thauany Araujo of Brazil with a 14.2, Katarzyna Jurkowska of Poland with a 14.1, Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia with a 14.075, Valerija Grisane of Latvia with a 13.8, Gaya Giladi of Israel with a 13.675, and the last to qualify was Evgeniya Shelgunova of Russia with a 13.65.
Most were about on equal ground in terms of execution, so difficulty really was the make or break factor here, though Araujo definitely stood out with her attention to detail in both of her vaults. Kysselef has medaled on this event in the first five challenge cups thus far, and is capable of slightly stronger execution, so if she can bring that during tomorrow’s final, she could find herself on the podium for a sixth time, though it will again be for a silver or bronze because no one in this field will challenge Steingruber, who led by half a point today even with steps out-of-bounds on both of her vaults.
Aside from Skrypnik, Steingruber, and Brevet in the bars final, we’ll also see Shelgunova (third with a 13.85), Ana Sofia Gomez of Guatemala (fourth with a 13.65), Jurkowska (sixth with a 13.45), Marine Boyer of France (seventh with a 13.35), and Teja Belak of Slovenia (eighth with a 13.25). Again, Skrypnik is the clear gold contender here, and could possibly even win it with a fall. She’s nearly a point ahead of the rest of her competition in terms of difficulty and she’s also the cleanest of the bunch, even with today’s little errors.
On beam, in addition to Brevet in first, we saw Ilaria Käslin of Switzerland (second with a 13.95), Jurkowska (third with a 13.95), Dorina Böczögö of Hungary (fourth with a 13.7), Phan (fifth with a 13.55), Boyer (sixth with a 13.5), Gomez (seventh with a 13.5), and Yilmaz (eighth with a 13.4) make the final. Steingruber not making it was a shock, as was the absence of Shelgunova, who had the most difficult routine at 6.2, but a fall set her back at 13.2. In the final, I think we could see both Gomez and Boyer make a push for the podium if they hit clean sets, but overall this is a pretty well-balanced group and it’ll come down to whoever hits the best.
We saw the long-anticipated senior debut of Bulgaria’s own Elizabet Vasileva here. Vasileva, who trained as a rhythmic gymnast until 2012 before making the switch to artistic, was known as a junior for bringing superb flexibility into her dance elements, many of which resembled those from her rhythmic routines. Her mount here was gorgeous, and several of her skills – like her Onodi, 1.5 scorpion turn, and ring leap into a scale – bring a new sort of refinement to artistic gymnastics, but she lacks extension on both acro and some of her leaps, and seems to be a nervous competitor on beam, with wobbles and tentative movements on most of her skills. She only earned a 12.1 (18th place) due to poor execution as well as a one-tenth overtime deduction thanks to some recovery periods from near falls as well as her mount lasting a full 25 seconds, but it was easily the most unique routine of the day and I hope she sticks around for a long time to come.
I have to say I was also quite impressed with Ofir Kremer, the Israeli national champion. She didn’t have the most difficulty in the field, but her steady and calm performance showed that the 16-year-old is growing a great deal in her confidence and should be one to watch. She nailed her layout series, a solid punch front, a clean front aerial, and an excellent punch front layout full dismount to score a 13.15, placing 12th, but her execution was fourth-best of the day on this event. With a few more competitions under her belt, she’ll easily become a finals threat at these events.
In addition to Steingruber, Brevet, and Skrypnik on floor, we’ll also see Shelgunova (second with a 14.05), Käslin (fourth with a 13.85), Böczögö (fifth with a 13.8), Boyer (sixth with a 13.35), and Yekaterina Chuikina of Kazakhstan (seventh with a 12.9). Again, Steingruber is the clear standout and will win the title barring falls, but it should be a strong battle for the remaining spots on the podium.
The bummer of this qualification meet was Lisa Ecker of Austria not making a single final despite getting super close to each of them. On vault, she had two clean sets to finish ninth with a 13.625, just 0.025 away from the final, she was again ninth on bars with a 13.15 (one tenth away), she was tenth on beam with a 13.25 (0.15 away), and tenth on floor with a 12.3 (this was a larger four-tenth margin). Ecker, who will represent Austria at the Olympics this August, has grown so much over the past several years and did some great work in Varna today. The 23-year-old reigning back-to-back national champion at least got some great practice out of the way even if she didn’t end up making a final.
Event finals continue in Varna with vault and bars on Saturday and beam and floor on Sunday. Full results from today’s qualifications are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins