Russia and Romania are looking to dominate the junior competition at this year’s European Championships with many of “the usuals” – like Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy – not too far behind. But beyond the well-known programs from Europe are the girls from countries that tend to not make many team finals as well as those who don’t typically compete on full squads at all. Here, we introduce you to some of the strongest of these competitors, all of whom hope to make finals and maybe even medal in Bern next week.
Dziyana Kirykovich, Belarus
In the country most gymnastically famous for substituting two American gymnasts in place of the Belarusians set to compete at worlds last year because the seniors weren’t up to par, there is definitely a bit of a junior revival going on, and Dziyana – known as Dina – is going to be a big part of that. Dina, who turns 14 this week and is throwing a peace sign in the photo, has very strong work everywhere but bars and when she hits, she’s capable of going 51+ in the all-around, a big deal in a country where somewhere around 48-49 is average for top performers. Dina doesn’t have much experience, with Euros her first big competition outside of Belarus, but she performed very well at the Antonia Koshel Cup in Minsk earlier this year and could be one to watch in the future.
Marie Skammelsen, Denmark
So far in 2016, Marie has earned the Danish junior all-around title, is the national junior champion on vault, bars, and floor, and she won a medal on every event at Nordic Championships, including gold in the all-around and on vault and floor. She was eighth in a heavily senior field at last year’s Northern Euros, where she also won bronze medals on vault and beam. She’s one of the best Denmark has ever seen, training at KG66 alongside eight-time national champion Mette Hulgaard, and when she finally becomes a senior next year, she could very well be on the path to becoming Denmark’s first WAG Olympian. I love her on floor, but she’s truly a superb all-around gymnast who gets great results everywhere when she hits, with bars just slightly weak.
Nora Feher, Hungary
One of two Hungarians on the list, Nora is a fabulous up-and-coming gymnast from KSI SE in Budapest. Born in 2002, Nora stands out with excellent performances on all four events, and should definitely make it into the all-around final. I love her work on bars, where she has difficult skills like an Endo to piked Jaeger and shows so much promise for the future. Recently, Nora medaled in the all-around and on all four events at Gym Festival Trnava, and she’s also had great results domestically this season.
Diana Varinska, Ukraine
You may have heard about Diana if you paid attention to last summer’s European Youth Olympic Festival. Diana, who turns senior next year, burst onto the scene with a super difficult and gorgeous bars set, placing fourth in event finals with her routine that included an insane Maloney to clear hip to Tkachev half to Jaeger combination. This year, Diana swept the junior division of the Antonia Koshel Cup in Belarus even with a fall on bars. With an increase in her difficulty on both beam and floor, she can be expected to not only make finals in Bern, but also potentially medal if she’s at her best.
The Czech Team
Czechoslovakia had a renowned gymnastics program known for producing legends like Vera Caslavska while performing as one of the top five teams in the world well into the 1980s. Then the iron curtain fell, the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia a few years later, and gymnastics was never again what it once was. The Czech Republic has had a few individuals qualify to the Olympic Games in the past two decades, but the team situation overall has been weak with their most recent placement 29th at the 2014 world qualifications.
Things could be changing, however. The Czech Euros squad features Kristyna Brabcova, Aneta Holasova, Lucie Jirikova, and twins Adela and Vendula Merkova, all of whom train at the Bohemians gym in Prague. All five are capable of scores around 52+ and they all nicely balance one another, with some showing strength on more powerful elements while others are more suited to fluidity and elegance.
Holasova, born in 2001, has consistently been the strongest of the bunch while the other four go back and forth finishing a little behind her. So far this year, Holasova has earned junior all-around titles at Polish Championships, the Czech Friendly meet with Israel and Austria, the Czech Control meet, and Gym Festival Trnava, where she earned her personal best of 54.3. She excels on vault and floor, and also boasts a huge 6.0 d-score on beam, though she tends to struggle a tiny bit with some of the more difficult elements at times.
The Merkova twins are both also fabulous on beam, Jirikova tends to do well on vault and floor, and Brabcova is almost always in the top three on bars, but again, they’re all so much at the same level, there really is no “best” on any event. It’s truly a team effort with these ladies, who are looking like they’ll finish collectively in the top eight, likely ahead of typically strong nations like Germany and Italy depending on how well they perform when it counts. Either way, it’s a very exciting time for Czech gymnastics, and this group of juniors alongside current senior Veronika Cenkova should spice things up a bit in the coming quad.
Jessica Hutchinson, Bulgaria
Before you wonder how a girl with the last name Hutchinson could ever be Bulgarian, you need to know that her mom is the 1992 Olympian Silvia Mitova, one of the greatest Bulgarian gymnasts of all time. A neck injury left Mitova paralyzed for some time, but she received treatment that eventually helped her walk again. She and her family immigrated to the United States, where she began coaching gymnastics in Pennsylvania before getting married, giving birth to baby Jessica in 2001, and opening her own gym, Silvia’s Gymnastics, a year later.
At Silvia’s, the coaches love taking their level 10s to compete internationally in addition to the usual J.O. circuit within the U.S., with the team traveling to Elite Gym Massilia and the Austrian Team Open in 2015. Jessica, now 14 and pictured above in the center, competed at both of these meets last year, placing tenth all-around at Massilia with a 51.4, a huge score by Bulgaria’s standards. Most recently, Jessica placed eighth all-around in the Junior C division at J.O. Championships in the U.S., where she also won the titles on vault and floor, the latter of which is a gorgeous routine that should do very well at the elite level with very few adjustments.
Polina Borzykh, Georgia
Born in 2001, Polina is actually a Russian gymnast from the Ural district. She made the junior national team last year and seemed to have a bright future in the sport, especially after helping the Urals to a historic silver-medal finish at this year’s nationals alongside other top juniors Ksenia Klimenko and Aleksandra Shekoldina. But despite her continued presence on the Russian domestic scene, Polina sought a change of nationality and began competing for Georgia alongside fellow Russians Maria Butskikh (who will also compete at Euros) and new senior Ekaterina Tyunina. Polina was sixth all-around among the juniors at nationals this year, also winning the floor bronze medal, so she’s a huge catch for Georgia, capable of around a 53-54 all-around which should definitely get her into the final.
Dorka Szujo, Hungary
Dorka, a 2002 baby, had the highest junior score at this year’s nationals with a 52.0, a score that would’ve gotten her the senior title, and at the Event Championships a few weeks earlier, she took home the titles on bars and beam, showing clean and difficult work on both. Internationally, she was fifth at last year’s Olympic Hopes Cup, sandwiched between gymnasts from China and Great Britain, and earlier this year she was seventh out of 80 gymnasts in a mostly senior field at the Austrian Team Open. With so much potential and typically clean and consistent routines, Dorka is bound to impress this year as one of the futures of Hungarian gymnastics.
The Swiss Team
The Swiss ladies aren’t exactly unknowns, even on the team scene, making a huge push at worlds last year to qualify to the Olympic Test Event where they defeated Romania and were a technicality away from also getting ahead of Australia. They’ve been on the rise now for the past couple of quads, and while there are no superstar standouts on this Euros junior team, four of the five are performing at about the same level, giving them an edge over teams with one or two super strong girls and then the rest falling behind.
Lynn Genhart (center in above photo), Leonie Meier, Livia Schmid (above far right), and Anina Wildi are all capable of all-around scores in the 52-53 range on average, with Fabienne Studer (above fourth from left) also not far behind. While Russia and Romania are somewhat poised to finish in the gold and silver medal positions, this Swiss team is one that will be able to challenge countries like Great Britain, France, and Italy for bronze if they hit. It’ll be a huge improvement from their performance in 2014, and could mean big things going forward as these young ladies reach the senior level in the next couple of years.
Lucija Hribar, Slovenia
The 2001-born Lucija has been on the international scene since age 12, competing at the Italian Serie A meets as a guest. Her major international debut came at the European Youth Olympic Festival last summer, where she placed 50th due to mistakes on three of her four events. Despite that disappointing start, she came back a few months later looking strong at the Olympic Hopes Cup, upping her all-around score by about four points to reach a 50.45, a score she nearly matched at Jesolo this year but fell shy of after mistakes on floor. Above all, Lucija is known for her fabulous FTY on vault, which will hopefully help her into the apparatus final this year if she hits, following in the footsteps of her senior vault superstar teammates Teja Belak and Tjasa Kysselef.
Be sure to cheer on all of these up-and-comers as they compete at Euros next week! For more about this competition, visit our coverage guide.
Article by Lauren Hopkins