While Russia and Romania’s senior programs have provided the majority of this quad’s “got my popcorn ready” drama, their junior squads have spent the past couple of years calmly training and competing without major incident. At this week’s European Championships in Bern, Switzerland, Russia is looking to lead the field with the Romanians not too far behind.
If all goes according to plan, Russia will easily take the gold by a pretty big margin. Led by 2001-born all-arounders Anastasia Ilyankova, Ulyana Perebinosova, and Elena Eremina, the team will also include two 13-year-olds, with Angelina Simakova on all but beam, where the adorable little Varvara Zubova will compete her fantastic routine.
The current junior Russian champion Ilyankova is the favorite to win the all-around in addition to putting up big numbers on bars and beam when she hits. Perebinosova and Eremina are right behind her as all-around gymnasts, however, so the podium could feature any two of these three at the top, depending on how they hit in qualifications. Perebinosova is generally well-rounded on all events with a somewhat new DTY and no real super standout, though no major weakness either. And Eremina, like Ilyankova, counts bars and beam as her strong points, though she tends to be the least consistent of this bunch, so hopefully that’s something she’s been working on.
Simakova is also a pretty fabulous all-arounder, but is the weakest on beam in this group, and so was removed because the Russian federation – like everyone else on planet earth – is hoping Zubova will absolutely kill it there in qualifications and then win a medal in finals. Zubova moves like a cat through tons of combinations all routine long, but she often racks up lots of minor deductions, which could definitely be an issue in a field like this.
With some of the top scores on every event, the Russians have the ability to qualify two gymnasts into every final. Even if one of the favorites for an event – like Ilyankova on bars or Zubova on beam – has a fall or major mistakes in qualifications, there will be at least two more right behind her coming in to take up one of the spots, so barring total disaster, this should be an incredibly successful competition for this team.
While Romania isn’t quite at Russia’s level, they should finish in the silver medal position as a team if they perform well tomorrow. Competing in Olympic order with all-arounders Ioana Crisan, Olivia Cimpian, and Carmen Ghiciuc leading the way alongside bars and beam specialist Alisia Botnaru (another strong all-arounder) and vault and floor specialist Denisa Golgota (the only 2002 baby in the bunch), this is an incredibly well-balanced team aside from bars, which will always be Romania’s Achilles heel.
Unlike Russia, this is not a team of top-level standouts with senior-level routines. They don’t have many who will wow in the individual event finals, with the exception of a couple who could do well on beam (notably Botnaru and Crisan) and then perhaps Golgota on vault if she hits her DTY well enough, and they also don’t have any front-runners for the all-around podium, though I could see Crisan or Ghiciuc sneaking onto the podium on a good day.
So far this year, though, what I’ve seen from this team has been a great fight. They come back well from falls and major mistakes, work super well together, and while bars isn’t the greatest, they’ve outperformed the senior team there on multiple occasions so far this year and compared to other junior European teams, have a rotation that could be in the top eight among those at this competition. The girls definitely have silver well within their reach, and can even afford a couple of mistakes, so let’s cross our fingers and hope that the drama that’s followed the senior women this year continues to leave the juniors alone.
With Russia and Romania looking good to top the team podium, there are several teams in the running behind them, including France, Great Britain, Italy, and host team Switzerland. Actually, Switzerland is my favorite for a surprise bronze, if only because their core team of Livia Schmid, Leonie Meier, Anina Wildi, and Lynn Genhart is so on the same page, it puts them at a great advantage over a team with one or two top gymnasts standing out among the rest (Fabienne Studer is also on the Swiss team, but did not make the lineup).
The Swiss ladies have a great vault rotation, and while their remaining events are a bit weaker, they’re all pretty much on the same level, and if they hit they’re capable of counting three scores of 13+ on all three. With Studer out, all four will compete in the all-around, and all four can hit a 53 total on average. It’s nothing out-of-this-world impressive on its own, but the fact that they’re all at that same exact level is an advantage because it doesn’t put the pressure on one gymnast. All of their eggs aren’t in a single basket, and if they hit when it counts, I think that’s what will get them ahead (that, and it doesn’t hurt to have home team advantage).
The French team is about equal with the Swiss, though with a stronger beam rotation. Alisson Lapp is particularly one to watch there, and while her floor isn’t quite as high-scoring, her routine is something not to be missed. Otherwise, Lorette Charpy is a great all-arounder with a lovely bars set, Morgane Osyssek has a generally strong floor, and both Janna Mouffok and Melissa Poitreau are solid on several events apiece. Compared to the majority of other teams, there’s no major weakness, and I think they’ll be Switzerland’s biggest competition tomorrow.
I wouldn’t count out Great Britain, either. Under the experience of Maisie Methuen and Alice Kinsella helped out by the newcomer Taeja James, the team is on about the same level as these other two, so it’ll be all about who’s hitting best. Methuen is a gorgeous gymnast who always nails her handspring front pike half vault, and is good on her other three as well, whereas Kinsella has bars as a weakness, but makes up for it with great work on beam and floor when she hits.
James has had a surprisingly good season, coming in at age 13 with performances that match and sometimes exceed those of her teammates. With James, it’s about catching her on a good day, as she tends to fluctuate a bit with what she can do, but as her season has gone on, she’s made this happen several times, and won the all-around title at a junior friendly in Switzerland against most of the girls she’ll face here in Bern. Lucy Stanhope will go up for the team on vault and beam, with her vault especially reliable, while Megan Parker is set to perform on bars and floor, and she’s super consistent on both.
Italy could be hit or miss. The team is going to miss Martina Maggio on beam after she dealt with a minor toe injury in training. Maggio is the team’s best on that event and is also the team’s strongest all-arounder, so it’s definitely a bit of a bummer, though at least not a major blow. She’ll act as the anchor on her remaining events, and is super consistent on vault and floor, though bars is a bit rough both for her and for the rest of her team, which is why I don’t think they’ll be quite at the same level as the others.
The team will see Martina Basile and Francesca Noemi Linari in the all-around. Both are generally great on beam, with Linari also putting up some decent numbers on floor while Basile is one of the better vaulters with a big Yurchenko 1.5 that should help them out a bit. Rounding them out are Maria Vittoria Cocciolo on all but bars and Sara Berardinelli on bars and beam. Cocciolo has generally been consistent on her three events this season, while Berardinelli could be a bit of a question mark. She’s made event finals on both of her events internationally in the past, but is most famous for her dangerous Tkachev falls and her coach’s quick reflexes.
I think these six are the most likely to finish within the top eight, and then my favorites for filling out the next two spots are the Czech Republic and Ukraine…yes, over generally strong western European teams like Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. I’ve raved about the Czech team a good deal this spring, but if you haven’t seen my squealing yet, you should know that all five members of this squad – Aneta Holasova, Lucie Jirikova, Kristyna Brabcova, and the twins Adela and Vendula Merkova – train at the Bohemians club in Prague. All but Brabcova will turn senior next year, and as they grow within the sport, they all have so much potential to help turn things around for the Czech program.
Overall, the girls are incredibly consistent and have some super difficult work in their repertoires. They’ve competed a few times over the past couple of months with great results, especially for Holasova, who is a fantastic all-arounder and could absolutely threaten the podium in Bern. She’s a powerful kid with a huge beam set, an FTY, and big skills on floor, and she seems to somehow get better with every performance. The Merkova twins will also compete the all-around in Bern, with beam a great event for both while Adela tends to do well on floor and Vendula is generally the team’s best on bars. Jirikova will compete vault and bars while Brabcova will compete beam and floor, with both capable of strong work if they hit.
Like the Czech Republic, you don’t generally hear much about Ukraine as of late, as they tend to have some decent individual performances, but as a team they’ve kind of fallen by the wayside since their glory days. Their team in Bern is bolstered by the incredible work of Diana Varinska, who I think has a great shot at making the all-around podium alongside the Russians if she hits. She’s truly fabulous on all four events, with especially difficult work on bars, and upgrades this year on beam and floor. Varinska also tends to be pretty consistent, and is poised to become the “it girl” of this meet if she does what she’s capable of doing.
Her teammates aren’t necessarily at her level, so she’s definitely going to be doing the heavy lifting, but compared to recent senior teams for the country, this is a great one. Valeriia Iarmolenko and Valeriia Osipova will also compete in the all-around and have solid enough work, with Iarmolenko capable of a great FTY and solid difficulty on beam while Osipova should shine on beam and floor. Anastasiia Budiashkina is known for especially good work on floor, though the team has unfortunately lost her on everything but bars this time around, I’m guessing due to injury because there’s no way they’d voluntarily take her off of floor. Alona Titarenko will compete all but bars, and should do some especially clean work on vault for the team.
But my excitement for these two up-and-coming programs isn’t outweighing my common sense, so I won’t count Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands out at this point, but I think compared to their current Olympic-bound senior squads, these teams are a little behind in their overall potential due to a lack of difficulty, not lack of talent. Belgium especially tends to take things slowly until their gymnasts get to the senior level, and while they do have some strong events (floor is especially lovely!), their deficits on bars could hurt them a bit. Germany actually has a pretty excellent floor team as well, but they too are very weak on bars, and I don’t think any of their gymnasts can score in the 13s there. Keep an eye out for Helene Schäfer, younger sister of Pauline, with her difficult set on beam, while Emma Höfele should come in strong as a solid all-arounder. The Netherlands is in the same boat, with some great work from everyone (especially Sanna Veerman!), but a few weaknesses that could hurt their overall score.
Honorable mention for teams goes to Belarus, which I think has the potential to improve upon its 2014 Euros team score by about ten points if they all hit. They’re not quite strong enough to contend with some of the bigger guys, but there will be some great individual work – specifically from all-arounders Dziyana Kirykovich and Hanna Traukova – and all together, they’ve grown so much as a team and have the potential to finish better than they’ve seen in the past decade.
Beyond the teams are the individuals, and there are tons of great performers this year, many of whom have finals potential but even with their big individual potential, the teams are overall too weak for the standouts to carry themselves. My to-watch list here includes Nora Feher and Dorka Szujo of Hungary, Andrea Carmona of Spain, Iida-Maria Vänni and Enni Kettunen of Finland, Georgia Ananiadou of Greece, Marie Skammelsen of Denmark, Juliane Tøssebro of Norway, Lucija Hribar of Slovenia, Andjela Djurdjevic of Serbia, Doga Özgöcmez of Turkey, Jessica Hutchinson of Bulgaria, Patrycja Dronia of Poland, Viktoria Vydurekova of Slovakia, and Polina Borzykh of Georgia (she’ll only do bars and beam, sadly, but could make the final on both).
Aside from Russia’s likely domination, the junior field at Euros will include quite a few surprises, especially from countries you might not be used to seeing thrive at the major international level. Romania will definitely make a resurgence here, something they’ll hopefully be able to hold on to going into the next quad. Switzerland could manage a medal at home. The Czech Republic and Ukraine could topple programs with full teams going to this summer’s Olympic Games. And gymnasts from underrepresented programs like Georgia, Bulgaria, Denmark, and more could wind up competing along with the big dogs in finals.
The junior competition begins at 10 am on Wednesday June 1. The four subdivisions will act as the team final as well as the qualifying meet for the all-around and event finals, with the top teams of the day to be awarded in a ceremony following the fourth subdivision. There will be no live stream for the juniors, but we’ll try to bring you as much info as we can on Twitter throughout the day. Start lists for all subdivisions are available here, and you can also follow live results thanks to Longines. For more information, including all of our coverage of this year’s Euros, please visit our coverage guide.
Article by Lauren Hopkins