It’s not often that we get to see junior gymnasts competing on full teams against other top full teams throughout the world. This year, Gymnix came closest to offering a worlds-esque atmosphere with many top programs like the United States and Russia taking part, but European Championships is the huge week-long event fans wait patiently to see.
In some ways, the junior competition at this year’s Euros was more exciting than the seniors, as several top senior teams are without their strongest gymnasts, whereas most of the junior programs opted to send teams at full strength. This led to a great team competition, and while one team came in miles ahead of the rest, the others in the top eight were all within about five points of one another, with almost any of them capable of stepping up and winning the bronze.
Russia was the clear favorite coming in, and they didn’t disappoint. They did have a few rough moments, like when Ulyana Perebinosova misjudged her run on vault and touched the table to get a zero, taking her out of the all-around final, and then Angelina Simakova botched her FTY to make it a rather weak vault rotation. They were so far ahead, though, it was really no loss to the team, with Perebinosova likely the only one really hurting from the mistake, as it took away both her all-around and vault final spots.
Otherwise, they were fabulous, going four-for-four on every event, with not a weak link in the bunch. Elena Eremina topped the all-around field with a 56.732 after a beautifully balanced day and incredibly polished and confident routines, while Anastasia Ilyankova was right behind her with a 56.049, showing typical Russian greatness on bars, though with just an FTY and a weak floor, she was unable to keep up with her teammate. The little Varvara Zubova competed only on beam, where she had a solid routine, but was a bit slow on a few connections and came only a tenth away from making the final after getting two-per-country’ed out by her teammates.
In addition to their team gold, which clocked in at a 168.179, and the strong all-around performances, the Russians qualified into seven of their eight available event finals spots, with one vault spot the only miss due to Perebinosova’s mistake. The girls were fantastic, and are actually pretty much on par with the current U.S. seniors, which could make for some exciting competition in the coming years. Eremina made the vault, beam, and floor finals, Ilyankova made bars and beam, and Perebinosova made bars and floor. Angelina Simakova also competed, and did a good job on her three events, though she’s not at the same level as her slightly older teammates.
The British and Romanian teams finished second and third, respectively, with Great Britain coming in about two tenths higher for silver in what was a close battle throughout the competition. Alice Kinsella and Maisie Methuen led the British team, with Kinsella showing the best work I’ve seen from her, something she’s slowly been building to all season. With a 55.465, she qualified third into the all-around final and counted all four of her routines into the team’s total of 163.912. Her difficulty isn’t super high, with a solid 5.6 on every event but vault (where she has an FTY), but it was her ability to attack and conquer each one that made her a standout, which is why she made the bars, beam, and floor finals in addition to her great all-around performance.
Methuen didn’t have the greatest day, with some wild work on one of her bars skills as well as a bounce and skid out-of-bounds on floor, though her beam was mostly solid there, which got her a finals spot, and her bars were still one of the team’s best routines even with the little mistakes, adding a second apparatus final in addition to the all-around, which she qualified into with a 53.998.
The other British juniors were pretty much newbies, including Taeja James, and Lucy Stanhope. James, hoping to make the all-around final, had a problem similar to that of Perebinosova, getting an unfortunate zero on vault to take her out of contention, and she also had a fall on beam. She did have solid work on bars and floor, but overall just seemed to be a bit nervous, which is understandable, as this year’s Gymnix was her first junior elite meet. Megan Parker had a good routine on floor, making the final with a 13.533 after showing some of the cleanest execution of the day, while Lucy Stanhope did a great job on both vault and beam, with beam especially clean, though her difficulty wasn’t high enough to get her into the final.
I was happy to see the Romanians hold it together well enough to not count any major issues into their overall score. With two DTYs from Olivia Cimpian and the awesomely powerful little Denisa Golgota, who has been competing this vault well since she was twelve, in addition to a pair of clean FTYs from Ioana Crisan and Carmen Ghiciuc, they managed the best team vault score of the meet, which helped them even out their low bars score (which still managed to be the eighth best of the day, not bad considering it’s Romania on bars). Ghiciuc got them off to a decent start there, just landing her dismount a little short, and then Alisia Botnaru was a bit of a mess, falling on her Jaeger, over-arching her toe full, and showing weak form throughout.
Thankfully, they didn’t have to count Botnaru’s low score after the decent work from Cimpian and Crisan, neither of whom is exactly what you’d call a bars savior, but things could’ve been much worse. Cimpian had an unfortunate fall on her tuck full on beam, but the girls got it back together once again to not count any major mistakes, with Ghiciuc hitting a solid set and Crisan slaying her huge 6.0 routine, including her back walkover mount into her flight series. She missed a connection and was definitely nervous, but I love this routine so much. There were no major mistakes on floor, with the overall difficulty a bit low, but the execution was not bad for any of them, aside from a bit of a wild tucked full-in from Crisan.
At the end of the day, the team posted a 163.678, a fantastic effort that put them almost on par with the senior team. Crisan qualified into the all-around with a 54.365 while Ghiciuc also made it in with a 53.814. Additionally, Cimpian and Golgota made it into vault and floor finals, while Crisan got a spot in the beam final as well.
Directly behind the top three were Italy with a 162.030, France with a 160.823, and Switzerland with a 160.496. Realistically, any of these teams could’ve made it on the podium for silver or bronze, but mistakes ultimately kept them out of contention. Italy counted a fall on bars in addition to rough work on beam and floor, though I was impressed with their solid vault rotation, which featured three Yurchenko 1.5s in addition to an excellent DTY from Martina Maggio, who unfortunately fell on bars.
Maggio was expected to be an all-around contender, but an injury to her foot kept her off beam and likely limited her a bit on floor as well. Instead, Martina Basile made it in with a 54.032 after the overall strongest day for the Italians, with no major mistakes on any of her routines, while Francesca Noemi Linari also managed to squeeze in with a 50.974 after a disastrous bars routine and a mistake on her 1.5 on vault. Both Basile and Maggio qualified into the vault final, which is the only final the Italians will see. In addition to these three, Sara Berardinelli and Maria Vittoria Cocciolo also competed. Both struggled on beam, but Berardinelli had a hit bars set and Cocciolo had the cleanest floor work, though her difficulty is definitely a bit low.
France was one of my favorites for a medal, but three of their beam routines had falls, forcing them to count scores of 11.966 and 12.1 in addition to Lorette Charpy’s fabulous 14.175, the third-best of the meet on that event, securing a spot in the final. Charpy was fabulous, also getting the third-best score of 14.3 on bars and qualifying fourth into the all-around final with a 55.307. Bars and beam are the clear standouts for her, but she looked confident on all four and has the best chance at an individual medal (or two or three!) for France.
Some of France’s best work came on bars, where Janna Mouffok also had an excellent routine for a 13.5 to make finals, and on vault they showed gorgeous work on their FTYs, with Morgane Osyssek qualifying into the final. Osyssek also made it into the all-around with a 51.933, her beam fall limiting her total score but ultimately not keeping her down for long, and the tiny Alisson Lapp came back from her beam fall to perform awesome work on floor, where her 13.4 got her a finals spot as well. Melissa Poitreau competed as well, on every event but floor, showing an awesome FTY and a decent bars set, but earning only an 11.6 on beam.
Switzerland was definitely my favorite for a surprise bronze medal, and they were actually in the top three after two rotations, showing fantastic work on vault (they were able to drop Lynn Genhart’s fall to count three great scores) and clean work on their low-difficulty bar routines to keep them ahead of the rest. The normally steady team fell apart on beam, however, with two of their best gymnasts – Leonie Meier and Livia Schmid – falling, meaning they’d need to count a 12.033. The team then had some lower-than-average routines on floor, with Meier and Genhart having trouble hitting landings and staying in-bounds, and while both Schmid and Anina Wildi had good work, their difficulty was far too low, resulting in scores of 13.233 and 13.2, respectively.
When all was said and done, Wildi made it into the all-around with a 53.832, though likely won’t challenge even on a perfect day due to her low start values. Genhart was the second to make it in, with a 52.599, a score that can get bumped up a bit if she hits vault and has better landings on floor in finals, though again, it won’t be enough to threaten for an individual medal unless other top girls make mistakes. Genhart also placed into the bars final, while Schmid will go up on vault.
Germany’s difficulty was a bit weak overall, especially on vault and bars where they had several d-scores in the 4.0 range. The team finished with a 159.365 counting a fall on beam, which was definitely a better finish than I could’ve imagined for them, thanks especially to the great work from Helene Schäfer. While her vault is just a layout Yurchenko, she has the team’s best difficulty on bars and beam by a long shot, and is fabulous on both, becoming the only German to make apparatus finals. Both she and Emma Höfele qualified into the all-around as well, with Höfele finishing just a tenth above her, the two at 53.166 and 53.066.
Otherwise, Kristina Iltner did some great work considering her young age and the fact that she was originally the alternate, Anudari Platow had a fall on beam and her weak vault didn’t count into the team total either, and Isabelle Stingl had falls on bars and beam, though contributed a solid FTY. I think had these three been a little stronger, the team could have been more competitive even with mistakes, but honestly the difficulty really just did them in, leaving them with no chance to get close to the top if every team had a successful day.
Belgium in eighth with a 157.628 came in with some of the lowest overall difficulty among the top teams, and I actually didn’t think they could’ve made it into the top eight, especially after they had to fight through a couple of beam errors. But fight they did, and they seemed happy to fare as well as they ended up doing! National champion Rinke Santy and Maellyse Brassart each made it into the all-around final with scores of 52.298 and 52.264, respectively, with Myrthe Potoms coming close as well at 51.699, though a fall on beam ultimately kept her out. In addition, Alysha Senders competed well on floor while Manon Muller, who stepped in at the last second to replace her injured teammate, contributed hit routines on bars and beam, with her beam score of 13.233 the team’s best of the day.
The Netherlands finished ninth with a 156.729, with their star Sanna Veerman a cut above her teammates in terms of her difficulty, though she had a pretty rough day in the competition, with mistakes on all of her events, including vault. It was surprising, to say the least, though she still had the strongest finish, qualifying into the all-around with a 51.14. Naomi Visser, who didn’t compete bars, had a pretty solid day as well, and earned a floor finals spot with a 13.433 for her gorgeous and clean work. Otherwise, I loved Marieke van Egmond’s beam, I thought Bogusia Rossen had a nice vault, and I enjoyed Juliette Berens on beam as well, though she too had a rough day on her other three events.
I was expecting a bigger result from the Czech Republic, though the team had a super unfortunate loss immediately prior to competing, with top all-arounder Aneta Holasova unable to participate. It was a major blow, though I thought her four teammates stepped up incredibly well, especially as both Lucie Jirikova and Kristyna Brabcova were forced to compete the all-around at the last minute. While they didn’t quite meet expectations due to the loss of Holasova as well as counting a couple of falls, they still managed to become a top-ten team, and their score of 153.253 was a full ten points higher than what they managed just two years ago, speaking volumes to how talented this junior team is, which bodes well for their future as they approach the senior level.
Without Holasova, all four competed in the all-around, with Vendula Merkova their top finisher with a 51.549 followed by Brabcova with a 50.398, Jirikova with a 50.973, and Adela Merkova with a 49.099. The girls started with gorgeous work on floor, though compared to some of the more experienced teams, their difficulty was lower than what we’re used to. Without Holasova, they also had no FTYs on vault, counting all with start values between 4.2-4.6, so even while they mostly hit well there, they just couldn’t contend with the stronger teams with mostly FTYs or better. Adela Merkova, who typically has one of the best bar routines, unfortunately fell there, so they had to count Brabcova’s 11.966, and then falls from Jirikova and Adela Merkova on beam also caused some drama, though Brabcova recovered nicely from her bars fall to do great work there, and Vendula Merkova absolutely nailed her beam with one of the best execution scores of the day for a 13.716 to get the first reserve spot for the final.
I was especially proud to see this young team fight hard. With Brabcova going last on beam with her low-difficulty set, the team stood by and screamed and cheered for each and every skill, fighting until the end to get what was a pretty fantastic result even if they didn’t quite get the scores they were hoping to see. Those scores will come with time, and I still believe the team will grow tremendously in the next few years, which I can’t wait to see.
Non-top ten gymnasts who made the all-around include the Russian Polina Borzykh who competes for Georgia with a 52.899, Dorka Szujo of Hungary with a 51.682, Valeriia Iarmolenko of Ukraine with a 51.632, Marie Skammelsen of Denmark with a 51.066, and Amelia Sanchez of Spain with a 50.398. Skammelsen also qualified into the vault final while Borzykh qualified into beam, and while none of these are real individual medal threats, it’s a nicely diverse final, especially with both Georgia and Denmark in the mix.
Of course, there’s always sad news with any meet, and one of the biggest bummers was Diana Varinska of Ukraine absolutely losing her mind and competing so poorly, it was truly sad to witness. With two falls on bars and one on beam in addition to mistakes on floor, she managed to go from an all-arounder with 55+ potential to one who finished with a 50.099, putting her as first reserve into the all-around final, a real shame when she could’ve been a leading contender. Truly heartbreaking to see her not make a final here, though hopefully we’ll see her back looking stronger than ever someday soon, hopefully at a world cup or two next year so she can get valuable international experience the Ukrainians don’t often get as juniors.
Also a bummer was the loss of Nora Feher on all but bars due to injury. She was expected to make a big impression here and land in the all-around final, and it’s always a shame to see your hard work all season lead to last-minute disappointment. Lucija Hribar of Slovenia had a similar issue, relegated just to bars after hoping to make the vault final.
So this was the big news from the junior finals. Too long, didn’t read version? I’m really happy with how things played out, even with the mistakes along the way. I think there’s so much promise, especially for teams that have been relying on older generations for far too long. If Romania especially puts the time and energy into helping these 2001 and 2002-born gymnasts grow into their potential, they could have a pretty fabulous team made up of all girls who turned senior in the coming quad for 2020.
The junior all-around final takes place today at 7 pm in Bern, or 1 pm ET, with event finals held Sunday. For more of our coverage, check out our coverage guide!
Article by Lauren Hopkins