The big story for the senior women at this year’s European Championships was the rematch between Russia and Great Britain, both of whom sent near-top caliber teams as they continue preparing for this summer’s ultimate battle, the Olympic Games.
In our preview for the senior competition, we noted that Russia was the stronger team on paper, but that their inconsistency is what caused them to miss out on a medal last year, with Great Britain so good at the mental side of competing that this is what makes them able to swoop in and get the win. When you lined up the two teams side-by-side, they were close to equal on vault with three DTYs apiece, Russia had the edge on bars, the Brits had the edge on floor, and while the Russian beam routines are much stronger, this is where they tend to melt down the most in competition, so it was all going to come down to who hit when it mattered.
In qualifications, both counted a single fall on beam, which should’ve opened things up for Russia, but with uncharacteristic mistakes from Daria Spiridonova on bars and super weak floor routines, the British women managed to lead by a tenth. Floor was the real divider between the two, thanks mostly to the absence of 2015 world medalist Ksenia Afanasyeva, who withdrew from the event due to injury, giving Aliya Mustafina a last-minute responsibility that she handled admirably even though her difficulty was quite low. It was Claudia Fragapane who fell on beam for the Brits, but she more than made up for her error with one of her best floor routines ever, earning a 15.0 to give them just what they needed to regain their lead. After watching qualifications, it was clear things were going to be close between the gold and silver medalists, making it one of the more exciting team competitions in years.
The team final started off super close, with Russia leading by a tenth after both teams performed three solid DTYs apiece. With hit routines on bars, the Russians could expect to expand their lead, and they did exactly that, with Angelina Melnikova – who had the best all-around finish in qualifications – getting them off to a great start while Mustafina and Spiridonova hit in the 15.3 range, bringing them to a huge 45.665 total. On a good day, Great Britain is capable of getting in the 43-44 range, but sadly a fall from Ruby Harrold meant just a 42.615, giving Russia over a three-point lead at the halfway point, something the Brits were unlikely to come back from without an epic meltdown from the Russians on beam.
Normally, this kind of meltdown wouldn’t be out of the question, and Seda Tutkhalyan again had a fall, fully jeopardizing what was looking like a potential Olympic team spot after getting her routine more under control at smaller events earlier this season. While her hit routines at Stuttgart and Osijek looked fabulous and promising, she has fallen on five of her six routines at worlds last year and Euros this year, an abysmal consistency rate in a high-pressure situation. But at this meet, Tutkhalyan was brilliantly balanced by two of Russia’s best when it comes to mental performance, and both Melnikova and Mustafina hit stellar routines to each earn a 14.8, bringing their beam score with a fall to an impressive 43.233. For context, the Americans had a 43.432 for three hit routines in the team final at worlds last year, so this was an incredible change of pace for the Russians.
Instead, it was Great Britain with the meltdown, as Fragapane once again had a fall, and then Becky Downie – who was near-perfect in qualifications – missed her punch front and side aerial to layout stepout, putting her at just a 12.533. Gabby Jupp did a fantastic job showing an excellent level of consistency on this historically weak event for the team, which could really bode well for her making this year’s Olympic team after an incredibly disappointing quad due to injury after injury. But overall, the team only managed a 39.899 here, going into the final rotation 6.5 points behind the Russians.
The British ladies deserve a ton of respect for coming back strong on floor, where both Ellie Downie and Fragapane had especially strong efforts while Harrold came back from her bars fall to get a 13.933. Their 43.199 event total was the best of the day on floor and narrowed the gap considerably, but unluckily for them, the Russians also performed quite well here, and still managed a near five-point win over the British team thanks to their solid, albeit comparatively easy sets.
It was a job well done for the Russians, who performed almost at the level they should be expected to peak at for the Olympics. Adding Afanasyeva back into the floor lineup will help them to an even higher number, as will possibly getting Maria Paseka and her big vaults back into the mix. Mustafina and Melnikova would be locks basically for beam alone, so if the team is these four plus Spiridonova for bars, all they’d have to worry about is that third spot on beam. Actually, if Viktoria Komova is over her injuries, she should definitely replace Spiridonova, as she could handle both the bars and beam spots quite well, though her lack of consistency at worlds last year worries me almost as much as Tutkhalyan’s does. Either way, it’s shaping up to be a great team compared to most of what we’ve seen from them this quad, and it’s great that they have so many B team options who could do great work if this team doesn’t exactly work out.
The British team also has some room for improvement. At this point, I’m confident the Downies and Fragapane are locks, and I also think Amy Tinkler will fit in well with her clean DTY, high-scoring floor set, and good enough work on bars and beam. The fifth and final spot is likely between Jupp, Harrold, and Rebecca Tunney, but of these three, Jupp has best shown this season that she’s both the most consistent and also the most well-rounded, as she can hit a good enough bars set while also lending great work on beam under a ton of pressure. It’s going to be a tough decision, but as beam is the team’s Achilles heel, her calm and steady set is clearly needed, whereas Tunney’s difficulty there is far too low and Harrold has struggled there all season as well. If they want to defeat the Russians in Rio this summer to earn the nation’s first ever team medal at the Olympic Games, beam is the problem that needs fixing and Jupp is certainly one who could be crucial in helping.
In our prediction, we figured the bronze would be between France and Italy with Romania and Switzerland on the outskirts, which is more or less what ended up being the case in the team final even though qualifications shook things up quite a bit with France counting five falls to place sixth with a 162.839.
Like the top two teams at Euros, the French team was nearly at Olympic caliber, though they had Loan His – generally a top all-arounder – sitting out everything but bars to give her a bit of a rest, while they also decided to let Louise Vanhille – dealing with back pain – skip out on the meet entirely, giving them a chance to test new senior Alison Lepin, a gorgeous bar worker with zero major international experience.
In qualifications, Lepin sadly fell three times on her difficult bar routine, utterly heartbreaking to watch as she just looked so nervous even though she’s typically brilliant on this event. Beginning with leg separation and an arch over on her inbar full, she managed to get that under control, but as that led right into her Komova II, she didn’t get quite the amplitude she needed, causing her to catch the high bar and then face plant on the mat. She caught it the second time she attempted, connecting it into a good Ricna followed by a great Galante, but then she got stuck on her bail to inbar half to Endo half connection, muscling the Endo before hopping off. With a deep breath before remounting, she tried the Endo half again but then over-arched it and fell for a third time, earning an 11.066.
In addition to Lepin’s falls, they counted a fall from His on bars and from Oreane Lechenault on floor, where she is typically fantastic, though Marine Brevet and Marine Boyer both had strong performances. It’s always a bit risky to put three first-year seniors on a five-member squad, and for Lepin especially, it seemed that all of her mistakes came down to nerves, not lack of talent or skill.
With the falls, they were within a point of not making the team final at all, which makes their bronze medal achievement all the more impressive. As nervous as Lepin seemed in qualifications, she was the opposite of that in the team final, looking determined and strong to hit every element in her routine for a huge 14.6. She looked so happy about her finish, and then both Lechenault and His killed it on this event as well, bringing the team to a 43.499 for the second-best team score of the day. Otherwise, they had fantastic routines pretty much everywhere else, with some mistakes on beam from Lechenault but as a whole, it was a fantastic day, giving them the bronze by three points over the Swiss host team.
Switzerland performed more or less as they did in qualifications, with Giulia Steingruber counting falls on beam both days while looking otherwise fantastic. The only major difference was a fall for Ilaria Käslin in the team final on bars, though she was fantastic on beam during finals, and the team still managed to finish two tenths ahead of Italy for fourth. While the team qualified in third, it was clear that France on a good day was the stronger team, and even had Switzerland not counted falls, France was still likely to win.
But it was nice to see Switzerland really step up here at home in Bern, and also great to watch them go from a nation known for one gymnast to one that can field full teams at major international events and have them finish strong, placing sixth at the Olympic Test Event and fourth here. Good work on their part, and they have a team of incredible juniors coming up to continue this into the next quad.
The Italian team was without its top three competitors, with Vanessa Ferrari, Erika Fasana, and Carlotta Ferlito all essentially Olympic locks needing to stay home and rest up for Rio. The five in Bern are all in the running for those two remaining team spots, and while I think Euros was supposed to help separate the best from the rest, there was really nothing that cleared things up or made the decision any easier.
In qualifications, Enus Mariani had falls or big mistakes on all three of her events, Lara Mori fell on beam, Elisa Meneghini fell on beam and had several bad landings on floor, and Martina Rizzelli had a messy and low-scoring DTY. Sofia Busato‘s DTY was good, earning a 14.8, but as this is the only event she performs at the moment, it doesn’t make her a strong contender for Rio unless she gets her other events back, and she was really only in Bern to replace Fasana. With no major meltdowns, the team finished seventh in qualifications, behind France, showing that all of their little mistakes really added up and almost took them out of the team finals running.
They did make some great improvements in the team final, however, with Meneghini especially impressive on her layout full on beam to get a 14.5 on this event – the fourth-best beam score of the day – and Mariani fixed most of her mistakes as well, though still had some issues on floor. Lara Mori hit solid enough work on bars and floor, but Rizzelli had a fall on bars, allowing the Swiss to just manage to slip in over them. With a 165.571, it wasn’t an awful day, but not one of the girls emerged as a front-runner for a Rio spot, which is I think what they were hoping would happen here.
With Fasana, Ferlito, and Ferrari looking like the core members of the Olympic team, bars is definitely a hole they need to fill, and Rizzelli showed in qualifications that she is a top option. She has the greatest difficulty and biggest skills, and could help out a lot on that event in Rio. But she’s also hit only 50% of the time in 2016, with two falls in Bern between team and event finals, which raises questions about whether she’d be able to perform in a pressure situation in August. Mori and Mariani have the next-best routines, but Mariani is equally inconsistent, and while Mori has hit every single bars and floor routine she’s competed in 2016 (seven of each!) her skill level isn’t quite as impressive as some of the other girls. Then you have Meneghini with a risky beam skill on an event they have more than covered by the three top girls…I don’t even know. It’s going to be almost impossible to pick between them, though I think based on her consistency alone, Mori should absolutely get one of the spots.
The Romanians brought their best gymnasts at the moment, which isn’t saying much as most of their top girls – Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar, and Laura Jurca – are injured. But given their situation, I think they had a great meet both in qualifications and in finals, with some mistakes but no real meltdowns, even on bars. In qualifications, they had a fall from Ana Maria Ocolisan on her Maloney on bars and then Silvia Zarzu fell on floor, but given that this was a mostly young and inexperienced team, I thought they did some very nice work, especially the new seniors Anda Butuc and Maria Holbura…and then, naturally, Catalina Ponor was a superstar, nailing a DTY and doing the team’s best work on beam and floor.
After placing fourth in qualifications, the team was sixth in finals with about an equal performance, though set back a bit after France and Italy got their lives together. Ocolisan again had a mistake on bars, but had a strong DTY and stepped in at the last minute for Zarzu on floor with a 13.266, a low score but not bad given that it was her first back on the event since her injury last year and still outscored Zarzu’s performance from qualifications. Holbura had some mistakes on beam, but was otherwise a rock, Butuc did some decent work on bars and beam, and Ponor was fabulous as usual on her three events. The team managed a 164.596 and should be happy for getting through the meet relatively unscathed, especially given how young and beaten down the program is at the moment.
Germany placed seventh with a mostly B team, earning scores of 164.852 in qualifications and 163.829 in finals. While the majority on this team will not be in Olympic consideration, Kim Bui definitely continued to show why she could be a big help to the team, hitting insanely good bar routines both days for scores of 14.566 and 14.866, and then placing fourth in the event final with a 14.533. With Elisabeth Seitz and Sophie Scheder likely to lead the team on this event, Bui could start them off with a very strong leadoff routine to make the Germans one of the best bars teams in the world, and then Bui is also proving consistent enough on the remainder of her events to step in anywhere needed, her performances reaching all-around scores of 55.731 in quals and 56.301 in the team final which puts her on par with Seitz, Scheder, and Pauline Schäfer, so it looks like the “three Hambüchens” are about to become the four!
Otherwise, Sarah Voss – last year’s worlds alternate – looked promising with a DTY upgrade and a hit beam in qualifications, though she fell on both in the team final. Both Maike Enderle and Lina Philipp showed great work on bars, though Enderle fell on beam in the team final, while Amelie Föllinger was strong enough on floor – her one event – to make the event final there.
Finally, in last place in the team final was Hungary, a bit of a surprise especially given that they counted a couple of falls in qualifications. They were one of our long-shot favorites, so it was great to see them get in, and only 0.033 ahead of Belgium! In qualifications, they opted to use three all-arounders, likely to test Zsofia Kovacs and Noemi Makra on all four events as they were the two up for the Olympic spot, which rightfully went to Kovacs following this competition. Kovacs was third all-around in qualifications with a 56.432, and with her DTY alongside her strong and clean work everywhere else, she’s going to make a big impression in Rio this summer.
In quals, Kovacs hit everything incredibly well, though Makra counted falls on both bars and beam, her best events. Dorina Böczögö, the two-time Olympian who served as their third all-arounder here, had perhaps her best day of the season with hit routines on all three events, though they purposely brought her in with lower-than-usual difficulty to ensure she wouldn’t fall.
For the team final, they brought in this year’s national champion Luca Diveky to replace Makra everywhere but bars, and she did a good enough job though is a bit behind in her difficulty and Makra’s routines with falls are able to outscore Diveky’s hit routines, so I think it was more of a reward to let her compete, knowing they were lucky to make it into the final and wouldn’t challenge for a medal. Makra hit bars, Kovacs hit everything aside from a fall on beam, Böczögö had an even better day than her qualification day, and Diveky looked especially beautiful on her expressive floor set. The team added nearly a point to their qualifications score and came close to challenging Germany, but really, it was great just to see them reach this level and I’m sure they were happy to make that happen.
Belgium came to Euros with a “we have something to prove” team featuring Nina Derwael, who missed out on the Olympic Test Event due to injury, alongside Test Event alternates Julie Meyers and Cindy Vandenhole. The two-time Olympian Gaelle Mys, who hopes to get to her third Olympics this summer, rounded out the team with a fantastic performance, earning spots in the finals on beam and floor and making a great case for Rio this summer.
Derwael looked fabulous in her return to the sport. She’s limited to bars and beam at the moment, and had an unfortunate fluke fall on her Bhardwaj, which had looked fabulous in training all week but she just came in a little too close in the competition. The skill came out of an otherwise lovely stalder full to Chow to Bhardwaj combination, and after re-chalking, she managed to continue with a beautiful Chow half, Jaeger, van Leeuwen, and high near-stuck full-in dismount in addition to hitting a lovely set on beam, so even with the mistake it was a great comeback for her.
Meyers had a fall on beam but otherwise hit her low difficulty routines, and Vandenhole caught her hips on her pak on bars but was able to get back into the swing of things for a good finish there, and she also hit her FTY on vault as well as her floor routine, though she had a couple of iffy landings on the latter.
Beyond these teams, Spain was 10th with a 160.872, Poland was 11th with a 156.778, Ukraine was 12th with a 152.446, Austria (depleted by several injuries) was 13th with a 151.488, Iceland was 14th with a 150.955, Greece was 15th with a 150.420, Portugal was 16th with a 150.064, Belarus (featuring the American Kylie Dickson alongside three homegrown teammates which made for an interesting vibe) was 17th with a 149.330, Finland was 18th with a 146.996, the Czech Republic was 19th with a 146.363, Azerbaijan was 20th with a 144.604, Norway was 21st with a 142.164, Turkey was 22nd with a 141.329, Israel was 23rd with a 138.364, Latvia was 24th with a 129.129, and Slovenia was 25th with a 39.615 (though I’m not sure why they counted as a ‘team’ given that they only put up three total routines!).
Among these, Olympic qualifiers Filipa Martins of Portugal, Lisa Ecker of Austria, Katarzyna Jurkowska-Jowalska of Poland, and Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia all had fantastic days in the all-around, all reaching 53+ with Martins looking especially consistent as she always tends to be, and I think Ecker gets better each time she competes. I was incredibly impressed with Mara Titarsolej of the Netherlands, who was fifth all-around with a 55.490, her highest all-around score to date, hitting all four events with an especially strong floor routine that placed fifth in event finals and could really help the team out this summer.
In event finals, Steingruber narrowly beat Ellie Downie for the vault title, the two going 14.983 to 14.933 after Steingruber nailed her Rudi but had a rough landing on her somewhat scary DTY. Downie definitely had the better performance, but her difficulty on her Lopez just wasn’t great enough to help her outscore the Swiss gymnast, especially with Steingruber on home turf, though she did get in several tenths ahead of Afanasyeva who won bronze with a 14.699, competing the same vaults but not quite as good as Downie does them.
Busato was fourth with a 14.599, Fragapane was fifth with a 14.549, Teja Belak of Slovenia was sixth with a 14.483 (one of her best scores to date after upgrading her handspring tuck front full to a handspring layout front full, which she competed very well!), Kovacs was seventh with a 14.216, and Jurkowska-Kowalska was eighth with a 13.7, hitting her handspring layout half with a small hop, but then putting her hands down on her tsuk full, which she totally brushed off and laughed about, something she tends to do when she makes mistakes, which I totally respect.
On bars, Becky Downie came in with a massive and incredible 6.9 routine to defeat the Russians with a 15.5 total, her own personal revenge for her beam mistakes in the team final. The routine itself was epic, and with both Spiridonova and Mustafina on top of their own games with equally gorgeous work, it was an especially sweet victory (Spiridonova captured the silver with a 15.466, while Mustafina was the bronze medalist with a 15.1).
Bui ended up in fourth with a 14.533, Kovacs was fifth with a 14.4, and Steingruber was sixth with a 14.166, all hit routines, and then Jupp fell after catching her van Leeuwen with one arm to get seventh with a 13.4 and Rizzelli was eighth with a 13.366 after muscling halfway through her stalder full and giving an epic attempt to save it but ultimately needing to pause and start her swing over again.
The beam final was one of the best in the quad, with Mustafina taking the title with a 15.1 after super clean work (including a real live flight series!), followed by Boyer with a 14.6 (her high difficulty tends to be overshadowed by some messy work but this was an excellent routine!) and Ponor with a 14.266 for bronze. I think Ponor actually got a bit of an Olympian bonus there, as she was a bit messy and yet came in just 0.033 ahead of Käslin in fourth with a 14.233, who had a cleaner set. Because Käslin is SO good on this event, I was really hoping she’d be able to come in for that bronze, but going over time also hurt her a bit as without that tenth off in penalties, it would’ve been hers.
Rounding out the field was Melnikova in fifth with a 14.166 for her mostly strong routine, though she had to fight for her wolf turn finish, had a wobble on her layout, and took a big step on her dismount, and then a three-way tie for sixth, as Mys, Brevet, and Becky Downie all earned scores of 14.066 for their own work.
Steingruber took her second gold of the meet on floor with a massive 15.2 for her huge routine, showing that she’s more than ready to win a medal in the Olympic final if she can hit like that again. Ellie Downie was the silver medalist with a 14.566 while Ponor got another bronze with a 14.466, both doing great work to defeat Fragapane, who looked a bit run-down in that set, getting a 14.3 for fourth.
Titarsolej was fifth with a 13.933, showing solid and clean work, Brevet was sixth with a 13.9, Mys was seventh with a 13.666, and Föllinger was eighth with a 13.466, none showing major mistakes with Brevet especially tidy aside from going out-of-bounds on one pass.
In all, I think the senior women at Euros put on an exciting show, even though most of the top teams opted to leave some of their best gymnasts at home. The team finals battle for gold means Russia and Great Britain are now tied this year in their back-and-forth team medal fight, leaving the team final at the Olympic Games for what should be an awesome fight to determine who will come out on top. It’s been a fantastic rise for Great Britain as a world gymnastics power this quad, and with both of these teams among the top four in the world at the moment, it will be exciting to watch as they keep pushing each other at the greatest possible level.
Article by Lauren Hopkins