It’s time to get excited about Germany. At their senior national championships held last weekend in Hamburg, the top five in the all-around – aka those who are most likely to fill out the five spots on the team – all placed within less than a point from one another, making this the country’s deepest team probably ever.
At worlds last year, Germany was known for its “three Hambüchens,” but outside of this quad’s stars – Elisabeth Seitz, Pauline Schäfer, and Sophie Scheder – the team was a bit weak and had a less-than-stellar day in qualifications, missing out on qualifying a full team to the Olympic Games. When they re-emerged to earn that spot at the test event this April, 16-year-old first-year senior Tabea Alt broke into the mix by finishing third all-around in an international field of 65. Then Kim Bui, the 2008 alternate who competed at her first Olympic Games in 2012, returned from multiple injuries to win the all-around competition at Bundesliga in May, and she’s been unstoppable in her comeback ever since.
These five are so good, their overall potential as a team should they hit in a three-up three-count format matches that of Russia and Great Britain, and they’re one of the best bars teams in the world, with both Seitz and Scheder capable of scores reaching the mid-15s while Bui and Alt have sets that put them around 14.5+ on a good day. Where beam was once an Achilles heel, they currently have the reigning world bronze medalist leading the pack with Alt also showing incredibly difficult work and big skills. On vault, they’ve got Schäfer’s handspring layout half along with a DTY from Alt, and while floor is relatively weak, it’s actually a stronger mix of routines than the Russians can offer up, with at least three capable of surpassing the 14.0 mark.
Based on how well the team performed in Rio without Bui, the Germans should have no problem making it to team finals in August unless something goes drastically wrong, which – let’s face it – you can’t rule out in this sport. Assuming they’re fine, it will be the first time they reach the team final since 1992, getting close four years ago but missing out by three tenths. From there, in a best-case scenario they’re looking at potentially challenging for a bronze medal. And worst case? They have their best finish as a team literally ever.
With five strong all-arounders, the country should also place two gymnasts into the individual final, and then Scheder and Seitz should easily earn spots in the bars final, where they’re both medal contenders. So far in 2016, the two have competed on bars nine times each with only one fall between them, from Seitz at her first meet of the year back in early March. And while the very nature of beam makes finalists impossible to predict, both Schäfer and Alt have the potential to make it happen depending on how the gym gods are feeling, with Schäfer looking especially ready having breached the 15.0 mark twice so far this year.
Though the team hasn’t actually been selected yet – that will happen this Saturday at the Olympic Trials held in Frankfurt – head coach Ulla Koch all but named these as her chosen five with Leah Griesser – a member of the 2015 worlds team and the 2016 test event team who placed sixth at nationals – as the likely alternate.
At nationals, Scheder won the all-around title with a 57.45, a nearly perfect day for her with Seitz not far behind at 57.0 for the silver medal with an equally strong performance (Scheder edged her by about a tenth on every single event). Schäfer, who fell at the tail end of her tricky full turn to front aerial to side somi combo in an otherwise great routine, won the bronze with a 56.95. A tenth behind her in fourth was Bui with a 56.85 for her top-notch performances, and then Alt was fifth with a 56.55 after she faced trouble on some floor upgrades. Griesser, who had possibly her best competition of all time, was sixth with a 55.2.
Schäfer returned with fantastic work in event finals, winning the beam title with a 15.133 and the floor title with a 14.333, while Seitz won bars with a 15.566, displaying a huge 6.8 start value after connecting a Maloney to Ricna, Downie to pak to Chow half, and toe full to full-in dismount.
Her score put her less than a tenth ahead of Scheder, who had beautiful work on her almost equally difficult routine to earn the silver with a 15.5, while Bui finished third with a 14.933 and Alt was fourth with a 14.566. Scheder picked up another silver medal for her clean work on beam, earning a 14.266, while Seitz was the bronze medalist on this event with a 14.233, and Bui won the silver medal on floor with a 14.2 after reintroducing her double layout into her routine for the first time since her injury.
2015 worlds team and 2016 test event team member Pauline Tratz was the gold medalist on vault, averaging a 13.716 after her rough DTY got only a 14.1. Tratz was also the bronze medalist on floor with a 14.133 and is expected to fight with Griesser for the main reserve spot, though as Griesser is a stronger all-around gymnast who could go up anywhere in a pinch, the honor is likely to go to her.
At this weekend’s trials, Scheder, Seitz, Schäfer, Bui, Alt, Griesser, and Tratz will headline the field that will also include Sarah Voss, Nadja Schulze, Carina Kröll, Amelie Föllinger, Michelle Timm, and Maike Enderle. The women will compete on July 9 at 5:30 pm local time (11:30 am ET), with the competition streamed thanks to Sport Deutschland. The team announcement will come via press conference on the following day.
Article by Lauren Hopkins