With two weeks left to go before the Olympic qualifications, several teams and gymnasts gathered together for a final preparation meet in Chemnitz, Germany, where the host team won the gold with a huge 174.25.
I’ve been talking about this German team for a couple of months now, and while I know about the dangers of comparing scores between competitions and always take them with a grain of salt, it’s helpful to see how a team would have competed in relation to other teams (and generally, it’s not all that far off, so shush). Had this team competed at European Championships as they did here, they would have gotten the silver medal just a point behind Russia, and would have led the way at qualifications.
I’m not kidding when I say the Germans – Elisabeth Seitz, Pauline Schäfer, Sophie Scheder, Tabea Alt, and Kim Bui – will challenge for bronze if they hit and others make mistakes. Russia’s potential is a bit greater than Germany’s, but historically, Russia is known for counting falls, and a worlds-level meltdown could take them out of the picture for bronze for the second year in a row with Germany and other similarly strong up-and-coming teams (like last year’s bronze medalists from Great Britain) able to take advantage of those mistakes. It’s going to be a close call, like many medals have been this quad (especially in Europe), so it will all come down to the team that hits when it counts.
But Germany is certainly in the mix, and head coach Ulla Koch has said that this year is all about the team. Every decision made going into the Games will be about the team getting to finals in the first stage and then on the podium in the second, with all individual medals – like Seitz and Scheder on bars or Schäfer on beam – secondary to their team goals.
In Chemnitz, the Germans put up all five gymnasts as all-arounders, giving them a five-up three-count safety they wouldn’t have had at Euros and won’t get at the Olympics, where the format is four-up three-count in qualifications and three-up three-count in finals. They did have a couple of mistakes this weekend, with Scheder and Bui missing beam and Alt missing floor, but going off of likely team final lineups, only beam really would’ve been affected, so it’s a nearly-accurate representation of what we can expect in Rio.
Schäfer was the top all-arounder for the Germans with a 57.3 after a great day, followed by Seitz with a 57.15, Alt with a 56.75, Bui with a 55.85, and Scheder with a 55.35, leaving their “who do we put up in the all-around?!” puzzle even more complicated than it already was. What’s interesting is that Alt has missed floor in almost every competition over the past couple of months, and yet still manages to stay in the middle of the pack, giving her the greatest potential for a fully hit day. I think even though Schäfer came out on top here, given what Koch has said about every decision made about the team, I don’t think they’d use her in the all-around in qualifications with her bars being the weakest of the four. I think if something did go wrong with one of the other bar workers, Koch would much rather have Alt there in qualifications, as she adds almost a point more than Schäfer would, which could be crucial in making it to the team final.
I think even with her relatively weak day here, Scheder is still a lock for the all-around as she tends to have a top-four routine on all four events, with the final spot between Bui and Seitz. Bui tends to be the stronger of the two on beam and floor, but Seitz comes pretty close, especially on beam, where Bui has had the bulk of her struggles since returning. Either way, it’s going to be a tough call, and I don’t envy having to make the decision…but on the bright side, choosing between similarly capable gymnasts for each event is kind of a sweet problem to have.
The German alternates also competed here, with Leah Griesser placing 12th with a 53.9 and standing out on bars, Michelle Timm placing 13th with a 53.75 showing her best work on vault and bars, and then Pauline Tratz placing 16th with a 52.3, showing her strengths on vault and floor.
Behind Germany was France with a 167.95, perhaps a little below their potential without superstar first-year senior Marine Boyer in the mix. National champion Boyer sat out this meet with alternate Anne Kuhm going up in her place, causing them to lose about a point on beam and close to it on vault, though Kuhm did a fabulous job hitting and showed that she could really step in on any event and put up the clean and consistent routines the team could use in a pinch.
Marine Brevet was the top finisher for the French team with a 56.0, followed closely by Louise Vanhille with a 55.95, Kuhm with a 54.8, and Oreane Lechenault with a 54.65. Brevet did exactly her job on all four events, and Vanhille did hers as well, standing out with a fantastic set on bars to earn a 14.9, the third-best score of the day behind Seitz and Scheder. Lechenault struggled a bit, though she also showed weakness leading up to the test event, where she ended up shining as one of the strongest on the team. Maybe it’s a first-year senior thing, as she and Alt both seem to have that issue with performing their best under the most extreme pressure? I hope the intensity of being at the Games turns everything around for them both.
Finally, His performed only on bars and beam, showing a weak beam set, but hitting her high-difficulty bars with a 14.65, fifth-best in this strong bars field. It’s hard to top the German bars rotation, but France with Vanhille, His, and Lechenault with a hit routine comes pretty close, so I hope this team is able to reach finals so these three will get their chance to shine!
A mixed team featuring gymnasts from Romania, Venezuela, and Austria was third with a 166.8, making me kind of want mixed teams in major international competitions to be a thing. Bars was a weak point for this team, with Catalina Ponor not competing the event while Larisa Iordache, Lisa Ecker, and Jessica Lopez all counted falls, giving them just a 39.45 event score. But otherwise, they showed strong work, and actually beat France on the other three events in addition to posting the top team score on floor!
Ponor’s performance here proved why she will compete in Rio over Iordache, who sadly just didn’t get the time she needed to return from all of her ailments and injuries. Ponor was a top three finisher on all of her events, with a 14.7 for her DTY, a 14.5 on beam, and a 14.7 on floor, showing that she could very well make the finals on the latter two even if she wouldn’t necessarily be a frontrunner for a medal. Iordache, meanwhile, was ninth all-around with a 55.15, hitting everything but bars, though with weaker ability than we’re used to seeing when she’s at her strongest. It’s definitely heartbreaking to see her make it all the way through the quad as one of the best in the world, let alone in her country, only to lose it just months before the Games, but Ponor is clearly operating at a higher level at the moment, as much as it pains me to admit. I’ve spent the past four years needing Rio to be Iordache’s redemption for London, which she also came into injured and not at her best, and I really held out for her right up until this weekend…but Ponor looks killer at the moment while Iordache looks like she still needs a couple more months to prepare. I really hate timing in this sport.
The other mixed-group gymnasts, Lisa Ecker and Jessica Lopez, are also preparing to represent as individuals in Rio, though neither had the best day here, each finishing a couple of points below what they’re capable of. Lopez, 15th all-around with a 52.9, had a rough day pretty much everywhere but floor, which was surprising…while Ecker, 17th all-around with a 51.7, had a rough bars set though otherwise looked strong.
Finally, Switzerland placed last as a team with a 165.5, though Giulia Steingruber rocked her performance to win the all-around with a 58.05, attacking all four of her events to put herself in the mix as a serious bronze medal contender in Rio. Naturally, she stood out most on vault and floor, where she posted the highest scores of 15.35 and 14.75, respectively. In 2016, Steingruber has competed her full difficulty on floor 11 times and averages a 14.8. She is so freaking consistent on this event, I basically need her to medal at the Games. Seriously, this is my biggest dream for Rio right now. Make it happen.
Her teammates Ilaria Käslin, Thea Brogli, and Caterina Barloggio also competed, with Käslin standing out on beam and floor as usual, Brogli hitting a clean vault, and Barloggio standing out on bars. Switzerland has seen some retirements and hiatuses following their performance at the test event, but I hope this core group of ladies continues into the next quad, as they along with their super strong juniors who reach the senior levels in 2017 and 2018 have a major shot at reaching Tokyo as a full team.
Full results from the Chemntiz friendly are available here. And the next meet you see us cover? That’ll be the Olympic Games.
Article by Lauren Hopkins