Marie Skammelsen of Denmark once again proved to be the country’s biggest Olympic hope in nearly 50 years with her performance at the Northern European Championships in Norway on Saturday.
The all-around competition featured a mixed senior and junior field, but the junior Skammelsen came out on top with a total of 51.95 in what was a remarkable performance to beat out two of Finland’s top seniors. The 15-year-old Skammelsen, who will begin competing at the senior level in 2017, is especially strong on vault and floor, having placed fourth on vault at European Championships earlier this year. She leads on both of these events going into tomorrow’s finals, ended up in the bars final despite some low difficulty there, and also qualified into the beam final by the skin of her teeth, finishing ninth due to a couple of mistakes but sneaking in thanks to the two-per-country rule.
Finland’s duo of Rosanna Ojala and Maija Leinonen, both off of two finals spots apiece at the most recent world cup in Szombathely, earned the silver and bronze medals with scores of 51.85 and 51.35, respectively. Ojala, 21, had a great day with hit routines across the board, and qualified into all four finals, including in the top spot on bars with a 12.7 total there. Leinonen, 20, also did a great job with only some minor mistakes, and qualified second into the bars final and third on beam, the latter of which was a gorgeous routine.
The next three spots went to Erin McLachlan of Scotland in fourth with a 50.9, junior Paige Thomas of Wales in fifth with a 50.2, and Agnes Suto of Iceland in sixth with a 50.05. McLachlan had a fall on bars, but showed off a beautiful FTY on vault in addition to making the beam and floor finals, Thomas had some small mistakes but did good things overall and made the bars final, and Suto went out-of-control on her second vault in addition to going out-of-bounds on floor, but had solid work on bars and beam and made the final on the former.
Two Norwegians, the country’s 2016 senior and junior national champions Linn Finstad and Juliane Tøssebro, tied for seventh place with matching scores of 49.75, actually a great score for Norway’s program and so it was awesome to see both get that far. The country struggles with putting out high-difficulty routines, though whenever I’ve seen these gymnasts compete, I’m always impressed with the beauty and technique even if they’re not exactly doing anything big.
Bars is what they lack the most overall, with the majority of their gymnasts getting difficulty only in the 2.0-4.0 range. But while most countries had mistakes and falls on bars — including gold medal favorite Wales — the Norwegians got through all four routines here without any mistakes besides some form errors and short handstands, and the event helped the team seal a 1.5 point win over second-place Finland!
As a fan of the Norwegian program, I come into every meet knowing Norway will place somewhere close to the bottom, and so it was beyond thrilling to watch the faces on this young team light up when they saw their ranking. Even the commentators were mind-blown watching the standings pop up on the screen — they both started screaming and it was a truly delightful moment, seeing everyone so excited to make this happen. Not all teams who showed up in Trondheim brought top teams, so the region’s usual leaders — Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Wales — weren’t exactly at full strength, but it was still an awesome and entertaining thing to witness in this post-Olympic gymnastics lull.
So it was Finstad and Tøssebro who led the way for this victory, and both performed excellently, not missing a beat all day. Finstad did have a mistake on floor, and she tends to have bent knees on some events, like on her back handsprings on beam, but she was mostly solid, doing great work including on an upgraded double back beam dismount, which helped her into that final.
Tøssebro, meanwhile, is on her way to stardom. The youngest member of this team at 13, her difficulty on vault and bars is quite low, but she has a decent amount on beam and performed very well there, missing the switch to back tuck connection but hitting a nice layout series in addition to a side aerial into her jump connection and a double full dismount. Floor is where she truly shines, though, with great choreography, big tumbling (she has a double pike, double tuck, 2.5, and double full!), and an ability to express and perform that goes beyond what most seniors are capable of. She’s fantastic, and tied Skammelsen to qualify first into this final, though missed the beam final due to the two-per-country rule.
Thea Nygaard also did well here, earning a 49.05 for tenth place even with a fall on beam. She made up for that with a solid performance on floor (including a stuck double pike) and hands-down the country’s best bars routine, which had very short handstands, but a big Jaeger release; she missed reaching that final, but did make it in on vault. The two specialists included junior Maria Tronrud with clean work on vault and floor, making the final on floor with a 12.9, and Solveig Berg with excellent performances on bars and beam, the latter of which she leads with a 13.4 going into finals after a gorgeous front aerial to split jump, side aerial to jump series, and a double full dismount.
The second-place team was Finland. Aside from the all-around medalists Ojala and Leinonen, the team also counted on Siiri Saukkonen and Jenni Grönroos, who finished 16th and 17th. Their all-around scores were low and neither made a final, but both looked great on vault.
Wales, in the absence of top competitors like Maisie Methuen and Latalia Bevan (the Northern European all-around champions in 2014 and 2015), ended up placing third. Georgina Hockenhull was originally named to the team but didn’t end up competing, so they only came into the competition with four gymnasts, three of whom were juniors in the all-around. That considered, they did a fabulous job, though they did have to count a fall on bars.
In addition to Paige Thomas, the other two junior all-arounders were Emily Thomas (ninth with a 49.25 after two falls) and Sioned Thomas (11th with a 48.75 with a rough performance on beam). All three are pretty new to international competition, and Sioned is only 12, though she showed tremendous potential aside from her fall, looking super clean on vault and bars, and also nailing a great floor performance.
Sioned made the finals on vault, finishing second behind Skammelsen with a 13.65 average, and floor, where she was fourth with a 13.05. Other Welsh finalists include Paige and senior Rebecca Moore on bars; Moore actually fell on her giant full but her execution was otherwise the best of the bunch and she will easily win gold in finals if she stays on.
Like Norway, the Danish women showed up with a top-notch team, missing a few of their strong seniors, but overall going all-out to finish in a solid fourth place. While Skammelsen led the way, 28-year-old Mette Hulgaard also provided some big scores, competing all events but vault with bars and floor — an event she hasn’t competed in over a year — a standout. She qualified third on bars, and is Denmark’s only finalist aside from Skammelsen.
This team also saw performances from juniors Sofia Bjørnholdt (19th all-around with a 44.4, held back quite a bit by a super rough bars set though she was great elsewhere), Emilie Midtbøll (she went up on all but beam, with vault a standout), and Victoria Kajø, who competed vault and beam.
Scotland was fifth with Shannon Archer making the vault and floor finals in addition to McLachlan getting in on beam and floor; Iceland was sixth with Sigridur Bergthorsdottir making the vault final thanks to her great handspring pike half and tsuk layout, Suto making bars, and junior Margret Kristinsdottir getting a 12.75 to make finals on beam; Sweden was seventh despite no top all-arounders in the mix, and they had several finalists including juniors Lova Thingvall on vault, Sigrid Risberg on bars, and Agnes Åkerman on beam and floor (she was actually excellent, performing all events but bars, but had she gone up there she probably would’ve challenged for an all-around medal); Isle of Man was eighth with some great work on vault as well as standout routines from Grace Harrison on bars, junior Madison Nicol on beam, and Isabel Hester on floor; and the Faroe Islands were ninth with Anita Davidsen’s beam the highlight of their day.
The competition concludes with event finals today, which you can watch live here. We have the full results from the all-around and team performances here, and you can check back later today to find them updated with the event results.
Article by Lauren Hopkins