This was a big weekend for Ellie Downie. The 17-year-old Olympian qualified into all five individual finals, won four medals, and became the first gymnast from Great Britain to win the all-around in the history of European Championships.
Downie, who also helped her country make history with their bronze medal finish at world championships in 2015, was in stellar form this weekend, not quite at full difficulty but at a level of commitment and consistency that is rare for this early in the quad.
I have to admit, when she came in so strong in qualifications, earning a 56.466 — one of the top ten all-around scores so far this year — and not making a single mistake, I worried that this would be a case of giving so much in prelims that finals just weren’t going to match. But Downie came in as much of a force on her second day of competition, fighting through a couple of mistakes — a wobble on her double spin, a stumbled back double arabian — to hit all four routines with solid scores, winning the title with a 55.765.
A month earlier, Downie had a successful British Championships, winning the gold medals in every category she competed — all-around, vault, and bars — but as it was only her first competition back, she didn’t look as solid as we’ve come to expect. I figured with the nerves out of the way and a few weeks more in training, she’d be fine, but I seriously wasn’t expecting her to completely blow my mind the way she did.
What impressed me most with Downie was how she was pretty well-balanced across all four of her events. Even her ‘weak’ event, beam, isn’t so far behind the others that it’s a problem, and she showed that she still looks great there; the only ‘weakness’ comes from her difficulty being a bit low. She performs the event super well, looking especially impressive with a killer set in qualifications, and a few tweaks could bring it to the same level as her other routines.
I was also so impressed with her bars, which have improved immensely since last year. Downie hit all three of her routines very nicely in Cluj, and is scoring in the new code pretty close to what she managed in last quad’s code because her execution has improved a great deal. Her vault and floor have always been her strong points, but she’s definitely adding bars into that mix as well, winning a bronze medal on the event in finals, in addition to picking up silvers on vault and floor.
Though what Downie did this weekend was incredible, she wasn’t without competition. Several gymnasts were in the race for gold, with Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary making things especially exciting in the all-around final, leading slightly after every rotation. The two were almost exactly matched in difficulty on their first three events, and it was honestly one of the most exciting big international all-around battles I can remember in quite some time, but a big deficit in floor difficulty gave Downie the edge.
Kovacs was still more than content with silver, however. The 2016 Olympian, who turned 17 just a couple of weeks before Euros, was thrilled to end up on the podium, a major accomplishment for her personally as well as for her country. Kovacs is the first Hungarian gymnast to win a European all-around medal since Henrietta Onodi won bronze in 1990, and her silver is Hungary’s best European all-around finish in history.
While she was solid in qualifications, finishing second with a 54.882, Kovacs came to play in finals. She hit a beautiful DTY, nailed her insane opening series on bars (an inbar to inbar full to Maloney to pak to van Leeuwen), and looked better than I’ve ever seen her on beam. While her floor lacks difficulty due to having almost no dance elements, she finished strong there, and had about as perfect a competition as any gymnast would hope for this early in the season and quad.
After finishing seventh in qualifications thanks to a rough DTY debut and a fall on beam, Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France was somewhat of a surprise for the bronze, though it was pretty clear she’d be able to pull it off if she hit all of her events. Not only did she do just that, but she also benefited from others falling, giving her a pretty nice cushion at the end of the day, finishing with her season-high 55.065.
De Jesus Dos Santos, 17, had a much-improved DTY in the final, and otherwise, her day pretty much went off without a hitch. She performed a beautiful, clean bars routine capped off with a stuck full-twisting double layout, she killed it on beam with a rock-solid performance that earned the best score on that event all day, and she did what she needed to do on floor, going out-of-bounds, but recovering nicely to finish strong.
Going into the final rotation, Russia’s Elena Eremina actually had a solid three-tenth lead over De Jesus Dos Santos, even with a fall on beam. But Eremina finished her competition on floor while the French gymnast finished on vault, so once she hit, it was pretty clearly going to put her on the podium.
Eremina, last year’s junior European champion, could’ve been a gold medal threat had she not fallen on beam, but like in qualifications, she struggled on her mount and fell, earning just a 12.7. I actually missed this fall, turning my head in that direction just in time to see hit her flight series, which went off without a hitch, as did the rest of her routine. I went from being thrilled to see her hit to confused when her score came up to so bummed to find out she actually didn’t have the performance I thought she did.
Beam aside, she actually had a pretty solid day, competing the best Nabieva to pak I’ve seen her do on bars (she got SO much height and didn’t pike down at all!) while also looking great on her brand-new DTY (she’s stronger there than on her 1.5!) and hitting floor, her weak event. Eremina is only 15, and this was her first major international meet as a senior. She’s so talented, and everything else will come with experience.
Outside of the top four, I thought two more gymnasts could challenge for gold — Tabea Alt of Germany and Eythora Thorsdottir of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, right before the competition we found out Alt had to pull out due to illness, which weakened the fight at the top a bit, though it was still plenty exciting and I’m glad she didn’t push herself even if it was a bummer to see her miss out after such an incredible season thus far.
Thorsdottir, meanwhile, placed fifth in qualifications with a rough performance on floor, but was still within tenths of everyone else hoping to challenge for gold, so on a good day, she totally could’ve made it happen. The 18-year-old improved her vault in finals, but then arched over a handstand on bars and had to hop off before going on to beam, where she had a minor meltdown. She started out nicely, but then stumbled on her illusion turn, missed her foot on her stag ring jump connection and fell, and then drilled her triple full dismount into the mat, which looked really painful and I’m glad she didn’t hurt her knee because it looked like she might.
Though she came back strong on floor, missing her famous turn sequence but looking otherwise lovely, the damage had been done and she placed just 12th, far below her potential with a 51.965. I’m so happy she managed to come back in finals to medal on both of her events, totally making up for her rough performance in the all-around, but we know she’s a fighter and I’d still consider her one of the top all-arounders in the world at the moment, even after this one rough day.
Finishing fifth and sixth in finals were Kim Bui of Germany and Martina Maggio of Italy, both of whom had solid performances with no major mistakes. Bui, 28, has mostly low difficulty and was the only gymnast in the top six to compete an FTY on vault, but with clean performances and a stellar bars routine, she managed a 53.499 total to finish just outside the top group. Maggio, 15, also lacked the more difficult sets of some of the more experienced competitors at the top, but she was so steady and consistent here, I’m glad the Italian federation opted to send her. She doesn’t really stand out on anything yet, but she’ll be a great “go up anywhere and hit” kind of gymnast Italy can rely on in team competitions.
Despite ankle pain limiting her difficulty on beam and floor, Nina Derwael placed seventh here, the second-highest all-around finish for a Belgian gymnast at Euros, and that was even with a mistake on bars. With lower difficulty, Derwael wasn’t going to be able to challenge the top gymnasts in this field for the podium, but a top eight finish with a mistake was definitely impressive…though what was more impressive was how well she dealt with that mistake!
On her crazy Ricna half to Ezhova combination, Derwael whacked her foot on the high bar while catching the low bar, but didn’t break her swing or concentration for even a second, and finished the routine very well, still earning a 13.6. It was a great testament to her ability on that event, as almost any other gymnast would’ve been rattled by something like that, but Derwael pushed through and finished strong.
In eighth, we saw Filipa Martins of Portugal in her first international performance back from the 2016 Olympic Games. Returns are never easy, but Martins looked like she never left, getting a 52.940 in qualifications and a 52.832 in finals, always one of the most consistent gymnasts in the world (it’s actually funny…she almost always scored around about a 54.5 on average last quad, so it makes sense that now she’s going to score about two points lower than that in the new code!).
Anyway, Martins was so freaking solid in qualifications, and then she nearly replicated this in finals, so I was thrilled to see her finish in the top eight. Aside from a couple of small mistakes in finals, she had a fabulous meet and should be thrilled about such a great return to competition after some time away.
Natalia Kapitonova of Russia finished ninth with a 52.766 after falling on her side somi on beam. Coming into this meet, I thought hit routines from her would at least get her on the podium, but she just didn’t look very together in Cluj, especially on bars, where her swing looked a bit labored, giving the judges reason to be pretty harsh. Unfortunate, as I was really pulling for her, especially after she started out so consistent earlier this year.
In tenth, we saw Alice Kinsella, Great Britain’s new senior who flew in super last-minute to compete after Georgia-Mae Fenton was injured in podium training. Kinsella, 16, was sixth going into the final rotation after a pretty solid day, including a perfect double spin and side aerial + loso + loso series on beam, but sadly a fall on her piked Jaeger in the final rotation caused her to finish a bit lower than she was hoping, with a score of 52.099.
Outside the top ten, there are a few who deserve mentions, like 11th-place Tisha Volleman of the Netherlands, who had two excellent days, though her lower difficulty doesn’t really make her much of a contender. I also looooved Barbora Mokosova‘s performance in finals, which included great form on floor and crazy impressive bars, and the new senior Vendula Merkova of the Czech Republic, who had back-to-back hit days, going eight-for-eight with beautiful performances on beam and floor.
I should probably mention the young Romanian gymnasts, both of whom qualified into this final despite falls in qualifications. Ioana Crisan was having a great day until beam, sitting in seventh going into the final rotation, but a fall on her layout series pushed her down to 18th. She did hit bars two days in a row, so if she keeps that up and continues to improve, she can make basically any team she wants going forward. Olivia Cimpian did a great job improving her DTY, and she had a decent beam set, but a really rough uneven bars routine held her back in 23rd.
Full results from the all-around and all other competitions at European Championships are available here. Our event finals recap is coming up soon!
Article by Lauren Hopkins