As exciting as the all-around final was at this year’s European Championships (don’t miss our recap!), the fun wasn’t over yet, as the two days of event finals had a number of unpredictable finishes on the women’s side, including some where young talent managed to outshine Olympic medalists.
On vault, I was pretty certain Maria Paseka of Russia with an Amanar and just a Lopez instead of her usual Cheng would easily end up taking the gold. With her Amanar downgraded to a stuck DTY in prelims, she came in as one to beat, and so naturally you’d assume the extra difficulty on the Amanar would only help her out.
But in finals, Paseka’s Amanar ended up being a mess with an out-of-control landing, and I’m actually glad she didn’t go for the Cheng, because the Lopez itself was equally rough, with a number of form issues and a bad landing that got her to an average of just 14.283.
With a huge number of gymnasts doing the DTY and Lopez combo, Paseka still had a slight edge, and managed to outscore both Tisha Volleman of the Netherlands, who had two of the strongest attempts I’ve seen her do, averaging 14.250, and Paseka’s teammate Angelina Melnikova, who finished last after one of her stronger DTYs as of late, but a rough Lopez landed with her chest down and a step out-of-bounds for a 14 even.
All-around champion Ellie Downie of Great Britain and Hungary’s Boglarka Devai both showed Paseka up with the lower difficulty and higher execution, though, with Downie averaging a 14.350 and Devai getting a 14.316. Even though the E scores don’t reflect it as much as they should, both Downie and Devai were much cleaner than Paseka, especially when you compare Downie’s Lopez to Paseka’s Lopez.
Downie’s was beautiful and flared, so good that you know the Cheng is on its way and will probably look incredible, and yet her E score was less than three tenths ahead of Paseka’s on the same vault, which makes zero sense at all, but this is the same final where the judges gave four different DTYs all scores of 14.4, so I’m not sure anyone at the judging table was actually watching vault.
So with only Coline Devillard of France left to go, we had Downie in the lead, followed by Devai and Pesaka, and I was low-key hoping Paseka would get pushed off the podium if only because her vaults were the worst in the bunch by far, and yet her E scores didn’t reflect that even a little. Devillard had the highest combined D score of the bunch with her DTY and Rudi, so it was possible, but she’s also known for her form issues. It was a crap shoot.
But then she had two of her better attempts at both vaults, not perfect, but fairly-scored based on how the scoring went for other not-so-perfect vaults (ahem, Paseka). In the end, she came up with a 14.466 average to finish about a tenth ahead of Downie. In a perfect world, this final would’ve belonged to Downie, and she probably would’ve won had she landed her DTY the way she did in the all-around, though unfortunately a big buckle of her knees on the landing in finals left an impression on the judges.
I also have to mention the two lower-difficulty vaulters, Zsofia Kovacs and Teja Belak. Kovacs actually had the best DTY of the bunch in my opinion, beautiful and stuck, and then she came back to also stick her lovely tsuk full, earning the highest combined E scores from the judges and walking away with a 14.199 for fifth place (and probably with a mental note to upgrade that tsuk full ASAP).
Belak, meanwhile, had two of the best vaults I’ve seen her do, and on her birthday! Yes, the crowd sang to her. It was adorable. She had great work on her handspring layout full, just taking a couple of steps back on the landing, and her Yurchenko 1.5 was gorgeous, earning a 14.066 to average a 14.183 for seventh place.
In the end, all vault finalists finished within less than half a point from one another, which is pretty much unheard of? That’s what made it so entertaining right up to the very end. I loved seeing France get a gold medal, adding this to the collection that began with Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos‘ all-around bronze a day earlier, and I loved seeing the emotion from both Devillard and Devai, who came in as medal hopefuls but not exactly as the strongest medal threats.
I was a little disappointed in the bars final, because it should’ve been one of the best finals, but then nearly everyone made mistakes, so the medalists became pretty much anyone who hit.
Even with bars being a bit of a let down, I quickly got over it because NINA DERWAEL WON THE GOLD MEDAL!!! It was such an incredible routine, clean and fluid and lovely and with huge skills and unique combinations, I was overjoyed. With her win, Derwael — who made history last summer with Belgium’s best Olympic all-around finish ever — became the first Belgian gymnast to win a gold medal at Euros, which is incredible for the program in addition to being a huge personal accomplishment for her.
Her routine featured a huge Downie, her epic Ricna half to Ezhova, a clean Chow to pak, a van Leeuwen, and a toe full to full-in with a tiny hop and a huge smile of relief, earning a 14.633 for her work. And as incredible as this routine was, she still has room for improvement and for increased difficulty (she’s training a Seitz!), so I think Euros gold is just the beginning for Derwael.
As thrilled as I was about her win, though, it was a little bittersweet. I was so happy when I realized she would win gold, but I only realized that was happening for her because Becky Downie fell in her routine and didn’t get back up. The two were tied coming out of qualifications, so I was really excited for a battle, especially because they’re so different as bar workers.
Downie actually worried me in podium training. She just looked off all morning, and the frustration was clear in her face after she fell on every one of her releases as she made her way through the routine. Usually when something like this happens, I assume it’s like a “bad dress rehearsal, good opening night” kind of scenario where they pull it together when they need to, in competition. And Downie did get off to a great start in her routine, with an excellent hop change to toe front half to Chow to Hindorff, and then her toe full to Downie to pak.
The Maloney to Gienger is what got her, as she missed the catch on the between-bars Gienger and fell hard to the mat below. The worst that was during her fall, she hurt her elbow, quickly jerking her hand up to her chest in pain and waiting a few seconds before raising her other hand to ask for a medic. They were able to guide her off the podium, but we found out later that she tore ligaments and unfortunately won’t be able to train at her usual level for some time.
So that was a bummer, for sure, and then we also had falls from Kovacs in her pak to van Leeuwen connection (she made it through the whole opening series of inbar to inbar full to Maloney to pak, but then missed the toe-on for the van Leeuwen and lost her rhythm before hopping off which killed me because she probably would’ve medaled with a hit routine) and a rough routine for De Jesus Dos Santos, who earned just an 11.7 after a fall on her Galante, hitting her feet on her pak, and arching over a handstand before her front giant work.
Even the Germans weren’t really on point, with Kim Bui showing some leg separation, messy pak form, a labored swing, and a bizarre release into her dismount, getting tons of height but almost no distance on her full-in, though she thankfully had the awareness to correct this. And though she got the bronze medal, shared with Ellie Downie, Elisabeth Seitz looked a little off compared to her qualifications performance, earning a 14.133 with a missed connection, some short handstands, and a low dismount. It was just a bizarre day on this event overall.
The younger Downie, also with a 14.133, escaped the fate of some of the other bars gymnasts, though, showing some of her best bar work to share the bronze. Then we got our first Russian medal of the competition as Elena Eremina captured the silver with a 14.3, performing a Nabieva to pak, van Leeuwen, piked Jaeger, and full-out. It was kind of a messy routine, honestly, but I think for this field in its overall messiness, she finished almost where she should have, though I probably would’ve swapped her and Downie if it was me doing the ranking.
And now, beam. This wasn’t as much of a disaster as I was expecting it to be. We did have Becky Downie pulling out due to her injury, which opened up two spots because Kovacs and Claudia Fragapane tied in both D and E in qualifications, and a couple of the biggest medal contenders made mistakes that kept them off the podium, but overall I was impressed with what we saw.
The biggest disappointments in my mind were Sanne Wevers and Marine Boyer. Wevers, the reigning Olympic beam champion, had a great routine in qualifications and I expected her to look even better in finals, but she had so many nervous mistakes on almost every skill, they ended up adding up like crazy and leading to an E score so low, without having seen the routine you would’ve thought she had a fall. The mistakes also caused her to miss connections, so her D score lost a chunk as well, and it was really just an unfortunate day for her.
Boyer, meanwhile, had the unfortunate luck of competing after Catalina Ponor‘s incredible set, meaning she had to contend not only with her own big skills and nerves, but also the crowd still celebrating Ponor (the announcers actually had to repeatedly shush people over the microphone so Boyer could focus). With everything going on, she actually looked okay for the majority of her routine, but fell early on when she stumbled back her roundoff layout, so everything that came after that — including a great double pike dismount — didn’t really matter.
We also saw falls from Fragapane and Germany’s Tabea Alt, but I didn’t really have high hopes for either of them, so I wasn’t really all that surprised. Alt would’ve been a contender, I think, if it wasn’t for the illness that took her out of the all-around final. It just didn’t give her much of a chance to prepare for beam finals, and so her routine was unsurprisingly a bit of a mess, with a fall on her side aerial + loso + loso, stumbles and missed connections elsewhere, and a crashed double pike, earning only a 10.966. In hindsight, I wish they just scratched her, but at least she knows it was more her illness than her ability that caused such a harsh competition.
Fragapane started out strong with an excellent standing arabian, but came off after missing her feet on her layout series. She came back with a strong standing full, but fall or no fall, she wasn’t a major podium contender and kind of lucked into the final anyway with Downie pulling out, so I hope she wasn’t too muffed about the fall.
With the bad out of the way, let’s talk about the good. Ponor owned this final from the second she roundoff-layout-stepout-ed onto the beam. Actually, right before her routine, the announcer said “now it’s time for the queen,” and I’m pretty sure that right there was an amazing boost of confidence. But seriously, everything in this routine was perfect. Her flight series, the switch leap to Kochetkova, the Onodi to split jump to Omelianchik…
I’m not even the biggest Ponor fan and at this point even I was just like okay, give her the gold. We get it. She’s killing it. She did have back leg issues on her switch ring and ring jump (the ring jump especially should’ve been credited as a split jump), and she also had a step back on her double pike dismount, but I mean, at that point, who even cares? She was the best, and by a lot, winning the gold with a 14.566.
Behind Ponor was Eythora Thorsdottir with a 14.066 for silver. Thorsdottir didn’t have as difficult a routine, but who also murdered her performance, more than making up for a rough all-around competition a day earlier. Everything she did was so controlled, so beautiful, so polished, it was actually magical and I was thrilled to see it all work out. Being so reliant upon connections like Wevers, her routine is always going to be hit or miss, but when she hits, it’s glorious and everything I want.
Larisa Iordache probably should’ve been the gold medalist in a perfect world, but the world is garbage because after such an incredible qualifications performance, Iordache just couldn’t hold on here, stepping back on her tuck full series, missing a connection, having a check on her double spin, and then stumbling her triple full dismount back so far it came off the mat. I mean, with a performance like that, she still earned the bronze by a pretty huge margin, so she really shouldn’t complain, though she was apparently super upset with herself about the mistakes…which I get because the gold medal was pretty much hers to lose, and she lost it. But either way, it was still a respectable performance after such a long time away due to injury, so I think when she looks back on this meet she should definitely feel proud and accomplished.
Both Ellie Downie and Kovacs, the two busiest gymnasts of this meet, were back for their third final, Downie having qualified outright while Kovacs got in due to Becky Downie’s injury, and both were excellent, though too low-difficulty to “matter” in terms of getting on the podium without the higher-difficulty gymnasts making mistakes.
Downie actually got close, placing fourth thanks to the falls from Wevers and Boyer especially, earning a 13.433 with small adjustments on several skills in addition to a missed connection and a leg up on her double spin, while Kovacs also missed a connection into her huge switch side, though the rest was pretty clean, earning a 13.133 for sixth place.
Finally, floor. This is where I thought Ponor would be a no-brainer gold medalist, because at British nationals, Downie hadn’t yet reached the standard she achieved in Cluj, and Ponor was coming in with one of the highest difficulty levels in the world thus far and the support of an entire country behind her. Apparently, though, she injured her foot and had to downgrade, performing a 2.5 instead of her usual triple and missing a front tumbling skill, which knocked half a point out of her start value for the missing requirement. So despite her potential, she ended up not making the final (I mean, she initially made it in because the judges weren’t doing their jobs, but then they eventually corrected it) which was kind of a bummer but it is what it is.
After Ponor’s finals miss, I assumed Downie would be the undisputed champion by a long shot, but then we got the best performance Melnikova has done on any event all year long. In qualifications, she was short on passes and had form issues everywhere, but in finals, she was impeccable. It was the kind of routine you watched knowing “oh yeah, this is gonna win.” Like, no questions about it. You could just feel that energy and confidence coming out of her, and even though Downie was also good, the gold belonged to Melnikova.
Downie also had a great routine, and probably would’ve won the gold with better landings, having hopped on her double double and then landed low on her 1.5 through to double arabian, stepping back, though not as severely as she had to in the all-around final. The E scores were insanely high for this event compared to bars and beam, which I don’t understand, but hey. At least they were consistent from gymnast to gymnast, and Downie finished less than a tenth behind Melnikova for silver, which I felt was the correct ranking.
In third was Thorsdottir, picking up her second medal of the day after her beam silver for a routine that had a great combination of beautiful tumbling (her triple full was lovely and she had a nice high double tuck) in addition to superb work on her turns, especially with that double L to pirouette to Y turn to illusion that I love so much. Like her beam, it was magical, and we are blessed to have her with us.
Beyond the top three, the remaining five gymnasts all finished within one tenth of one another, which is KIND OF AWESOME. We had that equally close competition on vault, and I just love it so much because it makes things that much more exciting. Bui and Lara Mori of Italy ended up both earning scores of 13.566, with Bui winning the tie break, Pauline Schäfer and Fragapane earned 13.533 with Schäfer winning this tie break, and Eremina, who had the lowest difficulty of the bunch, finished eighth with a 13.466.
I loved all of these routines. I wish everyone could’ve medaled, to be honest. Why not? #2015WorldsBarsFinal From each of them, I loved Bui’s excitement about how well she did when she came off the podium, I loved how much Mori had improved since only a couple of weeks earlier, I loved Schäfer’s beautiful emotion in her choreo and her double attitude turn to double pirouette, I loved Fragapane’s big tumbling (actually, she did have mistakes with a short full-twisting double layout and in stumbling her double arabian out of bounds which ultimately cost her a medal and I think really bummed her out, but it wasn’t an epic disaster of a routine either), and I loved Eremina hitting well and being happy for herself, but more importantly, being happy for Melnikova getting the win. Melnikova was obviously pretty thrilled to find out she’d won gold, but I don’t think anyone was happier than Eremina, who was running around and screaming and hugging her teammate. It was adorable.
Whew. So that’s that. It was an exciting couple of days, and while not every podium worked out the way I would’ve liked each one to be had everyone hit, but with how things ended up turning out, I think the rankings were mostly on point and it was a thrilling meet to watch at almost every turn. I also loved that every event had a medalist from a different country (true if you include the all-around as well!) which shows that the era of one or two countries dominating in the sport is starting to wane while smaller programs continue growing to meet them at the top.
Full results from European Championships are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins