The European Youth Olympic Festival kicks off in Györ, Hungary this week, giving juniors from European programs a chance to get big international multi-sport experience as they prepare to hopefully represent their countries at bigger meets like the Olympic Games in the future.
Russia is the reigning back-to-back EYOF team champion, but this year it’s Italy coming in as the team to beat. Even without top junior Giorgia Villa, who injured her Achilles in Jesolo this spring, the Italian girls are coming in super strong with a team that features bars rockstar Elisa Iorio alongside the D’Amato twins, Asia and Alice.
While not a super strong team on beam or floor — they’ll get by with decent numbers if they hit, but don’t expect much beyond the low 13 range for anyone — all three girls can put up great scores on vault and bars. They also all have Yurchenko doubles, with Asia D’Amato’s the cleanest and most powerful, and they’re also known for intricate front giant work, especially Iorio with an Endo half to Tkachev and an Endo full to double front half-out, a routine that could get her the gold medal in event finals.
As a whole, in addition to boasting some of the strongest scores and routines this season, the Italians basically have it together more than any other team. They compete a lot, both domestically and internationally, and while there are the occasional mistakes, it’s rare that you’ll see the legit meltdowns other teams are prone to at this age. And if all goes well for the team, they could make it through without counting a single score below 13, which no other team is capable of right now.
It’s gonna be a close fight for the gold, though. The Russians are also without a top gymnast, Angelina Simakova, but the squad of Ksenia Klimenko, Valeria Saifulina, and Varvara Zubova can pull off some big scores when they need to. Klimenko is capable of scores in the high 13 range on bars and beam, Saifulina has a DTY, and Zubova has a 6.0 start value on beam, so even though she has yet to really hit a routine all year, she can still probably pull off a better score than most gymnasts in this field.
The Russians have a slight advantage over the Italians on beam and floor, but the Italians have an even larger advantage on vault and bars, so if both teams have good days, the Italians could very well pull off this upset. The juniors placed fifth in 2013 and 2015, so coming back to win the gold would be huge for Italy, especially over a legendary team like Russia, which has won seven team golds in the meet’s history, but it’s not going to be easy if the Russians hit.
Unless one of the top two teams completely falls apart, no one else will get close to the silver and gold. There are, however, about four teams that could legimiately have a shot at the bronze, so there will be a ton of excitement in that race in addition to the fight for the top.
Great Britain and Germany are probably the strongest of these. The British girls have generally been doing well at the junior level despite a huge transition of most of last year’s top juniors to the senior level this year. They still have the super talented Taeja James on hand to run the show, though, and with the up-and-coming Amelie Morgan and Zoe Simmons there for backup, the British girls are about at the same level as the Russians and Italians on vault and floor, which could help them hold their heads above water as they hope to reach the bronze medal in Györ.
I’m actually surprised to see Germany in the mix, as their junior group right now is a bit of a mess, especially on beam. At a recent friendly meet, the junior team counted ten falls on this event, but they’re good enough elsewhere that they can afford a couple of mistakes there in this three-up two-count competition and still end up close to the top.
Emelie Petz leads the German team with great scores across all four events, though she’s also a bit inconsistent, and so a 14 on beam one day could be a 10 on beam the next. Petz has the potential to win an all-around medal in Györ, but my faith in her ability to do that is a little shaken at the moment, so it’ll all come down to what she can do when it counts.
She and Kim Ruoff on vault give the team enough of a push there to get them ahead of other competitors, though, even if they come in a bit weak on their other events…though another major meltdown on beam could take them from a podium contender to barely in the top ten. Leonie Papke, meanwhile, won’t bring in big scores anywhere, but I’d imagine she’ll outscore Ruoff on bars, which could help their score grow slightly.
France would be higher in the mix for a medal, but unfortunately, the recent loss of Carolann Heduit to injury means their potential won’t be as great as we were hoping. The French girls recently placed second at a friendly meet, losing to the Italians, but coming in ahead of both Great Britain and Germany, so not having Heduit’s scores will really hurt them, as replacement Aglaé Adam-Cuvillier isn’t quite up to her standard.
The team will still get good scores from Célia Serber and Aline Friess, though, with both very strong vaulters with potential for scores in the low 13s on floor. Bars and beam could be a bit rough for this team, though Adam-Cuvillier has been pretty consistent on both this season, even if her scores aren’t super high, so that’s hopefully where they’ll be able to count on her in the team competition.
I love when host teams are strong enough to fit into the fight, and Hungary — a team that has been slowly climbing the ranks internationally in recent years, with the senior women earning a team finals spot at the 2016 European Championships and then winning two historic individual medals this year — could be one of those teams at this meet.
The Hungarian team is led by Nora Feher, the oldest and most experienced athlete on the squad, who is also serving as team captain. Feher, who unfortunately got injured just before qualifications at European Championships in Bern last year, shines on bars, and she’s also the team’s best all-around contender, having scored a 51.034 at a friendly meet held in Slovakia a couple of weeks ago, where she also contributed to a team win.
Feher’s routines on bars and beam boast impressive D scores of 5.3 and 5.1, respectively. A minor injury has kept her from implementing planned upgrades on vault and floor, such as a Yurchenko full and a tucked full-in, but that’s okay for now. In addition to a more or less guaranteed spot in the all-around final, Feher’s major goal in Györ is all about making the bars final, which she can definitely make happen with a hit routine.
Hungary’s second contender for an all-around spot is Bianka Schermann, who is a bit of a surprise entry onto the team after not competing for several years and then coming back strong with super consistent performances all season. Schermann doesn’t have a ton of difficulty, so it’s that consistency that will make her a vital contributor to this team.
Csenge Bacskay earned the third and final spot for Hungary, thanks to her ability to boost the team score on vault and floor while hopefully also snagging a vault finals spot thanks to a recent upgrade to a Yurchenko 1½. She rounds out the team nicely, and there’s a pretty good balance across all four events, which could really help them out compared to other teams that struggle with too many vaulters, but no big scores on bars or beam. While not a top team going in, their balance, consistency level overall, and recent success internationally — on top of having home field advantage — could mean a very exciting team competition for the hosts.
These are definitely my top six going in, but we’re missing kind of an important one on the list: Romania. Here’s the thing about Romania…I’ve watched over 100 elite meets this year, and the Romanian juniors have been nowhere to be found. A small group of them competed at the Nadia Comaneci Invitational back in February, but since then, I haven’t seen them anywhere, and have literally no idea how they’ll do in Györ.
Like Russia, the Romanians have won a few EYOF team titles in the past, and many fans first endeared themselves to gymnasts like Larisa Iordache at recent years, but this year the Romanian team in general is kind of out of whack, so it’s hard to say for sure what we can expect from them.
Denisa Golgota, now in her final year as a junior, should be a fabulous team leader if she’s doing as well as she has done in recent years. Golgota, the most successful member of last year’s European Championships team who won the gold medal on floor and the silver on vault, has a DTY and solid tumbling, but her bars and beam are comparatively weak, so that’s where the other two would need to balance her out.
I have seen exactly zero competitive routines from her teammates, Iulia Berar and Nica Ivanus, in the past several years. They did beat out standout Laura Iacob for EYOF team spots, so I’d have to imagine they’re looking decent because Iacob is pretty solid, but they were both about 12 when I last saw them and now they’re 14 and 15, respectively, so I’m sure lots has changed.
I’m excited to see them, and think if they’re looking roughly as strong as Iacob — who is serving as the alternate — looked earlier this year, the Romanian ladies could also be in the mix for the bronze medal, though I’m sure they’re not close enough to the Russians or Italians. It should be exciting either way, and I kind of like not knowing what to expect. Not knowing where they stand in comparison to other teams, my expectations are insanely low for them, so I’m sure they’re bound to happily surprise me no matter how they do.
As for the other teams in the mix, the squads from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Spain are all pretty decent but just don’t compare with the teams at the top at the moment. Some have one strong all-arounder leading the way but not enough backup, like the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, while others just don’t have the difficulty to contend, like Belgium and Spain.
But of course, you never know — some of these could very well surprise if one of the higher-caliber teams has a bunch of falls. The Swiss juniors weren’t all that hot at the recent German friendly, but because Germany literally imploded on beam, they were able to top the Germans by a little over two tenths, just enough to push past them in the rankings. With only two scores counting instead of the usual three or four we generally see in team competitions, it leads to tons of super tight finishes, so I wouldn’t count out any of these teams just yet.
Other countries sending full teams to EYOF include Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, and Ukraine, while individual gymnasts will also compete, coming from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Cyprus, and Serbia. I’ll have a full individual preview coming up shortly, as many of the individuals to keep an eye on come from these countries with either lower-performing teams, or not enough depth to field a full team.
The European Youth Olympic Festival begins with the women’s team final and individual qualifications on Wednesday July 26. The all-around final will be held the following day, and event finals will be split between the 28th and 29th. The Gymternet will have a reporter on hand to capture as much of the action as we possibly can for you, and we can’t wait for it to start! This is bound to be a fun one, especially in a year where depth is down and team competition at the senior level is rare.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Additional reporting by Fran Elsner
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