The Russians mix with Team Norway! From left, Valeriia Saifulina, Mari Kanter, Varvara Zubova, Edel Fosse, Ksenia Klimenko, and Anne Tingvold.
Coming into the European Youth Olympic Festival, the Russians didn’t look as polished or as capable of high scores as they had in recent years. Basically, it looked like an underwhelming team as a whole, and one that has so far this season struggled with consistency.
But today, Russia showed up. It wasn’t a perfect day, with a few mistakes like Valeria Saifulina struggling to hit her pirouettes on bars and going out-of-bounds twice on floor, while Varvara Zubova fell on her triple series on beam. But these mistakes didn’t get in their heads, and the team — led by Ksenia Klimenko in an outstanding all-around performance that has her ranked first with a 54.350 going into the final — came out on the other side counting not one fall or major mistake.
Beginning on vault, a weak event for the team, Russia counted a decent FTY from Zubova before Saifulina’s Yurchenko 1½, which had a solid landing for a 14.0. Saifulina opted to compete her DTY as her second vault, as she had been struggling with it in training, but despite looking a little messy, she earned a 14.35 to easily qualify into the vault final. On bars, Zubova got the team started with a messy but hit routine, and they were able to count her 12.9 over Saifulina’s low score. Klimenko as the anchor looked fabulous, earning a 13.95 for an awesome routine that included a stuck dismount.
Zubova and Saifulina reversed their roles, with Saifulina doing her job, fighting back from a couple of near-falls to hit her layout series and double tuck, earning a 13.2 which covered up Zubova’s low score after her fall. Klimenko again topped them off with a 13.95, looking a little shaky with some of her more difficult elements, but overall showing a solid fight and a refusal to give up.
The Russians wrapped up their win on floor, where Zubova hit her triple full, double tuck, and double pike with some form issues but good enough landings to get a 13.2, followed by a 13.25 from Klimenko, who wasn’t super strong there, but still got her job done, earning a 54.350 in the all-around to help the Russian team reach a 107.700 as a team, a great score for them if you consider how they’ve competed earlier in the season. They showed that even giving away points with falls and mistakes on nearly every event, they were able to fight back each and every time, really taking advantage of being able to toss a bad score away by not letting it get to them and moving on.
Italy, unfortunately, was not able to do that quite as well today, as they ended up in second place with a 106.500, just a little over a point behind the Russians despite coming in as the more talented team. They had no meltdowns, but rather several little mistakes that kept them from being at their full potential. After seeing Russia’s performance one subdivision earlier, it was clear Italy would need to be on top of their game today to make up for weak difficulty on beam and floor, and they ended up just slightly out of reach, unable to make it happen.
The competition started out super well for Italy, with both Asia and Alice D’Amato knocking it out of the park on their routines, earning scores of 13.7 and 13.55, respectively. But then bars queen Elisa Iorio went up with her monster set — easily the best routine in Györ with the best shot at gold — and fell on a release in addition to making other mistakes. Instead of hoping to count a mid-14 score, the Italians got off on this rough start that put them only four tenths ahead of Russia instead of getting a solid point or more of a head start, as they could’ve done had Iorio hit (as a side note, Iorio’s score of 12.95 with a fall was still the sixth-best bars score at this meet).
On beam, there actually weren’t any falls from the Italians, but everyone seemed really shaky and nervous. Alice D’Amato had a mostly hit routine with a big stumble off the mat on her dismount, twin sister Asia followed that up with a near-fall on her side somi and a hop on her double pike, and then Iorio wrapped up the rotation with two near-falls. Both of the D’Amato’s scores ended up counting once again, with Asia’s 13.05 the high and Alice’s 12.6 a lot lower than they were hoping to count.
Iorio had the best floor set among the Italians, posting a 12.8 for her solid routine that included a full-in and stuck double tuck, while Asia earned a 12.6, going out-of-bounds on one of her passes. Floor is where Alice tends to shine, but like Iorio in the two rotations before this one, she ended up not being able to follow through, putting her hands down on a double tuck to reach only an 11.85. Alice, who has been injured and not training at her full ability, also competed only an FTY on vault, and so they ended up counting Asia’s huge and fabulous DTY for a 14.45 in addition to Iorio’s messy DTY with a big step over the line for a 13.7.
While the Italian ladies ended up not able to pull off an upset, giving the Russian ladies their third-straight EYOF team win, I don’t think it speaks to anything other than nerves. They were assembled by national team coach Enrico Casella for the sole purpose of winning gold, and came in under a lot of pressure to reach that goal, so it’s a bummer that they let that pressure get to them a bit, but they were still very close to the Russians even with counting so many mistakes and it all came down to the Russians simply having a better day. The Italian team, even without star Giorgia Villa, are one of the most competitive junior teams in the world right now with or without this win, and the silver medal is still a major improvement compared to their past two times out.
I also need to shout out to Asia, who is second going into the all-around final with a 53.850, leads going into the vault final, and will also grab finals spots on bars and beam. Even she didn’t have her absolute best day, but she did a fabulous job keeping her cool. In addition to her finals spots, Iorio qualified to vault and Alice to bars. As Asia is typically the weakest of the three on bars, and just happened to have one of her best routines today, I’m wondering if the Italian federation is going to swap her and Iorio, which could increase their chances for gold on that event while allowing Asia to focus on her other finals…so we’ll see what happens there, but clearly, despite not having the day many hoped they’d have, the Italians reached an impressive number of finals in addition to earning the silver medal.
Coming in clutch for the bronze medal was Germany. Oh, Germany. Germany with ten falls in five beam routines at a friendly meet a couple of weeks ago. Germany with only one real standout, and kind of questionable “hopefully we’ll just hit!” routines everywhere else. That Germany.
Emelie Petz had a fabulous day leading the team, showing an excellent Yurchenko 1½, clean work on bars and beam, and an excellent floor routine, earning a 13.35 to lead the field with her difficult and solid tumbling. Petz qualified into all five individual finals, going third into the all-around with her 53.650 only tenths behind Klimenko and Asia D’Amato. It’s a day she should be extremely proud of, and she seemed to be really enjoying herself whenever we got a glimpse at her work.
Her teammate Kim Ruoff had a better day than I expected, going 51.300 in the all-around with steady enough routines to make the final while contributing scores on all four events, with her floor being a highlight. Leonie Papke, who was on this team mostly for bars, also got her job done, exceeding my expectations. Despite a solid performance on bars, however, Ruoff outperformed her by half a tenth there, and so none of Papke’s scores ended up boosting the team total, though I think she should still be happy with what she accomplished.
The home team from Hungary came SO close to the podium, finishing fourth with a 103.600. Csenge Bacskay had a really solid day, finishing with a 50.950 in the all-around while making the vault and floor finals, with her floor done especially well, featuring a nice full-in, triple full, 2½ to front full, and a stuck double tuck for a 13.25, the third-best floor score of the meet.
Feher also qualified to the all-around final with a 50.750, though some missed connections on bars kept her out of that final by half a tenth. She spent pretty much all day teetering on the edge of making it, but then in the final rotation of the final subdivision, Switzerland’s Leonie Meier managed to just sneak in one spot ahead of her, so I couldn’t help but feeling gutted. She also missed the beam final by a couple of tenths after a couple of shaky skills, but that final was a reach final for her anyway, and she overall had a great routine.
The third competitor from Hungary, Bianka Schermann, fell on her layout stepout on beam, and though she came back strong on her remaining events — especially on floor, where she killed it with a gorgeous piked full-in, tucked full-in, front tuck through to double full, and triple full to finish — to get a 50.500 all-around, she was two-per-country’ed out of the final with both Bacskay and Feher only a few tenths ahead of her. But despite the few mistakes, Hungary had an awesome day, showing just how great their rise could be going forward.
Today’s biggest disappointment was definitely Great Britain placing fifth after coming in a medal contender, finishing about half a point behind Hungary with a 103.150. Taeja James, currently the best junior in the country, hit her FTY well, but started her day sitting her final pass on floor and then also fell on both bars and beam, missing every event final as well as the all-around final. It was the weakest competition I’ve seen from her since her espoir days, but that happens to the best of them. I’m sure she’ll be able to move on from here knowing that this is nothing more than a blip in an otherwise fantastic career.
Her young teammate Amelie Morgan had a fabulous day in comparison, and will go fifth into the all-around final after earning a 52.450 today with four hit routines, looking especially fab on beam and floor, where her artistic and clean performances were a big hit with the crowd. Zoe Simmons tied James’ 50.200 in the all-around, but won the tie-breaker to earn a finals spot over her, making a few mistakes throughout her day but not having any major meltdowns and showing lots of sass on floor. Since James on a good day is a podium contender, I’m wondering if Great Britain will opt to swap the two, but we’ll see what happens there.
France ended up sixth with a 102.400, followed by the Netherlands in seventh with a 101.050, and Switzerland rounding out the top eight with a 100.850. France saw good work from Celia Serber, and late replacement Aglaé Adam-Cuvillier also stepped up with especially great performances on bars and floor, though they saw Aline Friess sadly get injured on vault. Prior to her injury, Friess had a rough performance on bars, but came back to later kill it on floor, nailing a sky high double arabian among her other passes. She’s on her way back to France now to get her ankle checked out, and we wish her a quick recovery!
Sanna Veerman of the Netherlands was their standout, as expected, hitting her Yurchenko 1½ and then making it through the rest of her events well enough to earn a 51.550, showing some form issues on bars and a near-fall on beam before finishing up with a solid routine on floor. Both Juliette Pijnacker and Astrid de Zeeuw had a couple of falls each, finishing outside the all-around final. For Switzerland, junior national champion Leonie Meier showed mostly good work, especially on bars and floor, though her teammates Anina Wildi and Anny Wu had rough days, with Wildi falling multiple times on bars and beam, while Wu counted falls on bars, beam, and floor.
In ninth place was…drum roll, please…GEORGIA. The Republic of Georgia, which has not qualified a female artistic gymnast to the Olympic Games ever in its history, finished in ninth place out of 30 teams with a 100.750. With only two gymnasts on hand to compete, meaning every score counted!
U.S. level 10 Lali Dekanoidze and Russian transplant Anna Subbotina both also made the all-around final, with Dekanoidze hitting all four events at her first elite meet ever like it was no big deal, scoring a 50.650. Subbotina had a few mistakes, though her difficulty was good enough to help her get by, helping her to a 50.100 to qualify one of the remaining spots. I can’t wait until they reach the senior level and compete with Polina Borzykh. It’s gonna be like Azerbaijan 2.0, but with gymnasts who are still young enough to grow with the program and hopefully take it to big heights in the future.
Georgia’s finish was made even more exciting in that the girls placed two tenths higher than Romania, which finished in tenth place with a 100.550 after coming into the meet a kind of mystery. At this point, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I mean, I’m gutted for the gymnasts, who are clearly talented and who do the best with what they’re given, but with every step back their program takes, I’m like, see? Are you still refusing to admit that there’s a problem? The Romanian junior elite program should not finish behind a slapped-together team of two gymnasts making international debuts. It just shouldn’t. And yet, instead of change, we’ll probably continue to see more excuses on excuses on excuses, just like we did after the test event, after Euros this year, and after Olivia Cimpian’s decision to literally move to a new country so she wouldn’t have to put up with Romania any longer.
Denisa Golgota, 15, came in as the leader of this team after not competing in over six months. She opened her day with a super high double arabian…which she then forward-rolled out of, which both hurt the team and her own finals chances, a bummer especially as she came into this meet the reigning junior European floor champ. Nica Ivanus also fell on floor, missing her double tuck, while Iulia Berar — whom I believe came over from the rhythmic program? — performed a nice but low difficulty routine for the team’s best score of 12.7.
On vault, Golgota hit a messy DTY for a 14.2, anchoring a rotation that saw Berar compete a Yurchenko layout for an 11.9 and Ivanus hit a piked FTY for a 13.15. Ivanus apparently doesn’t train bars, so only Berar and Golgota competed here, with Berar falling twice to earn a 10.15 while Golgota hit a stereotypical Romanian bars routine complete with rough handstands and split-leg releases for an 11.3.
The shining moment of the day for these girls came on beam, where they not only all hit, but all hit relatively well, which was surprising. Watching them on their earlier events, I assumed beam would be a disaster, but they all came back from rough beginnings to do a pretty solid job here. Berar was perhaps a little tentative, but had a solid flight series and only a step on the dismount, while Golgota had several wobbles and nearly sat the dismount, but showed a difficult enough routine to become one of nine gymnasts in the whole meet to score above a 13.
But Ivanus was a superstar here, rendering Golgota’s score irrelevant as she sailed through her difficult set, finishing second-best today with a 13.7. All three Romanians finished in the top eight, with Golgota missing the final due to the two-per-country rules, but while I’m thrilled to see them do well here, I can totally see this becoming justification for why they don’t need to change anything they’re doing in the future, despite the rest of today being kind of ridiculous.
Just outside the top ten, we had Belgium in 11th with a 99.300 (a mix of low difficulty and falls, as the case is with the majority of these teams), Ukraine in 12th with a 98.800, Finland in 13th with a 98.200, Spain in 14th with a 97.700, Slovakia in 15th with a 97.050, the Czech Republic in 16th with a 96.900, Belarus in 17th with a 96.050, Ireland in 18th with a 95.550, Turkey in 19th with a 95.100, Sweden in 20th with a 94.600, Norway in 21st with a 94.250, Iceland in 22nd with a 93.350, Bulgaria in 23rd with a 91.600, Latvia in 24th with a 91.100, Austria in 25th with an 89.950, Lithuania in 26th with an 89.150, Greece in 27th with an 87.300, Slovenia in 28th with an 87.100, Poland in 29th with an 86.000, and Portugal in 30th with an 81.950.
As far as individuals from these countries go, Anastasiia Bachynska of Ukraine was a dynamite in her performance, qualifying fourth into the all-around final with a 53.150 in addition to making every event final but vault. Elina Vihrova had a fabulous day and is miles ahead of any other Latvian gymnast I’ve ever seen. Dominika Ponizilova of the Czech Republic made the all-around and vault finals, and other all-around final qualifiers included Violeta Sanchez of Spain, British transplant Chiara Bunce of Slovakia, and Belgians Margaux Daveloose and Julie Vandamme.
We’ll have full results up soon! Tomorrow, we’ll be posting more live updates on Twitter for the all-around final, which begins at 4 pm in Györ, which is 10 am on the east coast if you’re in the United States.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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