The challenge cup in Paris over the weekend was one of my favorite meets of the year, with tons of Olympians and super experienced and well-known gymnasts on hand right alongside some up-and-coming newbies, and guess what? Everyone killed it.
Titles on vault and bars this weekend were Euros repeats, with respective European champions Coline Devillard of France and Nina Derwael of Belgium once again winning gold, while European beam bronze medalist Larisa Iordache won the title there, and European floor finalist Claudia Fragapane had a fantastic day to post the top score on that event.
Devillard was unmatched in difficulty on vault, and even though she didn’t have the cleanest attempts of the day, she still managed a two-tenth lead to average a 14.25 for the win. Both her Rudi and her DTY looked better than I expected, with some leg twisting and a big lunge back on the first, while the issue with her double was mainly just her leg form.
But silver medalist Boglarka Devai of Hungary has leg form issues of her own, and she wasn’t able to completely make up for her lack of difficulty to outscore the hometown favorite. Devai at least looked better than she has in recent competitions, averaging a 14.025 with both vaults landed very well despite the form issues in the air.
In third was Germany’s Michelle Timm, who had an easier handspring front pike half and an FTY, hopping back on both but looking mostly clean in the air to average 13.275. Yeah, that’s kinda low for a podium finish at a meet like this with tons of depth, but unfortunately, Teja Belak and Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia missed the final after falls in qualifications, and the legend herself Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan ended up half a tenth away from the podium in fourth with a 13.225 average.
Chusovitina didn’t bring her top level of difficulty here, but her downgrade to a handspring layout half ended up getting downgraded even further to a handspring pike half, and due to messy form throughout, her execution score for that vault was only an 8.45. Her second vault, a tsuk full, was also messy with a hop back, scoring far lower than she probably would’ve liked, which was actually a bit of a surprise. Generally I find the judges are pretty lenient with Chusovitina, at least at meets like this, so I was surprised to see them get super strict here, keeping her just the tiniest margin away from a medal.
Rounding out the vault final was Sarah Voss of Germany in fifth with a 13.15, Yamilet Peña of the Dominican Republic in sixth with a 13.0, Ema Kajic of Croatia in seventh with a 12.925, and Jasmin Mader of Austria in eighth with a 12.85. Most of the difficulty here was pretty low, with an abundance of FTYs and tucked vaults, and then Peña — who will skip worlds this year, as it’s taking place during the end of her college career — ended up sitting her Yurchenko 1½ and landing her handspring front half off-center and a bit piked with messy legs.
It was no surprise to see Derwael once again top the bars charts. She’s been on fire recently, fighting through a foot injury as she preps for worlds, but thankfully it’s had zero impact on her fabulous bars set, which in the past couple of weeks has earned international scores of 14.7, 14.8, and for her finals set in Paris, 14.9. With a Downie, Ricna half to Ezhova, Chow to Bhardwaj, van Leeuwen, and a toe full to full-in, she has one of the leading bars D scores of 6.3 and she does it all super well, making these ridiculously difficult combinations look super easy for her. She did have some crossed ankles and caught her Bhardwaj a little crooked in her last set, but overall she’s remarkable and I literally need her on the bars podium in Montreal.
While no one got close to Derwael, hometown star Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos also put together a fabulous set, earning a 14.1 for her Komova II to clear hip to Galante to pak and big full-twisting double layout, all of which looked very tidy, while Ukraine’s Diana Varinska got the bronze with a 14.05, hitting a clean Chow to Pak before catching her insane Tkachev half to Jaeger and then ending the routine with a hop on her full-in.
Iordache also hit bars, which always sounds surprising, but it honestly shouldn’t be. She’s competed the event 12 times since making her comeback six months ago, and she’s hit every routine for a 13.8 or better in all six of those performances, which is kind of badass. A 13.8 is what she got here, with some messy form really standing out in the midst of the cleaner bar workers, but her composition just fits her so well, and she did a great job to hit her Maloney to clear hip full to huge Tkachev, Church, Tkachev to pak, a low piked Jaeger, and a full-in with a hop. Not her best of the season, but I love seeing her fight through each and every time.
First-year senior Lorette Charpy of France had a decent routine, but landed her double layout to her knees, finishing fifth with a 13.15, and I fully don’t agree that her E score without the fall would’ve eclipsed every other E score in the bunch, especially considering that her routine had short handstands throughout in addition to her messy Pak being caught super close to the bar. It’s just crazy that this routine would’ve probably beaten Varinska’s had she not fallen at the end, and…it really should never have come close, but hey.
Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia was sixth with a 13.0, performing a nice but simpler routine than the others here. Georgia-Mae Fenton of Great Britain was seventh with a 12.6 after her D score got destroyed, losing nearly a point when she fell on her Ricna and missed the subsequent connection, and then she also downgraded her dismount to a double tuck. She’s another one whose E score was kind of confusing, though. A 7.9 with a fall in addition to a messy Ezhova and a hop on her dismount? Huh? So her E score for a fully hit routine would’ve been above a 9? I…don’t buy it, judges. GET MORE CONSISTENT.
And finally, Rune Hermans of Belgium was eighth with a 12.15 after doing a really nice set for the most part, muscling through her stalder full but fighting up into handstand to get it around before continuing into a Maloney to Pak, clean van Leeuwen, and piked Jaeger (with flexed feet). She went for a toe-on to full-out dismount, but ended up underrotating considerably, doing the skill to her head, but thankfully not in a way that caused anything more than probably just a little frustration.
Going to beam, Iordache was our champion even with a mistake, thanks to her ridiculously insane high difficulty dwarfing the D scores of her fellow competitors (she was rewarded a 6.7 in qualifications and a 6.5 in finals). Iordache hit her tuck full series with a step back and also hit her layout full, which is still pretty loose in the hips/legs, but slightly more stretched than it has been recently, but she unfortunately put her hands down on her double turn and underrotated a messy triple full, earning a total of 14.2, down nearly a point from the 15.0 she earned in qualifications. Form aside, she’s so much fun to watch there, and even though she does struggle with consistency, I really feel in my soul that this will be her year.
Another hometown favorite ended up on this podium as well, with 2016 Olympic beam finalist Marine Boyer winning the silver medal with a score of 13.6. Boyer also wasn’t quite as strong as she was in qualifications, wobbling from an acro skill into her jump series to miss a connection there, in addition to wobbling on her side somi, but her layout series was great, and the amplitude on her switch leap to switch half was fabulous, and she hit her double pike very well.
Floor champ Fragapane ended up nabbing the bronze on beam, looking not suuuuper phenomenal but still hitting her routine in a final where most made large mistakes. Her arabian and standing full were both low, but solid, with just a step out of her full, and her layout series actually looked much better than it has in the past, though her double pike was super low with a big lunge forward, earning a 13.2. I don’t think she’ll challenge for the final on this event at worlds unless she has an amazing qualifications and others make mistakes, but it’s nice to know that her bigger skills are getting more and more consistent as she continues with her return to the sport.
The rest of the field made mistakes, with De Jesus Dos Santos having a wobbly set to place fourth with a 12.9, Olympic champion Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands fell on her Okino and broke a connection elsewhere to place fifth with a 12.9, Derwael had a big wobble on her flight series, doing a bhs loso bhs instead of the two losos and also wobbling through her wolf turn to place sixth with a 12.8 (though her extension and flexibility on her leaps in this routine were to die for!), Voss fell on her flight series to place seventh with an 11.85, and newcomer Farah Hussein of Egypt actually showed some lovely work with just a couple of wobbles throughout, though she stumbled back and sat her double pike at the end to place eighth with an 11.35.
On floor, Fragapane was about as good as she gets, nailing her full-twisting double layout, a double layout that would’ve been totally stuck had she not continued it into a stag jump, a low double arabian, and a double pike with a hop back, performed to “The Nuttycracker Suite” from one of my all-time favorite musicals, Thoroughly Modern Millie. While beam finals would be a reach for her, I can totally see her challenging on floor. She got a 13.9 for this set with room to improve, and I personally just enjoy this routine a lot, so fingers crossed that she’s able to make it happen in Montreal.
Iordache got her second medal of the meet with the silver medal on floor, hitting her full-in with a hop forward, a 2½ to front tuck that looked a little wild in the connection, a triple turn kind of hopped around, a hop back on her triple full, and a double pike with a step back, getting a 13.65 which is lower than most of her hit routines this year, but she had so many small mistakes that added up, there’s definitely room for improvement going into worlds.
The bronze medal going to Varinska was a bit of a surprise. The Ukrainian had a lovely routine that included a 1½ to triple full, a high but cowboyed double tuck, and a front tuck through to double full, a solid combination of tumbling difficulty, but her dance was also up there, with an illusion turn sequence and a nice switch ring to ring leap. I fully didn’t expect her to make the podium for this event, but she had no real major mistakes here and was able to edge out Boyer, who also had a solid routine, with a 13.2 to Boyer’s 13.1.
Hermans came back from her bars spill to put up a 13.1 for fifth place, showing really cute choreo on top of her solid tumbling, including a piked full-in, 1½ to front full, and 2½ to front tuck. Ana Perez of Spain was sixth with a 12.95, performing a whip whip to full-in, a super cool front layout through to double tuck, a stuck double full, and a clean double pike, and De Jesus Dos Santos was seventh with a 12.55 after landing her double layout OOB and taking her double tuck two steps back.
The heartbreaker of the day was poor Ioana Crisan of Romania, who finished last with a 10.95 after putting her hands down on both her tucked full-in and then her double pike in her final pass. She was also a little loose in her form on her 1½ to front layout, but she wins for coolest unique tumbling run with her awesome whip full through to double tuck! I literally can’t remember the last time I saw a whip full on floor, so this was a fantastic way for her to pick up some extra difficulty, given that she’s not a super strong tumbler in general.
With pretty much all of the top gymnasts here expected to compete at worlds in just TWO WEEKS, this was a super fun competition and it’s clear just how much depth we’ll see in Montreal, which is fantastic in a post-Olympic year.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
This post was made possible thanks to our amazing patrons who help us fund things like travel and video production as we work to grow the site. This month’s patrons: April, Daniel Bertolina, Emily Bischoff, Dodi Blumstein, Wendy Bruce, Katie Burrows, Kelly Byrd, Melissa Carwin, Jillian Cohen, Brittany Cook, Kat Cornetta, Kristyn Cozier, Anita Gjerde Davidsen, Holly Glymour, Hydrick Harden, Lauren Haslett, Inaya, Lauren Jade, Alexis Johnston, Katrina, Sarah Keegan, Ishita Kent, Alyssa King, Jenny Kreiss, Maria Layton, Rae Lemke Sprung, Leigh Linden, Annabelle McCombe, Stephanie McNemar, Bridget McNulty, Cindy McWilliams, M. Melcher, Alison Melko, Emily Minehart, Eyleen Mund, Rachel Myers, Melanie Oechsner, Jessica Olaiya, David F. Pendrys, Lauren Pickens, Cordelia Price, Abbey Richards, Christine Robins, Kaitlyn Schaefer, Lisa Schmidt, Brian Schwegman, Sam Smart, Stephanie, Karen Steward, Lucia Tang, Tipse_ee, Rachel Walsh, Laura Williams, and Jenny Zaidi. THANK YOU!
Want to help out and qualify for super fun rewards for as little as $1/month? Check us out on Patreon!