Maija Leinonen will lead Finland’s team at Northern Euros this weekend.
One of my favorite meets of the year, the Northern European Championships, kicks off in Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.
At Northern Euros, we get to see teams from the Nordic countries, Ireland, and small British Isle nations like Scotland and Wales that for larger competitions get lumped in with England as part of Great Britain but only rarely get the chance to stand out on their own.
This year, we somewhat shockingly will not see Wales on the roster, a huge blow after they’ve won multiple titles in a row until the host team from Norway was able to step up and win the team competition last year.
Wales not showing up to Northern Euros is like the United States not showing up to worlds, basically, especially given that two British national team gymnasts, Maisie Methuen (who won her first international all-around title at this meet back in 2014 when she was just 13) and Latalia Bevan, both come from the Welsh program as does recent GB national squad recruit Emily Thomas, the uneven bars champ from last year’s Northern Euros, and 2014 Commonwealth Games standout Georgina Hockenhull.
All four of these ladies are on the “long list” for Wales’ 2018 Commonwealth Games team among the country’s other top gymnasts, and will attend an initial trial in Cardiff at the end of the month, so I’m guessing this is their focus and they’d rather not also go to Northern Euros a week prior, but it’s a real shame, as they had a strong shot at reclaiming the title they so often easily won.
The defending champs from Norway are without top seniors Solveig Berg and Julie Søderstrøm, but 2017 worlds team members Thea Nygaard (who missed the competition in Montreal due to a concussion sustained in training at the facility) and Martine Skregelid will compete alongside Ingrid Hafenbrädl, Julie Erichsen, and junior Julie Madsø, a team still solid enough to reach the podium even if they’re not coming in as frontrunners.
Nygaard and Skregelid are the real backbone of this team, but Hafenbrädl — who made quite the last-minute push in her fight to get a ticket to Montreal by placing second all-around and winning the beam title at Norway’s final trial meet — is pretty much at their level, and all three could factor into the all-around podium.
I think the real breakout team of this year’s meet will be Ireland, though. With the experienced Tara Donnelly leading the pack, the Irish team also includes Canadian-born national champion Meaghan Smith, up-and-comer Casey Bell, and top juniors Meg Ryan and Rebecca Geddis.
It’s the country’s most impressive team in years, especially if Bell is back in top form after dealing with a serious injury. Both Smith and Donnelly will give the team an edge on vault, and their beam is generally strong enough in this overall weak field. This is an event where the young Ryan will really help, as is floor, but the team has multiple options on all four events and that’s why I think they’ll be able to outshine the rest of the competition, which would be huge for them.
Ireland’s last and only team medal came in 2015, when they won the silver at home in Limerick with a team that included Donnelly, Bell, and 2016 Olympian Ellis O’Reilly, who recently announced her retirement. But with the recent addition of Smith to their ranks in addition to some of the country’s best junior talent in history, they have some great depth at the moment and could use that to their advantage in Torshavn this weekend.
The team from Iceland is always looking strong, coming after a pretty solid meet at worlds where the country’s top competitors Irina Sazonova, Dominiqua Belanyi, and Agnes Suto-Tuuha all looked super confident. That could be all they need to win this week, and while their teammates Sigridur Bergthorsdottir and Thelma Adalsteinsdottir aren’t quite as strong just yet, Bergthorsdottir adds some depth on vault, and Adalsteinsdottir has lots of potential and her senior international debut could be the catalyst to bring her to the next level.
I also wouldn’t count out Scotland, featuring top all-around and vault contender Shannon Archer along with Cara Kennedy, one of the babies of the 2014 Commonwealth Games team who is now stepping up as a leader. These two will guide young seniors Sarah McKenzie and Isabella Tolometti in addition to junior Ellie Russell, none of whom is a super standout on any event right now, but all combined, they will be a big help in getting Scotland to a top score.
Finland’s team is missing a couple of top competitors at the moment, and so while leader Maija Leinonen — last year’s all-around bronze medalist and the defending champion on beam — will come in as a contender for the all-around and multiple individual events, the team overall will struggle to reach the podium without girls like Annika Urvikko and Rosanna Ojala, both out with injuries at the moment.
I was really impressed with newcomer Helmi Murto at worlds, where she hit a solid bars set and showed potential on her other events as well in what was only the second international meet of her career after she missed all of 2016 — her first year at the senior level — due to injury. Finland has been known for turning potential into talent as the program’s gymnasts get a bit older and more experienced, and Murto definitely fits that mold. She’ll join first-year seniors Isabella Ahlblad, Wilma Malin, and junior Lilian Langenskiöld, all of whom will also hope to build on this meet as they grow within the sport, and while this probably isn’t their year, it’s a great foundational team with a superb leader in Leinonen at the top.
With a lack of depth at the moment, Sweden also isn’t likely to be a contender. Three-time national all-around champion Marcela Torres — who retired in 2016 and then began training again this past spring — leads the team as the top all-arounder with a great shot at making several event finals. But as with Finland, the rest of the team is quite young and lacking in experience, with three first-year seniors (Agnes Åkerman, Sigrid Risberg, and Alva Eriksson) as well as one junior (Ida Staafgård) on the roster.
At Northern Euros, it’s common to see juniors come in and steal the show, defeating seniors for the individual titles, and that’s what I think 2004-born Camille Rasmussen will end up doing here. At 13, she’s the youngest at this competition, but she comes in with some of the best all-around scores and she could also win the beam and floor titles, with super impressive routines on both. Her former teammate Marie Skammelsen — who retired a few months ago as her interests shifted from gymnastics to dance — won the all-around, vault, and floor titles as a junior last year, so if Rasmussen is able to pull off the win this year, she’ll be continuing a legacy for Denmark.
Like some of the other teams, Denmark as a whole isn’t very strong, however. They should get some solid routines from leader Mette Hulgaard, who won her first Northern Euros medal on bars last year, while Sofia Bjørnholdt will make her senior competitive debut on this team, alongside juniors Emilie Midtbøll and Isabella Bøckhaus.
That leaves us with the host team from the Faroe Islands, which includes seniors Christina Arge and Elsbet Dalbø leading juniors Astrid Breckmann, Rebekka Rein, and Mary Petersen. The Faroese gymnasts generally have put up some lovely performances in the past, but a lack of difficulty will make them unable to challenge here.
The competition includes a combination team and all-around final on Saturday, which also serves as the qualifier to event finals, which will be held on Sunday. I haven’t heard of any streaming plans just yet, but will post if anything comes up.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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