Sophie Scheder and Pauline Schäfer
Two of Germany’s most successful gymnasts of all time — 2017 world balance beam champion Pauline Schäfer and 2016 Olympic medalist Sophie Scheder — are back in action and looking to earn spots on the European Championships team this summer.
Schäfer won the all-around title here with a 53.500 after an excellent competition, where she also posted the top scores on beam and floor. In her first competition of 2018, the Queen of the Beam — as the German press is calling her — put up a 14.000 on her beam set, looking fabulous throughout, including on her eponymous side somi half, to get credit for a 5.7 D score on the event.
Her floor was also tidy and gorgeous, tallying a 13.100, and she nailed a handspring front layout half on vault to earn a 13.650 there, the third-best vault score of the meet. Though bars isn’t her event and while she’s lacking in difficulty there, Schäfer looked thrilled when she hit the dismount at the end of a solid routine, making this a fully hit all-around performance from the 21-year-old, and with veteran Elisabeth Seitz out for the near future due to an abdominal strain, Schäfer is looking more than ready to step up as a leader for what could be a super strong German team at both European and world championships.
In her first competition since she won the bronze on bars in Rio, 21-year-old Scheder, who had surgery and spent last year recuperating, looked excellent on her signature event and finished third all-around with a score of 52.500.
On bars, Scheder is at a 6.2 D score, one of the top in the world at the moment, and in Saturday’s routine she hit an inbar full to Komova II to Pak, toe full to van Leeuwen, inbar half to piked Jaeger, Church, and full-out with a step. Despite being a bit labored at the moment with a couple of easily fixable technical issues, her bars absolutely do not look like she’s been gone for two years, and she picked up a 14.500, continuing her trend of being one of the most consistent bar workers basically ever.
Otherwise, Scheder performed a tentative FTY on vault, and though she bounced off the beam on her triple flight series, she was otherwise terrific, with her leaps in the opening switch leap to switch half to split jump sequence absolutely out-of-this-world. Her floor is a bit easy right now, but again, she looks great, sticking her double pike to open and again showing beautiful dance elements.
It’s so exciting to see her back and healthy, because while she more than made her dreams come true with a medal that ended up being one of the biggest surprises in Rio given the insanely competitive bars field, she was only 19 at the time and still has so much left to give as a gymnast. Right now, she looks like a no-brainer for the Euros team, and I hope a few adjustments here and there will make her an even greater contender for a spot.
Not to be outdone by the two superstars was 18-year-old Sarah Voss, who hasn’t previously shown herself to be a major team contender in Germany, though this year she’s been quite good, finishing fifth in a tough field as the wildcard competitor at the Stuttgart World Cup while getting more and more consistent on a DTY vault she added a couple of years ago, but that has given her some trouble at times.
Voss won the silver medal in the all-around here with a 52.850. Her vault wasn’t the greatest here, but as one of only two Germans with a vault tougher than an FTY, her 13.800 still got her the top score on this event, and more importantly, her beam was super strong, earning another 13.800 for a solid set on top of also hitting her bar and floor routines.
With vault and beam her strongest events capable of some of the top scores in Germany on a team that’s heavy on bars talent, Voss can fill a hole this year left by the absence of an injured Tabea Alt. Worlds is still up in the air for Alt, though she definitely won’t be back in time for Euros, and while Voss isn’t exactly at her level, she’s a more than sufficient replacement and will fit in nicely onto a team that could use that help.
In fourth with a 51.850 was veteran Kim Bui, the 29-year-old two-time Olympian who continues to be a force on bars. Her routine at the trial in Chemnitz was one of her stronger sets, credited at a 6.0 D score and actually performed a bit better than Scheder’s, though she ended up with the second-highest score of 6.0 and that alone will get her a spot on both major international teams this year.
In addition to her bars, Bui also hit a solid floor performance that earned a 12.650, third-best in a weak floor field, though she had a fall on beam, normally her weakest event though she wouldn’t really be named to a team for this event anyway. In Rio, she served as a bars and floor specialist, and I imagine that’s what she’ll continue to aim for this quad, at least on a five-member team.
Rounding out the top five and my final pick for the Euros team is Leah Griesser, who earned a 50.600 after a solid day of competition. On vault, 19-year-old Griesser generally sticks to a Yurchenko layout that sometimes — like this weekend — gets downgraded to a pike, leaving her unable to challenge against gymnasts with D scores more than a point higher than her on this event. But elsewhere, she was lovely, and it was great to finally see her back for the first time since a rough fall on beam at the Bundesliga finals late last year.
On a team that has a handful of big-difficulty routines from Schäfer, Voss, Scheder, and Bui, and in the absence of Seitz, Griesser comes in as someone who can contribute the less flashy but solid leadoff routines everywhere but vault. She’s capable of respectable scores in the mid 13s on bars and beam, and finished third on both of these events this weekend, and her floor is always a must-watch at every competition, as she makes up for lower-difficulty tumbling with clean skills and breathtaking dance. Her 12.800 on this event here was the second-best floor score for the Germans, and while it won’t get her into a Euros or worlds final, it’s exactly what the team needs to complement their more explosive work on the other three events.
I’m not going to lie — when I heard both Seitz and Alt would be missing most, if not all, of this season, I was a bit panicked. Germany doesn’t have a ton of depth, and they seemed like they’d need at least one, if not both, of these gymnasts to be successful at the team level, especially at Euros where they’d be able to challenge for a medal. But unlike many middling programs, Germany can replace a fantastic routine with a just-slightly-weaker one, and they can more or less still find success as a team. And while neither Voss nor Griesser has the star power or success of their injured teammates, both have proven to be successful internationally and would be perfect replacements.
If all goes according to plan, Seitz and Alt could be back in time for worlds, in which case Germany would be likely to send its complete 2016 Olympic team to Doha. Why change a thing?! The lineups and rotation orders wouldn’t need to change one iota from what we saw in Rio two years ago, and this team would still be a top-five program with hit routines. But even without this pair, I think we’ll still see a thriving German program in both Glasgow and Doha this year, especially now that Scheder is back.
Also competing here in the senior field were Michelle Timm in sixth with a 49.800, Carina Kröll in seventh with a 49.300, Isabelle Stingl in eighth with a 49.200, Emma Höfele in ninth with a 48.800, and Kim Ruoff in tenth with a 46.350. Aside from Höfele’s second-best vault score of 13.700 for her solid FTY, none of these gymnasts had a top-three routine nor did they break a 13 on any event but vault, with scores mostly hovering in the high 11 to low 12 range. Timm had some mistakes in her sets, and is capable of better work, though I still don’t see her breaking into the top group and think an alternate spot is probably most likely for her.
The juniors also had a trial for the Euros team here, which saw Emma Malewski take the win with a 49.700 while posting top-three scores on every event, including the best score of 12.600 on floor. Lara Hinsberger was second with a 49.450 and the top scores on vault and bars, though falls on beam and floor kept her from a better all-around finish, and Leonie Papke won the bronze with a 49.150, showing solid routines across the board with beam her strongest, earning a 12.400 to post the top score on that event.
Aiyu Zhu, a 2004-born junior from Köln who won the all-around title in her age group at junior nationals this year with a 50.868, unfortunately had a bit of a disaster of a day on bars and beam. She ended up sixth all-around with a 45.050, and still managed to post the top score on vault and second-best score on floor, so I’d still consider her a major contender for the Euros team despite her mistakes.
She actually had similar meltdowns on those two events in the event finals at junior nationals, so I do worry that she could be a consistency problem on the international stage, but there’s no one else who would really do much better, so it makes sense to risk her and hope for the best rather than someone who wouldn’t be able to contribute anything better even on a good day.
The other junior I think looks ready for the team is Emelie Petz, who was supposed to compete at the Youth Olympic Games qualifier, but a foot injury is limiting her to just bars and beam at the moment, and so she competed just two events in Chemnitz instead of traveling to Baku.
Like Zhu, Petz had a weak day on both of these events, but also like Zhu, she’s capable of so much better and I can’t see a world where a four-time junior national champion is left off of the junior Euros team when she’s finally age-eligible. Hopefully by August, she’ll be feeling better and will be able to get in some more training time, but I wouldn’t count her or Zhu out based on their performances at this meet.
The other Euros hopefuls who competed in Germany’s junior trials field were Michelle Kunz, fourth with a 47.800, Jasmin Haase, fifth with a 47.500, Noemi Griesser, seventh with a 43.750, Theresa Geyer, eighth with a 43.250, and Stella Neufeld, ninth with a 43.150.
Full results from this trial meet are available here, and we’re excited to see how these ladies end up doing at future tests on the road to Glasgow!
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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