Marine Boyer, Lorette Charpy, Coline Devillard, Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos, and Juliette Bossu of France
It’s rare when the European team title, contested every other year, goes to a country other than Russia or Romania.
These two programs have gone back and forth as Europe’s best since the Soviet era. The last and only time another team broke through was when Italy won gold in 2006, but the only two teams really considered threats for the top of the podium before and since then are now not quite as comfortable.
Romania is out of the podium race — and probably won’t even make finals — but while the Russians remain the frontrunners for the gold, even with a depleted lineup, France is gearing up for an incredible run with the hopes of challenging the reigning champs.
The Russians are led this year by 2016 Olympic silver medalist Angelina Melnikova, going quickly from the baby of the team to a confident veteran at just 18. After a lackluster 2017, Melnikova is rejuvenated this season, looking unstoppable all year to win several all-around titles at home and abroad. She’ll go up on all four events in Glasgow, and should be the top contributor on at least two of them, and though the all-around title won’t be contested in a separate final, she has the best shot at ‘unofficially’ winning it in tomorrow’s qualifications.
Also on the roster are Lilia Akhaimova, the oldest on the squad making her European debut on vault and floor; Uliana Perebinosova, a member of the 2016 junior European team who will compete bars here; her 2016 teammate Angelina Simakova, a first-year senior who will compete all but bars; and Irina Alexeeva, also in her first year at the senior level as well as in her first year on the Russian national team, defeating 2012 Olympian Viktoria Komova to get the bars and beam specialist spot.
This isn’t Russia’s strongest team ever, but it’s one of the more complementary teams we’ve seen, with every event well covered and no true weak spot for the women. There are event final contenders on every apparatus, and while bars isn’t quite the stunner we usually see, this is probably Russia’s best floor team in years.
France, the 2016 bronze medal-winning team after climbing up from a sixth-place ranking in prelims, is coming in with an edge on beam, where a rockstar lineup featuring 2016 Olympic finalist Marine Boyer, 2017 Doha World Cup champion Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos, and the super-consistent Lorette Charpy, this year’s French champion on the event, will be capable of getting three scores at the top of the field.
While Russia will likely put up its weakest performance on beam, the French team — which comes close to matching Russia on vault and bars — could very well see this apparatus be the make-or-break event for the team title, and if everyone does what they’re capable of, it could be how we see them get ahead.
With De Jesus Dos Santos on all four events, Boyer on all but bars, and Charpy on all but vault, the team is rounded out by a couple of specialists, including 2017 European champion Coline Devillard on vault, where she’s now competing a Rudi and a tsuk full, and 2014 junior European squad member Juliette Bossu on bars, where her gorgeous lines and 6.0 start value make her a strong finals contender as well.
Russia and France will likely be in a position to run away with the battle for gold, with the rest of the teams not really close enough unless they can count on falls from the top squads. But there are a handful who could be in the fight for the top five, and one of those teams is…Ukraine.
YES. UKRAINE! Are you screaming? I am.
With pretty much every single team here dealing with multiple injuries holding them back considerably, Ukraine is coming in with pretty much its best possible group of ladies competing in the country right now, missing only Valeriia Iarmolenko, who is injured, and Anastasiia Bachynska, who is on the junior team.
If Bachynska was a senior competing this weekend, I’d call this team a bronze medal contender, but without her they’re still a fantastic group, featuring 2016 Olympian Angelina Radivilova on all but bars, 2017 world bars finalist Diana Varinska and 2017 Ukrainian all-around champion Valeriia Osipova on all four events, and Yana Fedorova on bars, with Alona Titarenko also on the team, though she isn’t set to contribute anywhere.
Radivilova has been working hard to up her difficulty on beam and floor, though her consistency on both is where she might have an issue, while Varinska is a huge contender for a medal on bars. Osipova and Fedorova aren’t big individual contenders anywhere, but Osipova has a solid level of difficulty and is lovely to watch on beam and floor, while Fedorova has been looking excellent on bars this season, winning bronze on the event in Baku this spring.
Despite just losing Eythora Thorsdottir to a hand injury this past weekend, the Netherlands is also in a really strong place as a team right now thanks to a strong balance across the four events. The team, working with the motto “The Force is Grace” for this competition, has one of the highest scoring potentials on beam, where E scores are their secret weapon.
Led by 2016 Olympic beam champion Sanne Wevers and two-time Olympian Céline van Gerner, who will be standouts on bars and beam with van Gerner competing a stunning floor routine that should also score well, the team also includes 2016 Olympian Vera van Pol, two-time worlds team member Tisha Volleman bringing the power on vault and floor, and first-year senior Naomi Visser, a floor finalist in the 2016 junior Euros field, rounding them out on vault.
Wevers, van Gerner, and Volleman are all likely to make individual event finals, but van Pol has been super consistent this season and is coming off of the national all-around title to boost her confidence going into a big meet like this, while Visser is a super necessary addition to this team, which is lacking depth on vault.
Both Great Britain and Germany are dealing with major deficits due to injuries right now, so neither will be able to accomplish what they’re truly capable of, but the team final should still be pretty easily in the mix.
The British team lost 2016 Olympians Claudia Fragapane, Ellie Downie, and Amy Tinkler to injury this spring, and though two-time Olympian Becky Downie missed Commonwealth Games, she came back this summer looking ready to lead the team in Glasgow, but an unfortunately-timed injury while training on beam yesterday means she will no longer be able to contribute much-needed scores on bars and beam (and of course, the bars final will be severely lacking without her).
Those who remain might have mostly been second-string options earlier in the year, but they’ve all stepped up and proven themselves internationally this year, with everyone on the team this weekend — Georgia-Mae Fenton, Alice Kinsella, Kelly Simm, Lucy Stanhope, and the last-minute replacement Taeja James — the five who represented England to win silver as a team on top of multiple individual medals at the Commonwealth Games in April.
Fenton, the Commonwealth Games bars champion, will compete all events but vault here, and she’s actually quite a talented beam worker, so hopefully she’ll be able to bring in some big scores there in addition to contending for a spot in the bars final. Simm, the team’s leader, will go up on all four events, Commonwealth Games beam champion Kinsella will do all but bars, with her solid DTY and lovely beam her biggest contributions, and Stanhope will vault in addition to competing on bars.
As of the most recent update to the start list, James will not contribute any scores to the teams, though I’m surprised by this. As lovely as Fenton is on this event, James has the potential to hit a high 13 if she does well, with her high score this year a 14.100 at the Commonwealth Games prelims. Her potential is more than a point higher than Fenton’s top scores on the event, so the option to bring her in but not use her is perplexing, and I can only assume she’s been struggling too much in training to risk in a three-up three-count situation (yes, even prelims don’t allow teams to drop a fall here).
When Elisabeth Seitz announced that she’d miss Euros due to an abdominal issue earlier this year, even though 2017 world bronze medalist Tabea Alt was also out, I thought “no big deal.” Germany had 2016 Olympic bars bronze medalist Sophie Scheder back in action after a two-year hiatus, and the rest of the squad was looking strong, easily able to handle a meet like this.
But then Scheder injured her finger while training, which meant Germany would lose a mid-14 on bars only to replace it with a low-13 at best, a crushing blow to a squad that looked capable of coming in for a medal position this summer. Led by 2017 world champion Pauline Schäfer competing everywhere but vault, the team also benefits from the consistency of two-time Olympian Kim Bui, who will compete all but beam and now steps up as the team’s best prospect on bars.
We’ll also see Leah Griesser back in major international competition here, lending her gorgeous beauty on bars and floor, while the solid Sarah Voss and newcomer Emma Höfele will both contribute scores on vault and beam, with Voss capable of a solid DTY and excellent potential on beam. Höfele’s presence on the team is still a bit confusing, especially because she defeated the reliable and experienced Michelle Timm. Her FTY is stronger than what Bui and Griesser can do on vault, but beam should be interesting, as she’s pretty weak there while Griesser is a much stronger and consistent gymnast on that event, but hey, everyone needs a chance to prove herself at a big meet like this.
While these are likely to be the top teams here, I also wouldn’t count out a program like Belgium. Both Rune Hermans and Julie Meyers were forced to withdraw from the team due to injuries, and only Senna Deriks was looking ready to come in their place, meaning the team has only four gymnasts here in Glasgow.
One of those four gymnasts, however, is reigning European bars champion Nina Derwael, who recently added a Nabieva on bars and now boasts a 6.4 start value on bars, the highest in the world. Her bars scores will help Belgium be one of the top-scoring bars teams here, and over the past year she’s also proven to be one of the strongest all-arounders in the world, finishing seventh at Euros and eighth at worlds last year, breaking records to reach Belgium’s best finishes in history.
Derwael will likely also put up the team’s best performance on beam, and her floor routine should also score well, even though her difficulty isn’t huge there. Joined by Deriks on bars, Axelle Klinckaert on all four events in her first major competition since injuring her knee prior to the Rio Games, and Maellyse Brassart, who had a fantastic senior debut season in 2017 and was a key contributor to the Belgian juniors’ eighth-place team finish at Euros in 2016, on all events but bars, the Belgians are absolutely a contender for the team final, though I think without someone like Hermans on the squad, it’ll be hard for them to place near the top despite the tremendous talent packed into the four who will compete.
Also most realistically fighting for team final spots will be Italy, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania.
Italy is facing about a million injuries on top of some drama with 2016 Olympian Elisa Meneghini being left out of consideration for a spot after a weak nationals performance, but the program will fight to hold on thanks to two DTYs on vault and a potentially great performance from Giada Grisetti on bars and beam.
The Spanish team had a last-minute injury to Nora Fernandez, but first-year senior Andrea Carmona was a blessing in her addition to the team with one of the country’s highest-earning floor routines, and the rest of the squad — Ana Perez, Cintia Rodriguez, Helena Bonilla, and Paula Raya — complement one another nicely.
While Hungary is missing 2017 European silver all-around medalist Zsofia Kovacs, two-time Olympian Dorina Böczögö is back on all four events here, helped out by first-year seniors Nora Feher and Sara Peter, 2017 European vault medalist Boglarka Devai, and three-time Noemi Makra, healthy and back in action in a major competition for the first time in two years.
I’m most excited for the Czech Republic, which has a pretty solid squad here capable of big things thanks especially to Aneta Holasova, who has her FTY back on vault after getting injured at junior Euros in 2016 in addition to an excellent and difficult beam set; first-year senior Dominika Ponizilova, who has an excellent Yurchenko 1.5 on vault; and Lucie Jirikova, who has talents across all four events with bars and beam her standout. The team final could be a stretch, but top ten is definitely possible if they hit, which is a major step up from 19th just two years ago.
Last month, two-time Olympian Marta Pihan-Kulesza surprised us all when she returned to Poland’s national championships this year after having a baby in 2017, winning her ninth national all-around title with a super impressive performance. Along with 2016 Olympian and beam goddess Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska, strong vaulter and bar worker Gabriela Janik, and Wiktoria Lopuszanska, the youngest in the mix, the team is now in a really strong position to finish well here.
And then there’s Romania. As if the Romanian situation wasn’t bad enough after Larisa Iordache ruptured her Achilles last year in addition to Ioana Crisan being out due to injury for most of this year, the team suffered a last-minute loss to Anamaria Ocolisan (yes, again) in training this week, leaving them with just four girls left to compete in Glasgow.
The group that remains includes Carmen Ghiciuc in her second year at the senior level alongside three first-year seniors — star Denisa Golgota as well as Laura Iacob and Nica Ivanus. Golgota is an incredible strength on this team, especially with what she can do on vault with a beautiful DTY and with excellent tumbling on floor, though she’s also really solid and consistent on beam, which should be a highlight for the team even if this is no longer the “beam team” we once knew and loved.
Most importantly, the team isn’t totally at a loss on bars. While there’s not a ton of difficulty there, all three bar workers at this meet — Golgota, Ghiciuc, and Iacob — have been fairly strong by Romania’s standards. With Ocolisan, the team was on the border for making the team final, and while they’re less likely to make it happen now, I think they’ll be able to surprise and impress if they can hit.
We’ll have more comprehensive previews going into event finals once the fields are decided, but for now, here’s a list of those we’re hoping will impress on each event going into these finals.
Devillard and Devai are the reigning gold and bronze medalists, respectively, but while Devai is bringing a Cheng to her competition while Devillard has swapped her DTY for a tsuk full, neither is performing at the same level as last year, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can still contend.
This field is going to be a bit weaker than normal this year anyway, though. Melnikova, Simakova, and Akhaimova are all strong contenders, as are Golgota, Volleman, Ponizilova, Marina Nekrasova of Azerbaijan, Teja Belak and Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia, and Sofia Busato of Italy.
I’d also really like to see Gabriela Janik (Poland) get in here, as she’s done fairly well on the world cup circuit, but her difficulty might not get her there.
Reigning champion Derwael is super high on my list, obviously. She could win it by a point if she’s on the money. But also really high up there are Fenton, Melnikova, Bui, Varinska, De Jesus Dos Santos, and Bossu.
Also strongly in the mix are van Gerner, Perebinosova, Alexeeva, Wevers, and Jonna Adlerteg (Sweden), and though Grisetti has been inconsistent here, if she hits she’s also definitely one who can sneak in.
My “please GOD make it happen” choice would be Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia, who has become a world cup treasure on this event.
The no-brainers on beam — assuming they hit, which is 95% of the battle — are the reigning Olympic and world champions, Wevers and Schäfer, respectively, as well as Boyer and De Jesus Dos Santos.
I think if Derwael can fight her nerves, she’s also a very strong contender for the final (and possibly even a medal), as are van Gerner, Varinska, Charpy, Kinsella, Melnikova, Jurkowska-Kowalska, and Vasiliki Millousi of Greece.
Personally, I’d LOVE IT if Holasova could get into this final and I think she could make it happen if she hits…as could Elina Vihrova of Latvia, who has missed most of this season but could be great here if she looks like she did last year.
The Russians are so good here, I think we could see them end up with two of the three medals, with Melnikova, Akhaimova, and Simakova all in contention.
Others who look great here are Golgota, De Jesus Dos Santos, Klinckaert, van Gerner, Schäfer, and Volleman.
I also wouldn’t mind seeing Radivilova, Rodriguez, or Böczögö on this event…and if we could get Pihan-Kulesza and/or Göksu Üctas Sanli of Turkey into the final, we’d have a mother or two on the floor, and that would be awesome.
WHEN TO WATCH
Thursday’s competition will be the qualification for the team final and for the event finals for the senior women. A full start list is available here, and all times listed below are local to Glasgow.
10:00 am. Subdivision 1 (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Georgia, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden)
1:15 pm. Subdivision 2 (Austria, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine)
4:00 pm. Subdivision 3 (Azerbaijan, Belgium, Greece, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain)
7:00 pm. Subdivision 4 (France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Russia, Switzerland)
The competition will continue with the junior meet — the team and all-around final, which will also act as the event qualifier — on Friday, the women’s senior team final on Saturday, and event finals on Sunday.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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