Olga Astafyeva, Vladislava Urazova, Irina Komnova, Yana Vorona, and Ksenia Klimenko of Russia
After the French women upset the Russians in the senior qualifications on the first day of competition at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow, Russia’s looking for some retribution and the juniors are ready to bring it.
With the first day of competition for the juniors acting as the deciding match for both the team and all-around medals, the Russians — who have won every junior team title since 2000 — will be bringing it out in full force today, hoping also to qualify into multiple event finals. The junior competition will be four up with three scores counting to the total, giving these teams the ability to drop a fall or a routine with mistakes.
Led by 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival champion Ksenia Klimenko, the team has the experience and talent to get them to a strong finish even with a threat brewing from the Italians. Klimenko is good on all four events, with bars probably her best, but she’s also been fairly consistent on beam and beam is exactly where the Russians have the opportunity to overtake Italy, assuming, of course, that they hit.
In addition to Klimenko, the Russian team includes Olga Astafyeva, who is pretty decent on all four events, with bars a standout, and while her difficulty isn’t immense elsewhere, she’ll be able to do more than enough to help out the team; Vladislava Urazova, who is excellent on beam and floor and also vaults a Yurchenko 1.5; Yana Vorona, who kind of came out of nowhere with no international experience, but she’ll be an excellent addition on vault and floor; and Irina Komnova, a lovely bar worker, though she can be a bit hit or miss both there and on beam.
The Italians will bring the biggest challenge to the Russians, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to do it, which is a testament to just how great this Russian team is on beam and floor. I think last year at EYOF was Italy’s real chance to get the upset, but this year Russia is coming in with pretty much every top junior who fits the age eligibility requirements, and the Italians are injured and just too far behind on beam to get the win without relying on major mistakes from Russia.
If this was a traditional team final with both Russia and Italy starting on vault and competing together in Olympic order, Italy would get a huge lead on vault and bars, but then they’d slowly lose it on the latter two events. The Italians have improved a bit on floor over the past year, but they’re still no match for what Russia can do, and then beam will be its own struggle, as the girls just have no difficulty or consistency.
Giorgia Villa, the top all-arounder in Italy in both the junior and senior fields this year, is the one to watch here, with a solid DTY, a super difficult bars set, and an always-improving floor routine. Though beam is Villa’s weak spot, she’s definitely one of the better Italians on the event, and if she hits, she’ll be capable of a score in the low 13s, so hopefully she’ll be on the money and able to pull out a winner this week.
The D’Amato twins, Asia and Alice, are both dealing with injuries, with Asia struggling through back pain over the past couple of months while Alice is recently back from an ankle injury sustained at Gymnix in March. Asia will compete all four events, and with a huge DTY on vault, she’s a top contender for the final there, while Alice is expected to compete all but beam, with bars likely where she’ll add the most value, though she also has a DTY and hopefully will be healthy enough to compete it.
Elisa Iorio has one of the strongest bars sets in the group and she can also hit a DTY and be fabulous on beam when she hits. Iorio has gone back and forth with Villa between gold and silver on the all-around podium this summer, and though her floor is generally pretty low-scoring, she can also pull something good out when needed.
Rounding out the team is Alessia Federici, the baby of the group making her big international debut. She’ll fill a gap on beam, where she has been generally quite consistent this year, though I think the biggest benefit to having her here is giving her the experience on a big international stage so she can hopefully fill out some of the team’s depth issues when she becomes a senior in two years.
As for the other teams, France and Great Britain should both be fairly strong, the Netherlands and Belgium both have some strong up-and-coming talent, and the Hungarian squad is full of potential as well, with Germany also solidly in the mix for a top-eight finish while the Ukrainians could also sneak up there.
The French team lost the super strong beam kid Julia Forestier to injury in training this week, which could hurt them a little especially in terms of morale. Superstar Carolann Heduit should make a huge impression here with super difficult routines on every event but floor, and she’s looked fantastic at her two most recent international meets, getting a Youth Olympic Games spot in June and then standing out at a junior friendly in Italy a few weeks later, getting on the podium at both meets.
For Great Britain, Amelie Morgan is the top all-arounder and will be contributing anchor routines on three events. She recently upgraded to a DTY, and she also has a pretty solid beam routine with generally lovely work on bars as well. I also love Ondine Achampong on bars and Halle Hilton on beam, and think beam could be an impressive rotation for the Brits.
The Netherlands has several strong young all-arounders, with Astrid de Zeeuw and Sara van Disseldorp both very impressive, and the same goes for Belgium, which should see great work from Stacy Bertrandt and Fien Enghels especially, though the Belgians are touched by a recent injury here, losing Lisa Vaelen in training yesterday with Noemie Louon stepping in as the alternate, which could absolutely affect them, as Vaelen has always been able to put up strong scores.
I’m so impressed with what Zoja Szekely will bring to bars for the Hungarians, and they also have superb talent in Bianka Schermann on all events while Csenge Bacskay is a fantastic vaulter, and Germany is all about Emelie Petz, who has been dealing with recent injuries that forced her to miss the Youth Olympic Games qualification, though she’s set to return to the all-around here and will hopefully carry the team with big scores, as the rest of the girls here are a bit weak.
Ukraine is dealing with a super recent injury to Yelyzaveta Hubareva, who has been replaced by Anhelina Deineka, which is kind of a big blow to the team. They’ll still see great work from the talented 2004 babies, Tetiana Mokliak and Daria Murzhak, and of course, they boast the incredible Anastasiia Bachynska as well, meaning they could absolutely surprise for a strong finish if these three end up doing what they’re capable of.
Bachynska, who recently won the Youth Olympic Games qualification in Baku, will be looking to challenge the Russians and Italians for the all-around title in addition to also hoping for several event finals. Though bars is her weakness, if she makes it through, she’s pretty much golden for the rest of the meet, and her routine is still often solid enough to make a final, but beam is where she really stands out, and she also showed a fantastic Yurchenko 1.5 in Baku last month, so look for her to score well there too.
I don’t know what to think about Romania. Unfortunately, their gymnasts don’t get a ton of international experience at the junior level, though at a friendly meet in Izvorani a few weeks ago, the junior team actually bested the senior team by several points, with five of the girls scoring above a 51 in the all-around.
Of course, that’s likely wishful thinking home scoring, and those who competed at Jesolo came nowhere near scores like these, so don’t get too excited. But the point is that they all hit pretty solidly, even on bars, while beam and floor both showed tremendous promise and no major mistakes. With a brand-new DTY and solid difficulty on beam and floor, Silviana Sfiringu should do fairly well, and Ana Maria Puiu has one of the more promising bar routines I’ve seen from the team in quite some time while Ioana Stanciulescu is also a standout there, also with potentially huge difficulty on beam.
I hope for their sake and their program’s sake that they have a successful outing here, but I also felt hopeful about the seniors and was pretty sad to see them struggle. Hopefully, even if they don’t end up being a podium contender or even in the top five, we can at least see them hit without major mistakes or drama.
As for some individual competitors, I’m especially excited for Camille Rasmussen of Denmark, one of the country’s best gymnasts in decades with her beam and floor a real treat; Emma Slevin of Ireland, who was fabulous at the Youth Olympic Games qualifier, becoming the first gymnast from her country to get a spot; Egle Stalinkeviciute of Lithuania, a strong all-arounder with a great floor set; and Tonya Paulsson of Sweden, who showed super strong basics as a younger junior but now is stepping up with greater difficulty and a wonderful confidence in competitions that is helping her be a true international threat.
Friday’s competition for the juniors will serve as the team and all-around final in addition to acting as the qualifier for Sunday’s event finals. A full start list is available here, and all times listed below are local to Glasgow.
10:00 am. Subdivision 1 (Austria, France, Poland, Russia)
1:15 pm. Subdivision 2 (Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia)
3:45 pm. Subdivision 3 (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary, Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland)
6:30 pm. Subdivision 4 (Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine)
The competition will continue on Saturday with the senior team final and conclude on Sunday with event finals for both the juniors and seniors.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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