Coming into this year’s European Championships, knowing France was at full strength while the Russians came to Glasgow with injuries on injuries, I fully gave France the edge to take the title here.
Seeing the French women lead the field in prelims with a near-perfect day compared to the Russians counting three falls (two on beam, one on floor), it was clear that France truly did have the edge because, as always, Russia’s biggest drawback was not its talent, but rather its lack of consistency. Without counting those three falls in prelims, the Russians would’ve had a healthy lead and they were still very clearly a contender for the gold, but I didn’t trust that they’d actually pull it off. Why? Because they never do.
Over the past decade, most of Russia’s wins and medals have been by default. High difficulty, weaker competition from countries at meets like European and World Championships, and the occasional appearance from Queen Aliya Mustafina are generally what keeps them afloat, but now faced with some truly strong up-and-coming programs, it’s not as easy to win or medal with falls, especially when a good chunk of the top girls are out with injury.
I didn’t have a lot faith for Russia to get the gold this week. As thoroughly impressed (and emotional) as I am by the Angelina Melnikova renaissance this year, the rest of the team didn’t match her level in prelims, and to come out on top here, everyone had to be operating at maximum potential. While France looked physically fit, mentally strong, and super together in prelims — where they topped the Russians by a little over two points — the Russians seemed a little lacking and didn’t look like they’d magically be different by the final.
Oh, but they were.
Starting on vault, the Russians created a half-point lead with some huge difficulty, even if none of their current vaulters are all that clean. Their pair of Rudis from Lilia Akhaimova and Angelina Simakova followed by Melnikova’s solid DTY ended up matching the lower-difficulty but much cleaner vaults from the French girls in prelims, but in the final, they were able to come out ahead after the French gymnasts were a bit weaker than expected.
Marine Boyer opened France’s rotation on vault with a clean but simple FTY, and Coline Devillard ended it with a Rudi that was a bit messy in the legs but had more power than those from the Russians. Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos, the unofficial all-around champion this year, looked a bit rushed and not nearly as clean as we can generally expect to see her, though, and she ended up finishing with a wild bounce back, looking a bit disappointed to not hit the way she knows she’s capable of doing.
Though Russia is typically known as “the bars team” at most meets, the French girls were actually superior here as a team in qualifications, and the two squads were going to work out pretty evenly here unless one of the teams had errors…which the French again did.
After anchoring vault, Melnikova hit her bars with a mostly clean set, fighting a muscled inbar half into her piked Jaeger and coming up short on the handstand before her toe full to full-in dismount, but she came up with a 14.033, which Uliana Perebinosova matched after looking a tad messy and rushed at the beginning, but she composed herself and the latter half of her routine was very clean in comparison, with just a tiny step on her full-in.
Capping off the rotation was recent national team addition Irina Alexeeva, who was invited to Round Lake this spring and moved from WOGA, her gym in the U.S., to fight for a spot on international teams this year. After missing the Russian Cup due to injury, Alexeeva ended up getting a spot over 2012 Olympian Viktoria Komova, which was a major shock, but it was clear why they trusted her when we saw her in this team final. After getting two-per-country’ed out of the bars final, finishing just a tenth behind Melnikova in prelims to finish seventh overall but third among the Russians, Alexeeva ended up being the top earner in the team competition, posting a 14.233 for her tidy routine.
France got off to a rough start on bars in the final, where Lorette Charpy — who has hands-down been the most consistent gymnast in the country, if not the world, on every event in the lead-up to Euros this season — arched over the toe full to stalder at the start of her routine, her first miss on the event among her 12 routines since falling at worlds last year. Though she recovered nicely, catching a piked Jaeger and Ricna before dismounting with a clean double layout, she was only able to bring in a 12.533 to the team total.
The two who followed her, De Jesus Dos Santos and Juliette Bossu, both hit very well, looking just a bit cleaner than all of the Russians. Bossu, a specialist on this event right now as she deals with an injury that’s keeping her from doing her thing on floor, hit her inbar full to Chow half, a huge piked Jaeger to Pak, and a high double front for a 14.200, while De Jesus Dos Santos began her routine with a perfect Galante to Pak before going on to show immense attention to detail in the rest of her skills, nearly sticking the full-twisting double layout to bring in a 14.400, the highest bars score of the team final.
With Russia leading by over a point and a half going into the halfway point, beam absolutely had the power to change the course of the final. If everything went as it did in prelims, France would easily be able to catch up. It’s no secret that beam is generally where things fall apart for the Russians, with the ladies counting falls in basically every team final I can remember, and the last time they were in Glasgow, this event was what cost the team a medal at worlds, with all three competitors falling.
But not today, Satan. Alexeeva, who fell on her flight series in prelims, absolutely nailed her daring layout stepout mount directly into a layout stepout, going on to also attack her flight series, showing zero problems throughout the rest of her routine, putting up a 13.233, a score that would’ve challenged for a medal in the apparatus final.
As great as her routine was, her score was bested by both Simakova and Melnikova, which was so incredible, and one of the best moments of the meet when the team realized just what they’d done here. Simakova was excellent on her flight series and big double tuck dismount, and Melnikova opened with an insanely good punch front mount right into her jump series, wobbling slightly on her flight series and full L turn, but bringing back the control for the rest of her set, which she finished with a beautiful double pike.
This is truly where the Russians won it. Even if France was perfect in their final two rotations to continue the challenge, the Russians truly would’ve needed to bomb floor to give up the gold.
After the surprise hit from the Russians, despite being the more talented beam team, France unfortunately gave up what they needed to fight, finishing more than a point behind the Russians on the event. Charpy came back from her bars fall to deliver a slightly nervous but hit routine to lead off the team, and De Jesus Dos Santos looked incredible on her punch front mount, punch front pike, layout series, and a high double tuck, posting a 13.600, second-best in the team final on this apparatus.
Their beam queen, Boyer, had a true bummer of a performance here, bouncing off on her layout series on top of looking a bit nervous and wobbly on some other elements. The 2016 Olympic finalist on this event, Boyer posted just a 12.166, finishing with a strong double pike, but the damage had been done, and the Russians went into the final rotation with a three-point lead, meaning the title was almost certainly theirs.
Russia kept up their razor-sharp focus in the floor final, once again winning the event after fabulous performances from Simakova, Akhaimova, and Melnikova. Simakova showed precise dance and tumbling, finishing her routine with a solid double pike and double tuck; Akhaimova opened with a big double layout and fought through some weak landings on her double arabian and double tuck; and Melnikova ended the competition for Russia with a strong full-twisting double layout, a stuck double layout, a step back on her front tuck through to double tuck, and a low double pike with a good cover on the landing, earning a 13.533 to seal the gold.
Charpy returned to once again lead off for France in the final rotation, but she sadly sat her opening double front, and just like her bars fall, this was quite a shock, as she hasn’t really missed on this event much at all this season, with worlds her weakest performance prior to this. I talked about her incredible consistency prior to this meet because it’s so impressive for someone to compete so often (this was her eighth big meet of 2018) without major mistakes, which is exactly why she was counted on to lead off three events, so it was heartbreaking to see her not at her best here.
Coming back from a beam fall of her own, Boyer did her best to get the team back on track on floor, hitting all of her passes well, and then De Jesus Dos Santos had a lights-out routine to wrap things up, sticking her full-twisting double layout and also nailing her full-in double tuck and double pike, earning a 13.966, the highest floor score at Euros this year.
It may not have been enough to touch the Russians, and the team ended up finishing more than four points behind the gold medalists, but the silver is France’s best team finish in history at European Championships, beating their bronze medal finish in 2016…counting three falls! I think they should take comfort in knowing that even without the falls, because Russia was just so good, it really was Russia’s day and likely would’ve been even if France was also on fire, so the fact that they could hold onto a silver medal standing with everything that happened is just a testament to how strong they are as a team right now.
Over the past two quads, France has gone from a program that struggled to put a team together after tons of injuries in 2012 and one that was in danger of falling short of qualifying to the 2016 Games to one that is now challenging some of the best programs in the world, with the ability to easily finish in the top five at World Championships in Doha this fall. It’s a super exciting time for them, but while I really was pulling for them to get the upset in Glasgow, the Russians absolutely outdid themselves with one of the most complete team performances in as long as I can remember, with France doing a tremendous job to keep up with them and light that fire under them after prelims.
The Dutch team ended up being a surprise for bronze here, really taking advantage of Great Britain’s injuries and weaker lineups by putting up a beautiful performance to get the first team medal for the Netherlands since they won silver in 2002.
After placing fifth in prelims, the Dutch women got their first taste of luck when the third-place Belgians withdrew from the team final, but overcoming the British — the reigning world bronze medalists competing at home in Glasgow — wouldn’t be easy, especially after counting a fall in that first rotation when Vera Van Pol missed her Kochetkova.
Celine van Gerner also wasn’t at her best on that event, but Sanne Wevers hit a beautiful set with her front aerial to split jump to Kochetkova and her dance series both done incredibly well, setting the tone for the rest of the meet with a 13.700. Everyone performed beautifully from that point on, with some highlights being Van Pol’s solid vault and bars sets, Van Gerner’s flawless floor and bars routines, Wevers’ beautiful work on bars, Tisha Volleman‘s quintuple pirouette to double pirouette on floor and big DTY on vault, and first-year senior Naomi Visser‘s incredibly clean FTY on vault.
The team was happier than any other team when they realized they’d end up on the podium. It was very unexpected coming into the meet, and seemed likely but still a challenge after seeing them in prelims, but in the end, the British girls ended up being their only real competition for that medal, and our favorite #TheForceIsGrace squad was able to finish more than two points ahead of the host country to win the bronze.
Great Britain started out strong on bars, with Kelly Simm and Georgia-Mae Fenton both showing difficult and clean work, as Simm hit her toe full to Ray, Ricna to Pak, and Chow to Bhardwaj while Fenton looked excellent on her Derwael-Fenton to Ehzhova and Maloney to clear hip to Ricna to bail to toe full series, all of which was incredibly clean (and it was, of course, a shame that Fenton missed out on the bars final knowing she can do what she did in the team final, though I was thrilled that Simm ended up getting in).
Both Fenton and Simm ended up struggling on beam, though, with Simm’s beam especially heartbreaking, showing falls on her leap series and hop full turn. “I will learn more from this one bad routine than any of the seven other good ones this week,” Simm said on social media following the competition, adding that she was so proud of how the team came out to finish strong for the rest of the meet. I loved her attitude both in that post and in seeing her words in action, getting over her disappointment on beam super quickly to come back and cheer for her teammates. It’s the attitude of a true leader, and the team was lucky to have her there to make sure they regrouped to finish strong.
Commonwealth Games beam champion Alice Kinsella was one of those sources of strength, fighting through a couple wild moments on beam to end up hitting her set, and then she, Fenton, and Taeja James — who didn’t compete in prelims after coming onto the team last-minute following Becky Downie’s injury — were all solid on floor while Simm, Kinsella, and Lucy Stanhope were excellent on vault, putting up the second-highest score of the day on that event thanks to Simm’s Lopez and a set of DTYs from Kinsella and Stanhope, with Stanhope’s especially gorgeous in the air and in the landing.
Many teams here are dealing with a ridiculous number of injuries, but the British girls have been hit especially hard, with the country’s four top gymnasts currently rehabbing and fighting to come back for worlds. In the absence of this top-tier group, Simm continues to do a fantastic job leading this younger generation of gymnasts, and though it didn’t end up going exactly the way they’d hoped, like the French girls, they still managed a very strong finish despite counting several falls into their total, again a testament to the strength and strong comeback of the team.
The rest of the teams that competed in the final — Ukraine in fifth, Italy in sixth, Spain in seventh, Hungary in eighth — didn’t have much of a shot at medaling in the way the top teams did, finishing about five points back from the top half of the field, but all had several great moments and fought through tough adversity just to be here.
Ukraine, qualifying eighth into the final, counted a couple of falls and mistakes, including from Diana Varinska on bars and Angelina Radivilova on floor, two events where they were expected to be standouts. Both had strong moments too, though, as did Yana Fedorova on bars, and Valeriia Osipova competing all four events.
Osipova proved to be a real up-and-comer at this meet after starting to show signs of potentially being a strong contributor last year, and a little more polish to her could be great for Ukraine as the team continues its rise back up to the top. This was Ukraine’s first time making the team final at Euros since 2010, and it’s just the beginning for them, especially with some strong new seniors coming up in the next couple of years.
The Italians didn’t initially make the final, but when Belgium withdrew, they came in as the first reserves. It was bittersweet, as the team lost vaulter Sofia Busato to a knee injury in prelims, but the four who ended up competing in the final did their best to fight for a strong finish, and though they really struggled on bars, beam and floor went surprisingly well.
After a mostly strong day, beam was where Spain fell apart a bit, though Cintia Rodriguez was excellent there and on floor, while Ana Perez had an absolutely gorgeous FTY and a fantastic bars set with some great connection work, a piked Jaeger, and a full-twisting double layout with a little hop to lead the team there with a 13.300.
Finally, Hungary started out with a couple of mostly great rotations on beam and floor, with Dorina Böczögö looking practically better than ever on these two events, while I was also super impressed with first-year seniors Nora Feher on beam with her full Y turn and solid flight series and Sara Peter on floor with her strong triple full to open. Boglarka Devai added a strong score to the team’s total with her solid DTY on vault, but while both Feher and Noemi Makra hit good routines on bars, Böczögö ended up falling twice in her routine, on her stalder full and then as she stumbled back and sat the dismount, a sad ending after an otherwise excellent day for her.
Results from the senior team final and all of the other sessions at European Championships are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
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