After easing his way back into competition at a Bundesliga meet in Germany early in September, Ukrainian star Oleg Verniaiev made his comeback official with four medals at last weekend’s Szombathely Challenge Cup.
With multiple surgeries to kick off his 2018, Verniaiev has spent most of this year in recovery, skipping European Championships but hoping to get healthy in time to be competitive at worlds, and while he’s not at full strength right now — he held off on rings here to protect his shoulder — he ultimately had an incredibly triumphant return to major international competition here, making four of the five finals he attempted and taking home a gold, a silver, and two bronze medals.
On the first day of event finals, Verniaiev crushed most of his landings on floor to come in second with a 14.050, flaring out his double double especially beautifully and taking just a tiny step on his triple full, and he was absolutely stunning and seamless on pommel horse, taking the gold just over a tenth ahead of the silver medalist.
Verniaiev started strong on vault in the second day of finals, sticking his Dragulescu with a low chest for a 14.950, but then his kaz double full was a bit messy getting around. He tucked his knees a bit during the block and kept them soft throughout the flight, and though he got the rotation around, he was a bit low on the landing, and needed to take a large step to the side and out of bounds to steady himself. He still picked up the bronze, however, and then returned to get a second bronze on p-bars, where he had a couple of moments of uncertainty in his positions on holds (either reaching them a bit late or coming out of them too early), but overall he performed his difficult set with no major problems to put a nice cap on a successful weekend.
A favorite standout for me this weekend was Kenta Chiba of Japan, who started out a bit messy on floor before crashing his second pass, but he came back strong to pick up the bronze on rings, and then he nabbed the silver on pommel horse and the gold on high bar.
Chiba, who is simultaneously one of the strongest all-arounders in the world but only a B-team kid in Japan, has done some truly strong work on the international scene this year both at world cups and at last month’s Asian Games, and he continued to prove he can hold his own once again, so hopefully the future will be a bright one for him and in a few years, he’ll be one of the guys leading Japan to victory at worlds and the Olympics.
His teammates Shogo Nonomura and Keisuke Asato also fared well here, with Nonomura taking the rings title in a hotly contested and super close battle (he also got the bronze on pommel horse with a 13.900 and finished fourth on high bar, where his lower-difficulty set was performed well), while Asato went for crazy difficulty on vault, soaring relatively easily through a Ri Se Gwang for his first vault before then nailing a beautiful handspring Randi to take the gold there with a 14.900 average.
Other gold medals at this meet went to Artem Dolgopyat of Israel with a 14.700 on floor and Petro Pakhniuk of Ukraine with a 14.950 on p-bars. Dolgopyat showed tons of power in his difficult floor set, and Pakhniuk was mostly fluid in his p-bars routine to get that win, though he unfortunately had falls in both his pommels and high bar routines, finishing seventh and eight on these events, respectively.
Joel Plata of Spain picked up the bronze medal on floor with several stuck passes, including his double double and 2½ to barani; Saso Bertoncelj of Slovenia picked up the pommels silver with a 14.5 for his beautiful routine; Ali Zahran of Egypt showed impressive strength and control on rings to earn a 14.4, tying Nonomura but losing the tie-break to take home the silver; Le Thanh Tung of Vietnam won the silver medal on vault with two of the cleanest attempts we saw; and Hungary’s hometown hero and recent Euros medalist David Vecsernyes edged out fan favorite Marios Georgiou of Cyprus for the silver on high bar, with the two both earning a 14.100, though Vecsernyes’ one-tenth edge in execution pushed him ahead with Georgiou taking the bronze.
Also of note was the return of Marian Dragulescu, who was forced to miss Euros due either to a heart condition, according to the Romanian federation, or due to the Romanian federation trying to ruin his life, according to Dragulescu.
Dragulescu made his usual finals here, but finished sixth on floor with a 13.400 after a couple of iffy landings, and he was seventh on vault with a 13.500 average, performing just the Roche instead of his eponymous vault for his first run, nearly touching his bum to the mat on the landing, and then doing a Yurchenko half-on front full for his second vault, but he was both tucked and piked throughout, and this was also a downgrade for him, so he doesn’t seem to be quite in fighting form at the moment.
The women’s competition wasn’t as exciting as the men’s to begin with, and then some favorites for finals ended up missing out or not competing, but it certainly made things interesting, especially in the vault final, where the top eight qualifiers all finished within three tenths of one another, keeping the final a guaranteed thriller.
In the end, Ofir Netzer, who qualified last into the vault final with a 13.025 average, ended up improving on both vaults to take the gold with a 13.600 average, making the first world cup medal of her career an especially momentous one. Her handspring front tuck full to start was clean with just a little hop back, and then she came back with a huge tsuk full with a brilliant landing, getting a 13.750 there to seal her win.
The silver medalist Laurie Denommée of Canada also “started from the bottom” with a seventh-place qualification spot, but like Netzer she was far more successful in the final, averaging a 13.425 for an FTY with a slight hop and a handspring front pike half with a larger hop back and some tucking in her legs, but she looked strong overall here.
Coming up for the bronze was first-year senior Dominika Ponizilova of the Czech Republic, who had a tsuk full with a little hop back followed by a handspring front pike half, averaging a 13.375 to earn a medal in the first world cup of her career. She edged out several strong vaulters, including the veterans Yana Fedorova of Ukraine and Tijana Tkalcec of Croatia, to nab this medal, and she has a super promising future ahead of her as a leader for this young Czech team.
Also competing in the vault final were Nancy Taman of Egypt, who crashed her DTY; Sani Mäkelä of Finland, who led the field after qualifications but then had a low Yurchenko 1½ before putting her hands down on her tsuk full; and Tran Doan Quynh Nam of Vietnam, who piked down her FTY and landed on her hands and knees before performing a beautiful handspring front pike.
The bars gold went to Jonna Adlerteg of Sweden, the 2018 European silver medalist on the event who wasn’t at 100% difficulty here but still came in with a commanding lead to top the field with a 13.900. Performing a Shang to Pak salto, shaposh to Bhardwaj, Maloney to clear hip full to Tkachev, and a layout dismount, Adlerteg looked close to flawless in her form on most skills and made it look easy while she did it.
Barbora Mokosova continued her excellent world cup medal streak with the silver medal on this event with a 13.100 while Paula Raya of Spain won the bronze with a 13.000. Both routines were very nice, with Mokosova connecting a beautifully fluid toe full to Maloney to Pak to stalder to van Leeuwen series before sticking her double pike, while Raya impressed with a clean toe full to Gienger and hop change to piked Jaeger in addition to hitting her full-in with a little bounce.
It was great to see both Elisa Hämmerle and Rosanna Ojala do well here after spending much of the past year coming back from knee injuries. Austria’s Hämmerle placed fourth with a 12.350 while Finland’s Ojala was right behind her in fifth, and both gymnasts performed solid sets, as did Demet Mutlu of Turkey, who finished sixth with a 12.250.
Right after her fourth-place finish on vault, Fedorova returned for another hit bars set, though she had multiple noticeable form deductions that held her back to seventh with a 12.150, and both Denommée and Filipa Martins — who came into the final as reserves after Jasmin Mader withdrew due to an injury sustained on vault in qualifications — had falls in their routines, with Martins arching over on a bail after an otherwise beautiful routine to place eighth with an 11.750, while Denommée muscled through several skills before hitting her foot on the low bar while coming out of her blind full a bit late, causing her to hop off before the dismount, and she finished ninth with an 11.100.
I was so surprised to see Hungarians miss the vault and bars finals, but they came back on the second day to make up for it with two gold medals, as Zsofia Kovacs won the beam title with a 12.750 and Dorina Böczögö topped the field on floor with a 13.100.
Kovacs had a few pauses and little form breaks in her beam set, and she only had a layout dismount, but overall this was a mostly confident routine that puts her back on the right path going into world championships. She came out just a couple of tenths ahead of Spain’s Cintia Rodriguez, who had a lovely routine for a 12.500, and then Hämmerle picked up the bronze, winning her first world cup medal since Baku in 2016 with a tidy set of her own.
Rounding out the beam competition was Denommée in fourth with a 12.450, Martins in fifth with a 12.300, Tran in sixth with a 12.150, Farah Salem of Egypt in seventh with an 11.750, and Valeriia Osipova of Ukraine, who led the field in qualifications, in eighth with a 10.400 after a couple of falls and mistakes.
Böczögö, who won the Hungarian national all-around title a week prior to this meet and who has been looking better than ever this season, showed an effortless and tidy floor set to get her gold here, coming up ahead of Rodriguez with a 12.800 for silver and Mokosova with a 12.550 for bronze. Rodriguez was especially lovely on this event, and I was thrilled to see her have such a successful competition here, and this marked Mokosova’s sixth world cup medal of the year, though unfortunately she got injured in training this week and might not make it to worlds.
Also competing in the floor final were Mariana Marianito of Portugal, who finished fourth with a 12.450 after an excellent routine; Mutlu in fifth with a 12.350; Lucie Jirikova of the Czech Republic in sixth with an 11.900; Denommée in seventh with an 11.450; and Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey in eighth with an 11.300.
Also of note in the women’s field was Isabela Onyshko attempting but missing the bars, beam, and floor finals, an unfortunate series of events that came as a result of a couple of falls. Young Hungarian standouts Sara Peter and Nora Feher also missed the finals they attempted, with Peter getting a zero for one of her vaults and Feher falling on beam after a nervous mistake that came in the aftermath of seeing Egypt’s Ahmed El Maraghy break his knee on vault.
This competition also marked the return of Ana Derek of Croatia, who suffered a severe concussion in the spring that put a dent in her training plans, and though she had a fall on beam here, her floor routine looked close to her potential earlier this year, though she had the unfortunate experience of tying the eighth-place floor qualifier with a 12.300, only to lose the tie-break to miss out on the final.
I posted the full results from the women’s and men’s competitions earlier this week, and this weekend, don’t miss the final challenge cup of the 2017-2018 season, to be hosted in Paris with qualifications on Saturday and finals on Sunday (finals will be streamed on the Olympic Channel).
Article by Lauren Hopkins