Anastasiia Bachynska, a game changer for Ukraine
At world championships in 2018, three countries – the United States, Russia, and China – qualified full teams directly to the 2020 Olympic Games, while an additional 21 countries qualified full teams to this year’s worlds, where another nine teams will earn their spots in Tokyo.
Some of these teams are pretty much solid as-is and won’t need any additional help improving their ranking, but a few teams this year have the potential to climb a bit thanks to the arrival of some top junior competitors becoming seniors in 2019.
This series is going to look at all of the top 24 programs around the world to see just how the first-year seniors could impact their teams, starting with the lowest-ranked nations in Doha and going all the way up to the top. We’ll also look at some of the new seniors from countries that didn’t qualify full teams, but that could potentially make an impact for their countries as individuals.
One of the most anticipated new seniors this year is 2018 Youth Olympic Games bronze all-around and floor medalist Anastasiia Bachynska, who came out of nowhere in 2017 to assert herself as one of the best juniors in the world, and who has what it takes to help Ukraine completely change the game at worlds this year.
Bachynska struggles a little bit with her confidence on bars, but when she hits, she good for a solid 13+, which would’ve been a life-saver for the team at worlds last year. She also has an incredible Yurchenko 1½ on vault and lovely beam and floor routines, all of which are easily upgrade-able and there’s no doubt we’ll see several new skills from her this year.
Ukraine unfortunately really underperformed at worlds last year, which was kind of a shame after a truly remarkable comeback as a team at Euros, where the seniors finished in fifth place. The nerves got to them in Doha, where they also competed only four gymnasts instead of the five they were allowed, simply because the other seniors wouldn’t have added anything to what those four could already do.
I was hoping for a top-16 finish for Ukraine at worlds last year, and though they ended up in 20th, it was clear that the potential for a much higher ranking was there if they (a) hit, and (b) had just one more gymnast in the mix who could balance them out more on each of the events, and that’s where Bachynska comes in. She’ll be expected to contribute as an all-arounder in all team situations, and I think after seeing her really start to come into her own last year, she’s absolutely up for the task.
Aside from Bachynska, there are really no other first-year seniors to expect to make waves this year. There’s a ton of talent in the 2004 class, so Ukraine has lots of depth to look forward to in the next quad, but no other 2003-born gymnasts have been named to the first-string national team, with the next-best after Bachynska – Sofiia Dykalchuk and Sofiia Shapovalova – only on the B team this year.
The depth coming up in the Mexican program over the past few years has been so exciting, and this year we’ll see even more girls coming up to the senior ranks to help them reach a top-16 finish at world championships.
The two biggest up-and-comers this year are the Gutierrez twins, Anapaula and Jimena. The twins train and compete in level 10 at TIGAR, and they both qualified to elite in the U.S. in 2017 before opting to begin competing for Mexico later that season. Last year, both of the Gutierrez twins finished in the top ten all-around at J.O. nationals, and then two weeks later, they headed to the Mexican national championships, where Anapaula won the senior title with a 51.433 and Jimena placed tenth, though she’s capable of much stronger routines that she showed in Mexico City.
I think both of the Gutierrez sisters have what it takes to join fellow U.S.-based Mexican elite Frida Esparza in contending for the worlds team next year, though Anapaula is generally the stronger of the two, and could be an especially big help on beam and floor, both of which ended up looking a bit weak in Doha last year.
This is all if they continue to compete elite in Mexico, however. Despite their strong finishes at nationals in both 2017 and 2018, neither has yet to compete internationally for Mexico, and they don’t yet have FIG licenses. It won’t be an issue to get them set up eventually, as they never registered as U.S. elites, so there’s no “change of nation” request that they would have to go through, and my hope here is that they’re just following in Esparza’s footsteps with waiting until their senior careers to officially make the commitment.
Paulina Vargas, who competed on Mexico’s Pac Rims and Junior Pan Ams teams last year before heading to the Youth Olympic Games, also has a lot of potential on beam and floor, as does Daniela Briceño, who has a fantastic floor routine with an arabian double front and 2½ to punch front, and she’s also quite strong on vault. Briceño recently competed great sets on vault and bars in her senior debut at the Houston National Invitational, and I think with a little more fine-tuning, she could be one to watch for worlds contention this year.
A few more to keep on your radar are Louise Lopez, Gabriella Lazo, and Barbara Doddoli. Lopez was a fan favorite at Pac Rims in 2016 thanks to her bubbly personality and tidy work, and though she’s struggled a bit in terms of keeping up her difficulty over the past year, I’m hoping she can make some strides to get back in a good place.
Lazo and Doddoli, meanwhile, would be long shots, but Doddoli has some fantastic work on vault that could keep her relevant if she’s able to maintain her excellence there with some upgrades, and I hope both stick around and keep adding to their programs because it never hurts to have that extra bit of depth.
I’ve been following “the Albas” – Youth Olympic Games competitor Alba Petisco and her 2018 Euros teammate Alba Asencio – for several years now and am so excited to see them both finally join the senior ranks.
Last year, both Petisco and Asencio were scoring slightly behind what their senior teammates were getting in the all-around, though they weren’t all that far behind, and have the potential to fit somewhere in the top five as seniors this year with great days of competition.
Asencio won the junior national title last year with a 49.167 while Petisco nearly matched her score-for-score on every event, but then ended up falling on floor to end up with a 47.800 for silver. The fourth-place senior last year had a 48.999, for comparison, with the top three seniors all scoring in the 50-51 range, so the Albas are right on that bubble and could potentially fill some holes that were left open on the worlds team this year.
There are a few others who consistently compete in the Spanish ranks turning senior this year, but Lorena Medina is the only other one I’d consider as someone who could actually break into the ranks.
Medina, who competed alongside Petisco and Asencio at Euros, was actually stronger than both of her teammates in the all-around there, finishing 19th in addition to leading the team on beam. With beam a rough spot for Spain at worlds, this could be Medina’s “in,” though I think she’d want to up her difficulty a bit both there and on floor if she truly wants to make herself unforgettable in the eyes of the national coaches.
Based on how they competed last year, I don’t think any of the new seniors have the potential to take Spain much further than last year’s senior squad was already capable of, as the team in Doha was actually pretty strong, but they just had a bit too much beam drama to overtake some of the teams that ended up doing a point or two better. Their growth will come with more of a focus on consistency, so if the new seniors can prove themselves in that capacity they’ll definitely become bigger threats, and as always, depth is vital to any thriving program and Petisco, Asencio, and Medina will be excellent additions in that sense.
The Hungarian team has a fabulous little class coming up this year, thanks both to the strong number of up-and-comers on their roster as well as to the incredible variety across the top 2003-born gymnasts, with one great vaulter, one brilliant bar worker, and one “true all-arounder” who has been notably solid and consistent on all four events throughout her career.
Csenge Bacskay ended up representing Hungary at the Youth Olympic Games, thanks partly to her eighth-place finish at the qualifier, but also to her ability to legitimately threaten for a medal on vault. In the final, Bacskay hit her Yurchenko 1½, and then instead of following it up with her usual Yurchenko full, she ended up surprising everyone with the debut of her Yurchenko double, rising from fifth in prelims to take the silver in the final with an average score of 13.933, just three tenths behind gold.
It was a tremendous finish for Bacskay, who will add much-needed depth on the event because while 2018 European champion Boglarka Devai is super-strong there, her focus on medaling at Euros always leaves her burned out by worlds, leaving the team close to a point behind what they’d be capable of scoring if they had her DTY.
Bacskay isn’t quite where Devai is on vault – yet – but with that DTY as well as stronger work on beam and floor than Devai has traditionally been capable of, Bacskay could work both as a replacement to Devai and as someone who could make a team in addition to Devai, and with the two of them in the vault lineup, Hungary could have realistically gone from 17th at worlds in 2018 to somewhere in the neighborhood of around 13th, leaving them capable of challenging for the top 12 should one of the stronger teams falter.
The bars gymnast to keep an eye on is Zoja Szekely. Though she’s not super polished on the event, she has spent the past couple of years throwing huge skills to get to one of the most impressive routines in the country, and her excellent routine at Euros last summer saw her reach sixth place in the junior bars final.
At full difficulty, Szekely is capable of hitting close to a 6.0 D on bars, which blows last year’s senior field completely out of the water. And though she occasionally fights through some form issues, her routine is high-flying and exciting, with a toe full to Tkachev to Pak and Maloney to Gienger.
While the rest of her routines aren’t quite up to par, she can be pretty solid on both vault and floor as well, though I honestly think she’ll make some teams for Hungary over the next year based on her bars alone, as she’s just much more advanced than the rest of the team there and they could really use her, especially considering how weak the event looked at both Euros and worlds.
Finally, there’s Bianka Schermann, who won many titles in Hungary throughout her junior career thanks to her solid and consistent routines. At nationals last year, Schermann won the all-around and then swept the event titles, and she was also the top junior finisher for Hungary at Euros, finishing 18th all-around ahead of Szekely in 21st and Bacskay in 24th.
The issue with Schermann is that she’s not advanced enough on any one event to make her an immediate threat for a major international team. She’s pretty much another Nora Feher, albeit with a stronger vault, though not strong enough on vault for that to make her an automatic team choice. I can totally see these two going back and forth to challenge each other for teams this year, and love that at the very least, Schermann will add some major depth to this program in 2019.
Coming up next
Our next look at the new seniors in 2019 will focus on North Korea, Australia, South Korea, and Romania, the teams ranked 16th down to 13th in Doha, aka the four bubble teams that would have come within about four points of qualifying a full team to the Olympics had last year been the qualifying year.
Australia struggled with a ton of injuries going into worlds, so 15th was super impressive for them given the drama, and while the Romanian team was without any real star power for the first time in history, the young generation of athletes hit routine after routine to somewhat shockingly finish 13th. Both North and South Korea had a few struggles that held them back a bit, but with talk about these teams potentially combining forces for 2020, things could get extremely interesting, as they have enough talent right now where the two combined could easily make them a top-12 threat at worlds this year.
Article by Lauren Hopkins