Italy’s big first-year senior threats Asia D’Amato, Giorgia Villa, Elisa Iorio, and Alice D’Amato // Photo thanks to Spotlight Gymnastics
Now that podium training is over in Szczecin and we’re just waiting on the start lists for the women set to compete, It’s time to take you through what we can expect over the next few days of competition.
Starting with an all-around preview here, I’ll also then take you through all four events in a separate article, and I’ll end with a detailed schedule and how you can watch (yes, even qualifications are streamed this year!). We’ll also be live blogging during all aspects of the women’s competition, as well as during the men’s finals, so you won’t have to miss a thing if you can’t watch it all.
I’ll start this out by saying that even though some of the top all-around contenders are missing out this year – like Nina Derwael of Belgium and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, both of whom are putting their focus toward future events – it doesn’t mean this competition is going to be any less exciting, especially as we’ll have several newcomers joining the senior ranks who just might shake things up.
Let’s get into the newcomers first. The clear favorite for being one who can take a medal here is Giorgia Villa, the 2018 Youth Olympic Games all-around champion with the goods to someday be Italy’s best all-arounder ever. With added difficulty on three of her four events, she’s going above and beyond to prove herself as one of the most competitive seniors here, however a recent break in her training following a finger injury in Jesolo could hinder her at this point in time.
I was actually surprised to see her get back into the all-around as quickly as she did, and thought she might just want to focus on an event or two here. In podium training, she had a few struggles and falls, mirroring some of her falls and other issues at the first Serie A competition of the year, where she debuted her upgrades. I’m hoping this will be a “bad dress rehearsal, good opening night” kind of experience for her, but I am definitely worried that she just hasn’t had the numbers or enough training this year to make her ready to contend in such a high-pressure environment.
Then there are the other three first-year seniors she’ll have to contend with from her own country! Elisa Iorio has looked especially great this season, bringing back her DTY on vault and making improvements on beam, both promising in addition to her already stellar bars. As for the D’Amato twins, Alice had the best finish among the Italian women in Jesolo, and Asia had a standout performance at the third Serie A meet, so while Villa is clearly the strongest among this group of four, with her recent injury and struggles, with four all-arounders and only two advancing into the final, it could very well come down to who hits in qualifications.
With her level of difficulty, I think Villa can make a strong all-around ranking happen even if she’s not at her very best, and I think a performance with one fall from her could still end up outscoring the rest of her teammates as she’s more balanced across all four events whereas the other three have to rely on high scores from one or two to carry them through the rest, but if the nerves and pressure get to her in her big international senior debut, it might not be as successful a bid as we’re all hoping to see.
The other big first-year senior to watch here is Amelie Morgan. The silver medalist behind Villa at the Youth Olympic Games last year, Morgan kicked off her senior career with a huge win ahead of several members of Olympic, world, and Commonwealth Games teams (including medalists!) at the English Championships She’s in a similar boat as the Italians with all four British gymnasts expected to compete in the all-around during qualifications, but I think her composure – especially on beam, where the Brits tend to lose it – will get her one of the two qualifying spots.
These are the top first-year seniors in the mix, but Anastasiia Bachynska of Ukraine is of course one to watch, and though she has struggled in recent competitions, she always has the ability to pull a great day out of nowhere to surprise with big routines and clean gymnastics, so I wouldn’t count her out. I’m also in love with what I’ve seen so far from Fien Enghels of Belgium, Emelie Petz of Germany was dominant as a junior for many years and though she’s had some struggles due to injuries over the past year or so I hope to see her at least do well here, and it would also be great to see Ada Hautala of Finland challenge to make the final, as she is so much fun to watch and has the potential to help her country immensely on the international stage in the coming years.
Now getting into the rest of the seniors, I think I want to start with the French team now that it turns out Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos might do the all-around after all. Originally planning on just competing beam and floor, she’s technically registered to do all four events, and she brought an immense and gorgeous bars set to podium training alongside some vault timers, so I think it’s safe to say we might get to see her in contention.
If she does compete all four in qualifications, I’d consider her a favorite for the title, but like Villa, I’m also a bit worried that she’s rushing into this which could absolutely affect how she competes under pressure. But even if she can’t make it happen here, she’s been building up for something big in her future, and I know her day will come.
The other three gymnasts from her team are also expected to compete the all-around, with Lorette Charpy my favorite for a strong finish after the magic she worked at the Stuttgart World Cup, where she placed fourth with an incredible day in a super tough field. Marine Boyer has slowly been working her way back into the all-around after taking a break from bars over the past year or so, something she’ll need at a high level to contend for next year’s Olympic team, so I’m sure we’ll see a solid finish from her as well, and Coline Devillard – known for her vaults but also growing a bit in her ability on floor – will do all four as well, though with weaker bars and beam, her teammates should all qualify above her.
Russia has two all-arounders competing, with Angelina Melnikova and national champion Angelina Simakova both showing several hit-or-miss performances so far this year, though with the way Melnikova started really proving herself internationally in 2018, I think this will be more of a ‘hit’ for her.
Melnikova currently has the highest international score in the world among European all-arounders so far in 2019 with her 55.432 in the team final at the DTB Team Challenge, where she looked excellent. At nationals, her endurance on floor was a bit of a struggle, but that already looked improved a week later in Germany, and with another month of training beyond that, I think we can actually look at her as the true leader for the gold here.
I’m not as worried about her consistency as I was a year ago, and she’s even vastly improved on beam and looking much tighter on bars compared to previous recent seasons, so she might be in the best shape – both mentally and physically – right now than we’ve seen since she was a junior, and I’m ready for her to finally make something big happen on a major international stage.
Though Simakova got the upset at nationals, it was only thanks to a slight margin due to Melnikova’s floor landings. Melnikova is clearly the stronger of the two, with Simakova not a particularly great bars gymnast (though she does a fine job with what she has), and with vault a huge struggle for her this year. Her Rudi hasn’t been working out for her, and the switch to the blind-landing front pike full has been more of a miss than a hit.
If she switches to a simpler but more dependable handspring front layout half or something along these lines, she can put up a reliable finish, but she just doesn’t have the difficulty on beam or floor to rely on those scores alone the way other gymnasts with a weakness can do. She should be more than good if she hits, and her beam has become one of the more reliable for the Russians since she made her senior debut, but she’ll really need to go above and beyond this week to get on the all-around podium if her vault still proves to be a struggle.
As for the British, in addition to first-year senior Morgan, the team is looking to put up three other more experienced gymnasts in the all-around competition as well, with Ellie Downie, Alice Kinsella, and Claudia Fragapane – a last-minute addition onto the team after a foot injury for Kelly Simm – all hoping to break into the final.
Despite a rough competition at the Birmingham World Cup, Downie has looked ready to go on the attack this season. In her first full-strength all-around competition since her Euros win in 2017, Downie handily won the British title with a 55.500 (minus any difficulty bonus), which is the highest domestic score in all of Europe this year. Her falls in Birmingham seemed to be flukey and nerve-related as opposed to an indicator that she isn’t physically capable, and if she hits all four events in the final, she’s a major contender for a medal.
I’d give Downie and Morgan the edge over the other two here, but Kinsella – who truly came into her own last year to win the all-around bronze and beam gold at the Commonwealth Games in addition to contributing on three events at worlds – has made some upgrades to bars and should be right behind these two to sneak in if one of them falters.
As for Fragapane, her floor is looking really strong right now, which I’ll talk more about when I preview that event, but unless she has gained some confidence since the English and British Championships, I don’t think the all-around is where she’ll stand out. Expected to bring back all four events at the English meet for the first time since her Achilles injury last year, panic struck Fragapane in training right before the meet, and she ended up walking out of the arena in tears, not competing at all. Another planned all-around return at the British meet a few weeks later saw her struggle on beam and withdraw from vault. It could be that the third time is a charm, and that she’ll be mentally back in the game here in Szczecin, but I could see her also wanting to hold back a bit at the moment in order to focus on floor.
Both the Netherlands and Ukraine also have some standout all-arounders competing here. For the Netherlands, Eythora Thorsdottir looked great at meets in Austria and Germany last month, and if she can control her nerves on beam, she should be a top-eight competitor at the very least, while Tisha Volleman and Sanna Veerman have both struggled with a few falls this season but Volleman has surprised with excellent performances at Euros in the past, while Veerman has a killer bars set and could also make the all-around final if she hits.
In addition to first-year senior Bachynska on our radar for Ukraine, Angelina Radivilova was the country’s national champion this year at age 27, an impressive feat with her beam and floor improving compared to last season, so I’d love to see her do well here, and then Diana Varinska is obviously one to watch, especially if she can hit bars, while Valeriia Osipova, one of my favorite underrated treasures, has slowly but surely been working to get on their level. This is pound-for-pound Ukraine’s best team in over a decade, and these four gymnasts could very well be a threat for an Olympic spot later this year, so if nothing else I’m hoping the meet in Szczecin will give them a solid foundation for their bigger goals moving forward.
Of course, I also have dozens of favorites beyond those from the big teams, and while none are really huge contenders for the podium, they’re definitely names you should know for qualifying into the final. I’ll take you through a country-by-country look at each of these so you’re fully knowledgeable about every last competitor by the time qualifications begin.
The country is dealing with tons of injuries to its top competitors, unfortunately, but they did opt to send one woman to Euros, with Bianca Frysak, who made her worlds debut last year, getting the bid. Frysak typically struggles with beam, and her difficulty elsewhere isn’t high enough to make her contend, so we likely won’t see her reach the final but hopefully this experience will be helpful in getting her to a more competitive level for future team situations.
After pretty much everyone from Azerbaijan retired over the past year or so, Marina Nekrasova is the one stronghold remaining to represent the country internationally, and she could potentially look better than ever in Szczecin. Despite a minor injury last year, Nekrasova made several improvements to her routines recently, with upgrades on vault going to be especially beneficial in helping her realize her dream of making a European all-around final.
The team of Hanna Traukova, Anastasiya Alistratava, Ganna Metelitsa, and Aliaksandra Varabyova is the most talented group of young gymnasts I’ve seen from the country. Traukova is the only “experienced senior” on the team, making her worlds debut last year with a pretty solid performance, and she should end up being a great leader for the other three, all making senior debuts here. Alistratava is particularly lovely on bars, and both she and Varabyova are strong competitors on beam and floor as well. I think at least one of the four could end up in the all-around final if they hit in qualifications.
I talked about Fien Enghels a bit earlier when discussing my favorite first-year seniors in Szczecin, but I’ll expand on that a bit more here. She’s a lovely competitor on all four events, with big difficulty on bars and beam that should lend to a super-strong all-around performance. She looked fantastic at Gymnix last month, where she competed every event but vault, and I’m hoping she ends up with an equally great day here.
Enghels joins Maellyse Brassart, now a young veteran of the Belgian program as the only gymnast who reached the senior level so far this quad to end up not retiring. She’s a sturdy and dependable gymnast, who is serviceable on all four events with floor her biggest standout both in her gymnastics and in her infamous bird performance, which is always an eye-catcher for crowds. A beam finalist last year, and an all-around finalist as a junior, Brassart’s confident and solid work should get her into at least the all-around final here.
After missing worlds due to an injury last year, Laney Madsen is finally making her debut for Bulgaria. After kicking off her elite career in the U.S., where she competed at a few qualifiers as well as the U.S. Classic in 2017, Madsen is hoping to qualify to the Olympic Games with Bulgaria and faces her first big test this week. At the moment, something in the neighborhood of a 49-50 is looking like the “magic number” for those hoping to get all-around qualification spots to Tokyo, so we’ll be able to see how Madsen – who has her biggest skills on floor – chalks up next to the top European gymnasts. Additionally, we’ll also see the senior debut of Raya Ranchova, a talented Bulgarian junior who missed 2018 due to injury.
Christina Zwicker is the only all-arounder we’ll see from Croatia, which will also see routines from Tijana Tkalcec, known for her strong vaults, and 2016 Olympian Ana Derek, who is a standout on beam and floor. Croatia isn’t generally known for producing strong all-arounders, with specialists more likely to come out of this country, but the young Zwicker has a lot of talent on all four events and while she’s not a major contender for the final here, I’m hoping for a good qualification day for her.
Gloria Philassides and Anastasia Theocharous have been representing Cyprus as a pair over the past few years, including at several European Championships at both the junior and senior levels. Neither really has the difficulty to contend for a finals spot here, but I believe the goal for both is to attempt to qualify for the Olympics later this year, so this should be a great practice for them.
After a successful competition at the Doha World Cup a few weeks ago, Aneta Holasova looks capable of a great performance here in Szczecin, where she’s going to be a top contender to make the all-around final. Though her best performances come on beam and floor, her vault is pretty solid as well, and she has gotten much better at hitting bars consistently over the past few years, and her worlds performance last year was vastly under-appreciated by the judges.
With top senior Mette Hulgaard retiring recently, the senior field in Denmark is wide open, with Victoria Gilberg the one who proved herself to step up and take the national title this year, punching her ticket to Szczecin. She joins the experienced Linnea Wang, and while both had good all-around meets at Danish Championships a few weeks ago, I don’t think either will be able to challenge for the final here.
In addition to first-year senior Ada Hautala, who has one of the most outgoing floor routines ever, we’ll see the veteran Maija Leinonen as someone with a shot at making the final, while Enni Kettunen and first-year senior Nitta Nieminen will also compete. After dealing with an injury in 2018, Leinonen hasn’t been able to compete in the all-around much, so I’m hoping we’ll see her back and stronger than ever now that she’s healthy again.
Once one of the strongest juniors in Russia, Polina Borzykh changed her nationality to compete for Georgia, where she made history with the country as she made the all-around and beam finals as a junior at Euros in 2016. However, an injury following Euros kept her out of competition for nearly three years, and despite becoming a senior in 2017, she only recently made her senior debut as a guest at Russian nationals, where she looked a bit nervous, especially on beam, where she used to be so great. I think if she hits all four events, she might have the ability to break into the final, but I also think that it’s too soon in her comeback to really expect this from her.
Normally I’d talk about Germany as a top contender in any major international competition, but this year with several of the country’s best opting to skip this meet, they really don’t have any big all-around threats. With first-year senior Emelie Petz not at full strength and fellow new kid Lisa Zimmermann showing mostly low-difficulty routines, it’s hard to say if either of them will contend, while 2017 world champion Pauline Schäfer isn’t at a hundred percent as she’s just returning from injury, and fellow veteran Leah Griesser has some lovely skills throughout her program, but her weaker vault means she’s starting out at a deficit. I think we’ll see two of the Germans make it into the final either way, but it won’t be a podium-heavy year for them.
Most of the Greek gymnasts, while good on specific events, aren’t exactly strong as all-arounders, so I don’t expect anyone in this field – which includes veterans Argyro Afrati and Ioanna Xoulogi alongside first-year senior Elvira Katsali – to make it in here. I’m excited to see them adding Katsali to the mix, however, as she’s someone with good potential to make an impression in the all-around eventually.
The Hungarian team is a young one here in Szczecin, with the veterans all staying home and Nora Feher the most senior of the bunch, which also includes Sara Peter and two first-year seniors, 2018 Youth Olympic Games vault silver medalist Csenge Bacskay as well as bars standout Zoja Szekely. Feher is most likely to have the strongest all-around performance here if all goes well, with vault her only real weakness as the rest of her routines are pretty solid, but I’d love to see Szekely – who can be a bit hit-or-miss with some of her big skills – make it in, though a new DTY from Peter could make her more competitive while Bacskay could see this vault pull her through as well, though bars is a bit of a struggle for her.
Agnes Suto-Tuuha should be right on the cusp of an all-around final if she hits in qualifications, but that’s about it for this group. Thelma Adalsteinsdottir will also compete here, though she’s held back a bit on bars and beam, and we’ll also see the debuts of two new seniors, Vigdis Palmadottir and Emilia Sigurjonsdottir, both of whom could potentially add depth to this team in the future.
Many people are excited for first-year senior Emma Slevin. A fan favorite at the Youth Olympic Games, her stunning and consistent performances there were quite the surprise after an otherwise good but not standout junior career. She truly came into her own in Buenos Aires and while we haven’t seen much from her since then, aside from a beam routine a few weeks ago, I absolutely consider her one of those with potential for the final if she’s at full strength.
Ireland has quite the team right now with Slevin, Meaghan Smith, and Megan Ryan – who missed her first senior year due to injury but was super promising as a junior – so while they haven’t qualified a full team for worlds, I was really hoping to see this trio do some great work for a good team finish at the European Games. For now, I’d also like to see Smith and Ryan get close to the all-around final in Szczecin.
Only Ofir Netzer is on the list to represent Israel, and though vault is what she’s known for, she’ll need solid routines on all four events to contend for an Olympic spot later this year, so she has recently begun adding the rest of the apparatuses back into her program and is expected to do all four here. Vault aside, though, she doesn’t have the difficulty or confidence to bring in big numbers, so I doubt the all-around final will be in her future.
I’m SO excited that Elina Vihrova has been working her way back to full health, and after making her senior international debut at worlds last year, she now has the big one out of the way and will hopefully be in a position to make the all-around final in Szczecin. I also really enjoy the first-year senior Zane Petrova, and the country also has Anastasija Dubova and Marija Ribalcenko competing.
Only Egle Stalinkeviciute will compete for Lithuania here, but she’s another first-year senior I’m incredibly excited to see. With a surprisingly great performance at last year’s Youth Olympic Games qualifying meet, she earned a spot at the Games, and then improved on that performance to make the all-around final, where she finished 16th with mostly solid routines. She might be a bit too far behind to make the all-around final here, but she’s one I want to keep watching over time because even if she’s not quite there at the moment, she has more than enough potential to get there someday.
It’s rare that we get to see gymnasts from Luxembourg in major international women’s competitions, but first-year senior Celeste Mordenti will represent them here after also competing at Euros as a junior last year. Mordenti is a solid vaulter, but unfortunately the difficulty across her remaining events isn’t enough for her to contend for an all-around final at this level.
Julie Søderstrøm is the sole representative of Norway at Euros this year, and while she’s not the top all-arounder in the country, she has some generally nice work on beam and floor, though it won’t be enough for her to qualify for the final even on a great day. Still, she’s a lovely gymnast, and I’m looking forward to seeing her compete here.
The host country is lucky to have the return of the legendary Marta Pihan-Kulesza, who initially opted to retire and start a family with her husband, Roman Kulesza, giving birth to daughter Jagna in 2017. But her return last year was celebrated with excellent results, especially at the Cottbus World Cup, where she won the bronze on bars. With a hit day in qualifications, she absolutely has the chance to make the all-around final here, but with floor her true love, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping she’ll qualify into that final as well.
Also competing is veteran Gabriela Janik, a solid vaulter who has grown in her ability on her other events over the years, and the young Wiktoria Lopuszanska, who began making an impression at the senior level last year, earning spots on the Euros and worlds teams. I think Pihan-Kulesza and Janik both have a strong shot at the all-around final, but it’ll depend on how qualifications go for both.
Filipa Martins struggled with injuries last year that kept her out of the all-around until worlds, where she was unable to make the final, but now that she’s had some time to recover and get back to full health, we’ll hopefully see her as a contender for the final in Szczecin. The other girls on the Portuguese team – Beatriz Dias, Mariana Pitrez, and first-year senior Beatriz Cardoso – won’t be quite able to challenge, mostly due to lower difficulty, but this will be a good opportunity for them to work on their consistency and cohesiveness as a team.
With only three truly healthy and competitive Romanian seniors in existance at the moment, we’ll see all three of these at Euros, where Denisa Golgota is likely to be the standout. She’s their best shot at a strong finish in the all-around, and looked great in podium training, with her most noticeable improvements coming on bars. Nica Ivanus and Carmen Ghiciuc are also expected to compete the all-around here, and both could end up as borderline contenders for the final, with Ivanus the stronger of the two and most likely to make it happen, though her bars tend to hold her back quite a bit (even more so than the average Romanian set).
I love Chiara Bunce, especially on beam and floor, and think a solid all-around performance could get her close to the final, though based on her recent competitions as a guest at the English and British Championships, she’ll need to have made some big improvements – especially on bars – to get within range of sneaking in. First-year senior Kristina Pychova will also compete, though she’s a bit too far behind to be likely to make it in.
Like Croatia, this is a country of specialists, with Teja Belak and Tjasa Kysselef known for vault while Adela Sajn will hope to sneak into the beam final, though Sajn has also recently started to up her game on floor. However, Kysselef – who is really hoping to get an Olympic spot after watching Belak do it in 2016 – has slowly been returning to the all-around, competing all four events at worlds last year. She’ll again do all four here, though unfortunately her bars and beam are a bit too weak at the moment, and not even her best vault will be able to make up for the deficit.
Though leaving behind some top seniors, the Spanish group here has the potential to qualify two into the final, with veteran Cintia Rodriguez looking especially able after some excellent routines at recent Serie A meets. Helena Bonilla has also been looking in top form after returning from an elbow injury last year, first-year senior Alba Petisco has some solid foundations in her gymnastics and could reach the final if she hits all four events, and Laura Bechdeju rounds out the team with especially strong work on vault and floor.
Unfortunately, Tonya Paulsson, who had such a successful run at the Youth Olympic Games last year, was injured and unable to compete this year. Jessica Castles, who had an excellent season last year, will also be hoping to reach the all-around, as will Izabella Trejo, who stands out on vault and floor. The team will also see Jonna Adlerteg compete, though bars is where she’s hoping to qualify, competing just that event.
The brilliant Ilaria Käslin, who made the beam final at last year’s Euros, is typically known for her work on beam and floor, but she’ll be this team’s leading all-around final contender as well this year with Giulia Steingruber still out due to injury. Stefanie Siegenthaler and Anina Wildi will also be competing all four events with the hope of qualifying, but the team’s other big all-around hopeful, Leonie Meier, unfortunately had to withdraw recently due to injury, and her replacement Anny Wu generally doesn’t have the scores to make it in.
According to the nominative roster, all four gymnasts from Turkey will be competing the all-around in qualifications, but with 2016 Olympian Tutya Yilmaz still not at a hundred percent, we might not end up seeing her outside of bars and beam, where she has been struggling as of late. Demet Mutlu is the next best thing, but she too has been abstaining from all-around competition to focus on beam and floor, and then first-year senior Nazli Savranbasi has a ton of promise and could get close but both she and recent addition Doga Özgöcmez don’t really have the scores or consistency to majorly threaten.
The women’s all-around qualifications will be held Thursday, April 11. You’ll be able to watch qualifications through a live stream provided by GYMTV, and live results will be available through SmartScoring. The all-around final will be held on April 12, and event finals over the weekend, with vault and bars on Saturday, April 13, while beam and floor will take place on Sunday, April 14. All finals will be streamed via Eurovision.
Article by Lauren Hopkins