The Romanians will be a podium threat in Györ
When I first started this website in the summer of 2014, I created a tab where people could click on any country for news from those federations.
Since the United States, Russia, China, and Romania were the most popular at the time, I put these “Big Four” at the top of the page, but within just a few months, the general idea of the “Big Four” disappeared as the U.S. continued widening the gap, Russia lost a team medal to Great Britain, and Romania fell off the map completely.
Watching the U.S. calmly and completely destroy every team final they’ve competed in since 2011 is incredible to see as a fan. It’s almost impossible to be this dominant in any sport, and we’re lucky to live through it. That said, as a fan of the excitement of competitions as much as I am a fan of the U.S. women, I’ve really missed that down-to-the-wire drama. Watching the men’s team final at worlds last year, I loved the passion and fight from the Russian men as they came so close to upsetting the Chinese, who had a never-give-up attitude of their own, and when the meet ended with the two teams separated by less than half a tenth, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted with the emotion of the meet.
Again, the U.S. women are beyond anything this sport has ever seen, but I’ve missed this gut-wrenching, heart-pounding competition in the women’s meets. That’s exactly why I’m so excited about junior worlds. The young ladies in the U.S. program are still incredibly strong, but the Russians have their best combination of juniors in a decade, and if everyone’s on, the competition here is looking to be phenomenal.
Earlier this year, a Russian team featuring all three of the gymnasts competing here – Vladislava Urazova, Elena Gerasimova, and Viktoriia Listunova – upset the Americans at the City of Jesolo Trophy, taking the team title by about a point and a half in addition to finishing second, third, and fourth in the all-around behind U.S. gymnast Konnor McClain.
The U.S. didn’t have its best possible junior team in Italy, leader Kayla DiCello was injured and able to compete only bars, and there were mistakes in the competition that also held them back, but that said, the Russians also weren’t perfect in everything they did. Pound for pound, the two teams were pretty well matched, and that could be the case again in Györ tomorrow.
DiCello, the most experienced of the U.S. juniors, will lead the team again here, but McClain – who finished fourth at the junior world trials earlier this month – missed out on the team and is instead the alternate despite many considering her a lock prior to that camp. Instead, Skye Blakely is looking likely to be the top among the U.S. gymnasts without a single weak event in her arsenal, and Sydney Barros rounds out the team, making her national team debut after sneaking in above McClain at trials thanks to a clean competition and a DTY.
The Russians have the experience advantage here, and I think they’re also the more well-rounded program as a whole, with all three the absolute best Russia has to offer while the U.S. has a few more gaps here and there, and they’re also putting up two kids who have almost no international experience (Blakely made her international debut at Gymnix this year while Barros competed with her club at Jesolo in 2018). But the U.S. is known for hitting when it counts, and even the least experienced girls step it up when the team is counting on them the most. That, and for all teams, the three-up two-count format of this meet will serve to help dealing with the pressure and the nerves, so if someone does end up struggling, the other two can step in and bail them out.
If all goes according to plan, these two teams will be the only ones in the race for silver and gold, and it could come down to the final routine. Unfortunately, as the first day in Györ serves as both the all-around and team finals in addition to event qualifications, we’ll have to wait a full day to see what happens, as the U.S. women compete in the first subdivision, the Russians compete in the second, and there will be another three to go after that. But I don’t see anyone upsetting these two programs unless something goes drastically wrong.
I do think many will be pleasantly surprised by the race for bronze, however. At the moment, I have Romania as my pick, with Ioana Stanciulescu, Silviana Sfiringu, and Antonia Duta all incredibly talented, and they’re strong competitors as well, having recently come out on top in the junior competition at the FIT Challenge in Belgium. All three were also part of the federation’s efforts to finish fourth at European Championships last year, where the competition for the podium was pretty stiff, and the girls earned spots in every final but bars, with Stanciulescu taking the floor title.
If anyone can take advantage of mistakes from Russia or the United States, it’ll be Romania or possibly China, which has Guan Chenchen, Wei Xiaoyuan, and Ou Yushan on the roster. The Chinese ladies are a bit behind on vault, and it’s not quite the bars team we’re used to so they won’t be able to make up for the lack of vault with a winning bars rotation, but all three of these ladies were competitive against the seniors at nationals this year, with Ou winning bronze in the all-around in addition to taking the beam title, so they’ll definitely also be a medal threat tomorrow.
With the “Big Four” back in action and likely to take the top spots here, there are a few other teams to keep an eye on, with Belgium and Japan two of my favorites for top-five finishes.
Belgium has done incredibly well at international competitions this year, and they’ve got their three best here, with Noémie Louon a star on bars and beam, Lisa Vaelen strong on vault and floor, and Stacy Bertrandt a well-rounded all-arounder capable of big scores on every event. After picking up team medals at Jesolo, Gymnix, and the FIT Challenge, the Belgians are coming in for the grand finale of the season here with their clean and lovely gymnastics, so hopefully we’ll see them hit and finish high in the rankings (they’re my favorite for being next in line behind the Big Four).
For Japan, the young standout Chiaki Hatakeda is the big one to watch here, especially as she hopes to qualify into a couple of the apparatus finals, but teammates Shoko Miyata and Hazuki Watanabe are also solid competitors, with Miyata helping the team at last year’s Junior Asian Championships while Watanabe was a key member of this year’s Jesolo team, finishing just about a point back from Hatakeda in the all-around competition. They’re all capable of all-around scores in the 50-52 range, so while they’re not a hugely explosive team, they still have one of the stronger teams here in terms of everyone being on the same solid level (compared to programs with one standout with the others much further back), so that could bode well for their chances in a team competition.
Great Britain seems to be saving most of the juniors who have topped the rankings this year for the European Youth Olympic Festival, where they’ll have a better shot at a medal, but they’ll still have a great team here. Alia Leat is a fantastic young competitor, winning the British espoir title last year before going on to win the beam and floor titles at the Olympic Hopes Cup, her best events. She won bronze in the all-around at junior nationals this year, while her teammates here – Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova – finished fifth and seventh, respectively. The twins are marvelous on floor, and they are also capable of incredibly strong vaults, so while it’s not exactly a full “A team” here, the British junior squad is super deep and will nonetheless be capable of making several finals…and this is probably one of the better beam teams the Brits have seen in recent years!
France is kind of in the same boat as Great Britain, using this competition for some of the younger, less experienced kids while the top juniors will be saved for EYOF, but Taïs Boura is absolutely fabulous, and she, Alison Faure, and Maewenn Eugene should make for a great young team. The Italians are also quite good, and though they no longer have the ability to break into the medals now that their Dream Team has graduated to the senior ranks, and while they’re missing a couple of their gymnasts due to injuries, they should all score well enough for a solid team finish.
The Brazilian team also has some great talent, but Ana Luiza Lima is someone to keep an especially close eye on, especially with her insane ability on floor. The Ukrainian junior program is also a fantastic one right now, the Germans have been a bit inconsistent but should also be in the mix as a potential top-ten program with Lea Marie Quaas especially lovely to watch thanks to her beautiful execution, and though the Canadians are missing two of their top juniors due to injuries, the three who made it to Györ are fabulous athletes with unique skills and combos as well as incredible performance quality, and they’re sure to become fan favorites here.
On an individual level, I love the Danish gymnast Camille Rasmussen, who has consistently been one of Europe’s top up-and-coming juniors over the past few years and is her country’s best gymnast probably in history. I also really enjoy Finland’s Maisa Kuusikko, Hungary’s Hanna Szujo, Mexico’s Greys Briceño, Panama’s Hillary Heron, and Turkey’s Dilara Yurtdas, and I’m super excited to discover the unveiling of even more young talents at this meet, especially as many countries we don’t often get to see internationally will have gymnasts making major debuts in Györ.
Start lists for tomorrow’s competition are available here, and live results for each subdivision will be available here. While there’s no international live streaming for the event, the FIG will be uploading videos of every single routine once the competition is over.
Article by Lauren Hopkins