Can COVID Put Romania Back On Top?

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Silviana Sfiringu, Antonia Duta, Daniela Trica, Ioana Stanciulescu, and Larisa Iordache

The women’s competition takes place at European Championships in Mersin, Turkey this week, and as with the men, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the field to just a small number of federations that have opted to send teams. Those that we would normally see in contention for gold this year – Russia, Italy, France, Great Britain – are out, but on the plus side, the doors are wide open for Romania to reclaim their glory.

The Romanians last medaled at Euros in 2014, winning gold in the program’s last gasp of air before collapsing months later. Led by Larisa Iordache, who returned to competition at nationals last month after going three years without competing, this year’s team should also see great results from first-year seniors Ioana Stanciulescu and Silviana Sfiringu. Fellow new seniors Antonia Duta and Daniela Trica will fill in the remaining gaps, though honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team final where only Iordache, Stanciulescu, and Sfiringu compete. They’re the top three earners on all four events, and I can’t see where Duta or Trica would make sense in a three-up, three-count final where every score matters.

That is…if they hit. Both Stanciulescu and Sfiringu had moments of inconsistency at nationals, with Sfiringu struggling on beam both days (in which case subbing in Trica or Duta would make a lot of sense), and the bars final was a comedy of errors that they’ll hope to not repeat. Iordache showed nerves on bars in the all-around competition, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in her first routine back and since then, she’s looked much more under control so I’m sure they’ll want her routine in the final.

What they do have going for them is unbeatably good vault and floor work. They’ve got the difficulty, the execution, and the consistency on both to give them a pretty sweet advantage. With at least two Yurchenko doubles (possibly three if Stanciulescu goes back to full strength, but her full is utter perfection and should still score very well) and a brilliant floor rotation – Iordache is nearly her old self there, Sfiringu has impressive tumbling passes, and Stanciulescu is sheer beauty – they’re going to be difficult to beat on both, but will it be enough to make up for a bars disaster or multiple beam falls?

That will come down to what the other teams can manage. Ukraine will notably bring the biggest competition for Romania, and as a whole, the Ukrainian team is a much stronger one. Romania essentially has two “filler” gymnasts, but with Ukraine, all five are there for a reason, and that could make all the difference in achieving the gold.

2016 Olympian Angelina Radivilova leads the team alongside 2020 Olympic qualifier Diana Varinska, with 2018 Youth Olympic Games medalist and 2019 worlds competitor Anastasiia Bachynska and first-year seniors Anastasiia Motak and Yelizaveta Hubareva rounding them out. Ukraine placed 15th at worlds last year with a couple of “filler” gymnasts in the mix, but had Motak and Hubareva been eligible and prepared, I think Ukraine would have been a legitimate team contender for Tokyo.

Ukraine isn’t quite as polished on vault as Romania, but they’ll still bring in some big scores from Motak and Radivilova, and either Bachynska or Varinska could add a third. Bachynska isn’t at a hundred percent after getting injured back in September, but she looks good enough for now both there and on floor, which is another area where Ukraine will hope to match the Romanians. Again, Romania has a bit more polish from the top three, but Varinska is lovely and should score well in her execution, Motak is doing some huge tumbling (like a 3½ to punch front and a 1½ through to triple full), and Radivilova is capable of a 13+ if she hits, so they have a lot to work with.

Beam is beam, and they have some potential for a few standout routines – in addition to Varinska and Bachynska, both Motak and Hubareva have some impressive skills but they’re also a bit inconsistent and need some execution work – but bars is where the team can pick up some major advantage over the Romanians. Varinska’s routine is obviously one to watch, as she’s a top medal contender on the event, but when Bachynska hits, she also generally scores well. The rest of the team is just about as iffy as Romania consistency-wise, but if Varinska and Bachynska are on, I don’t think they’ll have much to worry about.

While these are the top two programs to watch this week, we also have to take a look at Hungary. Unfortunately, they’ve recently had to drop veteran Noemi Makra as well as talented first-year senior Hanna Szujo from their roster (their club, Békéscsaba, had a COVID-19 outbreak in November, so I assume this is related and hope both are doing well), and their replacements – Csenge Bacskay and Mirtill Makovits – aren’t quite as strong in many aspects, but there still are some positives.

Bacskay is one of the team’s stronger vaulters, and Makovits – a first-year senior – won bars at nationals and has been pretty consistent on the event this season and throughout her career in general. They won’t add as many tenths as the other three would have based on what we’ve seen in most recent competitions, but I think the good thing about Hungary is that their depth is in a pretty solid place right now, not all hope is lost even with three major team replacements, and I’m looking forward to some of their less experienced seniors getting out there on a larger stage.

Leading the team are Zsofia Kovacs and Zoja Szekely, who should bring in most of the top scores for the team. Kovacs has slowly been building up this fall and looked fantastic at master championships last month, where she was at pretty much full strength on bars and beam. Her vault and floor are downgraded at the moment, and she will likely not compete floor here, but she could if needed, and the important thing is how consistent and solid she looked. Szekely, meanwhile, has been less consistent, but if she can hit bars, the team can get a 13+ out of her, and in this overall bars field, that’s pretty huge for them.

Dorina Böczögö will also compete vault, beam, and floor after initially being dropped from the team. Her replacement, Bianka Schermann, tweaked her abs while training on vault before the team departed for Mersin, so the federation decided to bring Böczögö back so that Schermann can avoid future injury. I was surprised to see Böczögö off the team, to be honest…she had some of the program’s best scores on beam and floor at both nationals and master championships over the past couple of months, and I think they’ll need her on both, so while it’s a bummer Schermann won’t make it, I’m glad they could replace her with someone as strong as Böczögö.

The other countries fielding full teams are host country Turkey, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Latvia, and Luxembourg. With six teams qualifying into the final, I think Turkey and the Czech Republic will definitely make it, and then the last spot is kind of up for grabs. Croatia has a lot of super talented specialists who could challenge for apparatus finals, but so many gaps to fill otherwise, while Latvia and Luxembourg both have teams made up mostly of lower-level all-arounders.

For Turkey, 2012 Olympian and beam/floor standout Göksu Üctas Sanli leads a very young team that no longer includes 2020 Olympic Games qualifier and this year’s national champion Nazli Savranbasi. Instead, it’s all first-year seniors, including Dilara Yurtdas, Cemre Kendirci, Bilge Tarhan, and Savranbasi’s replacement, Ece Yagmur Yavuz. The young seniors are generally talented all-arounders, and I think outside the top three, they have the most potential for success here, and competing at home could help them stay focused and consistent.

The team from the Czech Republic has struggled to train due to the COVID-19 outbreak this year. Many clubs closed down completely and athletes were forced to find alternative opportunities, with some going abroad while others were still training outdoors until a few weeks ago (bringing back Vera Caslavska memories). Their lack of preparation will undoubtedly affect them in this competition, which is important to keep in mind.

Aneta Holasova, who qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games, is their top gymnast, but she likely won’t be at a hundred percent due to her training situation (she tested positive for COVID-19 after training in Croatia for two weeks and had to quarantine before joining the Czech team for a camp in Liberec), so it’s hard to say how she’ll look here, though hopefully we’ll still see her contend for the beam and floor finals. Dominika Ponizilova is typically second-best for the seniors, and always brings in consistent work across the board with her top scores coming on floor, but the other three – first-year seniors Natalie Brabcova and Magdalena Coufalova as well as 2018 worlds team member Sabina Halova – are a bit lower-level and I don’t expect huge scores from the team as a whole.

Ana Derek, who competed at the 2016 Olympic Games and qualified again for 2020, leads the Croatian team. Known for her beam and floor, I’m hoping we can see her qualify into both of these finals. Derek is also the squad’s best all-arounder, but she only rarely competes vault and bars, so we’ll see if this ends up happening…if the country is really making the team final a priority, I can definitely see her throwing a Yurchenko full and putting together a bars set to help them make it happen. Tijana Korent also has the team covered on vault, Tina Zelcic and Christina Zwicker are lovely on beam, and Petra Furac generally competes all four events, but has a pretty low level of difficulty on each.

I’m going to give Croatia the edge for making the team final over Latvia and Luxembourg, because while they do have these gaps to fill on so many events, they at least do have several strong, finals-worthy scores peppered throughout, which these other two programs really don’t have at all.

Latvia does have a really strong all-arounder in Elina Vihrova, who is solid and consistent on every event and could make a few apparatus finals, but the rest of the young team – Anna Locmele, Arina Olenova, and Zane Petrova – might just be too far behind to keep pace for the final. Luxembourg’s all-arounders – Lola Schleich, Chiara Castellucci, and Celeste Mordenti – are a little bit stronger overall, but without a Vihrova of their own, they’re not going to be putting up a huge team score either.

The competition also has several individual competitors reaching for apparatus finals, and it will be exciting to see some long-time favorites contend for these, and potentially even for podiums. I’m dying to see Elisa Hämmerle of Austria make the floor final, Marina Nekrasova of Azerbaijan should be a top contender on vault, Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia is one I’m hoping to see sneak into the bars final, and I think Slovenia’s Lucija Hribar could also make that happen if she hits.

The seniors will begin their competition on Thursday, December 17, at 2:45 pm. The first day of competition serves as the qualification for the team final and for the individual apparatus finals, and will be held in two separate subdivisions. The team final will then be held on Saturday the 19th, with apparatus finals held on Sunday the 20th. All streaming and live score information is available here.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

6 thoughts on “Can COVID Put Romania Back On Top?

    • She’s simply not good enough for the team. And let’s face it, her qualification to the Olympics is simply an accident, with a really poor team and with Golgota in really bad shape, normally Golgota would have the been the gymnast to qualify. And after Euros’ qualifiers, it’s pretty clear that the current roster is way stronger than Holbura’s level.

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    • She was probably just out-performed at the most recent camps. She, Duta, and Trica were all looking pretty similar at nationals, and I assume as things got closer, so I personally don’t think it matters who they bring, but Holbura is notably weak on beam and this is where the top girls (Sfiringu especially) tend to struggle, so I’d guess they just decided Trica was the better option since her beam can be pretty solid. Her vault’s better as well but I really doubt they’ll use anyone but Iordache, Sfiringu, and Stanciulescu in team finals unless qualifications are a disaster for any of them.

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