Iordache Poised to Lead Romania to Gold in Tomorrow’s Team Final

Larisa Iordache

The start lists are out for tomorrow’s team final at European Championships, and Larisa Iordache, who led the Romanian team to an almost five-point lead in qualifications on Thursday, will compete all four events in the hopes of keeping Romania on the path to gold.

In her first international competition in over three years, Iordache looked excellent on all four events, earning a 54.565 to unofficially win the all-around while also qualifying into every apparatus final in addition to putting up Romania’s top scores on every event but vault, where she was just a bit off on the landing of her Yurchenko double. Overall, Iordache looked great, but she has room for improvement across the board. I think some of this can happen in the team final, but I think overall we’ll see the bulk of it happening as she works her way toward her ultimate goal of qualifying to the Olympic Games in 2021.

Though Iordache led the field on bars and beam, I think her best work came on bars, which was excellent to see as this was the event she first returned on last month, which she struggled to get through due to nerves. Her routine in qualifications here was so clean and seamless, leading to a second-place finish and a shot at the title in finals if she can repeat, and I think she’ll also be the key reason why Romania will win gold, which is so huge for her considering all she’s been through to get back to competition in general, let alone at this level.

The rest of the team also performed incredibly well on Thursday, but my worry is actually that they performed too well, giving it all for qualifications instead of saving the good stuff for the final. I like that we saw productive work from all of the young competitors, leading to all four getting the chance to compete in the team final. 

Silviana Sfiringu had the second-best scores behind Iordache, competing a strong DTY and great work on beam and floor, and she was actually close to pulling off a bars final spot as well with a lovely routine, but she unfortunately missed her double front dismount at the end. Ioana Stanciulescu hit everything, but with her beam a bit weak and going out-of-bounds on floor, she wasn’t able to make any finals except vault, where she’ll be unlikely to medal. She brought back her DTY on vault, which looked a bit weak in qualifications, but even if she improves it in the final, with a handspring front pike for her second vault her difficulty might be a bit too far back for her to factor into the podium.

Both Antonia Duta and Daniela Trica were able to contribute one event apiece into the team total, with Duta putting up the team’s second-best score on floor – which was a bit of a surprise, given how advanced Sfiringu’s tumbling is and how great the execution typically is in Stanciulescu’s routines – while Trica had the third-best score for the team on beam. Duta was especially excellent on floor, and though her difficulty is a bit low, she made up for it with strong work throughout on her arabian double front, triple full, and double full, while Trica had an awesome front handspring to front tuck, a good jump series to Korbut, and a clean double full dismount.

Their finishes in qualifications earned them these spots in the team final, so they’ll get to compete an event apiece, while Sfiringu will compete all but floor, Stanciulescu will compete all but beam, and Iordache will go up on all four. I think it makes sense, and am glad that Duta and Trica were able to prove themselves in this way to earn finals spots, as I worried they might not get the chance to compete in the team final with Sfiringu and Stanciulescu generally outperforming them.

In contrast to Romania’s pretty excellent day, Ukraine had quite a few misses that held them back from getting closer to their rivals. They were pretty solid on vault, actually coming within a couple of tenths of the Romanians despite lower difficulty. Anastasiia Motak had a decent DTY while fellow first-year senior Yelizaveta Hubareva vaulted a clean full, and Anastasiia Bachynska put up a solid score for her Yurchenko 1½. The team was hoping for a big score from Angelina Radivilova‘s Lopez, but instead, she landed it super low and not only didn’t contribute a score to the team total, but she also missed the vault final, and she won’t vault in the team final either.

On bars, the team actually started out great with two hit routines from the first-years, as Motak hit her Komova II to Pak, inbar to inbar half to piked Jaeger, and double layout with only minor errors for a 12.700, while Hubareva also had small mistakes throughout her routine, but she had some really promising series, including her inbar full to stalder to Komova II to Pak and her Maloney to Gienger. I thought if the young kids could pull off routines like these, the veterans would be even better, but then Diana Varinska made it through her whole routine only to crash the dismount, while Bachynska arched over in a pirouette and came off.

Even with the falls, the team came within about half a point of Romania on this event, but they were significantly behind on beam and floor, and that was the real make or break it. A fall from Varinska on beam meant counting a low score from Radivilova, and on floor, everything went mostly well, aside from a few bad landings, but the team is just so far behind on difficulty there, they’re coming in at a worse deficit than Romania comes in behind Ukraine on bars.

In the final, the team will put up Bachynska and Motak on every event but floor, Varinska on every event but bars, Radivilova only on floor, and Hubareva on vault and, weirdly, on floor. I don’t know the reasoning of putting Hubareva up on floor, especially when she didn’t compete it in qualifications, but with how good Romania looked in qualifications, I don’t think there’s any combination Ukraine can put together that can beat what Romania can do, and I think the only way Ukraine has a prayer of winning at this point is if they put up three perfect vaults, three perfect bars sets, and pray for a number of falls from the Romanians on bars and beam.

Interestingly, while I thought the competition would be relatively close between Romania and Ukraine, it ended up being that things were much closer between Ukraine and Hungary, with the Hungarians coming in just about eight tenths behind the Ukrainians in qualifications.

This was such a surprise, partly because Hungary has undergone so many changes to the makeup of the team over the past few weeks, but also because those who are on the team looked so much better than they did just a month ago, both in terms of upgrades and just general improvements. Both Zsofia Kovacs and Csenge Bacskay brought some difficulty back on vault after doing fulls a month ago, with Kovacs going up to an excellent DTY while Bacskay had a Yurchenko 1½, and these combined with Dorina Böczögö‘s clean FTY helped the Hungarians post the top overall vault score of the competition.

The team also led the way on bars, thanks mostly to Kovacs putting up a 14.133 for her beautifully executed set, but Zoja Szekely also nailed her big skills and difficult connections, and first-year senior Mirtill Makovits was solid in her routine, which isn’t the most difficult, but she had a nice Jaeger and double front dismount to round out the team. While beam and floor didn’t go as well – mostly due to much lower difficulty than Ukraine or Finland, though Kovacs did have a fall on beam that held them back a bit – I think the team was so good on the other two events, if Ukraine continues to struggle in the final, the fight won’t be so much about “will Romania or Ukraine get gold” but more about “will Ukraine or Hungary get silver”…and I think Hungary could very well get that silver.

The other three teams to make the final – Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Croatia – will be too far behind to challenge for the podium, but all had some good moments in qualifications.

Turkey, competing at home in Mersin, showed some especially strong work on vault and floor. Bilge Tarhan contributed scores on all four events and made the beam final, while Dilara Yurtdas contributed the highest bars and vault scores, making the vault final. There were some iffy moments, and it was a bummer to see Göksu Üctas Sanli narrowly miss the floor final thanks to hopping out-of-bounds on her double pike, but overall I was pleased with how well this super young team performed, with Cemre Kendirci doing great work to bring in scores on three events, while Ece Yagmur Yavuz, who was a last-minute addition to the team, was strong on vault.

Aside from Üctas Sanli, everyone who competed was a first-year senior, and the score they earned here was about five points higher than what Turkey’s world championships team achieved in 2018. The program has relied on about the same handful of gymnasts for the past five or so years, so having this influx of young talent as they go into the next quad is exciting, and I think with a little bit of work, Turkey could be in the mix of teams securing a top 24 spot for 2023 world championships.

The Czech Republic had a rough competition, partly because it was a pretty inexperienced group, but also because the team’s leader, Aneta Holasova, wasn’t able to prepare for the meet and couldn’t deliver at a hundred percent even on her best events. Fortunately, the team was able to drop her bars score – she started out well, but had to hop off several times on a pirouette skill – and she still contributed on the other three events, including a solid FTY and great beam set, but she had to downgrade her beam dismount, and she also had a fall on her double pike dismount on floor.

Holasova had COVID-19 a few weeks ago, and prior to that, she was training outside for much of the fall lockdown. She was able to train in Croatia for two weeks before testing positive, but the lack of training beforehand coupled with a ten-day quarantine just a couple of weeks before Euros clearly affected her, and it’s crazy that she had to not only compete here, but that she had to do all four events and that the federation expected her to make finals. It would’ve been great to see her make beam and floor.

She actually got close to beam even with the downgrades, and without the fall on floor, she easily would have made it there as well. But I think it was unrealistic and unfair for the federation to put that kind of pressure on her, and then also publicly express disappointment on their Facebook when they didn’t give her the support or resources she needed in the lead-up to the competition, given all that she’s been through over the past few months. Despite everything, she’ll still be an Olympian next year, and this meet won’t mean anything in the grand scheme of her career, but as excited as I was to see gymnastics this weekend, situations like these were exactly what I knew were going to happen in terms of athletes being pushed beyond their readiness, which is dangerous in so many ways.

Aside from Holasova, I was happy with how Dominika Ponizilova performed. She hit everything but beam, where she came off on her double wolf turn, but she otherwise looked strong, especially on her tsuk full vault, and with Holasova’s mistakes on bars and floor, Ponizilova stepped it up to post the top scores on both. Sabina Halova contributed a simple but clean bars set but fell on her flight series on beam, Magdalena Coufalova hit a lovely handspring front pike on vault and performed well on floor, and Natalie Brabcova had falls on both bars and beam, but the team had to count her bars score of 9.933.

There ended up being quite the battle for the sixth and final team spot, but it ended up going to Croatia, which counted multiple falls, but Christina Zwicker saved the day with her beautiful and even-keeled work throughout her entire performance, including a clutch beam routine at the end of a rotation that saw three falls before her. Zwicker, who made the bars and beam finals, has pretty low difficulty on most of her events, but I think she’s so lovely in her execution, she was able to outscore several more difficult routines to lead the Croatian team.

I was expecting Ana Derek to make multiple finals for Croatia, but with falls on both beam and floor, she ended up unfortunately missing both. Tina Zelcic was also a beam finals hopeful, but she too had a fall, though did nice work on her simple but sweet bars set, while Petra Furac put up scores for the team on vault, bars, and floor, and Tijana Korent did good enough work on vault to earn the last spot in the apparatus final.

It’s been kind of a running joke on the gymternet that Luxembourg could actually make a Euros team final, but the joke was on us, because Luxembourg almost did. Because they were awesome. The team came out with three awesome bars and beam sets, and though the routines were mostly simple with various deductions here and there, I think all three gymnasts did phenomenally on both events, and with only three gymnasts competing, it meant every score counted.

Of course, this ended up costing them the final in the end, because they ended up counting a fall and a routine with several wild landings on floor, as well as a fall on vault, which was a real bummer. The team looked like they could actually have the scores to qualify, but then Celeste Mordenti, who had been killing it all meet long, ended up running back out of her Yurchenko full and sitting it, leaving the team six tenths away from the final.

Mordenti was otherwise awesome, though. She had the strongest bars set of the team, hitting a big straddle Jaeger, Pak, and double tuck, and on beam she had excellent extension on her switch leap to sissone and flight series. In addition to her vault fall, she also had steps, hops, and out-of-bounds on floor, but even with the mistakes, she put up a 47.465 in the all-around, the strongest international score of her career by two points, which is kind of amazing. 

Chiara Castellucci had a nice Pak and toe front tuck dismount on bars, and a really solid flight series as well as two punch fronts on beam, and a handspring front pike half on vault in addition to nailing a double front on floor. She also hit a double full and a front layout on floor, but unfortunately put her hand down on her double back. First-year senior Lola Schleich, meanwhile, had a Yurchenko pike on vault, and she hit a good straddle Jaeger on bars, and did most of her floor tumbling well, but beam was where it was at for her, with a clean switch leap to sissone, side aerial to layout stepout, front aerial, side somi, and gainer full dismount getting her to a 12.066.

Unfortunately, she missed the beam final on a tie-break, but this was a huge competition for her and I hope despite missing out on the final, she and the team are proud of what they accomplished here. They all far exceeded expectations, and I’m looking forward to watching them continue this journey in the coming years.

Finally, Latvia. The big one to watch here was Elina Vihrova, and she didn’t disappoint, making finals on every event but floor, where she had a fall on her full-in. Otherwise, the future Penn State gymnast did a fantastic job, with her routines already looking nearly NCAA ready. The rest of the team had much lower difficulty overall, and there were a few issues with form and execution throughout, but I think pretty much everyone did a good job at hitting.

Anna Locmele had a great tsuk pike with a step back, and she also contributed a good beam set to the team total, Arina Olenova had the top score for the team on floor, where she opened with a solid double tuck, and Zane Petrova had really simple sets but she counted scores on all four events.

As for the individuals, Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia had an excellent bars set to qualify second into the final, tying Iordache, and her all-around score of 50.099 was sixth-best of the day (and that includes a fall on beam). I was also impressed with Lihie Raz of Israel, who was especially excellent on floor, where she hit a tucked full-in, front tuck through to double tuck, and double pike to make the final in fourth place, and Elisa Hämmerle, who hit floor and nailed her new beam set to make the final there with a 12.066.

Lucija Hribar of Slovenia hit especially good work on bars and floor, her teammate Zala Bedenik did her best work on vault, Yoana Yankova of Bulgaria did some good work in the early half of her beam set, Agata Vostruchovaite of Lithuania was solid on vault, Samira Gahramanova of Azerbaijan had a good floor routine, and her teammate Marina Nekrasova fell on beam, and then also missed the vault final, competing a handspring front layout full that got docked pretty severely for her knee form, as well as a tsuk layout that got devalued to a pike.

The team final takes place on Saturday, December 19 at 3:30 pm local time (Mersin is eight hours ahead of NYC, if that helps you at all). You can watch the competition here, and live scores will go up here

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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