If one thing is abundantly clear from qualifications at this year’s European Championships in Basel, Switzerland, it’s that the Russians did not come to play.
Both the women’s and men’s teams came away from qualifications with their gymnasts taking up the top three spots, as Angelina Melnikova led the women’s field with a 55.991, followed by first-year senior Viktoria Listunova in second with a 55.465 and Vladislava Urazova in her senior international debut with a 55.299, and Nikita Nagornyy dominated the men’s competition with an 87.097 for first place while also casually debuting the world’s first triple back pike on floor more than 30 years after Valeri Liukin first performed a triple back tuck, while veteran David Belyavskiy was second with an 85.398 and young standout Aleksandr Kartsev was third with an 84.731.
Urazova and Kartsev were unfortunately two-per-country’ed out of the all-around final, so there’s no chance of Russian sweeps on either side, though I wish there was, because how fun would that be?! But the four who did make it will go in as top contenders for gold and silver, especially as both Melnikova and Listunova had falls on beam in prelims that could separate them even further from the rest of the competition if they hit in finals.
Melnikova, the junior all-around champion at Euros in 2016, will be going for her first title as a senior after winning the bronze in 2019. She bested 15-year-old Listunova on every event but beam on Thursday, and has the advantage over her teammate, but I see the two having a back-and-forth battle that comes down to the final routine if both are at a hundred percent in the final.
Larisa Iordache of Romania, who was fourth in qualifications with a 54.698 after falling on beam, could have been right in the mix with the two Russians, but unfortunately, she has withdrawn from the final due to a kidney infection, and seventh-place finisher Vanessa Ferrari of Italy has also opted to sit out so she can focus on the floor final. With three top eight competitors out between these two and Urazova, it means that third medal is up for grabs, and there are several who could step up to the challenge.
First, the two who were nearly flawless in qualifications – Martina Maggio of Italy and Amelie Morgan of Great Britain. Both were fighting to potentially earn non-nominative Olympic berths for their countries, and both came incredibly close after surpassing my every expectation for them.
Maggio has looked fantastic in recent Serie A meets, especially on bars and beam, but with these meets often dramatically overscored, I thought she maybe wouldn’t get quite the same attention here. But not to worry – she was excellent and her scores reflected it, leading her to a 54.398 in her first major international competition since she last competed at Euros four years ago as a promising first-year senior who has since been held back by injuries. In addition to the all-around final, Maggio also qualified on beam and floor, the two events that were weakest for the Italians at world championships in 2019. She is doing her best to make a case for a spot on Italy’s Olympic team, and an all-around podium finish in Basel could make this even more of a reality.
Then there’s Morgan, who came into 2019 as one of the world’s most exciting new seniors, but missed out on worlds due to an injury, and she’s been struggling with her ankle ever since. She wasn’t able to compete her Yurchenko double here, and her floor was downgraded quite a bit, but she was brilliant on bars and beam, making the finals on both. The fact that she posted a 54.032 in the all-around without super competitive routines on half of her events is pretty telling, and I think regardless of whether she gets her double back on vault or not, she’ll still be one of the strongest gymnasts for Great Britain as we look towards the Olympic Games.
I don’t think the podium will be super likely for her here, because she was operating at a pretty solid level in qualifications while many of the others all have room for improvement, but if she puts up another performance like she did on Thursday, she’s absolutely in the mix.
One with room for improvement is her very own teammate Jessica Gadirova, who put up the best score of her career by nearly a full point with a fall on beam. While her twin – Jennifer, who is missing Euros due to a nagging injury – has been the talk of the town with all of her upgrades over the past year or so, this Gadirova has been more in the shadows, especially when it comes to Olympic chatter. But she showed that she’s going to be just as much of a threat come team selection time, with an incredible Yurchenko double, solid bars, and massive difficulty on beam and floor. I was especially impressed with how she came back mentally after what was a pretty scary and painful-looking fall on beam, and after placing eighth with a 53.699 despite that error, I think if she can hit that routine in the final, she’ll have a huge shot at winding up with a medal.
Rounding out the top 12 were Carolann Heduit of France in ninth with a 53.599, Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland of 10th with a 53.299, Alice Kinsella of Great Britain in 11th with a 53.090, and Filipa Martins of Portugal in 12th with a 52.865. I was amazed with how strong Heduit looked after not having quite the senior career I anticipated for her based on how she looked as a junior, but she had very good performances across the board with room for improvement. Steingruber struggled a bit on bars and beam, but she competed her Rudi on vault and also had a great floor routine, while Kinsella had some issues with her landings on pretty much all four events, so she didn’t do as well as expected and was two-per-country’ed out of the final.
I didn’t see much of Martins on the streams, but she had the best bars routine pretty much of her entire career here with a 14.166, and she made history for Portugal by becoming her country’s first gymnast to make an event final at Euros, and the first to have a skill named after her with the debut of her Hindorff to mixed grip, which she connected to an Ezhova. Right now, Martins holds the record for Portugal’s top Euros all-around finish with her eighth-place outings in 2015 and 2017, so I’d love to see her improve on that in Friday’s final.
Others who qualified to the final include Lieke Wevers of the Netherlands in 13th with a 52.833, Elisabeth Seitz of Germany in 14th with a 52.832, Kim Bui of Germany in 15th with a 52.791, Marine Boyer of France in 16th with a 52.232 (though she later withdrew, reportedly to focus on the beam final), Anastasiia Bachynska of Ukraine in 17th with a 52.065, Elina Vihrova of Latvia in 19th with a 51.499, Tonya Paulson of Sweden in 20th with a 51.315, Maisa Kuusikko of Finland in 21st with a 51.199, Marta Pihan-Kulesza of Poland in 22nd with a 51.032, Ada Hautala of Finland in 23rd with a 50.898, Barbora Mokosova of Slovakia in 24th with a 50.698, Emma Slevin of Ireland in 27th with a 50.432, Csenge Bacskay of Hungary in 29th with a 50.265, and Lihie Raz of Israel in 30th with a 50.098.
In addition to Urazova and Kinsella, Alice D’Amato of Italy (who was 18th with a 51.532), Sheyen Petit of France (25th with a 50.599), Elena Gerasimova of Russia (26th with a 50.499), and Phoebe Jakubczyk of Great Britain (28th with a 50.365) were all two-per-country’ed from the final, though with Iordache, Ferrari, and Boyer all withdrawing, Petit made it back in, while Naomi Visser of the Netherlands (31st with a 49.932) and Zoja Szekely of Hungary (32nd with a 49.665) will sub in for Iordache and Ferrari.
In the men’s competition, the Turkish guys were the strongest after the Russians, with Ahmet Önder qualifying fourth with an 84.131 while Adem Asil was fifth with an 84.032, also earning a nominative Olympic berth thanks to his performance. Both have pretty big room for improvement thanks to pommels, so I think it could be realistic to see either of these guys tackle Belyavskiy for silver, and – sorry Belyavskiy – how incredible would it be to have two Turkish guys on this podium? But no one is coming for Nagornyy. That gold is his, unless he utterly falls apart. Spoiler alert – he won’t.
There was a pretty solid gap between Asil and the rest of the field, with Pablo Brägger coming sixth with an 82.665, Kirill Prokopev of Russia seventh with an 82.664 (like Kartsev, he was two-per-country’ed out of the final), Nicola Bartolini of Italy eighth with an 82.157, Robert Tvorogal of Lithuania ninth with an 81.831, Ivan Tikhonov of Azerbaijan 10th with an 81.432, first-year senior Illia Kovtun of Ukraine 11th with an 81.407, and Joshua Nathan of Great Britain 12th with an 81.081.
I don’t see any of these guys coming for Russia or Turkey in this final if the top guys hit, and think if everyone’s on their game, it’ll be a four-way battle for the three podium spots. But alas, this is gymnastics – and men’s gymnastics to make matters worse – so it’s not out of the question. Based on what I saw from qualifications, I think Kovtun has the biggest opportunity to make up for falls and errors, and Brägger is also capable of piling on a few tenths here and there to take advantage of mistakes from the top guys.
Others who qualified to the final include Stefano Patron of Italy in 13th with an 80.698, Casimir Schmidt of the Netherlands in 15th with an 80.307, David Jessen of the Czech Republic in 16th with an 80.289, Lukas Dauser of Germany in 17th with an 80.064, Elias Koski of Finland in 18th with an 80.031, Luka van den Keybus of Belgium in 19th with a 79.799, Adam Steele of Ireland in 20th with a 79.731, Volodymyr Kostiuk of Ukraine in 21st with a 79.598, Ilias Georgiou of Cyprus in 22nd with a 79.465, Felix Remuta of Germany in 23rd with a 79.431, Christian Baumann of Switzerland in 24th with a 79.398 (he actually had a pretty rough day on a couple events so expect him to finish much higher in the final if he can hit on Friday), Jake Jarman of Great Britain in 25th with a 79.398, David Rumbutis of Sweden in 27th with a 78.565, and Yahor Sharamkou of Belarus in 28th with a 78.231.
In addition to Kartsev and Prokopev, Lorenzo Casali of Italy (14th with an 80.364) and Yevgen Yudenkov of Ukraine (26th with a 78.731) were two-per-country’ed out. No one has withdrawn from the men’s all-around field at this point, but Krisztian Balazs of Hungary, Antonios Tantalidis of Greece, and Theodor Gadderud of Norway are the three reserves waiting in the wings should this change.
Article by Lauren Hopkins