When Ukraine’s gymnasts woke up on Thursday morning, the first day of qualifications at the Cottbus World Cup, they were faced with the terrifying news that their country was being invaded that very minute.
It’s difficult to comprehend what they were feeling in that moment, knowing their friends and family were stuck in a conflict zone while they were hundreds of miles away, that they were likely not going to be able to get back into the country as it was under attack, and that when they did make it back, their country, city, and home would not be the way it was when they left it.
But despite everything, these gymnasts – Daniela Batrona, Nazar Chepurnyi, Illia Kovtun, and Roman Vashchenko – showed up at the the competition hall, fought through it all, and excelled, with all four athletes making it into finals.
Gymnasts are physically and mentally some of the toughest athletes on the planet, and while the outcome of a sporting event is one of the least important things in the world compared to what the people of Ukraine are going through, seeing athletes from a country under siege represent their nation and flag so passionately and bravely is inspiring and uplifting, a reminder that Ukraine is still living and breathing and thriving in so many ways despite every horrible circumstance of war. These athletes are simply showing up to the arena and doing the job they’re there to do, without question, but this simple, normal thing in itself is an act of defiance.
Three of Ukraine’s gymnasts qualified in first place, including Batrona on beam by nearly a point, Chepurnyi leading the field on vault, and Kovtun topping parallel bars with a half-point gap between himself and second place. Batrona will also compete in the uneven bars final, while Kovtun will do every event but rings and vault, and Vashchenko is in on rings.
When Cottbus is over on Sunday evening, it’s unclear what will happen with the gymnasts from Ukraine, though Batrona and Kovtun compete on Serie A teams in Italy and both clubs have reached out with support, offering a place for them to live and train until they can safely return home. I’m sure Chepurnyi and Vashchenko will be offered some sort of relief from the gymnastics community, though being in a safe environment doesn’t mean their fear, anxiety, and terror will go away. I hope they can find the strength to make it through and that they are reunited with their loved ones as soon as is safely possible.
The women’s competition was fairly limited here, with even host country Germany not sending top options. The vault field had only eight athletes, meaning all qualified to the final, led by vault queen Tjasa Kysselef of Slovenia with a 13.016 average. Poland’s Wiktoria Lopuszanska landed in second with a 12.949 average, while 2021 world finalist Ofir Netzer is third with a 12.816, with a healthy two-tenth lead over Alba Petisco of Spain with a 12.616.
Tisha Volleman of the Netherlands leads the bars competition after qualifications, ahead of Anastasiya Smantsar of Belarus with a 12.933 and Batrona with a 12.566, though I expect a few of the lower-scoring athletes to potentially bump up in the final, particularly Sanna Veerman of the Netherlands, who had a miss and earned only a 12.2 when she’s capable of much higher. Notably missing out here were Spain’s Petisco and Claudia Villalba along with Lucija Hribar of Slovenia.
Behind Batrona’s massive 0.867 lead on beam is a group of gymnasts all clustered within six tenths of one another, and again, some of these have the potential to turn things around for the final. Veerman is second with a 12.433, while Smantsar is third with the same score but down a ranking due to the tie breaker. Petisco – fourth with a 12.333 – has a considerable amount of room to grow, as does Maria Tronrud of Norway, currently eighth with an 11.833.
Lastly, on floor we have Petisco coming into the final in first place with a 13.166, followed by Volleman with a 12.766 and Villalba with a 12.066.
2020 Olympic champion Artem Dolgopyat of Israel led the 32-man floor field with a 14.800, more than a point ahead of second-place Aurel Benovic of Croatia with a 13.766 and third-place Milad Karimi of Kazakhstan with a 13.600, though both are fabulous floor workers and with a little more attention to detail in the final, it could be close among the three. I’m also looking at Yahor Sharamkou of Belarus to make moves, and Kovtun has a lot of room for upward momentum in this final as well.
Nariman Kurbanov of Kazakhstan leads pommel horse with a 15.266, followed by Kovtun with a 14.700 and Matvei Petrov of Albania with a 14.500. Joshua Nathan of Great Britain qualified in sixth with a 14.000, but he can add at least a point to that score, and there are a number of guys in between him and the top group who can medal if they go clean and a top qualifier falters.
On rings, it’s Adem Asil of Turkey with a 14.533 for the lead ahead of Courtney Tulloch of Great Britain and Ibrahim Colak of Turkey tied for second with matching scores of 14.466. The Armenians are very close behind, as Artur Avetisyan is fourth with a 14.300 and Vahagn Davtyan is fifth with a 14.266, and then Vashchenko, Nikita Simonov of Azerbaijan, and Brody Malone of the United States round out the field.
Chepurnyi leads vault with a 14.749 average, ahead of Tulloch who performed higher difficulty – Including a brand-new tsuk full-twisting double tuck! – but finished slightly behind with a 14.616. Shek Wai Hung of Hong Kong is third with a 14.549, 2020 Olympic medalist Artur Davtyan of Armenia is fourth with a 14.483, Thomas Grasso of Italy is fifth with a 14.433, Karimi is sixth with a 14.200, Asil is seventh with a 14.166, and Sharamkou is eighth with a 14.166, though this is MAG vault and literally anything can happen, so be warned! Sadly, 2021 world medalist Andrey Medvedev of Israel missed the final after falling on both attempts, finishing 24th in a field of 27.
In the parallel bars qualification, it was Kovtun in first with a 15.000, a half point ahead of Malone with a 14.500, who in turn was three tenths ahead of Ivan Tikhonov of Azerbaijan and Matteo Levantesi of Italy with scores of 14.2. Finally, on high bar, it’s Malone with a 14.633 lead ahead of Karimi with a 14.466 and Alexander Myakinin of Israel with a 14.400, though Tin Srbic of Croatia will likely pull off a sneaky upgrade in the final to see his 14.066 – currently good for fourth – increase, and I think both Mitchell Morgans of Australia (seventh with a 13.500) and Kovtun (eighth with a 13.366) can improve their standings.
You can watch the first day of event finals live on SportDeutschland TV, beginning at 2 pm local time (which is 8 am ET). Live results will be available on Sportlicht, and we’ll have a live blog going as well, in case you can’t watch the stream.
Article by Lauren Hopkins