The 10 Small-Program Juniors Who Stunned in Europe This Summer

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Anna Lashchevska

So much happened at the two big junior European meets this summer, the European Youth Olympic Festival, or EYOF, in July followed by European Championships a couple of weeks later. While there was so much going on at the top of the field – Helen Kevric’s dominance, the Romanian resurgence, and Italy showcasing a brilliant young generation of new talents, to name a few – there were also plenty going on among the smaller programs at both competitions, and I’m excited to talk about a few of my favorites.

1. Elina Grawin, Sweden

After winning a number of medals and showing gorgeous lines and beautiful skills at some smaller international meets in 2021, it’s been clear for a while now that Grawin is Sweden’s best up-and-comer, though some lower difficulty and an inconsistency that kept her from putting together a completely solid performance didn’t really make her a top contender going into EYOF or Euros.

But everything came together for Grawin in her EYOF all-around performance, where she earned a personal best 50.350 after showing gorgeous work on bars, beam, and floor. Though her Yurchenko pike on vault wasn’t difficult enough for her to sneak onto the podium at just a 3.2 SV, she had a solid landing and ended up in sixth place overall. More importantly, she followed up her success here with another great performance at Euros. Despite not being at a hundred percent during the all-around competition, she still managed to finish in 10th place, and she qualified to both the bars and floor finals, finishing fourth and sixth, respectively.

Stylistically, Grawin is one of my absolute favorite junior athletes right now, and with the current group of Swedish seniors doing phenomenal work on the international scene, Grawin is going to make for a tremendous addition next year, especially if she can add to what she’s already doing.

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2. Anna Lashchevska, Ukraine

Similar to my experience watching Grawin this season, nothing Lashchevska did earlier in the season gave me any real indication that she would be one to watch at EYOF or Euros. Though she had a few glimmers of brilliance in some routines here and there, some inconsistent performances held her back from truly showing what she was capable of, but like Grawin, she was clearly saving her best for the summer.

Laschevska’s best apparatuses are bars and beam, with her beam one of my favorite junior sets on the map right now, and it was amazing to see her do everything in her power to win the title at Euros after getting the silver at EYOF! Her routine includes a switch half to back handspring, front handspring to front tuck (usually with one of the better connections I’ve seen – quick and clean without being rushed), aerials, a switch ring, and a clean double full. When she’s at her best, she’s so aggressively solid while not sacrificing fluidity, truly the best of both worlds.

Though she missed the all-around podiums, she got very close at both meets, finishing fourth at EYOF and fifth at Euros, with vault really the only thing holding her back from tackling gymnasts from bigger programs. She also finished fourth on bars and won a bronze medal in the mixed pairs event at EYOF, and she was eighth on floor at Euros as well.

3. Samira Raffin, Switzerland

I loved watching both of the Raffin twins – Kiara, the Swiss junior champion, competed alongside her sister at both EYOF and Euros and is also fabulous – but am calling out Samira specifically for the level of execution she showed at EYOF, where she showed mostly lower-difficulty yet extraordinarily tidy routines on every apparatus. Despite a fall on beam in the all-around competition, it was an otherwise excellent set, earning a 7.0 E-score even with the mistake! Had she not fallen, she would have counted an 8.0+ E on every event that day, something only one gymnast managed that day.

Raffin ended up 11th all-around at EYOF and she made the floor final, where she finished sixth with a 12.500. At Euros, she struggled with mistakes on bars and beam in prelims, placing 23rd all-around, though she had the second-best floor execution of the competition (out of 97 routines!), qualifying into the final again and finishing seventh.

The Swiss program is desperate for young talent to climb into the senior ranks, and Raffin has a super solid foundation that will come in handy as she begins adding more difficulty to catch up with the current seniors. I think both she and her twin have potential to grow into incredibly strong competitors and add depth to the Swiss team in the future.

4. Nazanin Teymurova, Azerbaijan

I first spotted Teymurova on beam at the Ukraine International Cup last year, where she had a fall, but the rest of her routine was so brilliant. I instantly fell in love with the power and finesse in her gymnastics, especially on beam, but also on vault and floor. She has an excellent tumbling ability (her floor passes include a full-in, 2½ to front tuck, and double tuck) and really precise work on beam, where her execution scores even with falls are better than many gymnasts can get with hit routines (like Raffin, she had a 7.0 E-score on beam with a fall at EYOF, and likely would have gone 13+ with a hit).

Right now, bars is a problem area for Teymurova, as is consistency, with many of her routines going super well, and then comes the fall, which is always such a bummer. With a fully hit performance, she’d have up around a 49-50 all-around program, capable of matching many top junior all-arounders in Europe right now, but the mistakes hold her back a bit, and she finished 21st at EYOF with a 47.600 and 34th at Euros with a 44.465.

Still, she ended up making the vault finals at both competitions, and she also placed fifth at both with averages of 12.833 at EYOF and 12.849 at Euros, performing a clean tsuk full and handspring front pike half. As a junior, even when she has nervous mistakes, she’s still outperforming her program’s top senior gymnasts, and I think she’ll have the best shot at becoming Azerbaijan’s next Olympian (the first born and trained in the country!).

5. Yali Shoshani, Israel

Though Shoshani isn’t one of the gymnasts on this list with high scoring potential or impressive difficulty given her age, the Israeli junior national champion had some of the most enjoyable routines at both of the big meets this summer, and I simply loved watching her perform even knowing she wasn’t going to be fighting to make any podiums or finals.

Shoshani finished 35th all-around at EYOF, and then improved her ranking to 28th at Euros, where she scored a 45.898. Her execution isn’t always the sharpest, but she has some lovely skills – including a very nice full Y turn on beam – and her floor routine is so entertaining. First of all, she has ABBA music, which makes her an automatic favorite, and then she also performs it so well with a level of expression that made this one of my favorite routines of the competition (I wish the below video was close-up so you could get a better impression, but she is never not performing, and it’s fabulous to witness).

A little bit of clean-up in a few areas as well as some increased difficulty could take her so far, but at just 13, she has plenty of time to keep getting stronger.

6. Athanasia Mesiri, Greece

It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a junior gymnast from Greece make the transition to becoming a strong senior competitor, but my money is on Mesiri for becoming the next big thing. After finishing 37th at EYOF, Mesiri made a few improvements to climb to 22nd at Euros, scoring a 47.065, nearly two points ahead of any of the seniors at the same meet.

Her skill level is pretty strong already, including a clear hip to Tkachev and Pak on bars and front handspring front tuck series on beam. She also does lovely work on floor, where she has a fabulous dance ability, including an awesome series of connected turns into one of the corners, as well as a brilliant straddle jump out of her whip full through to back layout tumbling line at the end of her routine.

Mesiri becomes a senior next year, and I’m really hoping she can be the one to help put Greece back on the map for this sport. Scores aside, she has so much talent and potential that you can see in every routine, and I’m very excited to see what else she’ll be able to do.

7. Lucia Dobrocka, Slovakia

Going into EYOF – hosted on Dobrocka’s home soil – this gymnast was one I was hoping would be a standout competitor after she competed incredibly well at a few smaller meets in the earlier half of the season. In the end, she exceeded my every expecation, becoming a star for the home crowd as she nailed routine after routine to put up some of Slovakia’s best-ever results.

Dobrocka is the kind of gymnast without a weak spot, with skills and routines across all four apparatuses that are tidy and solid. With a fully hit performance at EYOF, Dobrocka finished ninth all-around with a 49.550, sandwiched between the top two Italian competitors, and she also helped the team to ninth place – massive for Slovakia, which did not qualify any seniors to worlds this year – in addition to earning reserve spots for the bars and beam finals, and finishing seventh in the mixed pairs competition alongside Oliver Kasala.

At Euros, Dobrocka finished 19th with a 47.266 after a miss on bars in the all-around competition, but she ended up stepping into the vault final as a reserve, finishing eighth with a 12.483, and she again helped Slovakia to a great team ranking, with the juniors ending up in 13th place.

8. Sara Jacobsen, Denmark

Thanks to vault, the Danish gymnasts have been rising on the international scene over the past couple of years, with greater success at both the senior and junior levels attributed to the incredible advances they’re making on this apparatus.

One of the juniors on the rise along with the program is Sara Jacobsen, a 15-year-old who competes a massive Yurchenko 1½, which helped her finish 25th all-around at EYOF, where she also qualified third into the vault final and then captured the bronze medal after hitting both the 1½ and an excellent Yurchenko full.

Though she’s normally super consistent on vault, also winning the junior title at Nordic Championships (where she helped Denmark to its first-ever Nordic team title alongside the equally talented Natalie Jensen), she unfortunately sat her attempt at Euros, holding her back to 19th on the event in qualifications and 39th in the all-around. I’m not too worried about this one mishap, however – she already has the power to upgrade to a Yurchenko double, which I expect we’ll see in the next year or so, and she will be part of every major team once she reaches the senior ranks in 2023, with her work on floor also going to be very important for the program.

9. Mila Prpic, Croatia

With all of the chaos that was EYOF qualifications – streamed on a steady cam with a bird’s eye view of the entire arena – I missed pretty much everything Prpic did there, where she finished 30th all-around with a 45.150. But thankfully, I didn’t miss her at Euros, where her beam especially stood out to me as a wow routine at the competition.

Prpic must have had some mistakes at EYOF, where she finished 30th with a 45.150, but a couple of weeks later, she reached a 47.199 to finish 20th, thanks largely to a decent Yurchenko full on vault, and then her excellent beam set, where she showed a clean and steady acro series, side aerial, switch leap to sissone, side somi, and front layout full dismount for a 12.033, putting her in 20th place.

She doesn’t have the highest difficulty and she could use some finesse here and there, but I found her to be really enjoyable with a lot of room to grow. As an added bonus, she won the junior all-around title with a 50.034 at the Balkan Championships this weekend, where she also took the golds on bars and beam!

Sadly, the only video I could find to showcase Prpic was her EYOF floor routine, which is good and worth a look, but her beam from Euros was everything – I’ll add it if I can find it!

10. Czech Republic

So I’m kind of cheating here, but all of the juniors from the Czech Republic were absolutely stunning this summer. They happily surprised me when they finished seventh as a team at EYOF, where they also qualified all three athletes into apparatus finals, where all three ultimately finished in seventh place, including Alice Vlkova on vault, Vanesa Masova on bars, and Sona Artamonova on beam.

The team then increased its standing to sixth place at junior Euros, with two gymnasts finishing in the top 16 all-around – including an impressive seventh-place finish for Vlkova, who also finished seventh in her second vault final in a row there. For comparison, at EYOF in 2019, the team finished 21st and its top all-arounder was 50th, while at junior Euros in 2018, the ladies were 19th as a team while the top all-arounder finished 55th.

Beyond their massive accomplishments, they just looked fantastic, with really lovely and often advanced skills for their level and program. I think I especially love Artamonova, who is gorgeous on beam and floor, but they’re all supremely talented and it was thrilling to see them do so well at both competitions after the Czech junior program has struggled a bit over the past five or so years.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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