The first days of June will witness the 2016 European Championships in Bern, Switzerland where a team competition will be contested as well as individual finals with no all-around competition.
In the history of European Team Finals fans expect to see a close and heated competition between long-time rivals Romania and Russia. Did you know that Romania has won the European Team Title in the Olympic Year three times in a row (2004, 2008 and 2012)? They are also the defending European Team Champions from both 2012 & 2014. This glorious past for Romania was only two years ago and today we are still in disbelief that they have reached the end of an era by failing to qualify a full team to the Olympics while the four teams that finished behind them at the 2014 Europeans, Great Britain, Russia, Germany and Italy will be sending full teams to Rio.
Romania’s struggles continue as Larissa has not recovered from the injury that kept her from the Test Event and now Diana Bulimar has torn her Achilles tendon, their absences along with Laura Jurca’s, who is also injured will severely diminish Romania’s chances to even reach the podium this year. Still Catalina Ponor will lead a team formed by Maria Holbura, Ana Maria Ocolisan, Silvia Zarzu and Anda Butuc.
Catalina is used to winning medals at every competition she attends and will give her team a big push, score-wise, on beam and floor. Maria Holbura, who despite her youth and inexperience was a shining presence in the Test Event drama, is expected to equal her performance; Silvia Zarzu will get a second chance to show what she can do on the floor exercise and Ana Maria Ocolisan is one of the strongest in the team bars-wise and will be expected to deliver a solid routine, more for the psychological benefit of the team than the score benefit. But can this team aim for a bronze in the team competition? Recent competition history is not on their side, but if they were to make it, it would be redemption and a spark of hope in the early road they have started towards Tokyo 2020.
So who will take the title? The answer would have been simple a few years ago, with Romania out it would naturally be Russia but today is not so simple. The British Gymnastics program has grown and improved immensely in the last few years and has twice defeated Russia, at the 2014 European Championships where Great Britain earned silver over bronze-medalling Russia and at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow where Britain claimed their first World Team Medal pushing Russia to fourth and out of the podium.
Russia has a history of grace, power, innovative skills and… too much inconsistency, more than once fans have been frustrated because once again the team has gifted away a medal. The most recent example? The 2015 World Championships. After 4 falls Russia lost 4 full points and ended up 4th by a 0.416 difference. Can Bern be the competition where we can say: “Russia has finally lived up to their potential” We can only hope so.
The Europeans British Team is almost the same as the World Championships team with the exception of Amy Tinkler who decided to stay home to focus on her studies. Russia on the other hand, will have a team that features three gymnasts from the 2015 World Championships: Ksenia Afanasyeva, Daria Spiridinova and Seda Tutkhaylan, who is replacing Maria Paseka who was originally named to the team but sustained a back injury. This European Championships will be the return to competition of Aliya Mustafina who will do bars and beam only; it will also be the much anticipated debut of new senior Angelina Melnikova.
So the battle for the team title is set; the historical and powerful Russia will go against the hard-working and strongly motivated British Team. Russia will lack advantage on vault as they won’t have Paseka’s Amanar, so the battle on vault between the two teams will be even; on bars Russia has world-class routines with Mustafina, Spiridinova and Melnikova but Great Britain isn’t far behind, Rebecca Downie was the 2014 European Uneven Bars Champion, her sister Elissa Downie finished fourth at the European bars final last year and Ruby Harrold has been a World Bars Finalist.
Most likely it will be beam that determines the outcome; while Russia has more difficulty on the event it’s no worth as they can’t seem to get through a beam rotation without falling. In Glasgow the beam rotation had the final word because while Great Britain got through three clean routines, Russia fell on all three routines; as for floor Great Britain’s Claudia Fragapane and Russia’s Ksenia Afanasyeva will keep the match even, although in general Russia’s execution on floor is far less clean than Great Britain’s. So will history be made and a new country will be crowned European Champion?
As for the bronze medal four countries will be in the fight: Italy, France, Belgium and host Switzerland.
The Swiss team will be highly motivated as Europeans are taking place at home, they come from placing 6th at the Test Event, ahead of Romania, and with Giulia Steingruber showing world-class routines that earned her the European All-Around Title in 2015 and a fifth place finish at the 2015 World Championships. While their chances for bronze are somewhat small it could happen if other teams do not perform up to their level.
The natural bronze favorite due to recent results would be Italy as they earned direct qualification by placing 7th at the 2015 World Championships however the team will lack veteran Vanessa Ferrari, Erika Fasana as well as Carlotta Ferlito who is still recovering from the physical and emotional injury of her very scary beam dismount at the Jesolo event, and if the competition becomes tight their absences could make a difference.
France could give the surprise of a team bronze medal as they are sending almost the same team that at the Test Event grabbed the last team spot. Belgium will be sending a strong team lead by veteran Gaelle Mys and they finished ahead of France at the Test Event so they could do it again at Europeans. Germany on the other hand will be resting some of their major stars such as Elisabeth Seitz, Sophie Scheder and Pauline Schafer but will have a team lead by veteran Kim Bui.
The big absents will be the Dutch Team as they have elected to skip Europeans in order to prepare for the Olympics. The Dutch team was without doubt the most improved country in over four years as they climbed from 13th place at the 2011 World Championships to 8th in 2015 and with that result they earned direct qualification to the Olympics. If they had chosen to send a full team with their top stars they would be in the battle for bronze however the Netherlands will send two individual gymnasts with fewer chances of earning a spot on the Olympic team.
Now that the defending European vault champion, Maria Paseka, is out with injury the absolute favourite for the vault final will be home-girl Giulia Steingruber who won the title in 2013 and 2014, Ksenia Afanasyeva could challenge her if she presents her Amanar. Other contenders expected at the final are Britain’s Elissa Downie and Claudia Fragapane, Germany’s Kim Bui, Poland’s Gabriela Janik and Slovenia’s Teja Belak and Tjasa Kysselef.
In the uneven bars final it will be the Russians Aliya Mustafina and Daria Spiridinova against Beijing veteran Rebecca Downie. But also expected to make the final are World Bars Finalist Ruby Harrold, France’s Loan His as well as Italy’s Martina Rizzeli.
In the beam final Catalina Ponor will be determined to regain the title she won in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2012 and given recent results she could easily do it. We can also expect at the final Britain’s Rebecca Downie, Greece’s Vasiliki Millousi, Swiss’ Giulia Steingruber and Russia’s Aliya Mustafina and Angelina Melnikova. The Romanian power personified by Larissa Iordache as well as the beauty brought to the event by the Wever twins will be missed at this final.
On Floor once more the favourite will be Giulia Steingruber however Britain’s Claudia Fragapane and Russia’s Ksenia Afanasyeva will battle her along with Catalina Ponor who won silver in the apparatus in 2012, also expected at the final is Britain’s Elissa Downie. Missing from this final will be World Medalists on this event: Larissa Iordache and Vanessa Ferrari as well as Britain’s Amy Tinkler and the “Pink Panther” Marta Pihan-Kulesza who retired in the early days of May after not being named her country’s representative to the Test Event, therefore rendering her unable to attend the Olympics.