The 2016 Europeans in Bern, Switzerland were the last major continental meet in the Road to Rio. A re-match between Russia and Great Britain was hotly anticipated since Great Britain pushed Russia to fourth at last year’s World Championships. Also fans hoped to see redemption for the Romanian team after very poor showings at the 2015 World Championships and the Rio Test Event that meant the end of an era for them since they won’t be sending a full team to the Olympics for the first time in over four decades.
So did Romania achieve redemption? A little bit. The team scored a hopeful fourth during the preliminary round and survived the bars rotation in both qualifications and the team final because even though Ana Maria Ocolisan did not perform up to her standard her teammates managed to score above the 13 mark on both days which is an improvement for Romania since the team was unable to score two marks above 13 on bars at neither the 2015 World Championships nor the Test Event.
But the consistency, that for so long characterized Romania, is not back, nor is the difficulty as the team counted a 66.1 difficulty during the qualification round and a 65.8 during the team final, far away from the 71 – 72 range the two top teams had.
Individually Catalina Ponor is fighting for the sole spot Romania has for the Olympics and she won bronze on both beam and floor. Her routines showed a 5.9 – 6.0 difficulty range on both apparatus and scored high during the team final: 14.600 on beam and 14.566 on floor. But will that be enough for her to make it to Rio?
The home-team, Switzerland, dreamt about bronze during the qualification round and did the best they could in the team final but France was just too strong and the home-girls had to settle for fourth. However Giulia Steingruber brought joy to the home-crowd with two individual gold medals that reaffirmed her yet-to-be-announced selection for the sole spot Switzerland has in Rio de Janeiro.
So why did France that had qualified only 6th manage to win bronze by such a wide margin (2.775)? The answer is Alison Lepin’s uneven bars routine. The team had qualified so low mainly because Lepin had a poor bars routine scoring only an 11.066, however during the team final the young gymnast improved her score by a 3.534 scoring a high 14.600. Lepin’s routine is the perfect example of how a routine, in the 3 up 3 count format, can make or break the chances of a team medal. Oréane Lechenault and Marine Boyer also improved their performances from qualifications and France had a rather good bars routine that placed them second behind Russia in that apparatus.
A tight fight between Russia and Great Britain during the qualification round made the British girls dream of gold and the team final was expected to be as interesting and nerve-wracking as the qualification round had been but surprisingly the rising British team had an uncharacteristic meltdown and counted four falls giving Russia a very easy win of the team title.
As disappointing as the result might have been for Great Britain, this was only a hiccup in their preparation for Rio, as the team proved in the qualification round that they can overtake Russia and the individual event finals reaffirmed the places the Downie sisters have earned within their team as they were their team’s only individual medalists, with Rebecca outcoring both Spiridinova and Mustafina for uneven bars gold.
Russia, despite the very easy win in the team final, had a lot of merit in their performances as they managed consistency, a characteristic they very often lack. The only major mistake was Seda’s falls from beam both on qualifications and team finals.
From the 5 spots Russia earned in the event finals four turned into medals with only Melnikova missing a beam medal after a subpar dismount. Despite her mistake in the beam final her senior debut was stellar as she showed consistency on all her performances as well as enough difficulty and mental strength to be an asset on beam which will make the team stronger in an apparatus where they tend to be weak.
Russia still has a lot of room for improvement, as the team had Afanasyeva, who won bronze on vault, and Mustafina, who became European beam champion, not performing to their potential as they are still recovering from injuries; also many of the girls left at home are quite strong like Maria Paseka who is also recovering from injury, 2012 Olympian Viktoria Komova, beam specialist Maria Kharenkova and new seniors Natalia Kapitonova and Daria Skrypnik.
The third round between Russia and Great Britain will be at the Olympics, where we can only hope both teams will have healthy, fierce and consistent competitors performing to their full potential.