The European Championships team final told us several things about how the top nations in Europe stand as they go into the summer competitions—and eventually into the World Championships this fall.
First of all, Romania seems to be the most consistent of the best European nations. In Sofia, they logged three steady double-twisting Yurchenkos, three solid beam routines, and three lovely floor exercises. Uneven bars continues to be the question mark in Romania, as it has been for years. But Larisa Iordache has improved a lot on that apparatus and even scored 14.9 at one competition last year. Additionally, Larisa has found a way to be able to consistently score in the 14.5 range, which is stronger than most Romanian gymnasts. Another good sign is that Diana Bulimar is capable of scoring 14+ on bars now. It’s interesting to note that Romanian bar work improved after they began using grips.
Romania’s newfound consistency across the board was rewarded by a terrific team total in the Euros final, 172.754.
Let’s take a moment to look at the last World Championships team results. The top five scores were:
Here are the top five scores from Sofia:
I’d like to point out that, naturally, the scoring system has changed since 2011, but it was not as drastic as the transition from 2008 to 2009. Secondly, Great Britain’s fifth-place score from 2011 Worlds was higher than Russia’s third-place score from 2014 Europeans. It isn’t really a fair comparison (if only for the reason stated above), but it is a little alarming. Russia seems to have been on a downward spiral since head coach Alexander Alexandrov left in late 2012, and these European Championships have been the best example of just how much things have changed in his absence.
Let’s look back at the 2012 European Championships in Brussels, Belgium, while Alexandrov was still coaching in Russia. Here are the scores from that team final:
I’ll be the first to admit that, in general, the entire European Championships in 2012 was simply stronger than the Championships that just ended. But Russia lost 6.207 points in two years—an enormous difference.
The point loss was a mixture of several things, including the Code of Points change and the many injuries and illnesses that have befallen Russia gymnasts. Several of Russia’s best gymnasts were forced to sit on the sidelines during Euros. Even their star Aliya Mustafina was injured right before the competition, and thus skipped competing on floor exercise.
Romania’s total from the 2014 team final was also lower than what they scored in 2012—3.534 points, to be exact. Just as Russia had to do without gymnasts such as Viktoria Komova and Anastasia Grishina, Romania’s decline can be mainly chalked up to the fact that they had arguably two of their greatest gymnasts ever at 2012 Euros (Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa). This year, Romania put together a great team, but it’s hard to replace Olympic champions like Ponor and Izbasa.
Great Britain had a remarkable meet in Sofia. Their vault was good, their beam was solid, and their uneven bars were spectacular. GBR’s improvement from 2012 was as eye-opening as Russia’s decline—GBR gained 2.9 points since Brussels, which is an amazing rise for a “non-Big Four” nation. (The “Big Four” includes USA, Russia, Romania, and China.)
GBR was lucky to have a team consisting of three Olympians (Hannah Whelan, Rebecca Tunney, and Becky Downie), a World team member (Ruby Harrold) and a terrific vault and floor worker (Claudia Fragapane). And GBR is getting more depth—they have the immensely talented Gabby Jupp returning from injury, stellar vaulter Kelly Simm, and Welsh gymnast Raer Theaker as a handful of backup gymnasts for future competitions. Best of all, they managed to win the European silver without their former star Beth Tweddle, who retired last year.
Europeans is a wonderful opportunity to gauge the skill of these teams during the months leading up to Worlds. But we can’t forget that USA and China are also in the mix. China in particular seems to have made huge leaps and bounds since last year, as evidenced by the results of their recent national championships. They will undoubtedly want to put on quite the show at their home Worlds this October.
In short, my personal opinion is that this could very well be the first year since 2006 that a nation outside the Big Four wins a World team medal. Great Britain has an excellent chance, but as always, the competition will be very stiff.
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Article by Anna Rose Johnson
Photo via Sofia 2014 European Championships on Facebook