By Anna Rose Johnson
The women’s artistic European Championships are fast approaching. This year, they will be held in Sofia, Bulgaria on May 12-18. It will be a team and apparatus competition, which makes things quite exciting. The last time the Championships used this format was May 2012, when Romania came away victorious over Russia (silver) and Italy (bronze).
In 2012, it was no surprise that Romania and Russia went 1-2, but this year the competition is definitely wide open. Russia gymnasts have had a string of injuries and illnesses in the past year, and last month dashed the Europeans hopes of Viktoria Komova, Ksenia Afanasyeva, and Yekaterina Kramarenko, among others. And while Russia could very well end up winning the gold medal, I do think they are not as fully prepared as they have been in recent years. 2012 Olympic bars champion Aliya Mustafina (who reportedly will only compete bars and beam in Sofia due to leg pain) is the only veteran among this Europeans team. The other members are Maria Kharenkova and Daria Spiridonova, a couple of first-year seniors with enormous talent, Anna Rodionova, who competed at her first World Championships last fall, and Alla Sosnitskaya, a second-year senior who has improved a lot in the past year. This is a wonderful team with the potential to do great things, but some of them lack experience and Europeans is a big meet. I hope the competition goes well for them!
Romania has put together an excellent team for this point in the quadrennium, as the national program is somewhat lacking in depth right now. (A comeback from Sandra Izbasa would certainly help them greatly!) Larisa Iordache will be the team leader, as she has logged superb results at the last two Europeans, in addition to competing in the last Worlds and Olympics. Diana Bulimar also has produced exceptional results since her strong showing at the 2012 Olympics. However, she is coming back from knee surgery and possibly won’t be at full strength in Sofia. Andreea Munteanu and Stefania Stanila are familiar faces who will compete at their first senior Europeans, and Silvia Zarzu is a first-year senior looking to cement her place among Romania’s best. This team is also quite capable of gold, but like Russia, they have a lot to prove.
Third place in 2012, Italy has a team stacked with veterans, but they are without 2013 World beam finalist Carlotta Ferlito. Still, the team is full of Italian stars; Vanessa Ferrari is a former World all-around champion and she won the 2013 World silver medal on floor exercise. Martina Rizzelli, Erika Fasana, Giorgia Campana, and Elisa Menighini have proven themselves at many competitions, so this is definitely a strong team that will inevitably factor into the final. Can they repeat or exceed their bronze medal from two years ago?
Great Britain has put together one of their best teams in years. In 2012, they failed to win a team medal without the leadership of Beth Tweddle, who was injured (they placed a distant fourth.) However, this year they have the depth to cover for the now-retired Tweddle. Four of their team members are vastly experienced; including Ruby Harrold (2013 World uneven bars finalist), Rebecca Tunney (2012 Olympian), Becky Downie (2008 Olympian), and Hannah Whelan (2-time Olympian). They have been receiving huge scores at recent competitions for their amazing work, particularly on uneven bars and balance beam. With the addition of Claudia Fragapane, a talented new gymnast, could this be the year GBR finally wins the team gold?
Germany had just about the best team they could ask for until Elisabeth Seitz withdrew with an injury. However, they are still in good shape, as Seitz’s replacement is Cagla Akyol, a very strong gymnast who competed at last year’s Europeans. She is backed up by Kim Bui (2012 Olympian), Janine Berger (2012 Olympian), Sophie Scheder (2013 World bars finalist), and Pauline Schaefer (3rd AA at 2013 German Championships). This team has all the ingredients to be one of the top contenders in the final, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they come away with a medal.
Who do you think will win the team medals at Europeans? Leave a comment below!