The 31st European Gymnastics Championships will set the stage as an important precursor for many of the top gymnasts of the world as we edge ever closer to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The WAG competition will take place from June 1st-5th in the Post Finance Arena in Bern, Switzerland.
Both junior and senior MAG gymnasts competed last week and the competition for both junior and senior women gets underway this week with things getting started with the junior women’s qualification/team final on Wednesday, June 1st. The following day, the senior women will take the stage for qualifications and all eyes will be on the potential stars of Rio.
One such star is Russia’s Aliya Mustafina. This Olympic and World Champion returned to competition only recently at the Russian Championships after missing the 2015 World Championships due to injury. Only competing bars and beam, Mustafina earned the bronze medal on both events at the Russian Championships. Stating that she wishes to challenge herself at these Championships, Mustafina will compete in the all-around for the first time since last June at the 2015 European Games. Of course there is no all-around final for seniors at these Championships, Mustafina will compete in the all-around for the team. It is interesting to see Mustafina’s strategies come into play as her lead up to these Olympic Games is very similar to the 2012 Olympic Games where we witnessed her miss the latter half of the 2011 season due to injury, not competing at the 2011 World Championships and gradually make it back to tip top shape just as the Olympic Games rolled around. Mustafina left the London Olympics as the most decorated gymnast of the Games and I certainly think she intends to impress just as much in Rio, even if she is not in the same shape as 2012, never count Mustafina out of a medal, at the Olympics or at these Championships in Bern.
Aside from Mustafina, the Russian team is expected to struggle slightly. Whilst they have Olympic and World Champions coming out of their ears, injury is plaguing them. Both Ksenia Afanaseyva and Maria Paseka have withdrawn, both crucial members of the team and potential individual medalists. Paseka was replaced by young gun, Seda Tutkhalyan whilst no replacement has been drafted for Afanaseyva and the Russian team will compete with just 4 members. Daria Spiridonova, 2015 World Uneven Bars Champion and Angelina Melnikova, 2016 Russian National All-Around Champion and impressive new senior will round out the four woman contingent, both of whom will be capable of making considerable contributions to the team effort and also have chances of medalling individually, Spiridonova on bars and Melnikova on beam.
The embattled Romanian team, who of course failed to qualify a full team to the Olympics at the Test Event in Rio in April, continue to struggle. Still missing its strongest gymnast due to injury, Larisa Iordache was expected to return to competition for these Chamionships however is still struggling with injury and I expect Romania will struggle here. Not only are they missing Iordache, Diana Bulimar , originally named to the team will not compete due to injury nor will Dora Vulcan who is also struggling with injury. Silvia Zarzu will replace Bulimar whilst Anda Butuc will replace Vulcan. Catalina Ponor of course will be the headline act of the Romanian team. Largely expected to be Romanias representative in Rio, Ponor is slightly further along in her comeback than she was at the Test Event in April where we witnessed her provide solid performances on beam and floor but crash out spectacularly on the vault. At these Championships, I suspect she will continue to provide solid performances for the team once again and may also have medal chances on her trademark pieces, the floor and balance beam. Maria Holbura and Ana Maria Ocolisan will round out the Romanian contingent who, it was announced by Adrian Stoica, the President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation was expected to get a medal if they had a team at full health. Evidently, this is not a team at full health (i.e. theres no Iordache) and a team medal is going to be a challenge for this team.
However one must question who are their competition. Of course, Great Britain will be top of the list. With a bronze medal at last years World Championships, they are most certainly a team on the rise. Rising for a while now, Great Britain have really proven themselves to be edging into the spot that Romania have lost in ‘the big 4’ and have brought a strong team to these Championships despite missing key contenders, Amy Tinkler who is missing this Championships in order to focus on school exams and Rebecca Tunney who has been replaced by Gabby Jupp, a the bars and beam specialist who is making an excellent return from a lengthy hiatus due to injury. The Downie sisters , Becky and Ellie will add strong scores to the British team effort. Becky, given she hits her routines can provide big scores on both bars and beam and will also be in with a chance of medalling on both events whilst Ellie can provide strong scores on all 4 events and is a strong and consistent competitor . Coming off an impressive medal haul at the Osijek World Challenge Cup where she took all 4 gold medals, Ellie will be most certainly looking to take home some individual hardware along with her team medal and add it to the bronze medal she earned in the all-around at last years European Championships in Montepellier. 2016 English and British Champion, Claudia Fragapane who has increased her difficulty quite significantly since the beginning of 2016 is on a roll and seems to be competing extremely consistently this season. She is clearly gunning to make that Olympic team and with strong and consistent routines, she is most certainly a front runner to make the team and medal individually at these Championships whilst also helping the British team effort in the Team Final. Frags, who made a spectacular splash into the senior world in 2014, will be probably hoping to medal on the floor exercise and possibly even beam, if she hits her difficulty is high enough that it could medal, depending on the field. Ruby Harrold will round out the 5 woman British team. A gymnast most useful to the team on bars and beam, it is interesting that Jupp, Becky Downie and Ruby Harrold are all on this team, given that they are all essentially vying for the same spot on the Olympic team, all of them being strongest on bars and beam. I suspect not all of these gymnasts will get an Olympic berth, however with Tunney and Tinkler missing at these Championships they are useful to the team effort.
Aside from these teams, Italy are also ones to keep an eye on. They are sending a relatively young team with the youngest being new senior, Sofia Busato who can make her biggest contribution on the vault, having won this event at all 4 of the Italian Serie A meets in 2016. The team is led by Elisa Meneghini who competed at last years World Championships and helped qualify the Italian team to the Olympic Games. Meneghini can contribute high scores on the floor exercise, having won this event at 3 of the four Italian Serie A meets. Fellow 2015 World Championships competitor, Enus Mariani will also help the Italian contingent on the floor and can contribute as an all-around competitor , having recently earned the silver medal at the 4th Italian Serie A with a 55.150. Lara Mori, another member of the 2015 World Championships team can also contribute a solid all-around performance and will be coming with bags of recent experience having competed at the Olympic Test Event in April. Martina Rizzelli will round out the 5 person team. A 2014 World Championships team member, Rizelli can contribute on the vault and uneven bars for the Italian team effort. Of course, big names vying for Italian Olympic spots, Carlotta Ferlito and Vanessa Ferrari, still slowly coming back from injury are not on the team however it will be interesting to see how this team of potential Olympians will do in the team final.
Aside from team contingents, one to watch individually is Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland who will be performing in front of her home crowd. Whilst Switzerland will bring a team of 5 to the competition, their main chance at medals comes with Giulia medalling individually. Giulia has competed extensively after coming back from an injury sustained during the vault final at last years World Championships where she was oh so close to an all around medal,placing 5th. Most recently Steingruber has competed at the Varna World Challenge Cup where she took the vault and floor exercise titles and at the Olympic Test Event in Rio where she had the highest score all-around with a 57.067. Steingruber will most likely be looking to medal on the vault and possibly the floor exercise.
The Netherlands, coming on stronger and stronger, after qualifying a full team to the Olympic Games at last years World Championships have opted to bring just two gymnasts, Tisha Volleman and Mara Titarsolej whilst Germany have brought a team of five, not necessarily considered to be their Olympic team contenders but those who are possibly in the mix. Belgium have brought a strong team and will be looking to capitalise on the electrifying feeling of qualifying a full team to the Olympic Games at the Test Event in April. Notable to mention of the Belgian team is Nina Derwael who is a strong all-around competitor and is especially strong on the uneven bars. France have brought their top team, potentially their Olympic team or certainly a very similar lineup to the one that will be seen in Rio. This being an unusual thing here in Bern with many qualified Olympians including Emma Larsson of Sweden opting not to compete in Bern in order to continue preparations for the Olympic Games. Instead, Marcela Torres will compete for Sweden, having recently won the AA title at the Swedish Championships.
Additionally, whilst maybe not a medal contender, one to watch just for the sheer beauty of her gymnastics in Yana Horokhova of Ukraine. Having recently won the AA title at the Stella Zakharova Cup and taken a bronze medal home from the Osijek World Challenge Cup, this pint size new senior will melt your heart but also impress you with beautiful gymnastics.If she can get past her nerves and become consistent in competition , I think she could really have a bright future and potentially help Ukranian gymnastics on its road back from oblivion.
A full list of senior competitors can be found on the Gymternet: https://thegymter.net/2016/05/03/european-championships-senior-team-master-list/
The full list of Junior competitors can also be found here: https://thegymter.net/2016/05/03/european-championships-junior-team-master-list/
Schedule of competition can be found here: http://www.em-bern2016.ch/en/competitions/schedule
Ticket information can be found here: http://www.em-bern2016.ch/en/info/tickets
Start lists and results can be found here : http://www.em-bern2016.ch/en/ergebnisse-startlisten-2
Longines will provide live scoring of the event: http://www.longinestiming.com/#!/gymnastics/Competition/00000F0201FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF/GG/2016
With regards to television coverage, information regarding broadcasts is available here: http://www.em-bern2016.ch/en/info/swiss-television-broadcasting
Otherwise the BBC will provide coverage online via their website and via the Red Button of the senior team final and apparatus finals. The BBC’S online coverage is available worldwide with the use of a VPN such as Hola or TunnelBear.