2015 European Games preview: The top teams

The European Games will be held for the first team in Baku, Azerbaijan and they will be featuring 30 different sports, including artistic gymnastics. There will be team and individual all around and event finals medals awarded. However, there will be no separate competition for Team Finals. The qualifications will simultaneously act as the team finals and determine the final team standings and the three teams that will win medals. This is the same thing that happens during Mediterranean Games and EYOF. Qualifications will be split in two days and each subdivision will compete in both. The format is 3 – 3 -2, which means that each team is comprised of three members, all of whom can compete on every event. Then, the two best scores on each event will count towards the team total. The two days of qualification/team finals will also determine the 18 AA finalists and the 6 event finalists for each event. There is an one per country rule for AA and EF (source: the website of the Greek gymnastics federation)

There are some things about this competition I would like to be different. I wish there were more members in each team, I wish the team finals were held separately from the qualifications, I wish there were 8 event finalists, I wish more than one gymnast per country could qualify and I wish more of the top gymnasts in Europe were competing. However, there’s always a silver lining, and even though the 3 – 3 – 2 is not the most exciting format, it makes the competition very intense. Yes, if you only enjoy a competition when multiple athletes throw massive difficulty and score above 15 you are going to be disappointed. But if you love a good showdown, where one single wobble could make the difference between silver and bronze as much as I do, you will definitely enjoy this meet. We usually see four or five countries fighting for medals, we usually see two of them fighting for the two first positions and the other two fighting for bronze. This time is different. Russia is the clear favorite for gold, but there are eight more countries who have very similar scoring potential and all have great chances to leave Baku with a medal. Let’s take a closer look.

France: Marine Brevet, Valentine Pikul, Anne Kuhm

France chose to send their younger athletes to the European Championships in order to give them the opportunity to gain some valuable experience by competing in a big meet in front of their home crowd. There were many ups and downs but at the end of the day, they managed to qualify two athletes into the AA finals, 3 into the event finals and to get away with a bronze medal which was a tremendous success for them. Now they are represented by three older and more experienced athletes, 2012 Olympians Marine Brevet and Anne Kuhm and European team member Valentine Pikul.

We shouldn’t expect anything huge on vault from this vault. However, it seems like the level of difficulty on this event will be relatively low from most countries, so France’s 3 full twists are not really a disadvantage. Anne had a nice DTY back in 2012 but after struggling with injuries in the last couple of years it seems like she’s just sticking with a FTY for now. Marine performs that vault too, while Valentine has a full twisting tsukahara. (start values: Anne: 5.0/Marine: 5.0/ Valentine: 5.2)

Just like their vault, their bars are not spectacular but they are efficient. We will see them performing lots of shaposhnikova variations and jaegers. More specifically, Marine has a toe on 1/1 + maloney + bail, a jaeger, and a beautiful double arabian dismount. Valentine performs a shaposh + pak and a maloney + bail combination. Her release is also a jaeger and she dismounts with a double layout. Anne is also capable of a jaeger and a DLO while she also has a second release, a gienger. Out of the three athletes, she’s the one with the lowest start value and she has some form issues throughout her routine so her score is not the one they’re hoping to count. (start values: Marine 5.6/Anne: 5.0/Valentine: 5.7)

Marine is absolutely beautiful on beam (actually, she’s absolutely beautiful in general). She shows difficult skills, like a switch ring, a switch leap + switch half combination and a double pike, and she really is an elegant athlete with beautiful lines. Valentine starts her routine with a great front tuck mount and she dismounts with a nice double tuck. My favorite part of her exercise is the wolf turn into her low to beam choreography. Anne, is not any less impressive than her teammates. She performs several aerials, a lovely double turn, a sheep jump and a double pike (start values: Marine: 5.8/Valentine: 5.2/Anne 5.6)

France always has something special to offer on floor and I’m very excited to see what they can do at European Games. They don’t have the highest difficulty. Anne, who was the baby of the 2012 French Olympic team used to do a triple twist in combination but after struggling with injuries she has watered won quite a bit. The highlights of their tumbling are Valentine‘s a high full in, Anne‘s whip into immediate double tuck and of course Marine‘s gorgeous double layout. But as a team, they probably have the best presence on this event. Their style is very similar to what we usually see from France on floor, and that couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. They have powerful music and dynamic choreography. Αll three are very enjoyable to watch, but Marine really stands out with her elegance and maturity. (start values: Marine: 5.3/Anne: 5.2/Valentine: 5.2)

Difficulty total (counting the top two start values on each event: 43,4)

Great Britain: Georgina Hockenhull, Kelly Simm, Charlie Fellows

Great Britain is probably the most improved team we’ve seen during this quad. Last year they wrote history by qualifying first into team finals at the Europeans where they won a silver team medal, they dominated the Commonwealth Games and they had a very respectable 6th place finish at worlds. They started out their 2015 with a great performance at the European Championships, where they managed to qualify two gymnasts into every single final and won 4 medals. The athletes who achieved this amazing success will now get some well-deserved rest, and the rest of their national team members have a great opportunity to prove themselves. I am disappointed their original team changed and we don’t get to see new senior TyeshaMattis, who came back from an injury to win bars and beam gold medals at the British Championships and 2012 Olympian Rebecca Tunney. Their team is now comprised of 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist, Georgina Hockenhull, 2014 worlds team member Kelly Simm and 2013 worlds team member Charlie Fellows. The country’s absolute best gymnasts may not be part of that team, but that doesn’t mean that Great Britain is not going to to be a contender for many medals.

On vault, they have two full twisting yurchenkos by Charlie and Georgina and a DTY from Kelly, who has been competing this vault successfully for a while now. She also has a second vault and will be hoping to qualify into vault finals. (start values: Charlie: 5.0/Georgina:5.0/Kelly:5.8)

Their bars are not as exciting as they’d be if the original team (Mattis, Simm, Tunney) hadn’t changed but they can definitely not be considered a weakness. Charlie Fellows‘s routine includes a chow + pak, a maloney + bail, a markelov and a double layout dismount. Georgina, who is coached by BBC commentator Christine Still, has some lovely stalder work and an intricate opening combination, an endo 1/2 + stalder, + chow + bail + stalder full. Her release is a tkatcev and she has the same dismount with her teammate. I never thought I’d witness a British team where Kelly Simm is the top bars worker but well, this is the case right now. So far this year we’ve seen quite a few gymnasts showing significant improvement and showing unexpected upgrades but none of them surprised me nearly as much as Kelly’s bars did. This girl didn’t perform inbar stalders into her routine. And then, she suddenly appeared at the FIT challenge with a  komova + pak + chow combination (where she fell) and a huge inbar piked tkatcev. This is a skill that is not on the code yet and Kelly could actually get it named after her if she successfully performs it at the world championships. She still hasn’t fixed her usual from form issues though. The bent knees, the flexed feet, the short handstands are still there and they will cost her valuable tenths.  (start values: Charlie: 5.6/Kelly:6.1/Georgina:5.4)

Beam has always been a weakness for the British team and this time is no exception. Georgina Hockenhull, the 2014 Commonwealth Games beam bronze medalist is definitely their top gymnasts on this event. She’s absolutely beautiful to watch and she has some lovely combinations, like a side aerial + loso and a front aerial + switch leap + johnson. She has the difficulty and the execution but sometimes, she lacks consistency. The team heavily relies on her for this routine and she’ll have to prove that she can handle the pressure. During the English Championships, Kelly Simm showed an impressive beam set, which  included a bhs + layout, a switch leap + johnson and a very difficult full in dismount. However, during the FIG challenge, she was only awarded a 5.5 start value on this event. It’s true that some of her skills and connections are quite questionable. Even if she does all her difficulty at European Games, we still can’t expect any huge scores from her because her bent knees, her flexed feet, the lack of split in some of her leaps and the lack of amplitude in some of her acrobatic elements prevent her from getting high execution scores. On top of that, she is fairly inconsistent. Charlie has never been particularly strong on this event. Her front tuck mount and her double pike dismount are great but the interior of her routine doesn’t include much difficulty. (start values: Georgina: 5.8/Kelly: 6.1 at English championships but 5.5 at FIT challenge/Charlie: 5.1)

Once they manage to survive beam, things get a lot better on floor. All three athletes start their routines with a tumbling pass rated as an E or higher, which is something than not many teams in this competition can claim. Charlie has a strong piked full in and a whip to immediate double tuck. Her ending pose is really lovely but I wish she was a bit more expressive and fluid in her movements through her choreography. Same goes for Georgina. She starts with a nice double arabian and she continues with a 2.5 + front tuck combination. There are some nice moments during her choreography, but she could be a bit more captivating and expressive. Both gymnasts perform a double tuck and a double pike as their two final passes. Kelly Simm is once again the star of the team on this event. She begins her exercise with a powerful, but slightly messy DLO and she is capable of one of the most difficult and original passes we’ll see at Baku. It’s a whip directly connected to a full in! I don’t even remember seeing anyone performing this combination in the last few years. It demands such amazing power and precision and I can’t wait to see her performing it. Her third pass, which is a 1.5 + double tuck and her double pike dismount are also very powerful. She has never been the most artistic, the cleanest or the most flexible gymnast out there, but she is one of the best tumblers we will see during European Games. (start values: Charlie: 5.3/Georgina:5.3/Kelly:5.8)

Difficulty total: 45.5

Germany, Sophie Scheder, Elisabeth Seitz, Leah Griesser

Germany showed amazing improvements and potential during last year’s Euros but then, world championships didn’t go their way since they had a series of mistakes during qualifications and failed to make team finals. And this year hasn’t been too kind for them so fareither. They didn’t have the most successful competition at the European championships and now they have lost two of their top athletes, Kim Janas and Kim Bui who both tore their ACLs. After all these problems, I’m sure they’d be delighted to leave Baku with a couple of medals and they are absolutely capable of doing that.

Vault is not a particularly strong event for Germany but they do have two FTYs from Scheder and Seitz and that should be enough for this competition. Seitz has competed a good DTY in the past but she doesn’t seem to have it back yet. Bringing it back for European games would definitely boost Germany’s score, especially since Sophie is a bit shaky on vault at times, but of course she shouldn’t push herself too hard. Griesser competed two vaults at the Sao Paulo World Cup but they both start out of a 4.4. (start values: 4.4/5.0/5.0)

Bars is the event where Germany can make a huge difference. Sophie is a world and European finalist while Eli is a world and Olympic finalists. They’re both superstars. Sophie performs an inbar full + komova 2 + bail + toe on full combination, and an inbar half to a high jaeger before she dismounts with a powerful full in. This is a routine composition that we see quite often during this quad and what really sets her apart is her form and her stunning lines. She is also working on a clean church that she could add. Eli has a completely different style. While Sophie’s routine showcases great elegance, Eli’s is all about power and aggressiveness. She has a brand new bars set which includes an amazing maloney + ricna combination and a fabulous downie into a paksalto. Leah has some nice skills and combinations, like a toe on full + maloney + bail + stalder full and a piked jaeger but she doesn’t have the difficulty, the execution or the wow factor of her teammates. (start values: Leah: 5.5/Sophie: 6.4/ Elisabeth: 6.6)

Their beam is not nearly as spectacular as their bars. Leah’s 5.0 start value in quite low but I personally think she has potential and her sheep jump is quite nice. Sophie, who has a nice set which includes a bhs + loso, a front aerial + sheep, a switch half and an Y turn, should feel confident of this event after consistently scoring around 14 in the last couple of competitions and winning a bronze medal at the Sao Paulo World Cup. Similar scores can be expected from Elisabeth, who competes a front tuck, a front aerial to sissone and a double spin. Both gymnasts have the same dismount, a gainer layout. (start values: Leah: 5.0/ Sophie: 5.6/Elisabeth: 5.7)

Things get a bit harder on floor. The most difficult tumbling pass we’ve seen from any of those gymnasts was Elisabeth’s 1.5 + 2.5 combination. Eli is coming back from a foot injury, so seeing her performing easier tumbling that she used to is not a surprise. She has taken out her piked full in and only does a double full as her second pass. Dance has never been her strong point and she’s still not the most artistic gymnast out there but, out of all the routines she has competed, I think this one is my favorite. Leah doesn’t have much more difficulty, she starts her routine with a double tuck and then competes a 1.5 + front full, a double pike and 2.5 twists. However, her start value is slightly higher than the others’, so this is the event she can contribute the most. Sophie‘s tumbling is very similar but she has a lovely floor music and fun choreography. (start values: Leah: 5.5/ Sophie: 5.3/ Eli: 5.3)

Difficulty: 45.1

Italy: Giorgia Campana, Alessia Leolini, Tea Ugrin

After an amazing 5th place finish at last years worlds, Italy is hoping to achieve even more success in 2015. They have faced some problems, with some of their athletes dealing with health issues, but overall they show lots of potential since some of their athletes are bouncing back from injuries and others are showing tremendous improvement. They did a good job at the European Championships, with Erika Fasana leading them but they didn’t manage to win any medals. Hopefully they’ll manage to do that at Baku, where they are represented by 2012 Olympian Giorgia Campana, 2013 world team member Alessia Leolini and rising star Tea Ugrin.

They are at the same level most teams are on vault, where Alessia attempts a front layout half out which looks more like a piked half out to me. But it’s really nice to see someone doing a front handspring vault. Giorgia and Tea both have good solid FTYs. (start values: Alessia:5.4/Tea:5.0/Giorgia:5.0)

Italy usually struggled quite a bit on bars, but this team has some great potential on this event. The lovely Tea  Ugrin, was one of the country’s top juniors but was beset by injuries for the most part of her senior career so far. Now, she seems to finally have put all this behind her and she comes back with a strong routine which includes a maloney + bail and an inbar + inbar full + gienger combination. Her beautiful lines, her extension, her toe point and her fluid swing make her routine very enjoyable to watch. Then, we have Giorgia who has won her spot in many major teams through her uneven bars set. She has some nice pirouetting work, a high jaeger and a bail to handstand. Alessia has improved a lot on this event and she opens with a massive maloney + ricna combination which really is huge for Italian gymnastics. (start values: Τea: 5.9/Giorgia:5.7/Alessia:5.7)

Unlike bars, beam has traditionally been Italy’s strongest event. Their top beam workers are not going to Baku and I wouldn’t say they are the strongest team of the competition but they could still gain some ground on this event.  Alessia is the one who has the most work to do here but she performs a very nice front aerial + switch leap + back tuck combination anda switch ring. Tea is very pretty to watch. Her routine includes difficult dance elements, like a switch ring, a ring leap, and a switch half, as well as plenty of aerials and a double tuck dismount. Her ring position in the air was quite questionable at Torino, but she is a flexible athlete who can perform those skills much better. The 2013 Mediterranean Games champion, Giorgia Campana, will complete their lineup. She is capable of a bhs + bhs + loso combination, a kochetkova, a switch ring, and double pike dismount. I immediately love every gymnast who performs a kochetkova so I’ll be rooting for her. (start values: Tea: 5.9/Giorgia: 5.8/Alessia: 5.o)

Italy typically excels on floor too, but this team is an exception since their tumbling is rather mediocre. Giorgia does a double pike, a double tuck and a double full, Alessia is capable of a full in, a double tuck and a double pike and Tea has competed a triple full, a double pike and a double tuck during the year. In my opinion, she really is the only one who really stands out on this event. Her leaps are absolutely beautiful, very high and well executed and she has a very nice double L turn. She has a classical style and she really moves well so I wish there was a tiny bit more choreography on her routine. (start values: Alessia:5.1 / Giorgia: 5.1/ Tea:5.4)

Difficulty total: 44.2

Netherlands: Celine Van Gerner, Lisa Top, Lieke Wevers

Between Celine’s great performance at WOGA classic, Eythora’s gold at the Ljubljana world cup and their very successful showing at the European Championships, Netherlands, has had an amazing year so far. Now they are hoping to achieve even better accomplishments at the European Games. Each Dutch gymnast had to choose whether they’d try to make the euros or the European Games team, so we will get to see Netherland’s top athletes who did not compete at Montpellier. Those are: 2012 Olympian Celine Van Gerner and world team members Lisa Top and LiekeWevers.

On vault, Lieke  only competes a yurchenko layout and Celine, who used to compete an 1.5 back in 2012, seems to be sticking with a solid FTY. Lisa Top has an awesome front handspring tucked full. It’s not the most difficult vault out there, it starts out of a 5.3 but in a world full of yourchenko, I’m excited for any front handspring vault. (start values: Lieke: 4.4/Celine:5.0/Lisa:5.3)

Bars is a great event for this team. Lisa has some nice skills, like a toe on full to gienger combination and a jaeger, but she gives a few tenths away in execution and only dismounts with a double pike. Lieke, on the other hand is absolutely gorgeous. She is capable of exciting combinations (ray + pak, maloney + bail + toe on full), the skills she performs are high and clean for the most part, she has beautiful lines, lovely extension and toe point and a nice fluid swing. There’s only one problem with her routine: the dismount. It’s a double front and it has given her a fair amount of trouble through the years. In fact, the European Games trials are the only time I remember her landing it. Celine once was a reserve for the Olympic bars finals. Her routine is not as difficult as it was back then, since she has taken out her inbar stalders, but she’s still capable of putting a good score and her super high jaeger impresses me every single time I see it. (start values: Lieke:5.8/ Lisa: 5.6/ Celine: 5.3)

Balance beam is the event where this team really shines. Lieke has a great set which includes plenty of well executed aerials and the most amazing turns you will see during this competition (1.5 L turn, double turn). Celine, who started her year by posting a massive 14.750 at WOGA classics, has been very impressive on this event. The highlights of her routine are a beautiful tour jete half and a round of + layout combination. However, she only dismounts with 1.5 twists. Lisa Top has a powerful front tuck mount, a pretty switch leap + full turn combination and a high double tuck dismount. Out of the three she is probably the most inconsistent. (startvalues: Celine: 5.5/ Lieke: 5.7/ Lisa: 5.4)

On floor, Lisa is by far the best tumbler in the team. She opens with one of the most difficult passes we will see during the entire meet, a Dos Santos she continues with a powerful double front. Lieke has a very interesting floor routine. She only does two tumbling passes, none of which is considered particularly difficult and yet, she manages to have a decent start value by performing difficult dance elements. Her leaps are very well executed and her turns are absolutely gorgeous. She’s a graceful dancer, with a beautiful music and her routine is definitely worth watching. Same goes about Celine. She is pretty to watch and has nice choreography but she doesn’t have much difficulty. (start values: Lieke: 5.5/ Celine: 5.2/ Lisa: 5.8)

Difficulty total: 44.2

Belgium: Gaelle Mys, Cindy Vandenhole, Lisa Verschueren

Belgium decided not to send a women’s gymnastics team to Montpellier earlier this year so the European Games is the biggest meet they are competing in 2015 so far. The country is represented by two times Olympian GaelleMys, first year senior Cindy Vandenhole and worlds and Olympic test event team member Lisa Verschueren

Just like so many other countries, Belgium has 3 full twisting yurchenko’s on vault. (GaelleCindy Lisa).

All three athletes have nearly identical bars routines. They are not the most spectacular exercises but they are efficient. They all perform a jaeger, a toe on to pak and a nice double front dismount. Gaelle starts with a toe on full while Lisa and Cindy perform maloney + bail combinations. I think Cindy is very promising on this event, she has very good form and gets good height during all of her flight elements. I’d love to see her upgrading in the future. (start values: Gaelle: 5.3/Cindy 5.3/Lisa 5.5)

Beam is by far their best event. Gaelle has a very impressive set which includes a switch ring, an onodi, a front aerial to sheep jump and a ring leap. Her flight series is a bhs + bhs + loso and her dismount a double pike. If she performs this routine the same way she did at Ghent, she will have a great chance to qualify into event finals. Cindy has an excellent front tuck mount, an 1.5 wolf turn, plenty of aerials and a double tuck dismount while Lisa shows some very difficult turns: a double wolf turn and a regular double spin. Her acrobatics are also very nice and she is capable of a front aerial + split jump + side aerial combination and a double pike dismount. (start values: Gaelle:5.7/Cindy: 5.3/Lisa: 5.6)

On floor, they lack difficulty and none of them performs a tumbling pass rated higher than a D but I think their rotation will be quite memorable despite that. Gaelle opens with a double front twist + piked barani and she performs high double somersaults and a difficult switch ring with a half turn. But she has always been more famous for her artistry and style than for her difficulty. She really has a great presence on floor, she works very well with her music, she dances beautifully and she sells her routine to the judges and the audience.  Lisa has a powerful 1.5 + front full combination, a double pike and two difficult double turns, one in the wolf position and the other with her leg held at horizontal. Her music and choreography are definitely interesting. Cindy has a similar style to her teammate and she also performs a double wolf turn as well as a double pike, a double tuck and 2.5 twists. She is a very clean gymnast with brilliant form throughout all her elements. I can’t say that Lisa’s and Cindy’s style are what I usually prefer in gymnastics but they can definitely get the attention of the audience. (Start values: Gaelle: 5.6/Lisa: 5.4/ Cindy: 5.2)

Difficulty total: 43.1

Romania: Laura Jurca, Andreea Iridon, Silvia Zarzu 

Taking into account Romania’s gymnastics history, one would assume that they’ll enter the competition ready to fight against Russia for the gold medal. Unfortunately, this is not the case. With the absence of Larisa Iordache who apparently struggled with some ankle pain and Diana Bulimar, who unfortunately had another surgery, Romania comes into this competition with a very young team with tons of talent but without tons of difficulty or confidence. More specifically, they’ll be represented by worlds team member Silvia Zarzu, YOG participant Laura Jurca, and junior European medalist AndreeaIridon.

Romania is the only team that enters the competition with two athletes who have competed DTYs this year (Russia is probably going to have 2 DTYs too, but we’ve only seen one from Seda so far) and they need to take full advantage of that. AndreeaIridon has only competed bars beam and floor this year so far, so we can’t expect much from her on this event. We’ve seen both Laura and Silvia nearly sticking their vaults and nearly crashing their vaults. Hopefully, they’ll manage to deliver during the Games because two scores in the high 14s would give them a much needed advantage going to bars.  (startvalues: 5.8 / 5.8)

Zarzu is very weak on this event, even for Romanian standards so the team will hope to count Iridon’s and Jurca’s scores. And surprisingly, Jurca is not the one I’m concerned about. She’s definitely not pretty on bars. Her hindorff is quite nice but some time she bends her knees, her gienger has no amplitude, her pirouettes are always late and she often struggles with her shoot to highbar. Her routine is messy and relatively easy, but at least she’s capable of hitting it and she scored a solid 13.7 at Torino. The same can’t be said for Iridon, who had major mistakes during the European Championships and the 4 nations meet in Torino. It’s so frustrating to see this girl having so much trouble on this event because God, she was good, she really was good. She once had a lovely endo half, connected right into a good stalder full into a high jaeger, she had beautiful swing and great form. She had all the potential in the world to be a great uneven bars worker and instead she hasn’t even broken 13 so far. I really hope that she can put all the struggles behind her and become the best athlete she could possibly be because the team desperately needs good bars scores. (start values:  Iridon: 5.7 Jurca: 5.5)

After what will most likely be a mediocre bars rotation, they’ll have to be impressive on beam. Silvia is not really famous for her skills on this event but she has lots of potential. I don’t remember many Romanian gymnast in the last few years performing any risky mounts, so her difficult front tuck is really refreshing to see. She is also very flexible and her switch ring and johnson are absolutely beautiful. The only thing that worries me in her routine is the fact that her flight series are a front aerial + front handspring which could cause her problems similar to Mustafina’s at last years beam finals. I do get frustrated by Andreea’s lack of upgrades and progress, but that doesn’t mean I don’t absolutely adore her. And one of the main reasons why I love her so much is her beam. There will be many strong beam workers at Euro Games, but Andreea is more than that, she’s an artist. She’s graceful, she’s clean and she’s unique. She has plenty of original skills and combinations (1.5 Y turn, switch leap + Y turn, front aerial + scale) and beautiful choreography. And her execution is exquisite. Her legs are always straight, her toes are always pointed and her flexibility is to die for. Laura was extremely promising on beam as a junior, but just like her teammate, she didn’t add any major upgrades this year which makes it hard for her to compete against the other seniors. (start values: Iridon 5.9, Jurca: 5.5 Zarzu 5.5)

This is also the case for Iridon on floor. She may be the junior European silver medalist but the only things she can offer on this event are her grace and her flexibility which are not going to get her a high score. So the team relies on Jurca and Zarzu. Laura is a tiny ball of sunshine on this event and she always brightens my day with her smile. She also has upgraded her first pass into a piked full in and she performs a tucked full in and a triple full on her routine. However, she really needs to work on her leaps. The exact opposite can be said about Silvia. Her tumbling is not as impressive, even though she does have a good triple full and a 2.5 punch front. But what I really love about her routine is her leap series. She gets great amplitude and the ring position she reaches is just gorgeous. (start values: Laura:5.7/Silvia:5.5/Andreea:5.0)

Something that worried me about Romania is that in most events they have no backups if something goes wrong. In most other teams, if an athlete has a meltdown on bars and scores a 12, there is someone who can post a solid score in the middle 13s and minimize the damage. This is not the case for Romania, that doesn’t really have a third vaulter or uneven bar worker who is capable of a decent routine.

Difficulty total: 45.4

Switzerland: Giulia Steingruber, Caterina Barloggio, Jessica Diacci

Switzerland has definitely improved a lot during this quad but I don’t think they have the depth and the number of world class athletes to be considered a strong team quite yet. However, when there are only three gymnasts competing for each team and you have a leader like Giulia Steingruber everything is possible. The 2015 European AA champion will be joined by European AA finalist Jessica Diacci and world team member CaterinaBarloggio.

I couldn’t find a recent video of Caterina on vault but her start value at Euros was a 4.6 so in an ideal scenario they won’t be counting her score. Jessica has a FTY and of course Giulia has her rudi which will be the most difficult vault we will see during the entire Games. In a competition full of full twisting yurchenkos, Giulia is on a whole other level not just thanks to her difficulty but thanks to her execution too. I don’t think there’s another gymnast competing in Baku who gets more height than she does on this event.

Things get a little harder on bars. Giulia is not a great bars worker but she has worked extremely hard to improve on this event and I’m sure she was extremely proud to make it to finals at Euros. She has world class difficulty, since she performs a van leeuwen, a high gienger in combination, a markelov and a maloney + clear hip 1/2. But her handstands are typically quite short and kill her execution score along with some other imperfections. Caterina has a piked jaeger and a nice double front dismount while Jessica performs a jaeger, bail to handstand and a double layout. (startvalues: Giulia:5.7/Jessica:5.2/Caterina:5.2)

However, beam can help them make up for their weakness on bars. Jessica is strong on this event, which is definitely her best. She starts her routine with her jump series directly connected into a front aerial to sheep jump. Her routine also includes a front tuck, a switch ring and a double tuck dismount. Giulia also has an impressive level of difficulty and she competes a bhs + layout, a front pike, a switch leap to side somi and of course, her own original dismount, the Steingruberwhy capitalized only here??. If something goes wrong for either of those ladies, Caterina could contribute. The highlights of her routine are a front tuck,   sheep jump and a gainer layout dismount, which is becoming increasingly popular. (start values: Caterina: 5.2/Giulia:5.9/Jessica:5.5)

On floor Caterina has a double tuck, 1.5 twists and a double pike while Jessica performs a double tuck, a double pike, a double full and an 1.5 + front layout combination. She has some really nice low to floor choreo. The contrast between their tumbling and Giulia’s is mind-blowing. Because really, Giulia is the most powerful tumbler we’ll see in this entire competition. She opens with the most difficult tumbling pass anyone will perform in Baku, a full twisting double lay out, she continues with a massive double layout and she flies higher than anyone else competing. In addition to helping her team, she has a great chance to leave Baku with an individual gold medal on this event. (start values: Giulia:6.0/Jessica:5.1/Caterina:4.9)

difficulty total: 44.9

Russia: Viktoria Komova, Aliya Mustafina, Seda Tutkhalyan

Russia has probably exceeded most people’s expectations so far this year, with their juniors showing tons of upgrades, their seniors winning the most medals out of all the teams at European championships and their team dominating in Torino. And European Games should be even more successful for them. They are represented by YOG AA champion, Seda Tutkhalyan and of course everyone’s favorites, AliyaMustafina and ViktoriaKomova. There are multiple European, world and Olympic medals between those three ladies who enter the competition as the absolute favorites for the team title. For Vika, this is the first major international meet she’s competing since the 2012 Olympics. It’s been such a hard road for her, since she has been plagued with injuries and illness. Every time it looked like she was going to be back at the international stage something happened and held her back. Personally, I won’t believe she’s competing until she gets on the apparatus, but I couldn’t possibly be more excited to see her. For Aliya this is the first competition of the year, after she took a well-deserved break to take care of her body. It’s also the first time we’ll see her competing since she started working with her new coach so I’m very curious to see what she’s been working on. For Seda, it’s an amazing opportunity to prove that she can handle the pressure and that she deserves to be part of major teams. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind leaving Baku with plenty of gold medals and they are absolutely capable of doing that.

On vault, they should definitely have one DTY from Seda. Her vault is not the cleanest one we’ve seen but she’s been doing it for quite a long time and seems to be comfortable with it so she should be able to post a solid score. Aliya and Vika were of course capable of DTYs in the past (hell, they were capable of amanars) but we can’t know what they’re planning to do here. If I had to guess, though, I would say that Aliya is not going to stick with a full twisting yurchenko.

Even if there other events are a bit shaky, they can make up for it on bars. No other team has a line-up that includes a youth Olympic champion, a world champion and an Olympic champion on bars. Even watered-down routines from Vika and Aliya should still be able to score higher than most other people in the competition. Seda has a solid set which starts out of a 5.8 and includes a maloney + pak, van leeuwen, a toe on full + tkatcev and a double front dismount. But I can’t imagine a situation where they count Seda’s score in a team which includes Vika and Aliya. Komova is magical on this event, she has a fluidity, a calmness about her routine that is very rare to see. She flies high during her release skills, she hits her handstands, she has gorgeous lines and she knows how to stick her dismount, she’s just beautiful. She had to take out most of her inbars during nationals but I’m hoping they’ll be back for this meet since she said she’s working on upgrades on bars. Aliya is obviously fantastic as well. She was training a new maloney + pak + van leeuwen combination but I’m not sure if she’s planning to compete it. But I am sure, that whatever routine she chooses to do will be stunning.

Balance beam really is death or glory for this Russian team. If they hit, they’re all absolutely fabulous. Vika is famous for her lightness and grace, Aliya is renowned for her elegance and tricky combinations while Seda is a daredevil. But anyone who has been following gymnastics for more than three seconds is fully aware of the problems they tend to have on this event. Seda is capable of the most difficult skill we will see on beam during the entire competition, a layout full. She also performs a ro + layout, a front aerial to sheep, a switch ring and a double pike dismount. She’ll probably have the highest start value (6.6), but that doesn’t mean much if she falls, and unfortunately she does that quite often. However, she hit at Torino and hopefully that will be a big confidence boost for her. Vika makes everything look beautiful and effortless. She has gorgeous long lines, and she never loses form. I’m guessing she’ll try a harder routine than the one we saw at nationals earlier this year. Aliya is of course a world champion and a world beam medalist on this event. Aliya talked about being able to train difficult combinations on bars and beam now that she is healthier but I’m not sure if we’ll see any of them in Baku.

The only floor routine we’ve seen from Vika during this quad so far included a layout with a full twist so, even though she said she’s working on upgrades on floor, I don’t expect anything huge from her. Aliya and Seda on the other hand could post the highest floor total of the competition. I absolutely love Seda on floor, she doesn’t have what most people consider the Russian classical style but she still has good choreography and shows some attitude on this event. At Torino she had an impressive 5.9 start value and she posted a 13.850 with rather shaky landings. If she manages to perform at her best she should definitely be able to score above 14.  Aliya’s floor is one of the routines I’m most curious about. She, of course won a bronze medal on this event at last year’s worlds but there are so many things that she can improve on (lack of endurance, twisting form, lack of choreography, too many turns she doesn’t always hit) and she’s now working with a coach who is an expert at tumbling, she has posted videos of her trying to clean up her form and she has said she’s working on building more endurance and learning new elements. Expecting her to throw any huge tumbling passes and have form similar to Ivana Hong’s in her first competition back after a long break would definitely be unrealistic. However, I do hope to see a more cleverly constructed routine, slightly cleaner twists and more complicated choreography from her.

With that team, Russia would actually have to try not to win a gold medal.

Note: I tried to include the athlete’s potential start values if all their skills and combinations get credited, based on routines they’ve performed this year. Of course, the team with the highest difficulty total is not always the team with the highest scoring potential, since some athletes have better execution than others. For a more clear look on the teams’ scoring potential you can check out this. Υοu can find all the athletes competing here and their past results here

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