Aliya Mustafina back on top

Olympic, World and European champion Aliya Mustafina had been absent from the international scene for a few months but this didn’t stop her from winning the AA title at the first European Games today. The field she was competing against wasn’t very deep and she was nowhere near perfect but that doesn’t change the fact that she was standing on the top of the podium, and she will add one more gold AA medal to her very impressive collection. On her first rotation, she had no problem landing her double twisting yurchenko and she showed cleaner form than she has in the past. However, she didn’t stick the landing like she typically does and still had a few problems with her execution. The 14.8 she earned was one of the highest scores of the competition, but it couldn’t compete against Giulia Steingruber’s massive 15.6 for her rudi. As a result, Aliya entered the second rotation almost a point behind her biggest rival, but she managed to get into the lead after a stunning bars routine. She performed her new difficult combination beautifully, she showed terrific handstands, a high jaeger and a beautiful full in dismount for a huge 15.5 score. She almost gave us a heart attack on balance beam, when she had a major wobble after her side aerial but the rest of her routine was very nicely performed. She nailed all her difficult dance elements, she stuck her standing arabian, she hit her risky acro series and landed her double tuck dismount for a 14.5. Her floor routine wasn’t as impressive. She fell out of her opening turns combination, she didn’t quite hit all her spins and she could have shown much better control on her landings. Her DLO and her choreography (or her lack of choreography) also leave a lot to be desired. The 13.7 score she received for this exercise is certainly not going to be enough once she’s competing against the very best in the world, but it still put her on the lead for this competition. Aliya has competed in two finals so far and she was won gold on both. I would absolutely love to see her dominance continuing during the event finals.

2015 European AA champion, Giulia Steingruber, who looked gorgeous on her sparkly blue leotard, was about two points behind Aliya. She started her competition with a fantastic rudi that put her into the lead with a huge 15.6 score. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to remain into the first position after the second rotation. Bars have always been her weakest event and one couldn’t expect them to get a higher score than the reigning Olympic champion, but gave away more tenths than she usually does on this event. She had some minor form errors, lots of her handstands were quite short and she had some trouble with her double front dismount which caused her to earn a 13.133. After that score she had a lot of work to do on beam and she didn’t really deliver her best routine. She stayed on but she had several wobbles that didn’t help her maximize her chances for gold. Her stuck dismount was absolutely great though. She finished strong on floor, where she stunned the crowd with a powerful stuck full twisting double layout and she secured a well deserved silver medal. Giulia has had a very busy first half the year so I hope that after those European Games are over, she’ll get some much-needed rest in order to be ready to shine at Worlds.

On the bronze position we have the lovely Lieke Wevers, who won one more medal for the Netherlands. On vault she performed a FTY, which is an upgrade from the yurchenko layout we saw during the European Games trials. Then, she moved into the most crucial event for her, the uneven bars. She showed beautiful work, high flight elements, lovely handstands and great lines. And most importantly, she landed the double front dismount that has given her so much trouble during her career. It was hard not to see the relief and joy in her face after that. On balance beam, she once again showed great elegance and clean execution and her aerials and spins were absolutely fantastic but the judges probably didn’t credit her for all the requirements which caused her difficulty score to be significantly lower than it was in qualifications. Thankfully, she was able to put this behind her and perform one of the most beautiful floor routines we saw during the competition. She really is one of the most artistic, graceful and expressive athletes competing in Baku and that makes up for her weak tumbling.

Germany’s Sophie Scheder unfortunately missed the podium by about 0.1. Just like most of her competitors, she was succesful at vault, where she performed a nice FTY. The disappointment came in her best event, the uneven bars. She was having a fantastic routine, full of difficult combinations and great pirouetting work until she fell on her church. This is a brand new skill and she’s not comfortable with it yet but she decided to take a risk which didn’t work out for her. She didn’t give up after that mistake, and she came back with an extremely solid beam routine that scored a 14.233. Her floor, which included a low double pike, 2.5 twists and a fabulous stuck double tuck, wasn’t quite as solid as it was during the qualifications, and it wasn’t enough to put her ahead of Lieke. The good thing is that Sophie has a great chance to redeem herself and win a medal on the uneven bars.

Italy’s Tea Ugrin completes the top 5. She is one of the athletes who have impressed me the most during this entire competition. She is very young and she has very little international experience, since she missed her entire first year as a senior due to injuries. And yet, she has been one of the most consistent gymnasts so far. We didn’t get to see her vault or her uneven bars routines but she got solid scores on both events. She was really lovely on beam, where she showed a very crisp front aerial + jump series combination, and gorgeous ring leaps. She needs to perfect her double tuck and she had a couple of wobbles but she fought hard to stay on the beam and she showed incredible potential. Her floor routine, which included a nice triple full, a stuck double pike, a double L turn and a ferrari, was also very enjoyable. Her floor music really is a beautiful piece, that suits her classical style. Tea has also qualified to bars finals. She doesn’t really have the difficulty to be considered one of the top contenders, but regardless of whether or not she manages to challenge for a medal, she really has proven herself ruding those games.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the other gymnasts but out of the other potential medalists, Laura Jurca of Romania, who replaced her teammate Andreea Iridon, had a rough competition falling on both vault and bars. Great Britain’s Kelly Simm was taken out of contention from the very first rotation, where she scored a 10.233 for her balance beam routine. However, she managed to score a 14.266 on bars, which is a great achievement for her.

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