The European Youth Olympic Festival is always a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the rising stars of European gymnastics. Lots of the athletes who participated there had a succesful transition to the senior rankings and achieved some great accomplishments for their countries. Some examples are Larisa Iordache, Gabby Jupp, Elisa Meneghini, Erika Fasana, Janine Berger, Noemi Makra, Maria Kharenkova, Amy Tinkler, Eythora Thorsdottir, Ellie Downie, Louise Vanhille, Claire Martin and Laura Jurca. The 2015 EYOF was an interesting battle between Russia and surprisingly Belgium, while other strong European countries like Great Britain, Italy and even Romania were not extremely succesful.
The most decorated gymnast of the competition was Russia’s Daria Skrypnik. The 15-years-old athlete did not have a perfect competition, but at the end of the day she will leave Tbilisi with the maximum number of medals a gymnast can win. Daria qualified to all finals and she won a medal in each and every one of them. She has won three gold (TF, AA, UB), two silver (VT, FX) and one bronze (BB) medal. During the All Around finals she had a fall on beam and she actually tied for gold with Belgium’s Axelle Klinckaert but she won the tie breaker. She also had major errors during beam finals, where she only scored a 12.750 but she still manage to get away with a bronze medal after most of her competitors also had falls. Throughout the competition she showed a fantastic level of difficulty and she had some of the highest start values we saw on every event. She was one of the very few athletes who are capable of double twisting yurchenkos and there are senior gymnasts out there who would kill for her level of difficulty on bars. Some of her most notable skills were her DTY, her komova + pak, her front aerial + illusion turn and her triple full on floor. Daria started 2015 by winning the All Around gold medal at the Russian junior championships and now she is on top once again at EYOF. She still has a long way to go if she wants to be competitive as a senior but after her recent accomplishments she has stepped out of the shadow of her teammate, Angelina Melnikova and she has proven that she is a strong, talented athlete with lots of potential. Hopefully she will continue to improve and she will be equally succesful as a senior.
For every gymnast there is this one competition that is extremely succesful for them and puts them in the spotlight. For Gabby Douglas it was the 2012 American Cup, for Aliya Mustafina it was 2010 worlds and for Catherine Lyons it was the 2014 junior Europeans. Well, it seems like Belgium’s Axelle Klinckaert just had this career changing meet here, at the European Youth Olympic Festival. That’s not to say she hasn’t had a succesful junior career until now. She was the floor gold medalist at Massilia,she was the Belgian junior All Around champion this year, she has a few international competitions under her belt and she has gotten attention for her artistry and style. However, she never was the absolute best gymnast who came into a competition expected to dominate. And yet she is the second most succesful gymnast of EYOF. She and her teammates delivered an amazing performance to win the silver medal at the team competition and the next day, she really did her absolute best during AA finals. She tied Russia’s Daria Skrypnik for gold and even though she was only awarded a silver medal after the tie was broken, this is a historic achievement for her and her country. After barely missing on that gold medal, she got her redemption by winning both beam and floor finals. She really was the most consistent gymnast we saw and she didn’t put a foot wrong during the entire competition. Some of the most impressive elements she showed was her back handspring + layout on beam, her markelov on bars and her full in on floor. She also showed fantastic artistry and charisma on floor. Her choreography is really unique and original, it goes perfectly with her music and it suits her personality. Hopefully, this is a beginning of an amazing career for Axelle.
Anastasia Ilyankova of Russia was the most succesful non Rio eligible junior of the competition. She may be young but she is already making a name for herself by winning medals at Gymnix and the Voronin Cup. EYOF was one of the biggest and most important competitions she has ever been a part of but she didn’t let that make her nervous. She was excellent during the first day of the competition, helping her team to win the gold medal and qualifying to All Around, uneven bars and balance beam finals. During AA finals, she hit all her routines, she improved her qualifications score by half a point and ended up in third place and she also put an amazing performance to win an other bronze medal on the uneven bars. unfortunately, she had a really rough day on beam finals, falling more than once and only scoring in the 11s. She was still recovering from an injury so she wasn’t 100% back but she still showed some fantastic difficulty on bars and beam. Some of her most difficult combinations were a hindorff + pak salto on bars and a round of + layout and side aerial + loso on beam. Her full twisting yurchenko was strong and her tumbling passes were high so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be able to upgrade those events soon enough. After all she’s only 14, she has time. Ilyankova definitely is one of the strongest athletes of her generation and she is expected to be one of the leaders of the Russian junior team once her older teammates become seniors. If everything goes well for her, she should be competing at next year’s junior European championships before starting her senior career in 2017.
Αn other Belgian gymnast who really shined during the competition was Nina Derwael. The 15-years-old athlete was absolutely amazing during qualifications, where she placed 2nd in the All Around and she made every single final besides vault. Unfortunately, All Around finals weren’t equally succesful for her. She had two falls, one on bars and one on beam and she didn’t reach the podium because of that. She got her redemption in event finals, where she won a silver medal on bars and a bronze on floor. Nina is a unique gymnast. She a fantastic bars worker, with an incredible level of difficulty, she is extremely flexible and she has a unique style on both beam and floor. She probably has the best choreographed floor routine in the world right now and she just puts her heart and soul into it every time she competes. She had some ups and downs during the competition and she did not win as many medals as she could have but just the fact that she was 4th All Around with two falls is showing how much potential she has. Both Nina and Axelle will turn seniors next year, just in time to help Belgium qualify a full team to the Olympics and just the two of them could improve the country’s team total tremendously. Hopefully, the current Belgian seniors will manage to qualify to the test event so those two will have an opportunity to help them make it to Rio.
Tabea Alt of Germany didn’t really lived up to the expectations that had been set for her. At the age of 15, she has already have accomplished a lot, being the junior european beam bronze medalist, winning the German junior championships twice and doing an excellent job at friendly meets. With all this success, she was one of the most well-known athletes coming into the competition. She is a brilliant young gymnast, capable of impressive skills like a double twisting yurchenko on vault, a full twisting double layout on bars, a side aerial + loso on beam and a double layout on floor. With that level of difficulty she should have been able to grab a couple of individual medals but her nerves got in the way of that. Of course she’s not leaving Georgia empty handed, since she lead her team to a well deserved bronze medal, but she wasn’t very lucky during the individual finals. She was 7th All Around after a disappointing beam routine and she didn’t manage to land her DTY well at vault finals, finishing in 6th place. Then she barely landed her dismount during bars finals and she did not have the best floor routine of her life. Even without any individual medals, Tabea still made it to every event final except beam and she showed promising world class routines that raised a few eyebrows. She already is one of Germany’s best athletes and if she improves her consistency she should be able be in the mix next year.
An other gymnast who has a lot to celebrate is Marine Boyer of France. She didn’t make it to multiple finals and she is not heading back to France with a bag full of gold medals but she still achieved an important victory by becoming her country’s only medalist in women’s gymnastics. She was one of only three athletes performing double twisting yurchenkos and she had no problem landing that skill and her second vault (FTY) received one of the highest execution scores of the night. Those two vaults were enough to beat Russia’s Daria Skrypnik for the gold medal on vault. Marine’s best event is definitely beam and she could have challenged for the title there but a fall during qualifications prevented her from getting into the finals. France lost one of their top gymnasts, Melanie Dos Santos, to a knee injury during the first day of competition and her teammates had to continue their efford without her so it was great to see them finish on a high note. France is quite weak on vault right now and they could definitely use a strong double twisting yurchenko on their line up next year. Marine can offer that, as well as a fantastic beam set and a solid floor routine so she should be one of the top contenders for future teams if she continues to improve.
An other gymnast who carried her country on her shoulders is Maise Methuen from Great Britain. Without their top junior, Catherine Lyons, team GB did not have an ideal competition. They were only 7th in team finals, after multiple mistakes, they didn’t manage to have a top 10 finish in the All Around and their athlete, Lucy Stanhope wasn’t even able to finish her competition and she scratched floor. After this disappointment, Maisie, who was her country’s only event finalist, was the only athlete who could change things around and bring home a medal. She delivered under pressure and in a finals where most of the competitors had falls, she stayed calm and consistent. She actually had the lowest start value of the competition but she also had the highest execution score of the day and her total was enough for a well deserved silver medal. She also had an excellent performance at vault finals, where she landed both her vaults very well but her low difficulty prevented her from challenging for a medal. Great Britain definitely needs more beam worker so if Maise can upgrade in the future she will definitely be valuable for them. She is a charismatic athlete with lots of talent and I’m excited to see more of her in the future