Last year, Italy wrote history by achieving a spectacular fifth place finish at the women’s team finals. Now, they’ll have to do it all over again in order to qualify a full team to the Rio Olympics but they have struggled a bit this year. Lots of their athletes struggled with injuries and they did not manage to win any medals at the European championships and the European Games this year. However, most of their gymnasts have now returned to the sport, just in time to help the team reach their ultimate goal. Italy will be represented by two times Olympian, world and European champion Vanessa Ferrari, Olympian, world and European finalist Erika Fasana, Olympian, Youth Olympics and European medalist and world finalist Carlotta Ferlito, European Games finalist and national champion Tea Ugrin, 2012 junior European champion Enus Mariani and 2014 worlds team member Lara Mori. One of those athletes will be the alternate. Notably absent from the team is Martina Rizzeli, who unfortunately broke her foot. This is extremely unfortunately for Martina, who had shown fantastic progress during the year and of course, for the Italian team, that will lose valuable tenths on vault and bars.
No words will ever be enough to describe what Vanessa Ferrari has done for Italian gymnastics. She led her country to a European team gold medal and became Italy’s first world All Around champion back in 2006, she participated in two Olympic Games, she won multiple major medals, she qualified into world and Olympic finals and she was her country’s top gymnast for about a decade. However, she has had a hard time this year, struggling with health issues, like mono and tendinitis, that prevented her from competing at the best of her abilities. She hasn’t won any major medals this year and she struggled at the European championships, where she under performed and pulled out of the All Around finals. After that, she took a long break from competition until the recent Novara Cup, where she had a shaky first meet back, falling off balance beam and making mistakes on bars and floor. I have been a fan of Ferrari since I was 10 years old and I will always admire and respect her for all her amazing achievements. This is why I don’t want to see her putting her health in danger during those world championships. I really do hope that she will be healthy and ready to compete, but if she’s not, I hope they don’t decide to push her.
While Vanessa Ferrari was dealing with health problems, 20-years-old Olympian Erika Fasana was the athlete who took her place as the leader of the team and the country’s top All Arounder, and she did a brilliant job at it. She started her year by posting solid scores at the first and the second Serie A competitions and then, she represented her country at the American Cup, where she surprised the world by winning a bronze All Around medal. Then, she had one of the most important moments of her career at the Jesolo Trophy, where she placed second on floor exercise, beating Alexandra Raisman, and got to be on the podium between the reigning world and the reigning Olympic champion. After all those great achievements, her fans had high expectations from her at the European championships and she did not disappoint. She may not have won a medal, but she gave a fierce performance, giving everything she got during the All Around and the floor exercise finals. She continued to post solid scores at the national competitions until she earned an All Around bronze and a floor exercise gold medal at the Italian championships. Last week, she competed at the Novara Cup, placing second on floor. Unfortunately, she has been dealing with a stress fracture and she’s been competing watered down routines in order to protect her body. However, she is planning to bring back most of her old difficulty for Glasgow. If she does that, she is expected to challenge for a spot in floor finals and to lead her team during qualifications. Erika has the highest All Around potential in the Italian team. However, according to head coach Enrico Cansella, the main focus this year is the team, and there’s a chance that Erika won’t compete on balance beam during qualifications because all her teammates have higher scoring potential than her on this event. After all, beam is the event where hurts Erika the most.
The third London Olympian heading to Glasgow is Carlotta Ferlito, who had a shaky start of the year, posting weak scores at Serie A. She came back strong at Jesolo and won a bronze medal on balance beam, while also placing 14th in the All Around. She did not have the best competition of her life at the European championships, where she didn’t manage to qualify into any individual finals but she has had some great moments during the world selection competitions. More specifically, she became the All Around and the balance beam champion at the Golden League, She placed first on beam and third on floor at the Italian Championships, getting her redemption from a disastrous All Around competition, and she finished second in the All Around and on balance beam at the recent Novara Cup. There was never a doubt that Ferlito would be travelling to Glasgow, and she is expected to help her team on every event in qualifications. She is also hoping to make it into the beam finals, but this is not going to be an easy task in that deep field.
Then, we have the lovely Elisa Meneghini, who was supposed to represent Italy at worlds last year, but never got to compete due to a back injury. She took her time to recover after that and she posted a few weak scores at the first competitions of the year, when she was just coming back. She started to look more like her old self at the golden League, where she won a bronze medal on vault and posted solid scores on bars and floor. Then, she did an excellent job at the Italian championships, placing second in the All Around and on the floor exercise and third on balance beam. She posted her highest score of the season at the Novara Cup, where she earned the All Around and the floor exercise bronze medals after an excellent competition. Elisa has struggled with consistency, especially on balance beam, but it seems like those problems are behind her now. In Glasgow, she is expected to help her team on every event and hopefully qualify into the All Around finals.
My favorite member of the team is Enus Mariani. She is now 17 years old, but this really is her first year as a senior, since she was injured for the biggest part of 2014. There was lots of hype surrounding her since she became the junior European All Around champion back in 2012 but it looked like her career would be over before it even begun, when she missed almost a full year of competitions without giving us any updates about her health or her training. It hasn’t been an easy journey for her. She has had major problems with her back in the past, she injured her ankle this year, she has had mental blocks and she has struggled a lot during the year. Her highest score on bars is a 14.750 and the lowest one is a 10.750, so she has definitely had some ups and downs. She had major problems during the first half of the year, where she mostly competed on the uneven bars without posting many spectacular scores. Thankfully, her hard work is paying off now and she had a great meet at the Golden League winning the uneven bars gold and the balance beam silver medal. After that, she had some disappointing moments during the Italian championships but she did an excellent job at the Novara Cup, where she placed fifth in the All Around and posted her team’s highest score on uneven bars. Enus is one of the few athletes in the Italian team who can really swing bars and have the potential to score well above 14 on this event and this makes her extremely valuable. However, she will still need to prove that she can hit under pressure.
An other 17-years-old athlete who did not get to enjoy her senior career until this year due to injuries is Enus’ junior Europeans teammate Tea Ugrin. She is an absolutely lovely gymnast, with beautiful lines, great flexibility and world class difficulty. She has had a very busy season, competing on all four events after at every competition held in her country, like the Serie A, the Jesolo Trophy and the four nationals trophy. She hasn’t been perfect, she has had falls and mistakes and she has scored as low as 11.450. However, she has also posted some respectable scores on every event, including the uneven bars, where her country struggles. She represented Italy at the European Games where she did an excellent job during qualifications and All Around finals, not making a single mistake. Unfortunately, she missed her chance for a medal on the uneven bars after a disappointing fall but overall, she did a fabulous job at Baku. The highlight of the year for her was the Italian national championships, where she earned the All Around title over experienced athletes like Ferlito and Meneghini. However, she struggled at both the Golden League and the Novara Cup.
The last member of the team, is 2014 worlds team member Lara Mori, who came back from an injury and did a great job this year. Lara got her chance to compete at Nanning after teammate, Elisa Meneghini got injured and she did her job, delivering solid scores for the team. Her injury has obviously slowed down her progress and she’s not really capable of bringing any massive numbers but she is a solid, consistent gymnast who can contribute on every event if needed. During the year, she has earned a bronze and a silver medal on balance beam, at the Golden league and the Italian championships and she has consistently been among her country’s top 5 All Arounders, finishing fourth at the Golden League and the Italian championships and fifth among the Italians at the Novara Cup, where she was 14th overall. It looks like, she was meant to be the alternate of the team but she has had a brilliant job at the last couple of competitions, making it hard for them to leave her behind.
So, let’s take a look at what this team is capable of on each apparatus.
Vault is a rather weak event for the Italian team, especially after the loss of Martina Rizzeli, who was capable of a double twisting yurchenko. Now, the only athlete of the team who is capable of that vault is Erika Fasana. She has only performed yurchenko fulls in the last couple of competitions, but that was because she was saving herself and she plans to compete her most difficult skills in Glasgow. Vanessa Ferrari has also competed yurchenko double fulls in the past but she only did a full at Novara Cup, and she did not seem ready for a harder vault. Italy also has two yurchenkos with 1.5 twists. Elisa Meneghini’s is a lovely clean and solid vault but Carlotta always bends her knees and takes a big step on the landing during hers. Lara, Enus and Tea are all capable of full twisting yurchenkos. Of course, there are teams who don’t even have 3 vaults with a higher start value than a 5.3 and Italy has an advantage over them. However, there are also other teams, like Great Britain, Japan and Canada with impressive difficulty on this event.
Unfortunately, Italy’s uneven bars line up is not strong enough to make up for their vault. Once again, Rizzeli’s absence is costing them some valuable tenths here, since she was definitely expected to contribute on this event. Vanessa Ferrari, who has always been one of Italy’s top bars worker, showed a rather mediocre routine at the Novara Cup. Her forward pirouettes were messy, her swing was labored and her jaeger wasn’t as high as it was in the past. Hopefully, this was just the result of nerves and she will be much cleaner at Glasgow. Erika has shown tremendous progress on this event. Her opening combination (toe on full + maloney + giant full) is extremely difficult and her church and ray releases are high and well performed. She still has a couple of legs separations but she should be able to contribute a solid score for the team. Carlotta Ferlito has also upgraded her routine, adding a maloney + pak before her sky high jaeger and double arabian dismount. She has had plenty of troubles with her new set during the past month but after rearranging a couple of things in her routine, she managed to hit in Novara and hopefully she will continue to be consistent. Elisa is capable of a jaeger, a tkatcev and a double arabian dismount, and even though she is not spectacular, she could post a decent score during qualifications. Lara and Tea are both very promising on this event. Lara starts her routine with a great stalder full + ricna combination and she continues with a ray, a bail to handstand, an endo half and a double layout dismount. Tea is capable of a maloney + bail combination, an inbar full + gienger and a full in. I think they both show great potential and I hope to see them upgrading and cleaning up in the future, but for the time being, their start values are only enough for a solid score. The best bars worker of the team is without a doubt Enus Mariani, who won a silver medal on this event at the 2012 junior European championships. She has gorgeous lines and execution and she can swing bars better than any of her teammates. She performs a high jaeger, a gorgeous ricna and a perfect bail to handstand before dismounting with a double layout. She has also been fairly inconsistent during the year, but she has now downgraded her routine a bit so hopefully this will help her.
The balance beam has always been Italy’s best apparatus. In the past, there were times where their entire world or Olympic teams had team final worthy routines that could receive high scores. Right now they are not quite as deep, but they still have enough talent to fill a line up. The star of the team here is European medalist and Test Event champion Carlotta Ferlito. She has a very strong routine, which includes two back handsprings into a rather questionable layout, a switch ring, a front aerial into a sheep jump and a brand new double pike dismount. Her teammate, Elisa Meneghini has struggled with consistency this year, but she finally seems to regain her confidence on this event. She performs two back handsprings into a layout step out, a sheep jump, a front aerial, a side somi and the highest double pike dismount you will see during the entire competition. Tea Ugrin is also lovely to watch. She has incredible lines and flexibility, her aerials are gorgeous and she hits her splits effortlessly. Lara Mori has an impressive back handsprings into two layout step outs flight series, a switch ring and a 2.5 dismount that she almost always sticks. Enus could also contribute on this event, since she connects her aerials into leaps and jumps and performs beautiful dance elements, like an Y turn and a switch half, before dismounting with a double pike. Vanessa has obviously delivered some excellent beam routines during her career but she is still coming back from injuries so I’m not sure what to expect from her. At the Novara Cup, she showed great control during her unusual mount and she performed two back handsprings into a layout, a sheep jump, a switch ring and a split leap + front aerial + split jump combination. However, she fell on her flight series so she needs to prove that she can be consistent. Erika has never been great on balance beam and she probably won’t compete on this event during worlds.
(she gets injured during the dismount here but it was the most recent hit routine I could find in an individual video)
Italy’s floor line up is one of the rotations I’m most excited for during worlds. They really have a great balance between strong tumbling and artistic, expressive choreography. The star of the team has to be Erika Fasana, who finished fourth on this event at the European championships. During the last two competitions, she has watered down her tumbling and only performed a double layout, a full in and a double pike. However, she is planning to bring back her double double for Glasgow. Elisa Meneghini, whose tumbling passes are a double layout, a full in, two whips into a double tuck and a double pike, has the whole package on this event. She can tumble, she can leap, she can dance and she can perform. The same can also be said about Lara Mori. She performs a tucked full in and a triple twist and she just loves to show off to the crowd. Those two tumbling passes are very popular among the Italian team and Carlotta Ferlito and Tea Ugrin perform them as well. Tea also has a classical balletic style and stunning leaps while Carlotta knows how to sell her sass choreography to the crowd and she attempts a Mustafina turn. Vanessa Ferrari is once again a question mark. There’s absolutely no doubt that she is an excellent tumbler. After all, she has the medals and the finals to prove that. However, as mentioned above she is not 100% back. At the Novara Cup, she showed a double layout, a low full in and a double pike as well as plenty of difficult leaps.
It will be interesting to see who of those athletes will end up in the alternate position, since they all have things to offer to the team. Vanessa Ferrari is not 100% back and if her tendon is bothering her again, she won’t be able to compete. The question is, what till happen if she’s healthy. It is true that even at her 60% she still is among Italy’s top gymnasts but will she be able to contribute as much as they need her to be? They obviously have lots of faith in her experience and she has been fairly consistent in the past, so I should definitely not count her out. Then, we have Lara Mori, who was probably the best choice for an alternate, since she doesn’t have massive start values on any event. However, she can still post solid scores, she’s good at the uneven bars, where she team struggles, and she has been very consistent since she came back from her injury. Tea Ugrin, who was not originally on the worlds nominative team, is an other possible candidate. she can definitely help the team on bars and beam, but she’s not the most reliable athlete out there. She will have an excellent competition, hitting every routine and then, at the next meet she will have several mistakes. After that, she’ll be nearly perfect and become the national champion but then, she will fall again in the following competition. Enus Mariani is also a potential alternate. The team desperately needs her on the uneven bars, but she’s not going to make the team if she is not consistent during training. I’m also curious to see who of those athletes will be competing on all four events. Carlotta, Vanessa, Elisa and Erika are all world class All Arounders but it turns out Italy is focusing on maximizing the team’s scoring potential so some of them any not end up doing All Around.
In conclusion, Italy does not have the advantage they had last year. Lots of their gymnasts have struggled with injuries that slowed down their progress while the rest of the world was upgrading and cleaning up their routines. They definitely have a world class team, that has the potential to finish in the top 8 and I have no doubt that they will easily make it at least to the test event but qualifying into team finals is not a sure thing for them. There are some teams who have stand out events, where they can have three routines in the high 14s. For Great Britain and Germany it’s the uneven bars, for Romania and surprisingly Japan it’s the vault. Italy doesn’t really have this advantage and that means that they’ll have to rely on consistency. They are a great, beautiful team but Japan, Brazil, Germany, Australia, France, Great Britain and Romania also have great, beautiful teams so there is very little room for error.
A big thank you to tumblr user elisaminimeneghini for sharing lots of information about the team
All photos are by Silvia Vatteroni
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