The Stars of the First European Games

10:45 PM Arabian Punch Front 2 Comments

Photo Credit:
Edited by me

The 1st European Games were held in Baku, Azerbijan in an arena that was specifically constructed with the success of future Azeri gymnasts in mind. The format of the meet was different than any other major international meet - three were able to represent a country, 2 scores counted in the team final, and only one gymnast per country was allowed in event finals for a total of 6 finalists in event finals and 18 in the all around. Overall, there are quite a few topics to discuss about the meet, but let's start with the most important - the competitors.

This meet proved to be really exciting in my opinion! While many countries opted to send an A- team or B team, there were quite a few accomplished athletes or new seniors who were able to get experience on the international stage. The timing of the meet was difficult with the European Championships just a little over two month ago but the final roster, and final outcomes, proved to be very exciting.

First and foremost, we have the comeback of Olympic All Around Silver Medalist Viktoria Komova. She had competed at a gala in Mexico and at a smaller competition in Hungary but was nowhere near full difficulty. This was Komova's first meet at full strength and with all eyes on her and she fared amazingly well. Due to the one per country format, Komova did not make any finals but there were still excellent results from her first time back. In the all around, she scored an admirable 56.965 with .4 worth of neutral deductions for an out of bounds on vault and floor. Her bars score was also deducted for hitting the low bar. Like fellow Russians Mustafina and Spiridonova, Komova has the Maloney to Pak to van Leeuwen combination and it was on that last transition that she hit the low bar as she reached for the high bar. Her beam showed a lot of promise and she fought for every skill and her floor exercise showed a new double layout. I was impressed to see such an upgrade from a gymnast who has fought so long just to come back to competition. The qualification proved to be a highlight of the meet for me simply because we got to see a happy and healthy and competing Viktoria Komova.

Aliya Mustafina also made a comeback of sorts after receiving treatment for her back and staying out of competition since December. In that time, Mustafina has found a new coach in Sergei Starkin. For the most part, things seem to be going well. Her block on vault is much improved and she often finds the stick on her double twisting Yurchenko. The pair have mentioned in interviews that Mustafina plans to upgrade vault - whether that means an Amanar or the return of her second vault, we'll have to wait and see. On uneven bars, she showed a solid routine, downgraded from her maximum but appropriate for this time of year with one year still to go to Rio. Her D score was a 6.5 without her signature Mustafina dismount. Her piked Jaeger seems to be doing weird things with a slight straddle at the onset, but we'll see if that returns to it's normal lovely height and position.

Then we get to beam and floor which prove to be her... interesting pieces. Mustafina's D on beam is 6.1 but the flow of the routine seems off and she seemed to miss many connections. In qualifications, it seemed like she would get ready for a connection but then change her mind. In the all around final, it seemed choppier still. But the difficulty is there and in this world where difficulty and execution matter, this routine proves to be competitive. On floor, Mustafina too has a new double layout which I thought we would never see. Her new music is to "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. Personally, I love the piece of music. I think it says a lot about Aliya and what she has done to get to this point - after her ACL tear, after losing her coach, etc. She has done this, largely, her way. I also feel like it's a nice little slap in the face to Valentina Rodionenko who has called Aliya fat and stubborn, the gymnast who went on to be Russia's most decorated athlete at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Ok, Valentina. I digress... I love the music but Aliya has no connection to it. She has four passes this time compared to the three she had at Worlds in 2014 - the new double layout, 2.5 to front full, back 1.5 to front 1.5, and double tuck. With this extra pass, she has less time for actual dance (like everyone else). The music rises just as she does her down to the floor part but she basically rolls and stands up. There is nothing captivating in the choreo like in her past routines.

Aliya's floor at 3:40

I'm not too concerned though. Mustafina is a gymnast that often changes her routine prior to the major competition she actually cares about. If we don't see a change in the music, I'm sure at the very least we'll see a choreography change. She's struggling with her dance elements - her Mustafina is going well and she has a (new?) Gomez (quad turn). She's working on a new attitude turn to Memmel turn but it doesn't seem to be going well. I'm sure that connection will change, or get better if we look at the initial struggle but current consistency on her Mustafina as an example. The other question was whether her whips through to double arabian to stag will return and I certainly hope it does. Is it gone because of inconsistency or because of her back? It remains to be seen.

One of the other stars was Giulia Steingruber. There's no secret story behind Steingruber other than a story of great gymnastics. At European Championships, some discounted her medals because competition like Iordache and Mustafina were not present. Here, Steingruber proved that she can hold her own and compete against the best and, most importantly, win. In the all around, she came second to Mustafina as "expected" but errors on beam almost cost her that medal. On vault, she showed a phenomenal Rudi. Really superb and near stick! Someone on tumblr mentioned that the Steingruber may be coming soon and I had forgotten - maybe the front handspring 2/1 will be real! She kept the full twisting Yurchenko as her second vault and it had amazing height and distance. Her uneven bars construction is very smart in my opinion, maximizing connections and minimizing time on the bars. She has some issues with flexed feet, a low catch on her Markhelov/Khorkina, and the cowboying in her double front but it gets her through the event and keeps her in the all around hunt.

Floor is where Steingruber really shines. Her tumbling is out of this world and it makes you wonder if her difficulty can approach the heights of someone like Simone Biles. Steingruber has a full twisting double layout and a double layout that meets her Rudi up in the rafters. She ends with a double tuck and double pike which are too easy so she often can't control the landing and hops out of bounds. An out of bounds in the floor final nearly cost her the gold medal but didn't because the interior of her routine was solid. One hopes that there are upgrades for the last 2 passes - possibly a full in for one of them.

Maybe I saved the best for last, certainly the most surprising. The most decorated female gymnasts of the Games were Aliya Mustafina, Giulia Steingruber, and Dutch gymnast Lieke Wevers. Wevers is the twin sister of Sanne Wevers who recently won bronze on uneven bars at the European Championships. The two are coached by their father so gymnastics is truly a family affair. Wevers had a phenomenal competition helping the Dutch team to bronze. She made the all around final and earned the bronze medal after a clean competition and also won the bronze on floor and with the team. The real highlight came on balance beam where Wevers has a routine unlike any other - full of wonderfully connected turns and a neat side aerial to side aerial combination. My favorite parts are rather simple things like how she does choreography right into her back handspring and continues choreography right out of it. Sometimes, it's the little things.

1. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) 58.566
2. Giulia Steingruber SUI 56.699
3. Lieke Wevers NED 55.065
4. Sophie Scheder GER 54.932

1. Giulia Steingruber (SUI) (15.566, 14.433) 14.999
2. Seda Tutkhalyan (RUS) (14.833, 14.533) 14.683
3. Lisa Top (NED) (14.133, 13.900) 14.016

1. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) 15.400
2. Sophie Scheder (GER) 15.200
3. Andreea Iridon (ROU) 12.800

1. Lieke Wevers (NED) 14.200
2. Andreea Iridon (ROU) 14.000
3. Giulia Steingruber (SUI) 13.700

1. Giulia Steingruber (SUI) 14.266
2. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) 14.200
3. Lieke Wevers (NED) 13.800

Complete results for MAG/WAG and Rhythmic can be found here.
Stay tuned for an additional recap talking about the competition format, the Romanians, and more.


Volunteering Adventures at FITC 2015

3:37 PM Arabian Punch Front 0 Comments

I am thrilled to have a report on the Flanders International Team Challenge by Marijn who was at the event as a volunteer.


There’s a first for everything. I was a volunteer for the first time at the first Flanders International Team Challenge in Ghent (May 30-31). I worked for three days as a member of the catering service and witnessed firsthand the arrival of the delegations, qualification day and team final day.

On Thursday I arrived at 8am, got my t-shirt and accreditation and started working. The whole arena still needed a gymnastics event makeover. The one side would be taken up by the podium, the four apparatuses, the screens and the administrative desk; the other side would be transformed into the delegation’s restaurant with a buffet and tables for about 200 people. At twelve o’clock the Belgian gymnasts arrived to eat lunch and that was the start of some exciting gymfan adventures. The Flemish gymnastics federation rarely posts updates about our elites and now here they were, right before my own eyes, going about their daily lives. They looked like a real group of friends and were talking about how they have to keep track of their calorie intake with an app and how the seniors have to submit their whereabouts (for drug testing). It was surprising to see that five (!) of them are currently injured.

Then it was on to a security position at the entrance of the training hall, where I had to check the accreditation passes and ask the people to take off their shoes. From my corner, I could see one vaulting table and a piece of the floor, and immediately spotted the Brazilian team. My heart rate went up and down during the course of the afternoon, as one by one the other delegations arrived and came to train. The teams passed by so closely and I recognized a whole lot of gymnasts and smiled as sweetly as possible. Not that I’m a good security member, because who dares to tell Alexandrov to take off his sports shoes? Not me. Later on, this legendary man also came up to me asking where the “mitingk” was, so I didn’t hesitate and personally showed him the way to the orientation meeting. The following days, I saw him back in the stands, observing his Brazilian team very closely, while also keeping an eye on the other teams.

Alexander Alexandrov looking on as Flavia Saraiva warms up

Saturday was the first real competition day, with juniors competing in the morning and seniors in the afternoon. What astonished me was how close the spectators were to the gymnasts and how their leotards are so much more shiny and sparkly and beautiful in real life. The French girls looked great, especially Juliette Bossu with her long and slender lines, Marine Boyer with very powerful gymnastics and Melanie Dos Santos with the potential of becoming a top AAer for France. They were cheering each other on from the sidelines, yelling “Allez, Coco!” and “Allez, Lolo!” for Lorette Charpy and Coline Devillard. After unexpectedly meeting Tabea Alt, Maike Enderle and Florine Harder in the ladies’ room, I provided the press area with some more food and drinks. My impression in two words: dream job. Then I went back to the restaurant to serve lunch. It was interesting to see the difference in the eating habits of the gymnasts. Some only asked for vegetables and lean meat or fish, while other took meat and potatoes and white rice. They all enjoyed a piece of fruit as dessert, though. In the meanwhile, Nina Derwael absolutely smashed it with an AA score of 56.050 and a gold medal. She’s definitely the best gymnast Belgium has ever seen and she’s only a junior.

Next up were the Brazilian seniors. Daniele Hypolito competed on all four events and looked very strong at age 30. Leticia Costa is my new favorite, with a superb vault and floor exercise. Rebeca Andrade fell on a scary-looking vault, but kept on smiling and ended well with a new element on FX, a 1.5 twisting double back. Flavia Saraiva seemed very hard-working, focused and serious before her routines and smiled brightly when she greeted the judges afterwards. The Dutch seniors competed in the second subdivision. The ones that caught my eye were Lieke Wevers, with a lovely floor choreography that reminds me of Catherine Lyons; and Lisa Top, with a piked double arabian and a front handspring to double front. In the last subdivision the Belgians showed up without Laura Waem and Julie Croket. Laura had a stress fracture in her foot and underwent surgery two weeks ago, while Julie felt completely fine during podium training the previous day, but woke up with pain in her knee. The team made some mistakes, but Rune Hermans successfully competed her new back handspring LOSO LOSO on balance beam and Lisa Verschueren surprised me with a good block on vault and a captivating floor exercise. Other countries like Turkey and Norway are just not “there” yet, so I really hope that they can develop like the Belgian and the Dutch program did in the past years.

The team final took place on Sunday. In the morning girls born in 2002 and 2003 competed in the youth competition. At noon I helped serving lunch and afterwards the delegation’s restaurant had to be turned into a VIP-section and a “goodbye dinner for the delegations”-section. To my great disappointment, I didn’t see the team final competition. I would have loved seeing the juniors and seniors compete together, especially the mixed team of Italian juniors and Brazilian seniors. It sounded like a great competition, although there was not nearly enough press interest and audience for a field of competitors like this. At the goodbye dinner I noticed the Spanish and Italian team bonding around a table and taking pictures in the photo booth together. After being on a team together, Francesca Noemi Linari also wanted to take a picture with Flavia. How cute is that?

Although it was hard work, volunteering brought me so much closer to the gymnasts and leaves me with the feeling that I know them a little bit better than the people in the stands and that I was a little part of that wonderful world.

APF: Marine Boyer FRA BB (b. 2000) - check out that round off-layout!

Thank you for the excellent insight on the meet.
You can follow Marijn at spotlightgymnastics.
Specific FITC coverage here