2016 European Championships WAG Senior Preview
The European Championships will take place from in Bern, Switzerland. It will be held in the Olympic format with 5 athletes on each team. In qualifications and finals, 3 will compete on each event with all 3 scores counting. There will not be an all around competition for the seniors so the primary focus is the team medal, and, of course, trying out new skills on the lead up to the Rio Olympic Games.
(Corrected: Format is not 5-4-3 for seniors, but will be 5-4-3 in quals for juniors)
The two teams most likely to battle for the title are Russia and Great Britain. The Russian team has new senior and Russian 2016 All Around Champion Angelina Melnikova. Melnikova has been one of the stars as a junior and, thus far, this has transitioned well to her senior career. She is joined by Olympians Ksenia Afanasyeva and Aliya Mustafina and worlds team members Daria Spiridonova and Seda Tutkhalyan. Tutkhalyan was a substitution for injured vaulter Maria Paseka. Her position may change prior to the actual competition.
This team has many strengths, the top being experience. On vault, they'll have three double twisting Yurchenkos in Afanasyeva, Tutkhalyan, Melnikova. On uneven bars, Russia boasts a great lineup, with Olympic Champion Aliya Mustafina and World Champion Daria Spiridonova. Beam, as always, is where things get interesting for Russia. Melnikova and Mustafina, who has struggled to find a suitable acrobatic series, will most likely do beam. The other spot is open to either Tutkhalyan or Afanasyeva. Though Afanasyeva has not competed beam recently, the veteran has often competed beam in team finals situation for Russia along with making multiple international event finals. Tutkhalyan boasts high difficulty on that event though her consistency leaves her spot in question, a large part of why she was initially not named to the team. Russia will have no problem staying competitive on floor.
Russia will battle for gold with Great Britain. Team GB will send an entirely veteran team. The good thing is that we don't have to worry about all around performers - Fragapane will not have to compete on uneven bars, this is the way it is listed in the nominative list. On vault, GB has 3 solid DTYs in Claudia Fragapane, Ellie Downie, and Ruby Harrold. Rumor is that Becky Downie has started working vault again and even a serviceable FTY from her or Gabby Jupp, if able, would ease the stress of not having a 4th score in prelims. On uneven bars, GB boasts a great lineup, similar to Russia in capabilities but with a very different routine composition (#shaposh4lyfe). Beam will likely be a toss up between Harrold and Jupp for the 4th spot. While floor exercise will likely consist of everyone but Jupp. This will serve as a great test - international test for Double Downies and Fragapane who's errors cost them placement in event finals at 2015 worlds - and a test for Harrold and Jupp, especially once Tinkler is added back to the possibilities list.
Rounding out the podium will be difficult to assess. The next few teams from Worlds - Italy, Netherlands, France, and Belgium will not be sending an A-team. Here's what to look for in each of them.
Italy will be without their F trio - Ferrari, Ferlito, Fasana. Their team consists of Enus Mariani, Elisa Meneghini, Lara Mori, Martina Rizzelli, and Sofia Busato. Sofia Busato is a first year senior that has been dealing with injuries for quite sometime. As a junior, she had a lovely floor exercise that started with an intricate headstand double stag pose. She hasn't competed much but vault so look for her to compete a solid DTY and floor. It will be important to see how the Mariani, Meneghini, and Rizzelli fare on UB. Rizzelli boasts a DTY which be useful for Team Italy in Rio but as one of the strongest uneven bar workers, she would need to show good execution and consistency to keep herself in contention. Mariani and Meneghini are fighting for much the same UB/BB spot and seem to switch competition to competition in terms of rank so look to see who hits and makes any event finals. (Note: On the initial start list, Meneghini is not listed on UB but this may change with the addition of Busato in place of Erika Fasana.) Lara Mori has a strong all around score but a strong performance on uneven bars and floor would be crucial for her.
France's team is middle of the road. Look for strong performances from Boyer, Brevet, and His, particularly on uneven bars and balance beam. Allison Lepin is replacing Louise Vanhille so look to see where she can hit as she has not competed much in 2016.
Like some of the teams mentioned before, Belgium is not sending an A-team. They recently competed at the Test Event and are using the European Championship as a chance to test out other athletes. Nina Derwael is recovering from a hand injury so how she performs on bars will be crucial.
The Netherlands is not sending any athletes in contention for an Olympic spot (though with Top down with an ACL tear, this may change). Tisha Volleman competed at the American Cup earlier this year. Mara Titarsolej is a very even all arounder and capable of 55+. Watch her on balance beam and floor exercise.
Germany's team will be led by Kim Bui who recently returned from ACL tear. Look for a strong all around performance from her and a possible uneven bar event final.
Americans Kylie Dickson and Alaina Kwan will be joining Belarusian teammates at Euros. This includes Sviatlana Lifenka and first-year senior Dziyana Hramko. Dickson earned the Olympic spot at the Test Event so look for improvements on all events from her.
Switzerland just missed out on a shot at sending a team for the Olympics. Look for them to fight for a spot in team finals and possibly on the podium. Led by Giulia Steingruber, look for her to make vault and floor finals with a possible medal in either... or both Also look for Ilaria Kaeslin on balance beam and floor exercise.
Spain's team will include future Olympian Ana Perez. A favorite of mine is Cintia Rodriguez who is known for her beautiful lines. Look for her to possibly compete her original skill - a stalder full shoot to the high bar. She has also worked a double Y turn on beam.
Greece will be led by veteran Vasiliki Millousi. Watch for a spectacular beam performance from her but also look out for Argyro Afrati who is more than ready to take the lead, especially in the all around.
Hungary has a powerful trio of gymnasts but only one could be named to the Olympic Games. At the moment, it seems that spot will go to Zsofia Kovacs who had a higher placement at the Test Event. However, watch for strong performances from Noemi Makra, particularly on uneven bars, and veteran Dorina Boczogo on beam and floor.
I wrote this entire thing and then realized I left out Romania. Romania still has not named their Olympian so keep your eyes open. Of the athletes going to Bern, Ponor seems to be highest in the ranking to go to Rio. Watch all her performances closely. We'll see if she debuts bars for the first time in nearly 8 years. We'll also see if she competes her piked full in dismount off beam and her full twisting double layout on floor. She's also been training a DTY again so we'll see if she shows that. Ocolisan is basically next in line to look to see where she ranks in the hypothetical all around (if she competes all 4). (Corrected: Bulimar will not be competing due to Achilles tear.)
Who are you most excited to see compete?