After months of World Cups and friendly meets, the first big competition of the year was finally here with the European Championships taking place in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, from April 19th through to April 23rd where gymnasts from the Old Continent got together for the first big test of the 2017-2020 quad.
Starting with two full days of qualifications, the championships continued with the all-around finals on Friday. On the men’s side, the top three finishers from qualifications maintained their positions, with Olympic Silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine taking gold, followed new comer Artur Dalaloyan of Russia with silver and James Hall of Great Britain with bronze.
In a mostly clean competition, Verniaiev finished first with a total of 85.866, after scoring in the 14s on every event but floor where he landed his first pass a bit low and was forced to put his hand down to avoid a fall, receiving just 13.466 despite hitting the rest of his routine with only small steps and hops on landings. On pommel horse, he was very solid with only a small hesitation on one handstand but once again only competed a 6.2-difficulty score, which is considerably lower than what he’s presented earlier this year. He went on to receive 14.700 on rings and vault after looking clean on both, showing a double double dismount with a tiny step on the former and a somewhat low Dragulescu vault with a small step back on the latter. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as good as he can be on parallel bars, counting a major form break on his single rail handstand, which lead to a score in the mid-14s despite an otherwise solid routine and a double front half-out dismount with a hop back. Finishing on high bar, Verniaiev was able to stay calm and hit his least favorite apparatus, showing a Tkachev half, a very high Yamawaki and a double twisting double layout dismount with a step back for a 14.000. After competing non-stop pretty much since Rio, Oleg still managed to outscore all his opponents in Cluj and take the European all-around title once again. While I’m sure some rest would be very welcome, he’s publicly announced he will only have a 10 days vacation in May and will immediately get back to training in preparation for Worlds. Hopefully he can keep this level of gymnastics and the lack of rest won’t turn out to be problematic for him.
New Russian superstar Dalaloyan was able to take the silver medal just tenths behind Verniaiev with 85.498 after great routines on every event but pommels where he had a fall and was forced to count a score in the mid-12s. Starting on floor, he posted in the high-14s after showing difficult tumbles, such as a front layout to piked double front with a hop and a double double with a back, as well as pretty splits and pointed toes, while on rings he was mostly clean and scored in the low-14s and on vault he had his highest mark of the day with 14.933 after throwing a fantastic TTY with a hop forward. Parallel bars was another successful event for him, showing a beautiful handstand shape and looking very clean throughout his exercise, before dismounting with a double front half-out with a step back for a score in the mid-14s. Finishing on high bar, he received a similar result for his routine, which featured both a tucked and a laid-out Kovacs, a layout Tkachev and a stuck double twisting double layout dismount to end his great day. Turning 21 this year, Artur is definitely one to watch among the younger Russians, especially after taking gold at the Russian Championships in March and now the silver medal at his first big international competition. My hope is that he can continue to improve his skills and consistency and can become a great asset for the team in the near future.
Rocking a very interesting new leo for Brits, Hall took the bronze medal after gathering a total of 84.664. He started off with two scores in the low-14s on floor and pommels, followed by a high-13 on rings after showing some trouble keeping his position in his planches and having a shaky handstand right before his double double dismount, which he was still able to stick. He then vaulted a Tsukahara with 2.5 twists for a 14.166, receiving that same score for his parallel bars routine that featured some issues with handstands, being a bit short on some of them and overarching a few others, but also a stuck double front dismount. Lastly on high bar, he showed impressive releases, such as a Cassina, a Kovacs and a Kolman, but was quite late on his pirouette skills, before finishing with a double twisting double layout dismount with a step forward, just like the two top medalists. With some of his stronger teammates taking breaks or still recovering from injury, James has finally had his time to shine, winning multiple medals at the recent British Championships, including gold on pommels and parallel bars, and now a bronze at his first European Championships, so he should continue to impress and maybe secure a spot in the Worlds team later this year.
In fourth place was Nikita Ignatyev of Russia with a total of 83.964 after having some issues on high bar, parallel bars and pommel horse but managing to avoid counting any falls into his final score. In fifth was Joe Fraser of Great Britain with 82.982 after qualifying in fourteenth place but coming back strong in the final to improve his all-around score in almost two full points. Armenia’s Artur Davtyan was sixth with 82.864, representing the power of clean execution over high difficulty and managing to finish among the best in the continent despite very low D-scores across all events, including three of them in the 4s range when most competitors are working closer to the 6s. In seventh place was Lukas Dauser of Germany with 82.199 after a fall on high bar and Ferhat Arican of Turkey was eighth with 82.097 after a fall on pommel horse.
Notable absent from this top 8 was Oliver Hegi of Switzerland who qualified fourth into this final after a great day of qualifications but was unable to repeat that performance during finals and finished twelfth after two falls on pommel horse, a fall on floor, issues on rings and a crashed vault. He managed to hit his last two events, parallel bars and high bar but the damage was already done by then and he finished with just 80.231, over four points below his qualifications score.
Once again, the top gymnasts in Europe got together to contend for the title of best in the continent and once again Verniaiev came out on top, gathering another gold medal for his collection. Nonetheless, other lesser known athletes were able to show the world their skills and caught the eye of gymfans all over the planet, who will now be rooting for them in future competitions. With World Challenge Cups still to come, we might just get to see these new stars continue their progress on a weekly basis and become even more familiarized with their gymnastics.
Full results here.