Just as the Chinese Nationals Championships ended on one side of the world, the World Challenge Cup series took off in Europe with its first stop in Koper, Slovenia. While the field wasn’t the most competitive, this meet marked the return of some of last quad’s stars and the senior international debut of some new faces.

On vault, Rebeca Andrade of Brazil easily took the title with an average grade of 14.600 after two textbook perfect vaults: first a Lopez with only a tiny hop back and then a DTY with a step back. Showing the same two vaults, Boglarka Devai of Hungary was second with 14.150 after hit but not as clean vaults, crossing her ankles and taking a step on the landing on her DTY and also stepping back on her Lopez. In third place was World Cup regular Teja Belak of Slovenia finishing with 14.025 in front of her crowd after presenting a front layout full with some bent knees and a tiny hop on the landing and a very tight Yurchenko 1.5 with a hop to the side and out-of-bounds.

Returning after several months away from competition, Canada’s Ellie Black was fourth with 13.725 showing slightly downgraded vaults, with Tijana Tkalcec of Croatia was fifth with 13.450. Michelle Timm of Germany was sixth with 13.400, Anastasia Bieliaieva of Ukraine was seventh with 13.200 and Black’s teammate Rose Kaying-Woo was eighth with 13.150. Despite downgrading her Amanar to a DTY, Rebeca still managed to come out on top thanks to her great execution and form. With such a depleted field on this event this year, she could find herself among the strongest contenders for the podium, especially if she brings back her Amanar and eventually upgrades the Lopez to a Mustafina or even a Cheng.

Defying everything the gymternet believes to be true in the Universe, a Romania girl won gold on bars after Larisa Iordache scored 13.800 for her routine, featuring a Maloney to clear hip to Tkachev to pak, though she had leg separation issues on both transitions, a van Leeuwen and a toe-in full into her full-in dismount which she landed with just a hop. Matching Iordache’s score but losing the tie-breaker due to higher difficulty (5.9 vs Iordache’s 5.4) was Black who showed a Maloney to Hindorff, a Shang, a piked jaeger to pak, a van Leeuwen and a stuck toe-in front tuck half, but unfortunately had messy leg form everywhere. In third place was Brazil’s Flávia Saraiva with 13.450 after showing a generally solid performance including a toe-in full to Tkachev, a piked Tkachev to pak and a brand new double front dismount with a step forward but also struggling with leg separation at times like the first two medalists.

Just half a tenth behind Saraiva was Slovakia’s Barbora Mokosova in fourth with 13.400, while new senior Caitlin Rooskrantz of South Africa was fifth with 13.150 and Woo was sixth with 12.950. Yana Fedorova of Ukraine was seventh with 12.550 after a sole routine featuring just a flyaway dismount and lastly Timm was eighth with 11.600 after falling on a clear hip full on the low bar. Despite Romania’s usual struggle on bars, Larisa has always been one of their best on the event and as improved quite a lot on the last few months as she recovered from a foot injury. If she’s able to maintain this level on bars and hopefully bring back competitive routines on vault and floor, she could very well be in the run for the all-around title later this year at Worlds.

On Sunday it was time for the beam and floor finals and Iordache took yet another gold medal with a total of 14.150, redeeming herself a bit from her Euros performance. Starting off with her BHS to tuck full series, she took a step back and had a small wobble at the end, but recovered well to continue with a front aerial to split jump to BHS before also struggling with some balance checks on her double turn, switch half and side somi and finishing with a round-off to BHS to triple twist dismount, considerably underrotated and with a big step back to steady herself. Over a full point behind was once again Black who performed a double turn with a wobble, a BHS to layout also with a check at the end, a front pike and a front tuck, both with a hop back, a switch leap to switch half a bit short and ending her routine with a stuck front layout full dismount to score 13.100. With the rest of the field counting falls or working at a lower level of difficulty, Thaís Fidelis of Brazil managed to take the bronze medal with 12.850 despite also counting a fall of her own. She started off with her trademark BHS to arabian series, where she unfortunately counted the fall, but was able to recover nicely to show a second acro series of BHS to LOSO to LOSO with a tiny wobble at the end, as well as a front aerial to split jump to straddle jump, a switch leap to switch half, also with a wobble, a switch ring and a front tuck, before finishing with a double pike dismount with a few steps back.

In one of the most surprising falls ever, Saraiva fell on some of her side choreography to score only 12.800 and finish fourth, while Mokosova was fifth with 12.400 due to her low-difficulty, even if clean, routine. Germany’s Carina Kroll was sixth with 12.400, Woo was seventh with 11.550 after crashing her double pike dismount and losing the value of skill and Dalia Al-Salty of Hungary was eighth with 11.350 after falling on her LOSO. After finishing third at Euros in her own country due to a heavily stumbled dismount, Larisa managed to take gold here and continue her path towards Montreal where she’s expected to fight for the beam and all-around titles. Though that dismount still gives her some grief, it is highly valuable and she will mostly likely keep it in her routine so I just hope she can clean it up a bit to prevent injury and major deductions in the future.

Coming in as a bit of a surprise, Kroll ended up taking the gold on floor with 13.100 after hitting her exercise with elegance and confidence, including a 2.5 twists to front tuck with a small step forward, a Memmel turn to illusion turn, a double tuck with some steps back and a double twist also with a couple of tiny steps back. Still working at a lower level than she’s capable of, Black took yet another silver medal (third of her collection here) with a score of 12.850 after showing a front layout full through to double tuck with a tiny hop back going out-of-bounds, a front double twist with a big step forward also out-of-bounds and a stuck double twist to finish her expressive routine. After missing the podium on bars and beam, Mokosova finally got a medal, finishing third on floor with 12.600 despite her 4.4-difficulty. Using an alternative version of “Let it go” mashed up with Verdi by the famous YouTube performers PianoGuys, Mokosova presented an elegant routine featuring a double L turn, a double tuck with a hop back, a 1.5 twist to front layout and a front layout full to stag jump, narrowly edging out Fidelis to capture the bronze medal.

Despite boosting the highest difficulty of the final (5.2 D-score), Fidelis was only fourth with 12.550 after sitting her double arabian on her opening pass, followed by Valeria Osipova of Ukraine in fifth with 12.400 and Tamara Mrdenovic of Serbia in sixth with 12.250, both with hit performances. Thea Brogli of Switzerland was seventh with 11.650 after falling on her front layout full dismount and podium contender Saraiva was eighth with 3.250 after a very scary fall on her opening 2.5 twists to front layout full, where she injured her ankle and couldn’t continue the routine. Just as this final shows, floor is now the lowest scoring event with the top girls aiming to reach the mid-13s range and most not making it past the 12s. With the new Olympic cycle just starting, this is no reason to worry as most will adapt to the new code as the time moves along. However, it’s still quite sad to see such low scores on this event, even for hit routines with difficult skills so hopefully they will rise in the near future as we enter the second half of the season with everyone eyeing the World Championships in October.

On the men’s side, American Eddie Penev took the title on floor with 14.400, followed by his teammate Donnell Whittenburg just a tenth behind him, while Saso Bertoncelj of Slovenia was first on pommels with 14.900, improving a full point from qualifications and outscoring superstar Kriztian Berki of Hungary who finished third after showing a slightly downgraded routine. On rings, 2012 Olympic Champion Arthur Zanetti of Brazil finished first with 14.850, matching his qualifications score, and Israel’s Andrey Medvedev took the title on vault with an average of 14.975 after performing first a Blanik with some leg separation and bent knees on the second flip and landed with a hop forward and then presenting a Tsukahara double pike with just a tiny hop to the side, boosting the highest difficulty combination of the final. Donnell Whittenburg managed win the gold on parallel bars with 14.750, scoring slightly lower in execution compared to qualifications but still holding to that leading position, and lastly Tin Srbic of Croatia was first on high bar with 14.400, a score also achieved by Dutch Bart Deurloo who lost the tie-breaker due to a higher difficulty (6.3 versus Srbic’ 6.2).

Overall, this was a solid competition which set off the World Challenge Cup circuit quite well, with Iordache and the Brazilian girls the big stars for the moment. While some might be doing these meets as a means to gather some money from the sport, most of the gymnasts are just looking to get some experience on an international stage and keep the competitive spirit in between the bigger meets like Worlds or Euros. In that sense, we should expect to continue to see some of them for the next few weeks as the series continues all across Europe, providing the younger and lesser known girls with a great chance to compete in front of a big crowd and against some of the world’s best athletes.

Full results here.


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