The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

National Team Update — Europe & Africa

Europe

Italy
In the absence of the banned Russian team, the Italians continue to be the class of European gymnastics, dominating this week’s Mediterranean Games with gold in every discipline along with silver in the AA and on bars, beam, and floor. Martina Maggio and Asia D’Amato have been the team’s clear scoring leaders in 2022, both leaving the Mediterranean Games with 3 golds and 2 silvers. Giorgia Villa—who has competed only bars and beam so far this year—added a bars gold to Italy’s haul, and first-year senior Angela Andreoli, who already seems to have carved out a regular spot for herself in the D’Amato-Villa-Maggio government, took vault bronze.

All of which amounts to the Italians heading into August’s European Championship as the lightly-set favorite for team gold with the highest scoring potential among the attending squads. Even when using only scores from multi-nation competitions and eliminating some obviously inflated numbers from Serie A, the Italians still have the highest-scoring team in Europe, though not by a large margin over the British. The budding Italian/British rivalry that was born of Great Britain’s 4-tenth victory in the race for Olympic bronze should be reignited in Munich.  

Great Britain
Current news from the world of British gymnastics primarily concerns absences. The team-leading Gadirovas were not named to the English squad for the Commonwealth Games after pulling themselves out of consideration, electing instead to prepare for meets like the European Championship. Their absences will allow for a newly competing again Claudia Fragapane—as well as fellow veteran Kelly Simm—to see if they can use the CWG to make a case for their returns to major British teams.

Becky Downie’s Achilles tear, which will keep her out of this year’s major competitions, is a blow, and with Amelie Morgan at Utah, the current British group is in the deeply unusual position of needing to bolster its bars scores. Beam is scoring better than bars right now. The world is shaken. That probably means a significant place on teams this year for the oft-overlooked Georgia-Mae Fenton (who is now the top-scoring, actually healthy British bars worker), but it could also mean an opening for Simm, who has always counted bars as her best event.

France
The French team—absent Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos and this year’s scoring leader Aline Friess—nonetheless took a solid second to the Italians at the Mediterranean Games and survived a potentially devastating injury scare to Lorette Charpy, who will have to miss next weekend’s national championship but is not supposed to be out for an extended period.

Also absent from the start list for nationals is De Jesus Dos Santos, who was last seen having perfect form at WCC. When DJDS is back, the French team will have a very competitive case to challenge Italy and Great Britain, at least as long as the federation doesn’t self-sabotage itself too hard. With De Jesus Dos Santos, Friess, Heduit, Charpy, and perhaps Devillard vaulting or Boyer beaming (or veteran Morgane Osyssek, who was part of the Mediterranean team and is having her most competitive season), the scores are there on all four events.

Germany
Last weekend’s German Championship provided an opportunity to get the classic gang back together—while showing that they’re still the best in the country and should be named to all the teams with little anxiety wasted over the decision. Sarah Voss took the all-around championship and vault title, Kim Bui won the bars and floor titles and placed second in the all-around, Pauline Schaefer won beam, and Elisabeth Seitz took second on bars with a majorly downgraded routine in her two-event performance. All four continue to be leagues ahead of the rest of the German elites, even when not fully back or competing all the events. The lack of challenge they face from the newer athletes will be a problem when they retire, but as long as they never do, everything is roses.

Among the next generation, I’d consider Emma Malewski the current frontrunner. She took third in the all-around at nationals sporting a very compelling 13.350 on beam that day. Germany is always looking for someone to provide a useful third beam score to go with Schaefer and Voss, and right now that person looks like Malewski.

Netherlands
The current [eyes emoji][squiggle mouth emoji] personal situation at the national team notwithstanding, last weekend’s Dutch Championship did produce some encouraging performances for the Netherlands in the hope that the squad can keep up its current status as a regular team-final challenger. Naomi Visser put in a dominant showing to win nearly every title available, and Shadé van Oorschot proved with her all-around bronze that she could be a legitimate new contender for major teams in the absence of the Weverseseses and with Thorsdottir slowly returning. 

Thorsdottir came back to show work-in-progress beam and floor routines at nationals, falling a few times on beam and performing a floor routine that was mostly about emoting and not so much about the D score. When Thorsdottir is in full form, there will remain a spot for her on Dutch teams because she does gymnastics correctly, but as of nationals she’s not currently showing the routines that would put her on a team.

In terms of those who are currently contributing scores along with Visser and van Oorschot, Sanna Veerman didn’t have an awesome national championship on bars, her best event, but she has scored 14 a couple times so far this year, which the Netherlands needs. Tisha Volleman continues to be a stalwart presence as well, so with them, the Netherlands should still consider itself a continental contender with scores this year that are on par with the German team in that tier right below Italy, GB, and France.

Worlds watch
At the Mediterranean Games, the Turkish women put up a solid fight to finish fourth, not too far behind the bronze medalists Spain, which bodes well for their chances to qualify a full team to worlds this year in the crucible of insanity that will be the race for the final few team places from Europe.

There are 13 team spots available at worlds for countries from Europe, and nine obvious frontrunners for those spots: Italy, Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, Belgium, Spain, and Romania.

Yes, Belgium’s scores have been a bit lower this year without Derwael, the same goes for Spain without Ana Perez or Roxana Popa or Cintia Rodriguez, and Romania is *gestures at 2015-2021* and all, but these nine countries should have the depth and quality of believable routines to make a 24-team worlds without an excess of drama.

That would leave four remaining team spots up in the air. If not for the everything, I’d consider Ukraine as one of the frontrunners as well, but much will depend on whether they go and the athlete availability and training situation.

Then there’s a nation like Switzerland, which is always part of the in-crowd but has more or less not competed this year. Finland has seen Maisa Kuusikko put up some gigantic scores and actually has a peak team total that would challenge the likes of Spain (probably unrealistic, but top 13 is viable), while Norway has been recording some of its best-ever results as world cups lately. Then you have Sweden, which should be in the conversation on talent, though Sweden always seems to be like, “We’ll send zero-point-three gymnasts to this meet instead of five because we hate them.”

But given the scores we’ve seen from Turkey both at world cups and the Mediterranean Games, this team should be at least amid that group of challengers, if not above. A big factor in Turkey’s favor is…actually having the requisite number of athletes to provide scores on each event, which is not an inconsequential consideration this year. There are a number of countries like Slovenia that would actually have the scores to contend, as long as they have three bars and floor routines.

Africa

Worlds watch
The Mediterranean Games also provided a look at the current state of Team Egypt as we head into next week’s African Championship, where one team spot for worlds will be available. Right now, Egypt and South Africa look pretty neck-and-neck for it given their results this year. 

Egypt took 6th place at the Mediterranean Games with a full team (which did not include Nancy Taman, whose vault you’d consider a necessity if she’s healthy), recording scores that would be about 1.5 behind the composite of what we’ve seen from the best South African athletes at various world cups so far this year. Which is basically just a single beam disaster.

South Africa has sent 11 different athletes to world cup events this year, which is an encouraging level of depth that presents a number of different, equivalently scoring options for a team. Olympians Caitlin Rooskrantz and Naveen Daries remain the top two athletes for South Africa, and you’d probably want to add the vault and floor scores put up by newer senior Garcelle Napier in Varna. We’ve also seen a countable bars score from Tamsyn Bessit in Koper and a useful beam score from Shante Koti and bars score from Caelin Mayers in Osijek, all providing realistic options. But you’ve got to pick five.

Last time around for Olympic qualification, there was a live stream of the African Championship, but we shall see this time. The precedent for continental championships in 2022 has not been encouraging.

 

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