Montpellier Euros: The Surprises

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Nice list, Bea! I agree it was difficult to watch the Romanian Team come up short, and especially Diana Bulimar, who’s been through so many up’s and down’s over the last couple of years. I also feel for Erika Fasana, who performed admirably, but like you said, ultimately missed out narrowly on podium-finishes.

Before moving on to Montpellier’s biggest surprises, I would like to add one more disappointment: Alla Sosnitskaya.

Even though her absence allowed for one of the bigger stories at this meet (and we’ll go there in a second), it was still a shame to see her go down with an injury, especially such an ill-timed one, just a day before qualifications. Ever since her senior debut in 2013, when she competed for Russia as a reserve, Alla has received more than her share of negative feedback, mostly because she doesn’t fit the typical mold of Russian gymnast, so what should be her own fan base doesn’t quite know what to do with her. She’s powerful but struggles to harness it; she has high difficulty but it sometimes comes at the expense of execution.Trouble aside, she has routinely risen above the critics’ collective expectations: She currently holds three consecutive vault titles at combined Russian Championship/Cup events, she brought a Cheng to her feet at last year’s World Championships, and she placed seventh in the All Around Final at said championships. I’ve seen her perform live at two meets (Osijek Challenge Cup in 2013 and the Russian Cup in 2014), and I can assure you she’s a frustrated perfectionist. She would have been looking to nail it here. It’s a shame that this injury (torn ligaments and possible achilles trouble) not only barred her participation in Montpellier but, according to Valentina Rodionenko, will also prohibit her from competing at the upcoming European Games in Baku. It won’t be a swift recovery.

But enough of that, and onto Montpellier’s biggest surprises.

Sanne Wevers’ bronze-winning performance on uneven bars was certainly a surprise, in a delightful way, as was Giulia Steingruber’s dominant All Around performance. (And that’s not to say we didn’t think she was capable of it. It was surprising because of just how commanding it was; it was surprising because three of her rivals had placed all-around scores in 2015 that were higher than hers on the eve of competition.)

Without negating the importance of those surprising results, there are two that stand out further still:

First: Maria Paseka

Unfortunately but inextricably linked to the fortune of the Sosnitskaya, Maria Paseka’s winning performance on vault was surprising in the most splendid way:

First, she performed one of the best Amanar’s we’ve seen from her. It was high, it was tight, it was close to a stick.

Second, she performed a Cheng. It was not especially pretty, but then again I’ve seen very few Cheng’s that I actually like.

Third, she wasn’t supposed to be there, flying to France just in time for qualifications and missing podium training entirely. There would be no practice for her.

Fourth, she won the title on the event that brought her to grief at her last European Championship. In front of a loud, cheering home crowd in Moscow, the Olympic bronze medalist capitulated under the pressure, ending her first vault on her rear and the second on her knees.That was her last major international competition before this latest, unexpected one.

You really couldn’t have written it better.

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Second: Becky Downie

Everyone knows Becky can be a beast on bars. She was the reigning European Champion on the event when she arrived in Montpellier, a title she grabbed with one of the most deserved and heartrending performances we’ve seen in quite some time. Her silvery performances on uneven bars and balance beam at this competition make the “surprise” category not because we doubted her ultimate ability but because of a rather slow start to her season. The English and British Championships revealed a not-quite –polished athlete, her beam routine tentative and the dance elements insecure, her bar routine similar to last year’s but with costly form breaks. With only those performances to consider, it was reasonable to question how well she’d perform in Montpellier.

Clearly, her beginning-of-the-season jitters must have stayed in GB, because in Montepellier she gave one of the better beam routines I’ve seen her do (the one she’s probably been dying to show us since the Event Final at last year’s Commonwealth Championships!) and she owned that bar routine again, ultimately missing the title but confirming that last year was no fluke. She has found her rhythm and her game-day face, so don’t you go drawing any hasty conclusions!

Well, Bea, that’s all I have. Any other big surprises you’d add?

Article: Sara Dorrien

Photo: Nadia Boyce

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