2015 European Championships Montpellier.

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2015 European Championships

The unfamiliar and enviable position GB selectors find themselves in, is one that British fans would have scarcely dared to dream about even a few years ago. Leaving genuine medal contenders at home for a European championships? Welcome to British Gymnastics 2015.

When the dust from the team announcement eventually settled, all eyes turned to Montpellier. One hugely experienced gymnast, one third year senior, and two fresh from junior ranks made up the team with the Union Jack on their backs. Mixed fortunes leading into the competition, a testing British championships, a difficult outing to the USA, a new British champion, injuries, and lots of upgrades made it hard to predict how any of the girls were going to fare. The potential to add names to Tweddle, Whelan, and Becky Downie on the European honours list was huge, but the gulf between potential and success is often bigger still.

When the team hits, and returns with the highest medal count in history, the selectors have done their job, would anyone else have fared better? I say not this time. When the only girl returning home without a medal is the reigning English and British champion, and also winner of the closed trial, who hit all five routines she competed, again I say not this time.

Lets take a closer look at how each of Britain’s gymnasts fared:

Amy Tinkler

South Durham’s Amy Tinkler has stormed into the senior ranks, and for fans of British gymnastics this will be no surprise. One of GB’s talented crop of juniors who excelled at the 2014 junior Europeans, Amy signalled her intent with AA victories at both the English and the British championships earlier in the year. With upgrades or improvements on every piece, Amy was unfortunate in that despite qualifying 6th AA, two of her team-mates finished ahead of her thus bumping her out of finals.
Amy scored well on across three pieces hitting her routines, of particular note is the 14.625 for a DTY that had so much power she flew back out of it incurring big landing deductions, and signalling that this will be a very high scoring vault when under control. Here, and indeed at the British championships Amy piked the vault down when she had no need to as the height was there, hence the landing issue.
Two big wobbles on beam, one on her very impressive gainer layout-layout series, and one on her free walkover meant her score was quite a bit down on what she would have hoped for. What was impressive here though is despite the problems, (there was a well saved slip on the back tuck too) Amy continued to work sharply keeping the flow of the routine going, rather than pulling back tentatively as we see all too often when gymnasts have issues on beam. The new triple twist dismount is high, fully rotated and well performed, a little overcooked here, but the precision will come. Should the double spin and the standing full twist reappear, this is going to be a huge routine.

The highlight of Amy’s qualification would have been finishing the day in third place on floor, an excellent result bringing the reward of a final at her first senior international.

Amy competed superbly in finals, it’s so refreshing to see a gymnast smile and perform her way through floor, looking like she wants to be there and is actually enjoying herself! The routine suits her well, her leaps and tumbles are well executed, the routine flows, and I expect we shall be seeing her in many finals over the years to come. On the day it was just the landings that gave Amy a little trouble, nothing major, but a little short on the opening full twisting double layout, and a little bouncy everywhere else meant that there is room for the score and the placement to improve.

Hopefully Amy leaves these championships feeling proud of herself, and determined to forge ahead even more strongly. She is a hugely exciting gymnast and addition to the senior team with an exciting future ahead.

Amy’s VT from Qualification, and FX from finals

Becky Downie

The best response to the suggestion you shouldn’t have been picked for Europeans? Come home with two silvers, one of which could certainly have been gold.
Britain’s eldest and most experienced team member came into these championships on the back of a wave of hysteria over her ability to hit. A tricky start to the season does not a career end, a disaster of an outing on beam at the British does not wipe out years of international experience. Senior gymnasts that manage to stay at the top of their sport, for eight years are going to take a little more than that to throw in the towel. Elite gymnastics is tough, elite gymnasts are tougher. For the record, this bloggers opinion of the British is that Becky’s concentration went, lost in trying to get an acro series in. By the time she came to the end of the routine, the sensible thing to do to preserve body and mind for greater challenges ahead was to call it a day and end the routine. It happens.

On to the competition. In qualifying Becky performed strongly on beam, working quickly and confidently throughout. There were minor adjustments on the opening front somi, then the free cartwheel-layout, the armography of experience covering them well. Having got the series out of the way, Becky seemed to relax, and the routine flowed well. A strong double pike to finish, and 14.366 for second place.

For bars qualification, Becky went through her new routine to be awarded 15.233 for a 6.7 D score. Interestingly when watching the routine it comes out at a 6.6 D (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), her D score in finals was also 6.7, however in qualifiers she competed the Ricna after the toe on full, and in finals she competed the Downie making the 0.1 difference. A judging error? Of course Becky would have been in the final either way, and still qualified second either way, but an interesting observation.

For finals it was not to be a repeat of last year’s gold, but upping the routine (this time with the Downie) and scoring exactly the same in execution shows that this routine is solid, and even ready to be upgraded. Becky has tweeted about hitting a 7.0 D routine in training, a Ricna before the Pak perhaps? Russia’s Daria Spiridonova managed to connect her toe on shap half to her Pak lifting her SV 0.2 higher than in qualification, and securing her the title for this year. Both girls were so far ahead of the rest of the field that they had their own final within a final, and both performed brilliantly under the pressure of knowing gold was there for the taking.

Back the next day for beam, and Becky went up 6th out of eight. For me this was a beautiful routine, and worthy of the title. A little British bias perhaps, but when there is 0.066 in it, it’s easy to argue that things could have gone the other way. Becky was 0.1 down in difficulty from Romania’s Andreea Munteanu, but only 0.034 ahead in E score which is where I would differ in opinion. It is of course easy to comment with the benefit of video, and from a completely different angle to that of the judges, but I saw a smoother routine with less concentration pauses, and less severe overall errors. Whatever the result, the best part of Becky’s beam was possibly the smile on landing her dismount that said ‘What British championships’.

Two silvers, and the second best European medal haul from any British WAG in history. Becky Downie is far from finished, and I personally couldn’t be happier that she proved it so emphatically.

Becky’s medal winning performances

Ellie Downie

Like Amy Tinkler, the second new senior on the team Ellie Downie graduated from 2014’s hugely successful junior European team. All round bronze medalist, and vault champion Ellie would be looking for a strong start to her international senior career. As with older sister Becky, Ellie hadn’t enjoyed the best start to 2015. Due to injury, Ellie didn’t compete vault at the English Championships, and watered down her floor, at the British. The impressive Patterson beam dismount was back, but problems on floor kept her from reaching her scoring potential. Again there were grumblings that perhaps she shouldn’t have been selected at this time, again it was proven that those seeing the gymnasts day in day out are the ones that should select the team.

What a debut, finishing qualifying in third place was a huge achievement. It would be a lot to ask a fifteen year old who hadn’t been at full strength for a while to repeat, Ellie herself said that her target from there was to make top eight to hear her name called out.

A great start on bars, just an early hesitation on the first circle to handstand, plus a couple of snatched casts, but a big swing, and the well timed high releases that run in the family. A great double layout especially for one so tall, just the pace on landing.

Beam was the piece that made the competition, sometimes tentative in approach, this was one of the most positive beams I’ve seen Ellie do in a long time. She has a lovely languid flow to her acrobatics, the leaps are at present the weakest part, but they have amplitude and good form, just a little lacking in attack and therefore range. The one obvious error was the biggest sign this would be Ellie’s day, calmly dealing with the lack of precision on the double spin, and stepping confidently into the next piece of choreography, a mature response for one so young under the circumstances. No standing Arabian as yet this year, and playing safe ending with a confident two and a half twist rather than risking the double Arabian.

On a side note, Claire Starkey must surely win the prize for remaining externally most impassive while likely struggling to breathe on the inside.

On floor Ellie opened with a huge double Arabian piked, tumbling back with a one and a half through to two and a half twist. Excellent form on both tumbles, and just a little alignment issue on the second with a step forward. As on beam, the leaps are the weaker part of the routine, there is no flexibility issue here, but at times you could be forgiven for thinking so, purely as she isn’t lifting the leap through the whole foot in order to give her the height and time to reach full range. A technical issue I’m sure we will see improve. A big double Arabian tucked, and an ever bigger double tuck finished a great routine.

Finally vault, if ever Ellie needed a reliable high scoring piece to finish on, this was it. A huge flighty DTY, excellent in pre and post flight with a great upright landing. 14.833, and we saw the ice cool competitor become the fifteen year old coming off the podium, as Ellie’s face showed what it meant to win AA bronze in your first senior Europeans. Moving scenes with coach Claire, with Claudia, and later with sister Becky will stay in the memory for a long time, well done Ellie you have done yourself and everyone else proud.

On day one of finals Ellie appeared in both vault and bars. Second qualifier on vault, there was a possibility of another medal. Upgrades from both Russian gymnasts meant it was not to be today, but it is not too difficult to see the junior European vault champion becoming the senior one in the future. Ellie competed another superb DTY for another 14.833, I’m going to write this in capitals as it is depressingly rare these days, SHE HAS HER LEGS TOGETHER ON PRE FLIGHT!!!!!!! Most gymnasts with a DTY have Amanar speculation, but this is one vault I can genuinely see becoming an Amanar by the time Rio rolls round, and not a scary one either. There is no early twist off the top of the vault, and she has finished twisting in plenty of time to land. Another beautifully performed second vault this time a Podkapayeva , and Ellie finished the final in 5th position. Along with Russia’s Afanasyeva the only gymnast to score over nine in execution for both vaults, Ellie is well placed and well paced for future honours.

Finally Ellie joined sister Becky in the bars final, not traditionally thought of for her bar work, Ellie is growing in skill, swing, and confidence on this piece. Raising her difficulty 0.6 from last year, Ellie worked well through her routine again, and was unlucky to miss out on another medal by just 0.1. Another day it may have gone the other way, but it was not to be a double Downie podium this time.

So an AA bronze and two finals, a debut that made everyone sit up and take notice of the younger Downie sister. Most impressively, Ellie truly is an AA gymnast, without a weak piece. I am excited to see what she can do over the next year, high difficulty combined with strong technique, attention to form, and a steely competitiveness with years of top level gymnastics to come. Congratulations Ellie.

Ellie’s AA beam and vault, plus EF Vault and bars full video.

Claudia Fragapane

Finally onto Claudia Fragapane, after a huge 2014 especially in the UK it must have been difficult to come back down and start again. Having been the darling of the Commonwealth games, Claudia has been much in demand, and it must have been overwhelming to deal with all the attention of being the media darling ‘Pocket Rocket’. A difficult outing at the American cup, mixed fortunes at the English, and again at the British with a fall on beam and what I would call sticky bars keeping the title out of her reach, Claudia was another of team GB to have had a tricky start to her 2015. Upgrades on floor and bars had produced mixed results, but a new and ambitious floor was the biggest story with incredibly high valued tumbling, and a change in music and choreography.

Qualifying was mixed, a good solid DTY for 14.566 plus a well performed layout Podkapayeva meant qualification to the vault final in fifth position. A fall on her new release, the toe on piked Tkatchev lowered her bar score, beam was reasonably clean and good enough for the final, and a solid but not outstanding floor got her into the final there, but not as highly placed as she maybe would have hoped for. Never the less, AA qualification and three finals secured on a moderate day at the office, job done.

AA finals arrived, and a chance of a fresh start, a solid bar routine without the new release move, but with better overall swing was a strong beginning. Unfortunately once more beam proved costly, one of the greatest saves I have ever seen on her straight back, it pretty much quarter turned in the air and was heading for a star shape, Claudia managed to pull in back in and keep it the beam, bravo. Problems with chest position and a large wobble on the full twist were followed by a strong sheep jump and solid free walkover. The free cartwheel took her off the beam, and the low landing on the double pike caused further issues. Disappointment, and work to do on consistency as  a hit AA must surely be a big target for future competitions in order to be considered for all around places next year among what is likely to be a team of strong AA contenders.

What is always hugely impressive about Claudia is her attitude, knowing her chance had gone, she then went and hit a fantastic floor routine full of big hit tumbles, great level of performance, character and sass. She lit up the arena with her energy and approach, and you could not have asked for more than that. A well performed powerful DTY to finish and it was 6th place on the day.

Finals day one, and Claudia contested the vault final. For her DTY she was off line from the moment she hit the vault on one bent arm which sent the post flight to the side from the off. A little loose in the legs and feet, but otherwise well performed, a 14.466 for vault one. The second vault there were some big form issues today, and the judges only credited the Podkapayeva rather than the layout she had qualified with.  14.063 overall, and sixth place.

Day two was a much better day, beam first, and a great routine. I love Claudia’s style on beam, sharp intricate movements confidently performed paired with great acrobatics. When she’s on there is an authority in her performance that is very appealing. A little problem on the full, but firmly worked out of. The free walkover which has been a little flat recently was smooth and light. Not the best sheep jump today, but a good dismount with just a little extra energy to control on landing. 13.900 and 4th place on the day.

Finally floor, Claudia has been threatening to hit this floor routine when it mattered, building up from the American cup. In AA finals she lifted herself from the disappointment of beam and showed what she could do, today she had the stage to herself to show everyone again. Striding onto the floor area expression set to fierce, the music started and seemingly the pressures of expectation from last year finally melted away. Full twisting double layout landed upright. Big leaps pushing the ring position and hitting splits. Sky high double Arabian with the tiniest hesitation into the W full to prone. Expressive dance befitting of her style and character, superbly performed and emoted. An artistic routine without a hint of ballet, but very much artistic. Triple twist with a bit of a leg cross, a wisely chosen split full to replace the double turning cat leap, and the energy and guts to tumble a double layout as a final tumble, linking it to a W jump for good measure. Butterfly, backspin, and smile  that says it’s great to be the golden girl, but it feels just as good to be the girl that can pick herself up after disappointments, and perform as if they never happened.

Such a routine can only be bettered by a gymnast of the quality of Afanasyeva. Former world and European champion, and a worthy winner. I salute both gymnasts, completely different, but both a complete joy to watch.

Claudia may not have had the perfect outing at Europeans, but she showed that she has the fight and drive to overcome her difficulties, leave the last routine where it is, and move on to the next one. Her attitude both in herself and toward her team mates was exemplary across the entire competition, and I look forward to seeing her back stronger and more consistent later in the year.

Claudia’s QF Vault,EF Beam, EF FX

So  three silvers and a bronze from four gymnasts, and the whisper that on another day it could have been even better. Britain second only to Russia in Europe, unthinkable only a short time ago, but with Romaina looking short on strong juniors, a position we are likely to hold, and perhaps in time even surpass. Congratulations to all gymnasts and coaches, a wonderful result and reward for all your hard work.