Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Emergence of Great Britain Made Euros Feel Competitive Again

The results at the European Championships used to be a good indication of how things would play out at the upcoming World Championships or Olympic Games. Tatiana Gutsu won the all-around in 1992 and went onto repeat that feat at the Olympic Games. Ditto for Lilia Podkopayeva.

And the competition itself was frequently fierce--with strong squads from Russia and Romanian bumping up against comers from the Ukraine and other individuals from less powerful gymnastics countries. (Remember when Belarus had medal contenders?)

But over the years, it seems like the significance of the Europeans have waned. With the emergence of China and the U.S.A. as major team powers, half of the strongest competition in the world could be found elsewhere. And then there is the the virtual disappearance of the Ukrainian gymnasts and the lack of depth from both the Russian and Romanian squads. It made the competition feel like a game of musical chairs where you never pulled away a chair. Everyone got a seat, er, medal. Needless to say, the European Championships had lost some of their luster.

This is why the rise of the British women in both the junior and senior ranks is a good thing for, not just the fortune of GB gymnastics, but the European Championship as a whole. This year I was actually excited to watch and see the competition unfold and was anxious/nervous about the outcome.  (I was rooting so hard for Team GB to take the title but I was thrilled to see them get silver.) But with the strength they've exhibited on both the junior and senior levels (especially with that talented batch of juniors). These teams seem like they have staying power.

But you might say--"Hey! The Italians have been in the mix, occupying the podium in the past decade too." While this is true and their progress as a gymnastics nation should certainly be applauded, I never got the sense when watching the Italians that they were primed to break out in a significant way at the worlds or the Olympics. They performed very well in the European theater but it never appeared that they had the depth and difficulty to contend against the other powers and make it onto a team podium at the World Championships. Also, much of their success is due to Vanessa Ferrari, who can't compete forever. (Or maybe she can...) Team GB (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Canada) seem like they have the goods to break out at the World or Olympics or both during this quad especially once some of their promising juniors are able to compete at the senior level. Their impressive medal haul at the Euros is not just an accomplishment unto itself but created momentum and is perhaps a sign of things to come for the program.

And if nothing else, Team GB made Euros competitive again. 

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