Larisa Iordache returns to international competition, hoping to put Romania back on the European podium at the event taking place from Dec. 17-20 in Mersin, Turkey.
Like the men’s event, many of the top nations have decided to sit out due to COVID-19 concerns, giving opportunities for both history-making triumphs and returns to medal podium.
2012 Olympic team bronze medallist and four-time World medallist Larisa Iordache of Romania is making her international return to competition after more than three years away. Can she add to her 12 European medals?
For Ukraine, the powerhouse nation that gave the sport greats like Tatiana Gutsu, Lilia Podkopayeva and Viktoria Karpenko, Mersin is a chance to win its first-ever team gold medal at the Europeans.
Here’s what to look for as competition gets underway on Thursday, 17 December.
France, Russia, Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands combined to take all 15 women’s medals at the 2019 European Championships in Szczecin, Poland. All five nations have chosen to skip the 2020 edition, no longer a Tokyo 2020 qualifier, with most citing COVID-19 concerns.
Those 2019 championships gave us all-around and floor exercise champion Melanie de Jesus dos Santos of France, while Russians Maria Paseka, vault, and Anastasia Ilyankova, uneven bars, took two golds. Great Britain’s Alice Kinsella was a surprise victor on the balance beam.
Russia won the last European team championship in 2018.
Those absences open the door for others to step in. Look for Hungary, Ukraine and Romania to find their way to historic team medals in Mersin. Of those nations participating, they were the top finishing countries during qualifications at the 2018 Europeans, the last to include a team event.
Romania once dominated the sport, winning five straight World titles from 1994-2001. The nation has a total of 150 medals at women’s Europeans, including 53 golds. But since winning the team competition in 2014, the country has failed to find its way to the once familiar medals stand.
Ukraine has a long a history of powerful female gymnasts, but it, too, has struggled in recent years, failing to medal in the team competition for more than a decade.
The last time both Ukraine and Romania reached the team medals podium at the Europeans was 2004. That year, Romania won and Ukraine finished runner-up, its highest ever. Can they finally take team gold?
Iordache last won a medal at the Europeans in 2017 – a bronze on the balance beam. Months later, the Romanian star tore her Achilles tendon during warm-ups for the qualification round at the World Championships in Montreal.
Iordach, who finished runner-up to American Simone Biles at the 2014 Worlds, in what has been Biles’ smallest margin of victory in a global meet, has not competed internationally since. The 24-year-old participated at last month’s Romanian national championships, weeks after recovering from COVID-19. Though her scores did not count in the final results, her performances made it clear that she is Romania’s best gymnast once again.
She was added to the Euros roster on 6 December, replacing Daniela Trica. Iordache, winner of 12 medals at the event, has taken medals in every category except the uneven bars. More medals in Mersin would bolster her comeback as she looks to April’s European Championships as her chance to qualify to Tokyo 2020.
After battling each other for a chance to qualify to Tokyo 2020 at last year’s Worlds, Ukrainian’s Diana Varinska and Anastasia Bachynska have a chance to return Ukraine to the European medal podium in 2020.
Though the nation is fifth in the historic medal count, Ukraine has not won a European women’s gymnastics since 2010 when Natalia Kononenko picked up a bronze on the uneven bars. Yana Demyanchuk won the nation's last European title a year earlier on the beam.
Varinska and Bachnyska, along with Angelina Radiolova, could give Ukraine its first ever team title. In the individual apparatus finals, Varinska could be a threat on the uneven bars or balance beam, where she won bronze at last year’s European Games. The 2019 European Games were also a highlight for Bachnyska, who took the floor gold medal.