Angelina Melnikova tops all-around qualification at gymnastics Euros
Angelina Melnikova of Russia already has five European Championships medals in gymnastics - including three golds - but she's never before won a medal in the all-around.
Thursday evening at the Euros in Szczecin, Poland, Melnikova earned a 55.166 score in the all-around to top the all-around qualification standings, setting herself up for a potential breakthrough in Friday's final.
"I really want to win a medal in the all-around. But my main goal is to be consistent." - Angelina Melnikova to Olympic Channel
France's Melanie de Jesus dos Santos, 2017's bronze medalist, was second with 55.032 points, followed by Great Britain's Alice Kinsella, who scored 54.432 points. Defending champion Ellie Downie, also of Great Britain, was fourth, earning 53.965.
A dual ahead
Melnikova and de Jesus dos Santos ended the day's competition with just 0.134 separating them. That's nearly identical to the 0.101 between the two in November's World all-around final where the duo finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
The 18-year-old Russian came out of the gates strong, earning a 14.600 on the uneven bars. That's the second best score on the event of the day behind Sweden's Jonna Adlerteg.
"A good performance in the beginning always helps to feel more confident," Melnikova said of her strong start.
She followed that up with a beam routine that was less than perfect - the one event she said she wasn't happy with for a 12.800.
But she shook off any issues she might have had on the balance beam when she moved to the floor exercise. Her routine, which included four double flipping passes, scored 13.533, again second best on the day. She closed her day with a 14.233 on the vault.
De Jesus dos Santos was spectacular on three events - vault, uneven bars and the floor exercise.
"I hope to do better that's for sure," she said, despite her second place ranking before revealing that an injured finger almost limited her to just two events in Poland.
"With my finger injury, it wasn't in our plan to do uneven bars," said de Jesus dos Santos. "I thought I would just do beam and floor. I did all four because we felt that I could."
That determination came just two weeks ago as a consultation between herself, her coaches and medical staff.
Her only major error came on the balance beam where she bent over at the hips after a two-foot layout series and jumped back on her double tuck dismount.
She has three European medals to her name, one of each color, including the 2017 all-around bronze medal. If she's able to reach the top spot in tomorrow's women's all-around final, she'll be the first French woman to take the all-around title at the Europeans since 2005.
If anyone forgot that Great Britain's Downie is the reigning European all-around champion, they simply had to wait for her introduction before each apparatus inside the Netto Arena. She finished ranked fourth in the all-around standings after earning a 53.965 total.
"Coming in, obviously, I knew in the back of my mind that I was [defending champion]," said Downie. "But my coach said afterwards that people were trying not to say it to me.
"But then every time I got up, it was like, 'Current European champion.'"
That pressure, plus a reworked routine on the uneven bars, could have gotten to the Brit. Instead, she performed solidly on all four pieces. The highlight was her clean and solid vaulting in the first rotation where she scored 14.466.
"I just kind of go piece by piece. I look at my scores but I try not to look at other people’s because I know that if I do my job, I know where I can be," Downie said.
The Brits showed great strength all around with Kinsella finishing just ahead of Downie in third. Teammate Amelie Morgan was fifth in Thursday's standings but does not advance to the all-around final due to the two per country limit.
"The team we have at this Europeans is amazing," Kinsella said. "So strong and super fit."
Claudia Fragapane, a late addition to Team GB here, rounded out the team with a spectacular floor routine in the first rotation. She leads the floor exercise standings with a 13.600.
"It feels amazing. Just the rocky road that I've been through last year to come here and do the best that I can, I'm just over the moon," said Fragapane, who is coming back to competition after a torn Achilles tendon.
"I think I'll be an emotional wreck," she said of the possibility of completing her return to competition with a gold medal in Sunday's floor final.
Can Villa make good in the senior ranks?
Italy's Giorgia Villa enters competition after a successful junior campaign in 2018 that included gold medals in the all-around at the Italian Championships, the European Championships and the Youth Olympic Games. Villa is part of a surging Italian team that won the junior European team title in 2018. Today, they placed four in the top 24 all-around led by Alice D'Amata.
For Villa, the task is to translate that junior success to the senior ranks.
"It’s been difficult, competing against gymnasts with this high difficulty wasn’t easy" - Giorgia Villa to Olympic Channel
In today’s qualification competition, Villa started on the balance beam – the only apparatus where the 16-year-old did not medal on at the Youth Olympics – with a solid performance. Her daring acrobatics included a layout step out mount and a round off to tucked back full series. She earned a 13.766 which is the top score on the event.
Villa scored just a 12.666 on the floor exercise after a series of uncontrolled landings on her tumbling elements, including a hop out of bounds on her double back dismount. She rebounded, however, in the third rotation with a clean double-twisting Yurchenko vault for an 14.233.
She suffered a fall on her release move, a Ricna, in the final rotation on the uneven bars. She tallied 53.365 in the all-around.
Villa's goal is clear: "I hope to make the all-around final and win a medal," she said. Her eighth finish Thursday gives her that chance tomorrow.