Max Whitlock, Giorgia Villa and the Mustafina saga: Euro 2019 gymnastics preview

Here's what to watch at the 2019 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Szczecin, Poland, from April 10-14.

The 2019 European Championships in Artistic Gymnastics take place from April 10-14 in Szczecin, Poland, and there's plenty to get excited about.

A total of 275 gymnasts from 38 countries are out to grab glory in the men's and women's all-around and apparatus finals.

Max Whitlock, Artur Dalaloyan, and Ellie Downie are some of the established gymnasts keen on claiming more titles, but there are plenty of rising stars out to make names for themselves too.

Giorgia Villa, Rhys McClenaghan, Amelie Morgan, and Italy's next generation are all set to challenge the establishment in Szczecin.

Find out too why we won't see Aliya Mustafina at the Euros this time around after she was out, then in, then out again...

Pommel horse runner-up Max Whitlock (L) congratulates winner Rhys McClenaghan at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
Pommel horse runner-up Max Whitlock (L) congratulates winner Rhys McClenaghan at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth GamesPommel horse runner-up Max Whitlock (L) congratulates winner Rhys McClenaghan at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

Whitlock duels with McClenaghan on the pommel

Fresh from a glittering 'Superstars of Gymnastics' performance in London with Simone Biles, Max Whitlock is now fully focused on the Euros.

Double Olympic champion Whitlock is out to reclaim top spot in pommel horse - one of his gold medal events at Rio 2016 - but Ireland's Rhys McClenaghan may have something to say about that.

McClenaghan and Whitlock both scored 15.100 in last year's Gold Coast Commonwealth Games final, but McClenaghan's higher execution marks saw him secure Northern Ireland's first gold of the competition.

And to prove that was no fluke, the 19-year-old from County Down took victory in the European Championships in Glasgow with an impressive 15.300, as Whitlock finished down in seventh.

It is five years since Whitlock claimed his only European pommel title - he also won team gold in 2012 and floor gold in 2013 - and he will be keen to regain his crown.

But this duel has the makings of a great sporting rivalry to enjoy for years to come.

After a disappointing 2018, Whitlock will be keen to gather some momentum in the run-up to Tokyo 2020.

He recently became a father, and the 26-year-old Olympic champion has his heart set on competing at Paris 2024.

The Mustafina muddle

Confused?

Us too.

In the end, seven-time Olympic medallist Aliya Mustafina will not compete in the Euros.

Mustafina was originally left out of the competition, with team's head coach saying this to Russian news agency TASS on March 20:

"Aliya is not yet ready to compete at the European Championships. She is preparing for the World Championships." - Valentina Rodionenko, Russian national team senior coach

That came just a day after Mustafina could only finish fifth in all-around, far behind Simone Biles in first, at the Stuttgart World Cup.

Then she won the Birmingham World Cup event and was back in the team for the Euros.

But the double Olympic uneven bars gold medallist then ruled out her participation in Poland, telling Russian site R-Sport on 1 April:

"It's wiser for me to miss Euros and start preparing for the European Games" - Aliya Mustafina

The 2019 European Games will take place in Minsk in June, with Aliya focused on upgrading her routine, and looking after her young daughter Alisa.

Having returned to training just three months after giving birth, the gymnast is now juggling priorities.

She told R-Sport, "After the nationals, we had two World Cups in Stuttgart and Birmingham. If I went to Poland for the European Championships, this would be my fourth competition and it’s too much of a load."

Training in Penza near her home, she can take her daughter with her to the gym making life easier.

"Right now, during the time between camps, I’m going to Penza with my daughter. I will continue training there and, perhaps, will learn some new elements in order to upgrade my routines, first of all, on bars."

"The fact that I’m missing the European Championships does not mean that I started treating work less seriously. It’s just that my short-term plans and goals have changed a bit." - Aliya Mustafina to R-Sport

The Russian star told Moscow newspaper MK, recently that: "I’m telling myself that I’m doing this for my daughter, too – so that she can have everything."

Giorgia Villa: a new world star?

Aliya might not be there, but Italian sensation Giorgia Villa will.

There is plenty of excitement around Villa's senior debut and the Italian's potential to shake up the world order.

Her performance at the Glasgow 2018 European juniors in August marked her out as a star in the making as she scored 55.065 points to secure the individual all-around title, and helped Italy to team gold.

Villa did nothing to burst that balloon at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games when she won three gold medals - including the all-around title - and one silver.

Giorgia Villa - My Buenos Aires 2018 Highlights

Giorgia Villa - My Buenos Aires 2018 Highlights

The world is waiting to see what she can do on this European stage with Tokyo 2020 on the horizon.

The battle for women's all-around gold in Poland will be fascinating with Villa, Russian Angelina Melnikova, and France's Melanie de Jesus dos Santos all in the mix.

Melnikova and dos Santos are the highest European finishers from last year’s Worlds with Belgium's Nina Derwael - fourth in Doha - not competing.

Can Villa make a big statement in Szczecin?

Here at the Olympic Channel we have been following her progress since she was 12 years old:

Russian rematch: Dalaloyan vs. Nagornyy

Artur Dalaloyan claimed a nailbiting triumph in Doha.

The Russian became world champion by the narrowest of margins over China's Xiao Ruoteng, setting up what may become an era-defining rivalry between China and Russia.

While Dalaloyan won't have to worry about the Chinese in Szczecin, he will have to contend with the man who took third in Doha: Russian team-mate Nikita Nagornyy.

Nagornyy recently won six out of the seven individual national titles and, while they work together in the team event, this Russian duo look set for a thrilling duel to top the individual all-around podium.

Downie defends title

Reigning all-around champion Ellie Downie will also be present.

Downie became Great Britain's first ever European all-around champion in 2017 and is out to retain her crown in Poland.

The British gymnast will be keen to put the recent Birmingham World Cup behind her after a couple of falls on the bars and one more on the beam.

We could go on all day!

But we won't.

We'll leave you with a few more big names to look out for, and time to learn how to pronounce Szczecin (pretty close to 'Tche-chin') properly.

Don't miss flying Dutchman and London 2012 horizontal bars gold medallist Epke Zonderland, or Germany's double Olympic silver medallist Marcel Nguyen.

Like Villa, 15-year-old Briton Amelie Morgan is hoping to make the leap to senior competition after her two silvers in Buenos Aires.

Italy is also sending twins Asia and Alice D’Amato who were alongside Villa in their successful juniors team at Glasgow.

The home crowd will get behind local favourites Marta Pihan-Kulesza and her husband Roman Kulesza, who live and train in Szczecin.

Enjoy!

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