The final major men’s gymnastics competition of a very strange year presents opportunity for competitors including Olympic medallist Marian Dragulescu and a talented Turkish trio
The 2020 Men’s European Artistic Gymnastics Championships, set for 9-13 December in Mersin, Turkey, will provide a unique opportunity for those who have chosen to participate among a somewhat depleted field.
Getting to this point for the event, originally scheduled for early May in Azerbaijan, has at times seemed like an odyssey, and even though many countries have chosen to sit out the event, which is no longer a Tokyo 2020 qualifier, stars like multi-Olympic medallist Marian Dragulescu look set to capitalize.
Here are a few storylines to keep in mind while enjoying the action from Mersin.
Fourteen of the 38 countries originally registered to compete at the Europeans have withdrawn, including powerhouses Russia, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. Those three nations combined to capture all seven of the gold medals on offer at the 2019 Europeans in Poland.
The withdrawals also mean one change in format: only six – not the original (and standard) eight – teams will advance to the senior team final.
Russia’s withdrawal is especially noteworthy. The nation has dominated men’s gymnastics in the recent past with Artur Dalaloyan taking the World all-around title in 2018 before teammate Nikita Nagornyy took the crown in 2019. Together, the duo lifted Russia to its first post-Soviet breakup World team title in 2019.
At the 2019 Euros, Nagornyy, Dalaloyan, and compatriot Denis Ablyazin won five of the seven golds. Great Britain’s Max Whitlock, the Rio 2016 double Olympic champion, and 2012 Olympic champion Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands took the other two.
Only four of the 11 countries that claimed medals a year ago remain on the roster for Mersin: Israel, Ukraine, Turkey, and Croatia. Of the 48 qualifiers to the apparatus finals, 33 represented countries not planning to participate in the 2020 edition.
Mersin could have been a chance for Olympic parallel bars champion Oleg Verniaiev to find the spotlight again.
At last year’s European Championships, Verniaiev was returning from having had surgery on both ankles. Far from top form, the Ukrainian competed in only the pommel horse and parallel bars, and though he made the final in both, he failed to come away with a medal in either. Months later, his formed improved, lifting him to all-around bronze at the 2019 Worlds.
“I want to return to the all-around leaders race. Last year's world championship showed that I am capable of doing it and now we are working on it,” Verniaiev told Olympic Channel earlier this year.
But a 2nd December update to the roster on the European Gymnastics Union website found Verniaiev's name missing, replaced by teammate Roman Vashchenko. That means Verniaiev's next chance at all-around glory may not be until April's 2021 European Gymnastics Championships. A victory there would given the 27-year-old a historic third European title.
With the strange looking field comes opportunity. Seven countries come to Mersin seeking their first-ever medal at the European Championships. One to watch may be Slovakia and Slavomir Michank. The 28-year-old finished fifteenth on pommel horse in 2019, just .433 out of the top three. This year could be his chance to land on the podium, as nine of the men who finished ahead of him represent countries forgoing the event or have withdrawn.
For Dragulescu, these championships present the opportunity to win his 19th European medal. A 10-time European champion, the Romanian star missed the 2018 event and failed to medal a year ago. He last stood on the podium at the 2017 Euros, where he came away with floor exercise gold and vault silver.
The four-time Olympian, who first retired following Beijing 2008, told Olympic Channel after last year's World Championships that Tokyo 2020 would be his swan song. Can the 39-year-old add more to his haul just before his 40th birthday?
Three countries in the field hope to hear their anthem played for the first time at the event, and Turkey, which had a breakout 2019 in the sport, is the likeliest to love what it hears - a year after claiming its first-ever World gold in the sport.
Their talented trio of World still rings champion Ibrahim Colak, 2019 World parallel bars silver medallist Ahmet Onder, and 2019 European parallel bars bronze medallist Ferhat Arican are all set to compete in their home country.
Colak is returning to competition after undergoing surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon in early March, an injury that seemed to threaten his chances at Tokyo 2020 glory until the Games were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that I will be better and stronger at the Olympics,” Colak said in an Instagram post on March 4 announcing the surgery.
Onder and Arican have both achieved major medals on the parallel bars, and could win their country’s first European title on the event. But Arican is also stellar on the pommel horse where he finished fifth in 2019. All four of the men who finished ahead of him there will not compete in Mersin.