World champ Dalaloyan leads European Championships after qualifying

The 22-year-old Russian was impressive on all six apparatus in Szczecin

The Russian men’s reign in European gymnastics looks likely to continue this week in Szczecin. Though there is no team competition for them to defend their 2018 team title, their dominance was felt during the first day of the 2019 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

World champion Artur Dalaloyan, 87.930, and world all-around bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy, 87.165, lead the all-around standings. Ahmet Onder of Turkey is third with 84.798.

World Champion Artur Dalaloyan from Russia
World Champion Artur Dalaloyan from RussiaWorld Champion Artur Dalaloyan from Russia

Six-for-six for Dalaloyan

Dalaloyan continues his post-Rio rise after an impressive 2018 that included three gold medals at the Europeans and five medals, including gold in the all-around, at the World Championships.

In Szczecin, he opened his competition on the floor exercise, where he is World champion, with a 14.966 after an impressive routine where he tumbled an intricate front twisting combination to open and a triple full dismount.

He earned scores of 14.066 and 14.566 on the still rings before posting the top score of the day on the vault, a 14.866 average. He performed a Yurchenko triple full with a small hop first, followed by a handspring double pike front.

Dalaloyan's parallel bars routine was impressive as well, as he dismounted with a double pike front half out for a 14.866. He earned an 14.666 on the high bar to close out his competition in the all-around. He leads on the vault and horizontal bar qualifying standings. He's second behind Israel's Artem Dolgopyat on the floor exercise.

Nagornyy’s best mark came on the parallel bars, a 15.133. He leads the standings on the event there. His other scores were 14.566, floor exercise; 14.100, pommel horse; 14.600, still rings; 14.833, vault; and 13.933, high bar.

Whitlock on form with McClenaghan out

Max Whitlock from Great Britain competes in the qualifying event at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championship
Max Whitlock from Great Britain competes in the qualifying event at the European Artistic Gymnastics ChampionshipMax Whitlock from Great Britain competes in the qualifying event at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championship

Fans in Szczecin were hoping to see Great Britain's Max Whitlock, the Rio double Olympic champion, face off with 2018 European pommel horse champion Rhys McClenaghan of Ireland. However, McClenaghan was a late withdrawal from competition due to injury.

Even still, Whitlock’s trademark swing and clockwork-like rhythm were enough to delight the crowd at the Netto Arena.

His flair sequence went on seemingly forever as he went up to and down from a handstand and then back and forth across the horse.

Whitlock scored 15.033 to move into the lead on the event by nearly .400.

"I was happy with it. The build up hasn't been smooth sailing, but I'm really happy to perform like that." - Max Whitlock to the Olympic Channel

Whitlock chose to sit out his other specialty event – the floor exercise – but did make his first appearance on the high bar since Rio 2016. Originally, he had planned to take part in the floor, parallel bars and pommel horse but a last minute change to his rotation order also reordered his plans.

"I wanted to do one piece before floor and pommel," he said. "It ended up that p-bar would be after, so I said, I'll do high bar instead."

"I've had a slight niggle in my foot the last two weeks, so my floor wasn't up to scratch," he said of not performing on the event where he earned gold in Rio. "The build up wasn't perfect, and I wasn't ready for where I wanted to be so I decided to opt out of floor because it just wasn't ready."

"By the end of the year, I'm hoping to build up and be ready for four pieces," he added.

The other recent change in Whitlock’s life is the birth of his first child on 23 February.

"It's a completely different experience. I think having a baby puts everything in perspective," the Brit said.

"Willow is the most important thing in my life. All priorities go toward Willow and my wife to make sure everything's OK." - Max Whitlock

World and Olympic champion Epke Zonderland from the Netherlands
World and Olympic champion Epke Zonderland from the NetherlandsWorld and Olympic champion Epke Zonderland from the Netherlands

Zonderland, Srbic fly to top of high bar standings

The last two men to win the World high bar Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands and Tin Srbic of Croatia set up an epic battle in Sunday's high bar final, finishing second-third with just .033 separating the two daring gymnasts. Both are within striking distance of Dalaloyan, the event leader.

Zonderland, the 2013,2014, and 2018 World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist on the event, flew high with two massive double flipping elements connected to open. He stuck his layout double double dismount and fist pumped his way off the podium.

"It felt good. I was quite fit today, strong," Zonderland said. "During the World Cups before this event, it was quite hard for me to do the p-bar and the high bar but today both felt really nice.

"I recovered quite fast after my routine on the p-bar so it gave me confidence to do a nice high bar routine."

For Srbic, it was a successful outing, competing only on his specialty event.

The 2017 World champion on the apparatus started his high bar routine with three catch and release moves in a row: a Tkatchev, layout Tkatchev to Tkatchev half. The most obvious error in his routine came on the dismount – a full-twisting, double layout. He earned a 14.500 and second place in the qualification standings. Despite having earned a World title on the event, Srbic has yet to win at the Europeans.

He also hopes to become his country’s second Olympic medalist in gymnastics next summer in Tokyo. Their only Olympic medal in the sport came from Filip Ude on the pommel horse at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Ude also took part in today’s qualification competition but a struggle on his dismount on the pommel horse left him with a 13.733 and out of the final.

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Surprise entry

Olympic parallel bars champion Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine was a late entry to the championships after undergoing surgery since the end of the World Championships in November.

“That’s what my coach and I decided because I’ve been resting and doing nothing since December,” he said of his decision to compete.

Though he admitted he is not 100% yet in training, “I haven’t even tried some elements in training yet. For example, on bars, I haven’t done a Bhavsar since December,” he said. Verniaiev managed an impressive 14.900 on the parallel bars, the fourth best score on the day.

Fellow teammate Igor Radivilov leads the standings on the still rings with a 14.833.

"I did my job, I got good marks and satisfied with everything," he remarked plainly afterward.

Meanwhile, despite his success in today’s qualifying, Verniaiev is managing expectations heading into the weekend’s apparatus finals.

“We’ll see what happens in the final. The issue is that my endurance only allows me doing average difficulty now,” the Rio all-around silver medalist said.

“Perhaps, a miracle will happen and I’ll be able to do it,” added Verniaiev. “In any case, in the final, you need to either go for broke or not compete at all.”

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