Stuttgart – DTB Pokal Team Challenge Recap

Last weekend now feels like a million years ago, given that this week we’ve been following the World Cups in Baku, Doha and Birmingham, but here we are with a brief recap of this fun event in Stuttgart, which took place on 16th and 17th March.

For those unfamiliar with the format of this event, there were nine teams competing in qualifications on the Friday, of which only the top four would go through to the team final on the Saturday. The competing teams were Belgium (Maellyse Brassart, Senna Deriks, Nina Derwael, Rune Hermans, Axelle Klinckaert), Japan (Hitomi Hatakeda, Kiko Kuwajima, Izumi Nitta, Yuki Uchiyama), Germany (Kim Bui, Emma Höfele, Carina Kröll, Isabelle Stingl, Michelle Timm), Switzerland (Thea Brogli, Ilaria Käslin, Leonie Meier, Giulia Steingruber, Fabienne Studer), Russia (Lilia Akhaimova, Viktoriia Gorbatova, Anastasia Iliankova, Maria Kharenkova, Viktoria Komova), Spain (Laura Bechdeju, Emma Fernandez, Nora Fernandez, Paula Raya,  Cintia Rodriguez), Baden-Wuettemberg (Janine Berger, Amelie Föllinger, Florine Harder, Rebecca Matzon, Kim Ruoff), the Netherlands (Juliette Berens, Kirsten Polderman, Tisha Volleman) and Norway (Sofie Bråten, Sara Davidsen, Ingrid Häfenbradl, Martine Skregelid, Julie Søderstrøm).

This competition marked Viktoria Komova’s return to international competition, so there was a great deal of excitement about Team Russia, who were expected to qualify into the final in first position. Unfortunately, the qualification round did not go their way, and following some incredibly low beam scores, they did not progress to the team final. Spain put up a good fight, despite two of their strongest gymnasts, Ana Perez and Roxana Popa being out with injuries. Their floor work in particular showed good artistry, but they don’t quite have the difficulty of some of the other teams and this prevented them from placing higher than sixth in the competition. The Japanese team performed well on the whole, as expected, and earned a second place finish, with the Germans coming in third. Switzerland were perhaps the biggest surprise of Friday’s competition. While team captain Giulia Steingruber has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, the Swiss have had big depth issues, faltering at team competitions and failing to qualify a team to Rio. While Steingruber’s solid performances on every apparatus undoubtedly boosted their overall score, her Worlds teammates Ilaria Kaeslin and Fabienne Studer, along with Thea Brogli and first year senior Leonie Meier, also rose to the occasion to qualify for the final in fourth place, ahead of Russia. Team Belgium included uneven bars superstar Nina Derwael, who contributed a bars score of 14.900. With consistent and steady performances from the rest of the team (including this very original Harry Potter-themed floor exercise from Axelle Klinckaert) it came as no surprise when they ended the day’s competition in first place.

The team final on Saturday started with Switzerland up on floor and Japan on vault. Despite Leonie Meier having the difficult task of being the first gymnast to go, she delivered a beautiful routine which was a little low on difficulty, but without major errors. Yuki Uchiyama was first up on vault, going for a FTY which earned her 13.233. Ilaria Kaeslin was next, unfortunately going OOB with both feet on the first pass, but managing to save the landing of the second one despite her knees buckling.  A very quirky routine which suits her and shows off her flexibility, but which again is just a little low on difficulty, scoring 12.433. Kiko Kuwajima performed a DTY which scored 13.700, then Giulia was the last of the Swiss to go up on floor. She has a new routine and the music and choreography are quite different for her. Opened with one of her epic Gogean leaps and all the tumbles were good. Scored a huge 13.433, the highest floor score in the competition. Hitomi Hatakeda ended the Japanese turn with a very good vault, 14.133. The rotation continued with the German girls on floor, Isabelle Stingl showing some nice tumbling with great landings which earned her a good score of 13.033. Senna Deriks vaulted the FTY for a score of 13.533 and demonstrating a lot of power. Next was a very upbeat routine from Emma Hoefele, scoring 12.866, then Axelle Klinckaert of Belgium with a very nice FTY. Michelle Timm’s routine included the unusual double arabian with half twist (which for some reason is only worth the same as a regular double arabian) and a stuck landing on her third pass. Maellyse Brassart finished the rotation with another good FTY (13.666).

The second rotation saw the Germans up first on vault, with all three gymnasts getting solid scores, and the Belgians on bars. Senna Deriks scored 11.666 with a fall and Rune Hermans delivered a beautiful routine for 13.433. The real star here, of course, was Nina Derwael, who debuted some new skills this season along with almost flawless execution for a massive score of 15.033. We saw Switzerland’s Fabienne Studer for the first time in the final, scoring 13.200 for a FTY, followed by more FTYs from Leonie Meier and Giulia Steingruber and the Japanese up on bars, the best score of 14.166 earned by Hitomi Hatakeda.

The Swiss started on bars in rotation three, with unspectacular but mostly solid routines from Studer, Meier and Steingruber, and the Japanese on beam, where Uchiyama was first up and had two falls, pretty much setting the tone for the rest of the competition when it came to beam. With a few exceptions, this was a shaky apparatus for most. Hermans, Klinckaert and Derwael went up on beam for Belgium, all obtaining reasonably good scores in the low to mid 12s, and Kroell, Timm and Bui were next on bars, all with good routines, but veteran bars specialist Bui standing out with a big score of 14.400, the second best in the competition.

The final rotation had Belgium starting on floor and Germany on beam. Following a solid and confident mount, Carina Kroell fell on a side somi, ending up with a score of 12.033. The Belgian girls showed some original and creative choreography, Nina Derwael starting with a graceful routine which had a few errors including an OOB, but still scored 13.000. Isabelle Stingl started off well on beam but fell on her acro series, then suffered a few big wobbles, for a score of 10.633. Rune Hermans then delivered a fun floor exercise (this girl can really sell a routine!) to a Latin-based music mash-up, with an unfortunate hop OOB on the last pass giving her a score of 12.366. Michelle Timm was next on beam, falling once and with some major balance checks. 10.466. Last up on floor for Belgium was Axelle Klinckaert, with a routine which really needs to be watched (see link above), because words just can’t do it justice. With no major errors, she scored 12.833. Next on beam for Switzerland was Ilaria Kaeslin. Somewhat of a beam specialist, she generally gets the best scores of the team, but some wobbles and going slightly over time gave her a lower-than-expected 11.833. Uchiyama was next up for Japan on floor, with some high tumbling and elegant choreo for 12.466. Leonie Meier, next on beam, fought to stay on despite being off line several times. With a few too many pauses, she received a score of 11.533, but there is definitely a lot of potential in this first-year senior. Kiko Kuwajima performed a good floor routine with some great landings for a score of 12.900. Last on beam was Giulia Steingruber, who delivered the best beam routine of the competition. A great all-rounder, beam is usually where she falters, but she was solid from beginning to end here, scoring 12.900. Hitomi Hatakeda closed the competition on floor, with some great tumbling and stuck landings, with the exception of an unfortunate hop OOB. She scored 12.900.

Final standings were first place for Belgium, second place for Switzerland, third place for Japan and fourth place for Germany. A very fun competition with well deserved medallists on the podium. Roll on Stuttgart 2019!

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