2018 started out wonderfully for the Swiss WAG gymnasts, as they claimed an unexpected silver medal at the DTB Pokal Challenge in Stuttgart in March. With team captain Steingruber posting big scores on every event, backed up by solid performances by longtime teammate Ilaria Kaeslin, Worlds 2017 gymnast Fabienne Studer and first-year senior Leonie Meier, they looked like a force to be reckoned with as we head into the Olympic qualification phase. Steingruber, the sole Swiss female gymnast at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, has been vocal about her dream of a whole team qualifying for Tokyo 2020, and they seemed to be on the right track. Then disaster struck. During the Sainté Gym Cup, a pre-Euros friendly meet in France, Steingruber suffered an ACL tear and meniscus damage as she landed her first floor pass. The timing could hardly be worse – following ankle surgery in January 2017, she was almost at full fitness and aiming to win medals at Europeans and Worlds and help the team try to qualify to Tokyo. She is now not expected to return to training until early 2019, her coach having ruled out the possibility of her competing at Euros 2019 in Szczecin.
So what next for the Swiss team? Head coach Fabien Martin has been clear about the need for the other girls to step up in Steingruber’s absence, now that they can no longer depend on her huge scores in the team event. Ilaria Kaeslin is a strong gymnast in her own right, having made multiple European finals in her best event, the balance beam, as well as the all-around. She qualified in third place for the beam final in Glasgow, with a costly mistake in the final keeping her out of the medals. A stylish and elegant gymnast, Kaeslin’s routines have often been lacking in the difficulty needed to win medals, but her performance in Glasgow shows that the ability is definitely there and there is now an added incentive to upgrade. The next strongest gymnast is probably Leonie Meier, who is still just 15 years old, but shows huge potential, especially on floor, where she had a realistic chance of making the final in Glasgow, had she not fallen. Generally a consistent and reliable gymnast, she has been showing upgrades throughout the year and could surprise people in Doha. Also selected for the Worlds team were Anina Wildi, another first-year senior who was taken to Glasgow for her vault, 20-year-old bars and beam specialist Stefanie Siegenthaler, who has made a few appearances (and finals) at various World Cups and Europeans this year, Caterina Barloggio, who has not competed at a major competition in quite some time due to injury, and reserve Fabienne Studer, who competed at Worlds 2017 and the Stuttgart meet.
With Steingruber, this team would have had an excellent chance of finishing among the top 24 teams in Doha, which would take them a step closer to Tokyo. Without her, this will be much more of a challenge. But just how much of a challenge? Looking at scores from various competitions this year, the Swiss girls are right on the edge of that all-important 24th place, so their goal is definitely achievable if they have a clean competition. We send them our best wishes for Doha and hope they have a successful and safe Worlds!