Quick hits: Men's Podium Training at the 2019 European Championships

Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine.

Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine.

SZCZECIN, 10:33 a.m.: For the first time in the history of the European Championships, the competition is being held in a city whose name is, well, something of a head-scratcher. How do you pronounce that? was everyone’s first question. (According to gimnastas.net, it’s pronounced “sh-chEh-cheen.” Here’s another pronunciation aid.) Who’s here and how are they projected to do? is the second.

2019 is a year with a lot of events — Europeans in April, the European Games in Minsk in June and the all-important Olympic qualification World Championships in Stuttgart in October, and word is that some gymnasts have opted to skip this event in favor of the European Games, or simply not risk anything and save themselves for worlds.

That leaves titles up for grabs here. The strongest of the Russians — world all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan and world bronze medalist Nikita Nagornyy are here, however, but even those two can’t account for every single medal available. So we might be in for some surprises. Read on for notes from today’s men’s training, updated as things happen.

10:45 a.m.: Out of retirement, or semi-retirement, or at least a long break, 2012 Olympian Roman Kulesza of Poland is working out on high bar. (Beautiful form, as always.) Roman and his wife Marta, a two-time Olympian, are the faces of Polish gymnastics, and of this Championships. Marta is currently in the arena as well, watching high bar accompanied by their almost two-year-old daughter Jagna.

10:50 a.m.: Under the lights. Here’s a view of the arena as the gymnasts in this session train. It’s not so much in the dark as under a well lit field of play, with spectators in the dark. Kind of like being in a theatre, actually.

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This gymnastics-theatre certainly adds ambiance — and it seems to be the coming thing. In Glasgow for both the 2015 Worlds and 2018 Europeans, this was the kind of lighting we got. Ditto at the 2017 Worlds in Montreal and at last month’s Birmingham World Cup. In an interview with Chris Brooks last week, I asked how the U.S.’s Allan Bower liked competing “in the dark” in Birmingham. Brooks said Bower was fine with it after a couple of turns.

11:10 a.m.: Israel’s Andrey Medvedev is doing some mighty fine vaulting this morning. First there was the casual Tsuk double pike, executed as though it were a single. But the bigger thing is his second vault, a handspring double front pike, where he nearly scrapes the ceiling. The pop off the table he gets on that is truly impressive.

11:25 a.m.: Croatia’s Filip Ude, who at 32 is the oldest Olympic medalist in the field here in Szczecin, can swing a terrific routine on pommel horse. His beautiful flairs sequence is one of the best parts of his floor set as well.

12:00 p.m.: In the arena and looking thrilled to be here is six-time Olympian Jordan Jovtchev of Bulgaria, who is going around the arena smiling and shaking hands and saying hello to everyone. He’s also paying close attention to everything happening on the competition podiums.

Over on pommel horse, Robert Seligman and Ude look strong, with terrifically pure swings. Both look like potential candidates for the pommel horse final, though Seligman doesn’t do a dismount through handstand and Ude is having some trouble on his traveling Russians (legs apart).

12:30 p.m.: The Dutch situation, part I. Today’s podium training schedule features teams that are broken up, with event specialists training first and all-arounders coming later. So Epke Zonderland is not in this session. Instead we’re getting a look at newcomer Rick Jacobs, who is crisp on floor (sharp double double tuck, nice twisting skills.)

1:40 p.m.: Injury to Poland. The second subdivision starts with an injury to one of the Polish gymnasts on vault, who fell and was attended to on the mat by medics for a good 10 minutes before being put on a stretcher and quietly carried out of the arena.

1:45 p.m.: Will he or won’t he? Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev has been a no, then a possibly, and now finally a yes for these championships. Just a couple months removed from surgery in Israel, Verniaiev is at least going to do pommel horse here — and likely a couple of other things too.

Elsewhere, Belgium’s Jonathan Vrolix, who has been coming on on the world cup circuit, is looking sharp on floor. He could land on the podium here, as he nearly medaled in Doha. France’s Loris Frasca, who is training floor at the same time, looks like he could final as well.

Am liking the parallel bars routine of Ireland’s Adam Steele, which has an unusual and eye-catching little element — basically a peach entry with a back flip added. See it off the top of the routine below.

2:45 p.m.: Dmitry Lankin does a whole floor exercise minus his triple back first pass, which he saves for another turn, as one does with special elements. Here it is in slo-mo.

With his flashy triple back, Lankin is the star of this subdivision. But his teammate Ivan Stretovich, a member of Russia’s silver medal winning squad in 2016, shouldn’t be counted out either. Stretovich has excellent tumbling skills, and is a little bit more refined — obviously to him, men’s floor isn’t just the super hard tumbling skills. Too bad the rest of the world (and the FIG Men’s Technical Committee) doesn’t seem to agree.

Other things: When you’re doing serious vaulting, you prep the table. A lot. Ukraine’s Igor Radivilov, who should be in contention for the title here, spent a good five minutes and half a bag of chalk patting down the table until it was just the way he wanted before he attempted his Dragulescu and Tsuk double pike.

Oleg Verniaiev warmed up parallel bars looking…well, a little rough. The thing about men, though, is that what you get in training is not necessarily what you get in competition.

3:30 p.m.: Italy’s Nicola Bartolini, who may be the most heavily tattooed man in gymnastics, really has something. Not just great skills — the Netto Arena abounds with guys who can do triple fulls and double doubles in this moment. Bartolini brings something extra — extra extension, extra toepoint, a genuine artistic quality, especially on the power events, floor and vault.

The whole Italian team, despite their fifth place finish at the mini-Euros that was the DTB Pokal Team Challenge a few weeks back, does a beautiful gymnastics. Would be great to see Bartolini rewarded for it.

3:50 p.m.: Denis Abliazin is training a handspring Randi vault, as is Dmitry Lankin. Lankin is closer to doing it well — Abliazin, whose left shin is wrapped, has landed two on his hands and knees. Lankin, for his part, is just running off the side of the mat. Lankin finally does a very nice one to end his day. Abliazin, meanwhile, moves on to crashing his Tsuk double pikes. Sigh.

4:10 p.m.: End of subdivision two. And now — the Russians (more of them) are coming! The British (more of them too) are coming! Bring on the all-arounders.

4:25 p.m.: Overheard in the press zone: British gymnasts James Hall and Joe Fraser being interviewed.

Q: If you could do one women’s event, which one would it be?

James Hall: “Well, it wouldn’t be beam, for obvious reasons…”

5:03 p.m.: Floor training was some good, some bad for Artur Dalaloyan and Nikita Nagornyy. Nagornyy had some trouble keeping his passes in bounds, which might be expected when you do a double double tuck as a side pass. Dalaloyan had more problems, especially landing his double fronts (he crashed one flat to his back), but the thing about Dalaloyan is that he’s also the most capable guy, and did several beautiful things as well.

5:14 p.m.: Feels like half the floor finalists are out there right now. Seeing great stuff from Artem Dolgopyat of Israel, who opens with an unusual double front with 1.5 twists and also has a gorgeous Randi and 2.5 to front 2/1, which he just stuck. Dolgopyat has obviously worked hard to clean up his form, and looks terrific. So does Alexander Shatilov, who just won floor at the Doha World Cup on his 32nd birthday last month.

5:45 p.m.: Green screen fun. All athletes here are being asked to pose in front of a green screen. If they make finals, the footage will roll on the big screen in the arena during their introductions and before or after their routines.

5:46 p.m.: Whitlock the workhorse. Here’s Max Whitlock’s first go on pommels just now. (He’s also slated to do high bar here, his first outing on the apparatus in competition since the Rio Olympics.) He did two other sets as hard or harder than this and had just jumped up to do more when they called rotation.

6:43 p.m.: Achieving greatness is often a struggle, and Artur Dalaloyan made it look like it on parallel bars. Oh, he’ll be fine in the actual competition, but nobody but the best Russians manage to make doing their routines look like such a challenge. It takes a lot of splatting before you achieve refinement.

6:53 p.m.: Hey, stuck handspring double front from 2016 Olympian Benjamin Gischard of Switzerland just now. Nice. The longer training goes, the more people start clapping when they see something impressive. Another guy looking quite on point tonight is German veteran Marcel Nguyen. The Spieth floor here seems to agree with him. So do the parallel bars.

6:55 p.m.: Guess the highest men’s all-around score from a European so far this year. Nagornyy, you say. Nope. Dalaloyan? Wrong again. Answer: Turkey’s Ahmet Onder, according to the MAGnastics blog. Onder had an 85.6 at some competition (the Turkish Championships, perhaps?) before coming here. Nagornyy, by comparison, tops out at 85.065. Dalaloyan, though he won the Stuttgart World Cup, did so with two falls on high bar, so his AA total was kind of negligible, and he withdrew from the all-around at the Russian Championships in Penza due to illness. So there’s that. Something to think about as the week unfolds.