The 2012 Summer Olympic rosters are shaping up in Europe with Romania at the top of the award podium in Brussels this past weekend. The team hung on to a first-day lead to capture gold in the European gymnastics championships, scoring 176.288.
Russia placed second with 175.536, and a vastly improved Italian team took bronze, finishing with 171.430.
The Romanians were led by veteran Catalina Ponor, a three-time gold winner at the 2004 Olympics, and championships newcomer Larisa Iordache, who took second in the all-around (AA).
Twenty-four-year-old Ponor, who did not compete on uneven bars, tore it up on beam for the gold, along with silver on floor in the individual events.
Ponor had taken time off after 2004 to deal with some back issues, but she's back on track and stronger than ever. Her experience will prove invaluable to her younger teammates.
Iordache suffered a fall off the balance beam but posted impressive scores, including gold on floor and silver on beam. This 15-year-old gymnast proved herself an Olympic contender.
Russia bounced back from a dismal start on day one, but with Romania’s four-point lead and steady performances, there was no way to salvage the competition. Only Anastasia Grishina competed in all events, and it was good enough for first AA.
Team leader Aliya Mustafina came back fighting in an effort to rescue her reputation from the qualifying round. Her floor routine was much cleaner, but she came away without any individual medals.
In fact, she did not even qualify. If she can get her head together, Russia will figure into the Olympic 2012 equation.
Italy was a surprising dark horse this year. Erika Fasana, the only gymnast to compete in the AA, placing third, could not manage better than seventh on vault.
Her teammate Vanessa Ferrari posted fourth on floor. The team as a whole is much stronger than in the past, but finishing nearly five points behind Romania will not prove to be much of a threat in London.
Great Britain demonstrated strong individual gymnasts, including Hannah Whelan, with bronze on beam and floor, and Rebecca Tunney, who placed fifth on floor.
Absent from the competition was Beth Tweddle, an incomparable bar worker on the international circuit. She will undoubtedly play a major role as a leader for Great Britain’s Olympic team.
Whoever the U.S. selection committee chooses to represent the country, theoretically they hold an edge over the rest. The depth of the U.S. team cannot be denied.
Regardless, if the main contenders hit their routines in London, or if missed connections, bobbles or falls play a part, this 2012 Olympics could prove to be a nail biter.
Either way, tension is mounting, as are fans’ expectations. No pressure, ladies—honest.