Hosts Germany took on Romania and Great Britain in a tri-meet in Ulm – a town between Stuttgart and Munich which is home to the world’s highest church tower –  on 28 April. Romania, Great Britain and Germany placed fourth, fifth and sixth respectively at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. The Ulm training centre, which ran the competition very smoothly, is home to Olympics hopeful Janine Berger. The centre has among others produced 2006 World team member Theresa Sporer and Katja El-Halabi, who later competed for the Lebanon.

Romania arrived with all of their top guns, including Larisa Iordache, who has consistently been staking her claim as a serious all-around medal threat for London these past weeks, and Olympic champions Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa. Izbasa warmed up with the team but then withdrew citing an injury to her left foot. Whether it was a new injury or an old one that flared up, remained unclear. “The coaches said “Maybe [she got injured] here, maybe before”, “German federation press spokesman Torsten Hartmann told the media.Romanian head coach Octavian Bellu insisted it was only a precautionary mesaure.

Iordache zipped through four strong routines for an all-around total of 59.750. She left out the double-double on floor but posted a massive 6.8 D score on beam for a routine that included a ff-full, a double turn and a triple twist dismount. The number of skills she manages to confidently cram into ninety seconds is astonishing even if it leaves no room for choreography. Bars remain Romania’s bleak spot and while Iordache helps them a lot there with her good set (6.2 with a stalder full to Tkachev-Pak-stalder 1/2), it is likely that the team could have to swallow two scores below 14 in a team final situation. It is amazing that a team that is so very competent and competitive on any stage on three events continues to give up so much ground on bars. However, the team total would have been 1.8 higher if Raluca Haidu, who competed bars only,  had not competed hors concours (13.95 versus Chelaru’s 12.15).

Ponor, who competed in Ulm with quite a lot of tape on her left knee, brings a presence to the beam that fails to come across on videos. Her combination tumbling is still unique -aerial cartwheel-front aerial-ff-layout- all connected smoothly. On floor, Ponor opened with a quadruple turn and tumbled a double layout to open but her form on her triple twist remains questionable. Diana Bulimar tumbled up a storm on floor (double layout, 1 1/2 twist through to double pike, piked full-in, double pike/5.8) and her landings are mostly what the Code of Points is looking for. Clean stick, feet together, no lunge, no step. Romania looked well prepared for the European Championships where they look set to claim a host of medals. Their consistency coupled with the difficulty they bring on three events will take them a long way.

The hosts, on the contrary, didn’t have a particularly good competition. Lisa-Katharina Hill is currently sitting her school-leaving exams and did not compete but will be on the team for the European Championships. Veteran Kim Bui was the strongest gymnast for the Germans in Ulm. She came off beam on a double turn but was very solid elsewhere for a total of 55.000.  Oksana Chusovitina competed in her first meet of the season and two solid vaults (handspring-front full, Tsukahara 1 1/2) as well as solid albeit stock beam routine (essentially the same routine she has been competing since the early nineties, poses included) were enough to make the team for Brussels despite missing both qualifications.  Elisabeth Seitz continues to struggle with the foot injury that has plagued her since last August. She only vaulted a full-twisting Yurrchenko and had a couple of extra swings on bars. Floor was a disaster for Seitz. Her arm buckled on the 1 1/2 twist which was supposed to lead into another combination but then only lead into a step, leaving her without the skill and without a two salto pass. The fact that she managed to put her final two tumbles – double tuck and double pike – to her feet was proof of her competitive spirit. Pia Tolle came unglued on a Shaposhikova where she fell to her back and didn’t finish the routine or the competition.

“There were some mistakes that could have been avoided,” head coach Ulla Koch told The All Around after the competition. “I’m satisfied with beam. I’m very happy with some of the gymnasts but we still have work to do. But Europeans are only a step on a way [to the Olympics].” Koch’s biggest worry is currently Nadine Jarosch. The 17-year-old had a break out season last year which culminated in her tenth place in the all-around competition in Tokyo. This year her progress has been halted by a foot injury. “I think we will decide that we will not let her compete at Europeans because the Olympics are just more important. But we will discuss it this evening [28 April],” Koch said. The injury is still the same one that kept Jarosch out of the American Cup in Marchand she was limited to bars in Ulm. “This week she hurt her foot again on a leap. It’s very, very painful,” Koch said. “Maybe she came back too quickly [after the initial injury]. We said that before taking a risk again we better leave her home.”

Great Britain only sent a B team to Ulm but still managed a respectable showing with Niamh Rippin finishing fourth all-around with a 13.90 on floor. The team proved that Great Britain has built an impressive amount of depth over the past years. Many a federation would be glad to have two 1 1/2 Yurchenkos, a 6.1 bars D score or mid-5s on floor on their A team let alone their reserve one.

The European Championships get underway in Brussels next week with podium training starting on 7 May. The All Around will be reporting directly from Brussels.

Team results

AA results