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The 2012 Senior Men’s European Championships took place this past weekend in Montpellier, France.  Here’s a recap of the team competition, in which Great Britain secured a huge team victory just two months before the start of the Olympic Games.

 

2012 Men’s European Championships Team Finals Results

 

1.  Great Britain             266.296

2.  Russia                        265.535

3.  Romania                    261.319

4.  Belarus                       261.110

5.  Ukraine                       260.246

6.  Germany                     259.269

7.  Switzerland                 253.771

*8.  France                        203.028

 

*Only counted two scores on four of the six events after Samir Ait-Said scored a zero on vault and withdrew from the competition due to injury

 

It’s been quite a year for the British men – winning the Olympic test event and securing an Olympic team berth this past January, and now winning the European Championships over Olympic team medal contenders like Russia, Ukraine, and Germany.  The British men used five of the six men it fielded at this year’s Olympic test event – Kristian Thomas, Daniel Purvis, Louis Smith, Ruslan Panteleymonov, and Max Whitlock – to outscore the Russians by 0.761.  Notably absent was 2009 world all-around silver medalist Daniel Keatings, who was out with a recent ankle injury.  The British were weaker than the Russians on rings (outscored by 1.575) and high bar (outscored by 0.891), but as is often the case, pommel horse proved to be the deal-breaker.  Thanks to a whopping 15.833 from Louis Smith, a 15.3 from Max Whitlock, and a 14.3 from Daniel Purvis, the British outscored the Russians by over three points on this event alone.

 

Russia’s Anton Golotsutskov, typically known as a floor and vault specialist, was surprisingly used on both pommel horse and high bar in this competition, and struggled quite a bit on both – scoring a 13.133 on pommel horse and a 12.466 on high bar.  Though he landed a very strong 16.1 on vault, his characteristically world-class floor was off the mark as well, scoring a 14.266.  Four of Russia’s five team members here – Denis Ablyazin, Emin Garibov, David Belyavskiy, and Golotsutskov – all competed on the 4th place Russian team at the 2011 world championships.  They decided to use rings strongman Aleksandr Balandin rather than 2008 Olympian Konstantin Pluzhnikov, and also were without fellow 2008 Olympian and world veteran Sergei Khorokhordin.

 

Germany, the 2010 world bronze medalists, has struggled ever since that competition in Rotterdam and had a very rough meet here in Montpellier as well.  After finishing a disappointing 6th place at the 2011 worlds in Tokyo, where they enjoyed the return of Fabian Hambuechen on five events but became undone as a team on pommel horse, the Germans finished in this same spot at this week’s European Championships – a very disappointing result for a team vying for an Olympic medal.  Although they were without Hambuechen at this competition (Hambuechen simply skipped this competition to remain healthy and continue training for the Olympics), this team put up several disastrous scores en route to one of its worst team performances in recent years – counting an 11.3 from Eugen Spiridonov on high bar as well as four scores in the 13-range on pommel horse and rings.  On the upside, Matthias Fahrig, who missed the 2011 worlds due to injury, was back in the lineup, though his 14.566 on floor and 15.033 on vault weren’t nearly up to his capabilities.

 

Ukraine is a team that is capable of much more than the 5th place showing they produced here.  This team, which also placed 5th at the worlds in Tokyo, was without two of its stars – world standout Mykola Kuksenkov and 2012 Ukrainian Cup champion Vitaliy Nakonechbyi, both of whom suffered recent injuries (Kuksenkov suffered a fracture and torn ligaments in his foot which won’t require surgery but may prevent him from being 100% in London).  Although the talented Ukrainians still put up the highest vault total of the competition, they used very different lineups on the other events than they ideally would and could still be a potential medal contender in London if they regain their full arsenal.

 

France has had quite an unfortunate string of bad luck over the last two years.  After losing 2008 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Benoit Caranobe to a torn Achilles tendon in 2010, vaulting star Thomas Bouhail suffered a broken leg this past December which has required multiple surgeries and will likely end his career.  Then, Olympic veteran Yann Cucherat injured two of his fingers during his parallel bars routine in qualifications and withdrew from the competition.  To add more insult to this devastated team, its current star Samir Ait-Said, who led the rings qualification and qualified 2nd in to the vault finals, landed very short on his Dragulescu vault in the team finals and suffered a season-ending injury to his knee.  Sadly, Said will require surgery to repair this injury to his tibial plateau and will miss the upcoming Olympic Games, where his team needed him desperately.  France had finished 2nd behind Great Britain at the Olympic test event in January, securing an Olympic berth as well, but will not likely be a team medal contender in London this summer.

 

Things are looking quite exciting for the British men as they prepare for this summer’s Olympic Games in their own backyard.  Boosted by this very important victory at the European Championships without one of their stars and still with room to improve, this team could be a dark horse Olympic team medal contender with a 12 for 12 performance in London.  I would say the United States is still a stronger team and a more likely candidate for the Olympic podium, but Great Britain is clearly on the rise and has now proven they can beat virtually all of the other Olympic bronze medal contenders.  And of course we all know how quickly things can change with the 3-up-3-count format.  Having a roaring home crowd to cheer them on won’t hurt them one bit either.