All eyes on Larisa Iordache, Olympic qualification at European Championships

What to look for at the 2021 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel, Switzerland from 21st April.

By Scott Bregman

For Larisa Iordache, the 2021 European Championships is it.

The London 2012 Olympic gymnastics bronze medalist and two-time World all-around medallist came back to the sport for a chance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, and this is her chance to qualify.

With individual titles and four Olympic spots up for grabs (two for the men, and two for the women), here’s what to keep an eye on – including Iordache’s qualification bid – when the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships begin on Wednesday, 21 April in Basel, Switzerland.

Tickets to Tokyo at stake at the European Championships

“The cancellation of last year’s Olympics was more pleasant news for me,” Iordache told Olympic Channel earlier this year. “Because it was kind of a chance to compete at the Olympics, especially since I found out it is possible that I can still qualify.”

That chance is in Basel. She’ll need to finish in the top two among eligible athletes in the all-around during qualifications to do so. She’ll face stiff competition, including rising Russian stars Viktoria Listunova and Vladislava Urazova to pull it off, but the Romanian who finished runner-up to four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles at the 2014 Worlds should have a chance.

At December’s European Championships, Iordache took gold on the balance beam and floor exercise. It was her first international competition since an Achilles tendon injury at the 2017 World Championships, and it came weeks after a bout with COVID-19.

On the men’s side, Russia will also be a favourite to book an additional place at the Games. Their best shot is likely 18-year-old Alexander Kartsev, who recently defeated 2018 World all-around champion Artur Dalaloyan at the Russian Championships.

Notable absences from the 2021 European Championships

Most major nations are electing to participate in Basel after withdrawals en masse from the 2020 European Championships. Those events were originally scheduled for late April (women’s) and early May (men’s) but ended up pushed back to December and relocated to Mersin, Turkey, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spain, however, announced on 2 March that they would skip the event.

Other noticeable absences come on the individual level, with two-time and reigning World uneven bars champion Nina Derwael of Belgium sitting out the event, and defending European all-around champion Melanie de Jesus dos Santos of France competing only on the uneven bars.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Claudia Fragapane had appeared on Team GB’s original roster submission but suffered a scary crash in late March and will not compete. The Netherland’s Eythora Thorsdottir is also out after sustaining a minor ankle injury.

Meanwhile, 2016 Olympic all-around silver medal winner Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine is also missing from the roster and is currently listed as ‘suspended’ on the International Gymnastics Federation website. The FIG has not provided further details as to the nature of his suspension.

Nagornyy Looking for a rebound

After missing out on the Russian championships due to illness, reigning World all-around champion Nikita Nagornyy will be looking to show he’s still the one to beat in Basel.

The Russian has dominated the sport in recent years. The last time he didn’t take a major all-around title was the 2018 World Championships where he finished third, behind teammate Dalaloyan and 2017 World champ Xiao Ruoteng. In 2019, he handily won both the European and World titles.

Can he repeat defend his title in Switzerland and signal that he won’t be stopped as the Tokyo Games approach?

Battle of the pommel horse

One of the more intriguing competitions will be in the men’s pommel horse final where reigning European, World' and Olympic pommel horse champion Max Whitlock will resume his battle with Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan.

"I like to think of it as a rivalry. I like that competitive nature of sports, and that's why you'll see me make comments like ‘I can't wait for our next battle, Max’ or ‘I'm coming for that world title,'" McClenaghan told Olympic Channel in late March.

The last time the two faced off was more than a year ago at the 2019 Worlds, where Whitlock ended up on the top step of the podium, while McClenaghan settled for bronze.

In recent weeks, both have posted videos of new routines looking solid and competitive, setting up what’s sure to be an epic showdown in Basel.