The Curse of the European Championships (Part II)

Note: This article is Part II of a 3-part series

Part I: 2018-2022
Part II: 2009-2017
Part III: 2002-2008

Ellie Downie (2017)

In 2017 Ellie Downie took the AA gold medal at the European Championships. Just before the competition Ellie had sustained an injury at the British Championships, but fought through it while competing at the European Championships. But eventually Downie’s ankle injury would require surgery and she was forced to withdraw from the 2017 World Championships.

Ellie Downie would finish 11th in the AA at the 2018 World Championships. But at the 2019 World Championships she won a bronze medal on vault. Even though three other gymnasts have since succeeded her as European AA Champions in the years since, Ellie Downie is the most recent gymnast to win a European AA gold medal and return to win another medal in an individual event at the Olympics or World Championships.

Unfortunately for Ellie Downie, the Covid-19 Pandemic would disrupt her career and she lost all of her momentum from 2019 during the “lost year” of 2020. Ellie Downie would attempt to make the 2021 Olympic team, but was not selected. Her career has been on pause ever since.

Giulia Steingruber (2015)

You have to go all the way back to 2015 with Giulia Steingruber to find a gymnast who didn’t get significantly hampered by the curse of the European Championships. After winning the AA at the European Championships, later in the year Steingruber finished 5th in the AA at the 2015 World Championships.

Even though she placed 4-spots lower in the standings, Giulia’s performances were by no means a drop-off. At the 2015 World Championships five of the top-7 were North American or Asian gymnasts and ineligible for the European Championships. The only European gymnast who beat Giulia Steingruber was Larisa Iordache who had been injured during the 2015 European Championships.

Giulia Steingruber absolutely lived up to her previous level of success at the 2015 World Championships and it is very hard to argue that this was a cursed competition for her. If one wanted to be truly nit-picky, Giulia finished 7th on vault during Event Finals which would technically be her lowest placement in a five year period from 2013 to 2017. But it came under the context of Steingruber giving the best AA performance of her career.

After her 2015 European AA title Giulia would appear in the next two Olympic Games. At the 2016 Olympics she won the first Olympic medal of her career. At the 2017 World Championships she won the first medal of her career at the World Championships level. Even though she didn’t win such medals at the 2015 World Championships, there can be no doubt that the 2015 European Championships helped propel Giulia Steingruber to future success.

Aliya Mustafina (2013)

In the last 20 years Mustafina is one of the few gymnasts to avoid the curse of the European Championships. After winning the European AA title in 2013, Aliya Mustafina attended the 2013 World Championships where she won a bronze medal in the AA. Like Giulia Steingruber two years later, Mustafina would be the highest ranking gymnast from the European Championships in the World Championships AA Finals.

Aliya Mustafina would go on to win more medals after her 2013 victory at the European Championships than before it. This includes another Olympic appearance where she won three additional medals. So no, Aliya Mustafina did not suffer the same curse that afflicted other European AA Champions.

However, there is the lingering memory of the 2011 European Championships where Aliya infamously tore her ACL. Mustafina would go on to continue her Hall of Fame career to great success, but the injury prevented her from replicating the same dominance she achieved at the 2010 World Championships in future years. While the premise of this article focuses on gymnasts who actually won the European AA as Aliya had done in 2013, but there is something to be said of a different type of misfortunate between Aliya and this competition stemming from 2011.

Anna Dementyeva (2011)

When Aliya Mustafina was injured at the 2011 European Championships, this allowed her teammate Anna Dementyeva to capture the AA title for herself. The unlikely champion tried her best to prove her European gold medal wasn’t a fluke. Anna attended the 2011 World Championships where she finished 31st in AA qualifications and failed to advance. In the process becoming one of the most extreme examples of this curse.

To add insult to injury, Dementyeva finished 14th in beam qualifications, the one apparatus she had qualified to Event Finals on during the 2010 World Championships. Anna would not be able to repeat this success in 2011. After winning the European AA title in 2011, Anna would ultimately fail to qualify to either Event Finals or AA Finals for the rest of her career in Group-1 competition.

This occurring while Russia was reloading with the arrival of a young talent such as Viktoria Komova, Anastasia Grishina, and Maria Paseka. Russia’s backlog of talent only became worse when Mustafina was able to rejoin the team in time for the 2012 Olympics. These developments would ultimately push Anna Dementyeva out of the starting lineup despite her ability to continue producing viable scores in a specialist role. Russia simply had too much talent to make room for Dementyeva.

The 2011 World Championships was Dementyeva’s last appearance in a major competition. This occurring only a few months after her gold medal at the 2011 European Championships. No European All-Around Champion suffered a quicker or harsher fall from grace than Anna Dementyeva.

Ksenia Semyonova (2009)

It was Ksenia Semyonova who won the European All-Around in 2009 and kick-started the dynasty of three consecutive Russian AA Champions. Semyonova made her senior debut in 2007 and immediately won a gold medal on the uneven bars at the World Championships that year. During the 2008 Olympics she finished 4th in the AA and 6th on the uneven bars. Unfortunately, she did not win a single medal. But Ksenia came close and her performance was commendable, resulting in Semyonova gaining major popularity amongst gymnastics fans.

This set her up for the 2009 European Championships where Ksenia won the AA. But at the 2009 World Championships Semyonova would finish 13th in the All-Around and failed to reach Event Finals. After the 2009 European Championships Ksenia went from a top-rate All-Arounder and lovable fan favorite, to witnessing her role with the Russian national team being reduced with each passing year.

Even though she was only 16 years old when she took the AA title at the 2009 European Championships, soon afterwards Semyonova became a gymnast on the downside of her career. Ksenia would not appear in Event Finals at either the 2009 or 2010 World Championships, nor did she make the 2012 Olympic team. But Ksenia Semyonova did win a gold medal as a member of the Russian team at the 2010 World Championships.

It was a harsh set of circumstances in a sport where the careers can cruelly be far too short.

Link to Part III


Link to previous part (Part I)

2 thoughts on “The Curse of the European Championships (Part II)

  1. LOL.
    Back to back to back championships (Russia) is not a dynasty, its called a hat trick. You need a lot more wins in a row than that to be considered a dynasty.

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  2. Ellie Downie’s situation is undoubtedly one of the saddest for me. Injuries, the tragic sudden death of her brother, a loss of motivation and a grieving period following this and a clan of very talented gymnasts just a few years younger than her have all combined to leave her hopes of making a team again very slim.

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