The Curse of the European Championships (Part III)

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

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

Vanessa Ferrari (2007)

Along with Aliya Mustafina, Vanessa Ferrari is one of the few gymnasts to have actually thrived after winning the AA at the European Championships in the past 20 years. Ferrari won the European AA in 2007 and followed up on that success with a bronze medal in the All-Around at the 2007 World Championships. In the years since she has gone to the Olympics four different times, something that has only happened on three other occasions in the entire history of women’s gymnastics.

Ferrari most recently attained fame by winning a medal on floor exercise at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and intends to try out for the 2024 Olympic team.

Anna Pavlova (L), Marine Debauve (C) and Yulia Lozhechko (R)

Marine Debauve (2005)

In 2005 French gymnast Marine Debauve won the European AA title. She was not only the first French gymnast to do so, but the first from all of Western Europe. Before then the European AA had been dominated by a small number of countries from Eastern Europe. Debauve’s victory in 2005 was an early sign that the balance of power in European gymnastics was on the verge of shifting from East to West.

At the 2004 Olympics Marine finished 7th in the AA which was a historic result for a French gymnast at the time. Debauve followed up her success with an AA gold medal at the 2005 European Championships. She had been a World Championships participant at 14 years old, an Olympian at 15 years old, and a European All-Around Champion at 16 years old. With so much momentum the future looked promising for such a young gymnast.

But what came next was the 2005 World Championships where Marine Debauve competed on only two events and failed to qualify to Event Finals on either apparatus. Marine then briefly retired for two years only to make a comeback and successfully return for the 2008 Olympics. But she did not produce particularly high scores at the 2008 Olympics and retired again from artistic gymnastics. She then switched to a different gymnastics discipline, tumbling and trampolining (T&T).

Marine Debauve never won a medal in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic or World Championships level. But as a tumbler she won a medal at the 2010 T&T World Championships.

Alina Kozich (2004)

From 1992 to 2004 the European All-Around was contested in the same year as the Olympics. In the last planned instance of this format* Ukrainian gymnast Alina Kozich pulled off an upset win. At the time Svetlana Khorkina was aiming to become the first gymnast to win the European AA four consecutive times. Khorkina performed strongly across bars, beam, and floor and had the scores to win it. But a fall on vault left her in 4th place.

*This trend occurred in 2021 as part of a one-time scheduling quirk due to Covid-19

This paved the way for Kozich to become a European All-Around Champion and Alina would have her work cut out for her if she wanted to repeat that level of success at the upcoming Olympics. Kozich would finish 11th in the Olympic All-Around which was only a small drop in the standings for her considering she had finished 8th in the AA at the 2003 World Championships.

Kozich’s 2004 Olympic All-Around performance was actually quite impressive considering she recorded a fall on her beam dismount. Across vault, bars, and floor Kozich was on track to finish roughly in the #5, #6, or #7 spot in the standings. It is hard to argue the curse of the European Championships applied to Kozich as she clearly remained a strong gymnast after her 2004 victory. But she did have the misfortune of falling in an Olympic AA Finals in the next few months.

Alina Kozich would compete in every World Championships and Olympics from 2003 to 2009. Her career includes two Olympic appearances and in the final year of her career Kozich switched countries and represented Uzbekistan. Despite the success, she never won a medal at the Olympics or World Championships.

Ling Jie (L), Svetlana Khorkina (C) and Yang Yun (R)

Svetlana Khorkina (2002)

Svetlana Khorkina was known for being one of the most dominant gymnasts in the history of the sport. In 2002 she won the All-Around at the European Championships and this was by no means the beginning of the end for her career. Khorkina would win the All-Around at the 2003 World Championships and finished in 2nd place at the 2004 Olympics. Khorkina remained a top All-Arounder for two years following her final European AA victory in 2002.

But there’s an interesting element to Khorkina’s career. From 1994 to 2004 Svetlana Khrokina competed in 12 consecutive Group-1 level competitions (World Championships and Olympics). Simply appearing in that many consecutive competitions is a historic achievement. But Khorkina also managed to win a silver or better in an individual event on 11 of 12 occasions.

The only exception was the 2002 World Championships where she finished 7th on the uneven bars and 4th on beam. It was the only time Khorkina failed to win a medal at the World Championships or Olympics in her entire career.

The 2002 European Championships is where this strange and seemingly random curse begins. Such a curse would be impossible to apply to Khorkina’s AA victories at the European Championships in 1998 and 2000. But starting in 2002 with Khorkina’s misfortune it started becoming an observable trend. That on numerous occasions, European AA Champions would immediately struggle in months afterwards.

Either European Champions would be plagued by injuries, or they inexplicably had a significantly lower placement at the very next World Championships. The trend didn’t impact every such champion of the last 20 years, but it is a strange coincidence that on so many occasions in recent history, winning the European AA would frequently result in misfortune in the not so distant future.

Link to Part I

Link to Part II

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