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Five Gymnasts Win Big in Montpellier
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The Russian women and British men each took two titles Saturday as the European Championships continued in Montpellier. Pictured: Still rings medalists Samir Aït Saïd (France), Eleftherios Petrounias (Greece) and Denis Ablyazin (Russia)

The Russian women and British men each took two gold medals Saturday as the European Championships continued in Montpellier, France, where the five champion gymnasts each took their first major title.

After a disappointment in the women's all-around, Russia rebounded to take both women's titles. Olympic bronze medalist Maria Paseka upset top qualifier Giulia Steingruber on vault, where the Swiss star was the two-time defending champion. Fourth in qualifying, Paseka upgraded her first vault to a Cheng Fei (messy) and popped a much improved Amanar to top Steingruber (layout Rudi and double-twisting Yurchenko), 15.250-15.133.

Two-time Olympian Ksenia Afanasyeva won the bronze, also upgrading to an Amanar first vault. She stepped over the line, but Afanasyeva, who is returning after a long series of ankle injuries and surgeries, looked rightfully pleased with her vault. She also stepped over the line after her second vault (layout Podkopayeva).

On uneven bars, Russia's Daria Spiridonova added .2 in difficulty to her qualification routine, directly connecting her Pak salto to Maloney-half. After an inside-Stalder-blind to piked Jaeger, she dismounted with an improved toe-full to full-twisting double (small hop) to take the gold medal with the highest women's score so far, 15.466.

Defending champion Becky Downie (Great Britain) settled for second with her incredibly dynamic routine, featuring three Tkatchev variations: free-hip to piked; Stalder to piked; and free hip to straddled. Sanne Wevers won the bronze for the Netherlands (Shaposhnikova to back uprise full to bail; giant-full to blind to high Jaeger; double layout)., bumping Becky's sister, Ellie Downie, to fourth by .1.

The men's competition saw three gymnast finally win their first major international title. British Olympian Kristian Thomas struck gold on floor exercise. Just seventh in qualification, Thomas stayed cleaned to strike gold.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," he said. "I’ve never won a floor medal at a major championships but I knew the routine I had was consistent and I was in contention. I was so nervous watching the other scores come in, to win gold is incredible."

All-around runner-up David Belyavsky won another silver. He had the highest Difficulty score of the medalists at 6.6, but he took penalties for hops on most of his landings. He tumbled the still rare, but always exciting, double-full-in pike out, as a second pass. Switzerland's Pablo Brägger edged 2013 co-champion Alexander Shatilov (Israel) out of the bronze, 14.941-14.933.

Top qualifier Andrej Korosteljev (Croatia) seemed to succumb to pressure, standing out of bounds for an immediate deduction, and then falling twice for last place.

Two-time Olympic pommel horse medalist Louis Smith, first-up, used his experience to stay cool and swung to gold on horse. Like Thomas, Smith finally has an individual title to his credit. Though Smith has won Commonwealth Games gold for England, this is his first individual title for Great Britain.

"It's unbelievable, I don't really know what to say," said Smith, who lost the gold at the 2012 Olympics by a tie-break. "I was first up and had to stay composed. It was always a bit hit and miss as to whether I could come back, and today for me was a trial for myself, I was so nervous... to win gold makes it all worth it - incredible."

Runner-up Harutyum Merdinyan and third place Alberto Busnari were also thrilled with their results. Merdinyan brought Armenia its best result to date, while Busnari (a four-time Olympian) proved he is still competitive for Italy as he closes in on 37.

On still rings, Eleftherios Petrounias (Greece) was possibly the most overjoyed of the medalists. A perennial World Cup medalist, he has been unlucky at European and world championships for several years. His routine was a show of strength and though he tucked his layout double-double dismount, he stuck it for the day's highest score, 15.866.

"To win a gold medal at such a tournament, when in our country there are many difficulties in sports and in general, is very important and means so much," Petrounias said. "It is a success that I expected and for which I worked for years. I want to dedicate this medal to my family, to my coach Dimitrios Raftis, the doctor of the national team Ulysses Paxinos, course my sponsor Stoiximan.gr, but also everyone in Greece struggling."

2013 co-champion Samir Aït Saïd (France) tied 2014 champion Denis Ablyazin, with identical scores (6.8/15.566).

Aït Saïd, who brought the host team its first medal of the competition, said he was nervous. Three years ago at the European championships in the same arena, a nasty landing on vault broke his knee—and destroyed his chances of competing at the Olympics.

"I came in (this competition) through the back door, where paramedics came to take me to go to the hospital (in 2012)," Aït Saïd recalled. "I had a twinge. When I arrived in the arena, unconsciously, I looked directly at the vault and actually I felt the feeling I had when I blew out my knee. Nothing can erase what happened three years ago but I am very, very proud."

Competition concludes Sunday with the second day of apparatus finals.

External Link: Official Website

2015 European Championships
April 18, Montpellier, France

Women's Vault FinalDENDScoreAverage(Qual.)
1.Maria Paseka6.48.70015.10015.2504.
6.39.10015.400
2.Giulia Steingruber6.29.13315.33315.1491.
5.89.16614.966
3.Ksenia Afanasyeva6.39.0330.115.23314.8663.
5.69.0000.114.500
4.Noël van Klaveren5.88.90014.70014.5836.
5.68.86614.466
5.Ellie Downie5.89.03314.83314.5162.
5.29.00014.200
6.Claudia Fragapane5.88.7660.114.46614.0835.
5.28.50013.700
7.Camille Bahl5.89.00014.80014.0668.
4.68.73313.333
8.Teja Belak5.87.56613.36613.2167.
5.37.76613.066

Uneven Bars FinalDENDScore(Qual.)
1.Daria Spiridonova6.78.76615.4661.
2.Becky Downie6.78.53315.2332.
3.Sanne Wevers5.68.60014.2004.
4.Ellie Downie5.98.20014.1007.
5.Martina Rizzelli6.07.93313.9339.
6.Giulia Steingruber5.78.06613.7668.
7.Maria Kharenkova6.17.33313.4333.
8.Loan His5.85.86611.6666.

Men's Floor Exercise FinalDENDScore(Qual.)
1.Kristian Thomas6.28.96615.1667.
2.David Belyavsky6.68.46615.0663.
3.Pablo Brägger6.58.5410.114.9412.
4.Alexander Shatilov6.58.43314.9335.
5.Miguel Zapata6.78.3000.114.9006.
6.Bart Deurloo6.58.36614.8668.
7.Tomislav Marković6.38.53314.8334.
8.Andrej Korosteljev6.46.3330.312.4331.

Pommel Horse FinalDENDScore(Qual.)
1.Louis Smith6.98.90015.8001.
2.Harutyum Merdinyan6.78.63315.3337.
3.Alberto Busnari6.88.40015.2003.
4.Robert Seligman6.38.70015.0008.
5.Vid Hidvegi6.68.30014.9005.
6.Oleg Stepko6.58.16614.6664.
7.Dmitrijs Trefilovs6.37.80814.1086.
8.Matvei Petrov6.16.93313.0332.

Still Rings FinalDENDScore(Qual.)
1.Eleftherios Petrounias6.89.06615.8661.
2.Samir Aït Saïd6.88.76615.5664.
2.Denis Ablyazin6.88.76615.5662.
4.Yuri van Gelder6.88.73315.5336.
5.Vahagn Davtyan6.68.73315.3333.
6.Artur Tovmasyan6.78.60015.3005.
6.Matteo Morandi6.78.60015.3008.
8.Courtney Tulloch6.78.53315.2337.
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