This year's Canadian Gymnastics Championships, May 21-25 at University of Manitoba's Max Bell Centre and Investors Group Athletic Centre, take on a special significance with positions on the Commonwealth Games team up for grabs. The top two senior women and top three senior men will earn automatic berths, with the rest of the positions to be chosen later by committee.
In the women's competition, the senior field is wide open, with last year's winner Kate Richardson of Coquitlam B.C. on the mend following her January back surgery. With Richardson on the sidelines, look for some of her world championship teammates to put up strong challenges for this year's title. Unfortunately, Olympian Crystal Gilmore appears to be out of contention due to a hamstring injury and her presence at what could be her final Canadian Championships will be missed.
Second in the all-around last year, Mississauga's Ashley Peckett missed the Canadian invitational circuit earlier in the season due to an ankle injury, but after a strong showing at last month's Elite Ontario competition looks ready to contend again this year. Amélie Plante of Gymnix - one of the oldest senior women's competitors - is fresh from a strong performance at the Pacific Alliance Championships (where she made two apparatus finals). Her experience could make her one of the gymnasts to beat. Elite Canada winner Jennifer Simbhudas of the Winstonettes is another world team member to watch. Like Peckett, she returned to all-around competition at Elite Ontario after injuries limited her earlier this spring, and she is quickly returning to form. One of the question marks this year could be Hamilton's Joelle Ouellette, who underwent knee surgery earlier in March. Having missed the Canadian invitational meets as a result, she will look to make a strong impression at Nationals, which will be her first meet of the year.
There are other key players set to challenge for the title this year. Last year's junior all-around champion Kylie Stone of Calgary makes the jump to senior competition this year, and following a successful spring season (top Canadian at the Jurassic Classic and an all-around win at the Wild Rose Invitational) looks set to challenge for the title. The one question mark for Stone could be the back injury that kept her out of the Pacific Alliance Championships. If Stone wins the title, she will become the first Canadian since Monica Covacci in 1985 to win junior and senior titles in back-to-back years.
The 2000 junior champion, Ottawa Gymnastics' Heather Purnell is another threat for the title. Purnell is coming off an excellent showing at the Pacific Alliance Championships where she finished as the highest Canadian senior in the all-around and was also the only Canadian senior woman to take a medal in the apparatus finals (a bronze on floor). Purnell's Pacific Alliance teammate Danielle Hicks of Oshawa is another gymnast to watch. Second at least year's Elite Canada, Hicks is strong on all events and could challenge for the top spot with a strong performance.
Junior Pacific Alliance team members Melanie Rocca of Burlington, Seneca's Lydia Williams and Ortona's Amanda Gering (who all compete as seniors in the Canadian programme) could also challenge for spots on the Commonweath team. Another gymnast not to count out is veteran Abby Pearson of Burlington, who is competing in her last national championship. Pearson showed consistent work during the Canadian Friendship Tour earlier this year. Quebec's Vanessa Meloche, who trains in the United States at Parkettes, is another gymnast to watch. Meloche was scheduled to compete at the Pacific Alliance Championships, but withdrew herself due to an injury. Meloche performed well at several invitational meets earlier in the season and will look to duplicate that showing at nationals this year - her first since 2000 due to various injuries.
The junior women's field includes several strong contenders as well. Elite Canada champion Madison Ward of Cambridge has added even more difficulty to her repertoire since last December and if she hits she could be unstoppable. Her biggest challenger will likely be Omega's Gael Mackie, the top Canadian junior at the Pacific Alliance Championship (where she earned a silver medal on the balance beam), who in recent meets has shown increasing stability and maturity in her work. Elite Canada bronze medallist Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs of Seneca should be a top contender after good results this spring (including a 3rd place finish at the Spring Cup). Saskatchewan's Lisa Pattison is another one to watch, and while she was limited to bars and beam in her most recent meets, her international experience last year should give her the confidence to perform well this year. Other gymnasts to look out for include Mackie's teammate Laura-Ann Chong (an exhibition competitor at Pacific Alliance), Rebecca Simbhudas of the Winstonettes (Jennifer's younger sister), Gemini's Katherine Fairhurst, and Stephanie De Lima of Gymnix.
For the men, defending champion and national team veteran Richard Ikeda of Abbotsford will face stiff competition this year, indicative of the great depth on the Canadian men's team. An individual bronze medal on the high bar highlighted his most recent effort at the Pacific Alliance Championships (where he also made finals on parallel bars). Ikeda shows no signs of slowing down and his experience could land him on the top spot again this year. Unfortunately, Richard's younger brother Ken Ikeda will not be joining him on the competition floor this week, due to impending shoulder surgery.
Ikeda's former Twister's club mate Grant Golding (now training out of Calgary) was the top Canadian at last year's world championships and his gold medal on the floor exercise at the Pacific Alliance Championships was one of the highlights of the Canadian team's effort at the event. Golding, who was the junior champion at this meet 4 years ago, could pick up his first senior title with a consistent effort this year.
Another gymnast to watch is Nova Scotia's David Kikuchi, who was the top Canadian all-around finisher Pacific Alliance Championships, where he also picked up a medal on the pommel horse. Known for his great work on the still rings, Kikuchi continues to improve his other events and is developing into one of Canada's top all-around competitors.
Olympians Kyle Shewfelt and Alexander Jeltkov, both absent from the Pacific Alliance Championships, will look to impress Commonwealth team selectors on their best events. Shewfelt will be tough to beat on his two best events (floor and vault), and will also hope to show his improvements as an all-around competitor. Jeltkov, a former world medallist on the high bar, has done very well in the all-around in the past, and this year he will look to reclaim the title he has won in 1997 and 2000.
Two other former world team members will look to impress in Winnipeg. Former junior national champion Scott Lang of Calgary is known for his big tricks on high bar and strong vaulting (where he showed his best work as an exhibition competitor at the Pacific Alliance meet). Saskatchewan's Rhett Stinson is on the mend following an ACL injury last year, and he hopes to impress Commonwealth selectors with his work on the non-leg events.
The junior men's competition features several strong contenders as well. Last year's champion Matthew Ryan of Nova Scotia will face stiff competition from Albertans Brandon O'Neill (double gold medallist at Pacific Alliance), and Adam Wong