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May 2, 2002: Men's and women's training

With men’s and women’s teams typically training at the same time in separate gyms, it can be a bit of a nightmare for those trying to cover both teams! Fortunately, after the junior men took the floor in the main competition gym for their afternoon training session, some of the junior women began to trickle out, allowing me to catch a glimpse of both groups.

Although I was unfamiliar with most of the junior men’s athletes, I was able to quickly realize the Canadian and American teams, and followed their performances closely. Canada’s Nathan Gafuik made a major impression on me immediately. Gafuik is 16 years old, and trains at the University of Calgary under coach Tony Smith, and drew attention from a number of on-lookers with his perfect form and impeccable technique on each apparatus. Although he says he does not have a favourite event, he noted that rings is his toughest event because he doesn’t yet have the strength to complete the top-level elements.

I was also impressed with the work of Brandon O’Neill, who trains at Edmonton’s Capital City Gymnastics Club. O’Neill showed good ability on the pommel horse and a number of nice elements throughout his program, although he seemed to struggle on the parallel bars. Halifax’s Matthew Ryan, 18, showed up well on rings, with a Guczoghy-giant-full-out combination concluding his routine.

The United States looked strong and capable, with world-class difficulty and clean execution. R.J. Heflin showed a fantastic double-twisting Tsukahara, and little D.J. Bucher looked fantastic on all apparatus, including a double back between the bars on parallel bars.

On the women’s side, the Aussies continued to impress on the balance beam, while the Canadians and Americans began to show the strain of what has been a long training and selection process for both teams. With athletes from both groups appearing visibly frustrated at times, it is apparent that the anxiety that comes in the hours before such a large-scale meet is affecting everyone. Japan’s “mini-Chen” continued to impress with beautiful, stable work on the balance beam (RO layout mount, one-armed ff/layout/one-armed ff, side somi, switch ring leap, beautiful hands and arm positions, and a 2 ½ twist dismount).

Some brief notes from senior women’s training:

- USA’s Tasha Schwikert trained a full-in punch front second pass on FX.
- Canada’s Amelie Plante and Heather Purnell both showed powerful, high full-in’s as their first pass on FX.
- Mexico’s Brenda Magana stood up her triple back bars dismount several times - it is really a sight to behold!
- The Aussies looked gorgeous on bars, beam and floor, while Allana Slater vaulted a dynamic 1 ½ twisting Yurchenko.
- The Japanese athletes showed good work on balance beam, and solid tumbling on floor exercise.
- Canada’s Kylie Stone trained only one event, balance beam, and finished her routine in tears. Her back is clearly bothering her.

Check back for live rotation-by-rotation coverage of the junior women’s team and AA competition, starting Friday at noon PST (3 pm EST)!

May 1, 2002: Junior Women's Training

Wednesday’s evening training session featured the junior women, and within minutes of the general warm-up it was obvious that all teams meant business. With no junior team from China, all eyes were on the teams from the United States, Canada, and Australia, who look set to dominate the competition.

The American team began the first rotation on floor (Canada and Australia were on a bye), and immediately impressed with their powerful, difficult tumbling. With Chelsie Memmel serving as team alternate, the U.S. competitors performed in what would appear to be their competition order. WOGA’s Hollie Vise got things started with a front double full-punch front (attempted layouts in warm-up), triple twist, and double pike. Melanie Sinclair was up next, showing an effortless arabian double front, followed by a double front, whip-triple twist (she struggled with this), and finishing with a double pike. Carly Patterson tossed an open ½ in ½ out, followed by an arabian double front, although both she and Vise seemed somewhat disinterested during the presentation of their routines. Finally, alternate Memmel closed things out with a routine ripe with personality that included two whips to an Arabian double front second line! Memmel, whose solid performances over two days of verification competition at the Karolyi ranch last week earned her a berth on the U.S. team, showed the best expression of all the Americans, and seems to be enjoying the excitement of her first big international competition.

Canadian juniors assemble around the vault
Photo courtesy of Kirsten Smith
The Canadian team began the second half of the first rotation on vault, and even from the general warm-up it was apparent that this was a well-prepared, world-class line-up of athletes. All four competitors showed good quality of movement, and a high level of fitness. With several falls throughout the day (especially on balance beam), consistency will be the key for the home team. If they perform up to their capabilities, it seems that challenging the powerful Australians would not be out of the question.

Vault was the weakest event for most of the team, with Seneca’s Lydia Williams struggling with her piked Luconi vaults. Burlington’s Melanie Rocca showed consistency with a number of clean layout Yurchenko’s, while Omega’s Gael Mackie looked powerful on her Yurchenko full vaults, and team alternate Amanda Gering vaulted a well-rotated Hristakieva on her final attempt of the day.

Meanwhile, the Australian juniors (who I cannot identify by name at this time - I will include routine descriptions only) were demonstrating some of the nicest work of the day on what appears to be their best event, the balance beam. This team is meticulously trained, and is a joy to watch on this event, with all athletes working with clean basics, good posture, and fluid movements. Like the Canadians, consistency will be the key for the young team from Down Under, who were lead here by National Team coach Peggy Liddick.

Some highlights of the Australian performances included an Onodi-ff ff combination and a floating aerial walkover to immediate Chen by their first athlete, an aerial walkover to Rueda (back pike open to swing down) and a ff-ff-double tuck dismount by the second performer (who wore her dark brown hair in a braid), and an aerial walkover-sheep jump combo and a perfect tour jete with an extra half twist by their anchor - all performed with ease and perfect form.

In the second rotation, the Canadians showed good quality exercises on the uneven bars, with tidy performances by all athletes. Notable was Rocca’s lovely deep invert giants before her double front dismount, while both Mackie and Williams performed with impeccable form. The American team vaulted well, with double-twisting Yurchenko’s from Patterson, and a 1 ½ twisting Yurchenko from Sinclair. The Aussies appeared weaker on the floor exercise than they were on the balance beam, with a lower level of tumbling than the other top countries.

In the third rotation, the Americans impressed with some phenomenal uneven bar work, with highlights including Vise’s gorgeous Ono turn, Patterson’s stalder full-pirouette on the low bar to immediate free-hip-shoot to high bar, and Sinclair’s enormous Hindorff and open full-in double pike dismount. Finally, Memmel displayed a fantastic arsenal of tricks that included a Hindorff, elgrip Endo’s, and a jam-dislocate to inverted giants. While the likeable Memmel has eye-popping skills on every event, she falls behind her teammates in the area of performance quality, with small form breaks on each event.

The Canadian team, meanwhile, showed some of their best work on the balance beam. Most impressive was the routine of Gael Mackie, who is only 13 years old, yet shows incredible maturity and quality of movement. She displayed an original element of arabian tick-tock (like an Onodi, but stopping before finishing the walkover, then kicking into a back walkover), step down into a back layout! Mackie trained this element a number of times, with mixed results. It will be interesting to see what level of performance we will see in Friday’s competition. Williams and Rocca both performed well, though falls got the better of both athletes on a number of occasions. Most impressive was Williams’ mount of three flairs on the end of the beam, and Rocca’s textbook switch ring leap.

Finally, the U.S. team finished with some incredible beam performances that seemed to include countless full twists and arabian saltos. The trick of the day had to be Memmel’s punch barani immediate ff combination, which she hit with incredible accuracy (but minor form breaks). As usual, Patterson made everything look easy, and Vise performed an exercise capable of winning world medals on any given day. Sinclair also impressed with a Rulfova and a full-twisting ff to ff layout combination.

Also noteworthy was the performance of Japan’s tiniest gymnast. Although the absence of any numbers or even a photo in the program kept me from identifying this young talent, her performances stood out. With fluid uneven bar work and crisp form throughout, I dubbed this athlete “mini Chen,” in honour of the great Chen Cuiting, one of China’s best-ever gymnasts. Like Chen, this young Japanese athlete completes all of her saltos with legs together and toes pointed - a rarity in gymnastics! Her best work came on the uneven bars, with a perfect Healy to Jaeger and a double front dismount.

In general, I was very impressed with the level of performance in the junior training. Although the Americans look set to walk away with the team title, the caliber of performance will be very high from a number of teams, and there should be some moments of brilliance on all events.

May 1, 2002: Senior Women's Training Report

With spring fully in bloom in beautiful Burnaby, British Columbia, the first full day of training got underway today at the Bill Copeland Memorial Arena.

Having arrived on a morning flight, then settled in my room at the University of British Columbia, I set off to the arena via a prolonged series of train and bus rides totaling a full hour and a half, finally arriving in time to catch the closing phases of senior women's training.

With all teams having completed three of four rotations, I was able to observe only a smattering of routines, but impressions were made nonetheless.

Drawing my attention first was the team from the United States, who were finishing their day on vault. All four athletes named to the team earlier this week were present and accounted for, along with a bevy of personal coaches, all under the watchful eye of National Team Co-ordinator Marta Karolyi.

In hindsight, I can see now why I fixated on the U.S. team: they were the loudest, and most enthusiastic team, with newcomer Liz Tricase leading the way with cheers of "Come on, Kristal! Come on, Tasha!" prefacing each of her teammates' attempts. Tricase has had a successful few months (2nd at Spring Cup; 3rd at the American Classic), and was thrilled to be invited to try out for the Pacific Alliance Team. Imagine her excitement at being named to the official U.S. roster! At this competition, Tricase, who trained a number of effortless-looking double-twisting Yurchenko's, will serve as the alternate, but she will still compete and be scored, gaining invaluable experience in the process.

Also showing up well on vault was new senior Kristal Uzelac, with a number of well-landed Khorkina II's (RO-1/2 on, rudi off). World championship bronze medallist Tasha Schwikert was consistent, if unspectacular, on her Podkopayeva vaults, while Terin Humphrey lost form on her 1 ½ twisting Yurchenko's.

Also in this rotation were the Australians on floor, although by the time I arrived they were already done rehearsing their major elements. The Aussies warmed up in an unusual black and pewter leo that kept me from realizing who they were until I recognized their star, Allana Slater.

In the next half of the rotation, I had my first chance to look at the Canadian team. Right off the bat I noticed something was strange. I counted, then re-counted, then counted again. Only three girls. With a packed arena of athletes and coaches, it would be easy to miss someone, but after a full scan of every face, I realized that Wild Rose champion Kylie Stone was missing. Apparently, Stone is suffering from a back injury, and is nursing it in hopes of competing this weekend. This would obviously be a major blow for Canada to lose perhaps their top athlete, although alternate Heather Purnell looks strong and prepared. On bars, 2001 world team member Amelie Plante trained her usual routine (Def, Gienger, double layout), with some inconsistency. Gemini's Danielle Hicks looked solid (Kim pirouette to Jaeger, bail ½ to toe-on shoot, full pirouette to Tkatchev, double front dismount), but will lose some points with minor form breaks throughout. Purnell also trained solidly, with a flighty toe-on shoot (good counter rotation), and a consistent full-in.

Across the arena, I also noticed enticing choreography from the Malaysian athletes, but saw nothing of the Chinese women except for some conditioning.

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