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2001 Women's Elite Canada

A strong group of Canadian junior gymnasts battled it out at Toronto's Seneca College December 1st and 2nd at the annual Elite Canada competition. With the top five juniors from this year's Canadian championships all moving up to the senior division, this meet served as an excellent chance for new faces to prove themselves - including a strong group of novices making the jump to the junior high performance category for the first time. Many of these gymnasts should provide a strong challenge to current seniors for world championship team berths in 2003, whereas some of the younger athletes will have to wait until 2005 to be age eligible.

Gymnastics Mississauga's Melanie Tham - 5th at last year's Elite Canada - took the gold in the all-around competition here, showing a good competitive spirit and consistent routines three events (she fell from beam). Tham showed many world-class skills, especially on bars where her toe-on shoot transition showed excellent amplitude. She also threw giant-full to Gienger, a giant 1 1/2 to straddle back handstand, and a double pike dismount. Her beam routine had a good variety of skills, including a switch leap to Chen combination, an aerial walkover, a punch front, two-footed ff to layout step-out series, and a double tuck dismount. On floor, the deceptively frail looking young gymnast showed plenty of power with an opening pass of two whips through to 2 ½ twist, a triple twist middle line, and a double pike last pass that she made look easy. Her layout Yurchenko vault continues to develop and undoubtedly she will add more difficulty to this event as she grows and continues to get stronger. A foot injury had prevented Tham from competing all events at the Canadian championships earlier this year, but her victory this week-end left little doubt as to her current position on the junior national scene.

Madison Ward of Cambridge was a strong second at this meet, showing a high skill level and determination. She proved her competitive grit on beam, where after falling badly after a layout step-out (which was supposed to be a series of two), she remounted and finished her routine with the most difficult dismount in the entire event (junior or senior): two two-footed back handsprings to a triple twist. She also showed a beautiful front scale while holding her leg with her arms, then releasing it and continuing to hold the position. On floor, she showed a wonderfully artistic style and flair and maturity well beyond her years. The Soviet influence of her coaches was evident, and while her dance was highlighted by a unique double turn, grabbing her leg half way through and jumping to her knees, she showed equally impressive tumbling: whip immediate triple twist, 2 ½ twist, and double pike. On vault, she had the highest score of the field with her Hristakieva. If there is a weakness in Ward's repertoire, it's the uneven bars where she is without a major release move at this stage; but she already has the goods to challenge on the other events, and should be a major player on the Canadian scene in the years to come.

Defending champion Lisa Pattison from the Marian club in Saskatchewan, showed many new skills en route to the all-around bronze. Her best event here was the uneven bars, where she showed excellent precision on her most difficult combination of elgrip giant full pirouette back to elgrip, elgrip giant ½ to Tkatchev. She also displayed a new dismount of double front salto from elgrip. On beam, she showed good combination work including a switch leap to wolf jump ½ to Chen - as well as great air sense when her foot slipped off the beam going into her dismount (she was performing a round-off back handspring when her foot slipped off the beam; she popped a full twist instead of the planned double and landed on her feet safely). On floor, her charming choreography was well received by the audience, and her double pike last line showed that she was in excellent condition. Her other passes were a 2 ½ twist to punch front and a slightly short triple twist. On vault, she showed a layout Yurchenko (this vault was very common among the juniors here - likely as a result of the new vault apparatus). Pattison, fresh from her first international assignment in Slovenia, was set to leave for the prestigious Canberra Cup in Australia right after the apparatus finals on Sunday.

The host club of Sport Seneca had plenty to celebrate with Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs' 4th place finish. Hibbs made a successful jump to the junior high performance category after having won the national novice title at the Canadian championships earlier this year. She may well have placed higher with a stronger effort on bars (she struggled there, scoring only 7.05). A spunky and stylish performer, Hibbs thrilled the home club audience with her energetic floor routine with good tumbling (double pike, two whips to 1 ½ punch front, double tuck, 2 ½ twist - one of the only juniors to use four passes). Her best event by far was beam (9.05) where her world-class repertoire of skills includes a punch front to back tuck combo, an aerial cartwheel to layout step-out, a side somi, a double turn, and a secure double tuck off. Her vault is still developing (tucked Yurchenko), but her confidence and strong competitive demeanor should help keep her near the top of the rankings for many years. Born in 1989, Hibbs will have to wait until 2005 to make her mark on the senior level, and she seems well on her way to doing just that.

Finishing 5th in the all-around was another Canadian all-around champion, Kathryn Fairhurst from Gemini (Fairhurst won her title in the novice high performance category). Some mistakes on bars and beam prevented her from challenging for a medal position, but like many of the other gymnasts in the meet, she showed new skills on every event. Her best event here was floor, where strong dance combinations (cat leap double to cat leap 1 ½, triple turn to straddle jump-full) and new tumbling (double pike, 2 ½ twist, two whips through to double twist) earned her the highest score on that event (9.25). Other top skills for Fairhurst included a giant-full to Tkatchev combination on bars, and a switch ring leap, aerial walkover, and two back handsprings to a double twist dismount on beam. Every routine was performed with a maturity and elegance beyond her years - qualities that will definitely help her when she moves up to the senior level next year.

Rounding out the top 6 was Rebecca Simbhudas of the Winstonettes (world team member Jennifer's younger sister). Simbhudas is best known for her clean lines and tight form, especially on beam where a back tuck to split jump ½ combo, back handspring layout step-out, and two back handsprings to a 1 ½ twist dismount highlighted her work. Her floor exercise was upbeat and included a very strong double pike opening, whip-1 ½-punch front middle pass, and a double twist last pass. On bars she showed good pirouette work (giant-full to giant 1 ½ to front giant healy), and while she does not include a major release move yet, she hopes to have this in her routine soon. Stronger vaulting (she did a handspring front tuck here) should help her move up the rankings in the future. Like Hopfner-Hibbs, Simbhudas was born in 1989, so she will not hit the senior ranks until 2005.

Gymnix's Stéphanie De Lima finished as the top ranked Quebec gymnast in this meet. As usual, she showed her best work on bars, where her high Markelov release move was one of the most impressive bars skills shown. Her beam routine also had some good skills - a difficult layout step-out mount, a side somi, and an aerial cartwheel to back handspring series. De Lima's clubmate Jessie Christofferson could only perform on beam (where she qualified for event finals despite missing her difficult tucked barani mount) and floor at this event (fall on a 2 ½ twist, but a strong whip-double pike opening). Christofferson's choreography on both events was among the best (junior or senior) and when she is able to do all four events again she should provide a challenge for the other top juniors.

Rounding out the all-around awards podium was Gymnastics Mississauga's Lori Hamilton (the top 8 gymnasts received all-around awards). Hamilton showed elegant choreography on floor (and a strong double pike) and good swing on bars to make event finals there (no major release move yet, but a nice combination of giant full to giant 1 ½ to straddle back).

Several gymnasts not finishing in the top 8 still raised some eyebrows with their impressive work. Scarborough's Melissa Tan had the loudest cheering section by far (every successful skill was followed by a near deafening cheer from one section of the audience). Her best event here was uneven bars (piked Jaeger, high Pak salto), where she qualified for event finals. Finishing 10th and 11th were Laura-Ann Chong and Gael Mackie from the Omega club. Both gymnasts were in superb physical condition and the influence of their ex-Soviet coach Vladimir Lashin was very evident, especially on beam. Chong made beam finals with a jam packed set (back handspring to two layout step-outs, punch front to tuck jump-full, switch leap ½ to wolf jump-full, two back handsprings to double twist off). Mackie had a disastrous four falls on beam, which ruined her all-around chances, but she qualified for floor finals with impressive tumbling (double pike, 2 ½ twist punch front, triple twist) and terrific choreography (to Lobaznyuk's Olympic music - with similar choreography). As these two gymnasts develop some consistency, their clean lines, difficulty, and original choreography could bring them to the top of Canadian gymnastics.

The overall quality of gymnastics on display by this year's junior gymnasts was very impressive. Most of the top gymnasts showed a major release move on bars, most floor routines contained at least one double salto, and a variety of beam skills were shown as well. Canada is recognized world wide for its innovative choreography on floor, and these juniors certainly did not disappoint in this regard. Many of these gymnasts will present a strong challenge to the current senior national team members for positions on the world championship team in 2003. Hopefully these gymnasts will get the opportunity to showcase their skills on the international scene soon.

Complete results from this competition can be found here.

Written by Christopher Scott

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