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2001 Gymnix International
As one of the first international competitions held under the new Code of Points, the 2001 Gymnix International provided an interesting glimpse into the upcoming season. Held on March 10 and 11 at the Claude Robillard Centre, the competition was comprised of a senior and junior women's all-around, followed by mixed event finals (6 seniors and 2 juniors) the next day.
1. MICHELLE CONWAY (CANADA)
Considering her recent injuries, Michelle looked quite good at this meet. She is basically the same gymnast she was last year, with perhaps an extra inch or so in height and a whole lot more confidence. Her feeling of comfort in this competition was readily apparent, and I certainly hope this will translate into the decision to stay on and help Canada maintain their momentum through world championships. Interestingly, her knee is not wrapped, despite having had surgery on her torn meniscus just last fall (I understand she actually suffered a second partial tear before deciding to undergo the procedure). In my mind, an interesting dynamic that could surface over the next few months is the possible rivalry between Michelle and Kate Richardson for the team leader's role. Both are clearly in good condition, both physically and competitively, and
while Kate has the better international results, Michelle is the older, and perhaps wiser, of the two. Obviously this is an enviable position for the Canadian team to be in!
As for her exercises, they were about as solid as to be expected at this stage, with a couple of new additions. She began on floor, where she effectively worked the crowd with her popular Sydney routine with some modified tumbling. Based on the elements and combinations she executed (front 1/1 to Rudi, 1 1/2 to double twist with a jump half-turn out of it- looks like it will be a 2 1/2 soon - and a double pike), it would seemthat she is right in the middle of preparing new passes to help raise her SV (only 9.2). Fortunately for Michelle, the floor SV's were uniformly low throughout the day, so her 8.75 score actually remained the 2nd highest score on that event.
Her vault remained a Hristakieva, which she landed well for an 8.962. Bars, unfortunately, remain Conway's true nemesis. Not only does she lack the now-required same-bar release element, but she will struggle with the limits on pirouetting elements in the new code. As a result, her Start Value was a mere 9.1, and that, coupled with a fall on a pirouette, resulted in a meager 7.750 score.
At that stage of the competition, it would have seemed Michelle's odds of winning, or even finishing on the podium, were bleak, however, a stellar beam performance, coupled with errors by the leaders, catapulted her to the gold medal position. Mounting with her trademark flairs (an element named after former Seneca gymnast Leah Homma), Michelle moved easily through her highly difficult combinations, including a punch front-back tuck, switch leap-side somi, double turn-illusion, and a breathtaking tour jete with a half turn (called a Strug on FX). When she stuck her double tuck dismount, Conway dropped her jaw into a wide open grin, knowing she had just performed one of the best beam routines of her life. The resultant 9.425 (from a 9.9 SV!) was the highest score of the entire meet, and pushed her into the lead by just 0.062.
2. MARIA ZASYPKINA (RUSSIA)
Watching Zasypkina's performances at this competition confirmed to me that she should be a valuable addition to the Russian team at this fall's world championships. After a long and successful junior career, Maria has finally graduated to the senior ranks, and has the execution to back up her impressive bag of tricks. Unfortunately, consistency remains an issue, and she was unable to avoid errors on this day.
In terms of performance quality, Maria's weakest point is undoubtedly her expression, and poor music selection only exacerbates this problem. Despite her apparent indifference during her floor routine, however, her tumbling was strong and high enough that she completely overrotated her triple twist, landing on her back.
Despite this early set-back, Maria moved back into the hunt with the highest vault average of the meet, scoring a 9.375 average for two high, quick DTY's. Watching the meet from beside the vault really makes one appreciate the raw speed Zasypkina carries into the horse, and she performs the vault easily enough that it seems a 9.9 or 10.0 SV vault might be within her reach.
A strong uneven bar routine, highlighted by tight form and an ultra-quick double front half-out dismount, set Maria up for what should have been as easy all-around victory. Unfortunately, an extraordinarily difficult beam routine (pike front mount, switch leap-punch front, standing Arabian, Onodi, standing layout to back pike, double tuck dismount) was ruined when she fell on an aerial walkover - ironically one of her easiest elements. As a result, little Zasypkina would have to settle for silver, knowing that yet another opportunity to prove to Arkayev that she has the mental strenght to be on the plane to Belgium this fall had been squandered.
3. YEKATERINA PRIVALOVA (RUSSIA)
Privalova, a veteran of the invitational scene, but still missing experience in a major international, is surely hoping 2001 will be her breakthrough season. Despite lacking the big tricks of some of her better-known teammates, Privalova earns points back with gorgeous, Grudneva-esque body line and extension in all her elements. After starting with a decent floor routine (full-in, 2.5 twist-punch front, double pike, short on a triple twist), and suffering major problems on vault (fall on her first 1.5 TY, stumble on her second), Yekaterina showed everyone that she was capable of much more with a stellar bar routine, which included a unique in-bar stalder, that earned the top mark of the day on that event (9.2 out of a 9.6 SV). Needing a solid beam routine to stay on the podium, Privalova hit all of her difficulty well (fulltwisting ff-ff-layout, Rulfova, tour jete, 2.5 twist dismount), and could revel in the fact that she had the highest "hit ratio" of any of the top gymnasts on this day.
4. DANIELLE HYPOLITO (BRAZIL)
As one of the most seasoned international competitors in this event, Hypolito was able to use the competition for preparation purposes, rather than having to worry about impressing team coaches and officials. Looking like she is working to ready herself for the competitive season, Hypolito was performing well enough to win the event until she fell late in her floor routine (whip-triple twist mount), which was her last event of the day. This mistake marred an otherwise solid and competent performance on all events that included a second-best 9.05 on vault for two clean piked front-1/2's and a pretty sheep jump-ring leap combination on beam.
5. IRINA YAROTSKA (UKRAINE)
A favourite among gymnastics purists for her balletic elegance and beautiful, unusual work on all events, Yarotska certainly had a tough debut as a senior competitor for Ukraine. Having grown somewhat since last year, Irina seemed to struggle with a bad back that affected her performances throughout the meet. Despite falls on FX (whip-triple twist) on BB (came crashing down on an Onodi), she still showed some stellar work, including several exciting new elements (Comaneci on UB, punch side somi BB mount (!), and ff ff triple twist BB dismount) that will show up well on the world stage later this year. Like Hypolito and Zasypkina, Yarotska could have taken the title had she not fallen on her final piece of apparatus, and she had a hard time consoling herself afterward, for she sat, slumped beside her coach, with tears streaming down her cheeks until the chaperones came to take her to the awards ceremony.
BEST OF THE REST:
In Coral Borda and Jessica Marinho, Brazil sent two strong athletes to support their champion, Hypolito. While both are relatively tall gymnasts, they showed clean lines and good composure throughout the competition. Borda showed up well in the all-around with a 6th place showing, but Marinho had difficulties throughout, finishing below her capabilities in 13th.
Mexico also had mixed results, with Daniela Cepeda showing a gorgeous Hristakieva that helped her to a 9th place finish, but Gina Pena had a number of errors throughout the day, finishing 16th.
The rest of the Canadian team also suffered their share of struggles, with Fanny Girard finishing the highest among the group. New senior Danielle Hicks has grown quite a lot over the past year, and is certainly struggling with her new physique. Despite her difficulties, she finished with the highest floor score of the day, showing a good balance between clean tumbling (triple twist, 1.5 twist to 2.5 twist), and tough, well-executed dance elements. 2000 Olympic Trials competitor Amelie Plante performed only UB and BB, and she surprised many by adding her Def back to her bar routine, which she fell on, both in warm-up and in competition.
There was some excellent work by the thirteen junior competitors, though it seems unfortunate that none of these athletes will be able to showcase their talents this fall in Ghent. Most notable was the talented young Ukrainian, Mirabella Akhunu. Just 13 years old, Akhunu already has mastered a number of elements of the highest difficulty, including a layout front vault (which she stuck consistently over both days of competition), and a double front on floor. A fall on her double front UB dismount kept the competition closer than it could have been, but overall this should be considered an impressive North American debut for this athlete. Unlike many of the Ukrainians, Akhunu is quite demonstrative, smiling throughout her floor routine, and speaking to fans in French after the competition. With a few more years of polish and experience, she should be a most valuable asset to a Ukrainian team that is often comes up short on the power events.
For Canada, young Lydia Williams established herself as a star in the making with an impressive 2nd-place finish, just 0.037 behind the Akhunu.Like her senior teammate Conway, Williams is a Sport Seneca product, and anumber of Conway's famous elements appear in her exercises. Despite the overlap of skills, Williams has her own crisp, clean style and a calm demeanor that will serve her well in the drive toward 2004.
France sent two impressive junior athletes in Melanie Nunes and Pauline Chydzinzky. Both show solid exercises on all events, and appear ready to push the old generation of French athletes in the coming years. Nunes inparticular appears to be quite the talent (and a beauty, as well!), and with improved difficulty throughout her exercises could become a leader of the French team in years to come.
Mexico's utterly adorable Ana Balboa impressed with a 5th-place showing, as well as the highest beam score of the day among junior competitors. Her work on that event is quite impressive, and includes a crisp ff-layout-layout that earned her a trip to event finals. Her cute floor performance certainly won over the crowd (Looney Tunes and Simpsons music), and her tumbling was certainly impressive as well (triple twist, double pike - fall).
Among the Canadian contingent, Amanda Haikilis finished well with a consistent 4th-place result, and Gymnix's tiny Jessie Christofferson showed some impressive work, including a barani beam mount, that will surely help her make a name for herself on the Canadian team in the future. Sadly, a complete melt-down on bars kept this so-called "Travel-Sized Julie Beaulieu" from making a bigger impact on the results,but she certainly served notice that her name is one to remember in the years to come.
Written by JS