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2002 Women's Elite Canada
Several of Canada's top female gymnasts gathered at Gatineau's Palais des Congrès December 5 - 8 for the annual Elite Canada competition. The senior event was very competitive, with some established stars hoping to maintain their current status and positive momentum, and other talented juniors making the jump to the senior ranks for the first time. With the 2003 world championships less than 9 months away, this meet served as an important opportunity to impress the national coach Andrei Rodionenko, who shortly will have the difficult task of selecting our team whose goal will be to qualify a full women's team to the Athens Olympics.
While many top athletes were at this competition, it is worth noting a few key team members who were out with various injuries. Current national champion Danielle Hicks of Gemini is on the mend from a back injury, and her Commonwealth teammate Vanessa Meloche of Sport Seneca is recovering from ankle surgery (both gymnasts hope to be back in time for the national championships in May). Recent world team members Amelie Plante (Gymnix) and Ashley Peckett (Mississauga) were also not competing - though Peckett had intended to compete on all events, only to suffer a sprained ankle after a fall from bars (Tkatchev) in the touch warm-up. Peckett was "really disappointed" that she did not get to compete, but hopes to be ready again soon. Junior national team members Lisa Pattison from Marian in Saskatchewan and Gymnix's Stephanie Delima were also unable to compete due to injury, in what would have been their first Canadian senior event.
Despite some of the withdrawals, the level of competition was fairly high, with many gymnasts showing upgraded routines in anticipation of the upcoming pre-Olympic season.
Former junior national champion Heather Purnell of the Ottawa Club (coached by Tobie Goreman and Lori Iurello, gave a solid performance on all four events to win her first all-around title at the Canadian senior level. Purnell, who earlier this year medalled at the Pacific Alliance Championships and Commonwealth Games, had many enthusiastic supporters in the audience, and she did not disappoint. She started the meet on floor exercise, where she opened with one of the highest and cleanest piked full-ins being competed today. She continued with a front-full to front-full combo (the second salto was a little bit low, but well controlled) and ended with a double pike (slightly overrotated). On her next apparatus, Purnell impressed with a very strong Yurchenko 1 ½ (this vault earned her 9.45 out of 9.9 - vaults worth 9.7 or higher are given 0.2 in bonus under the Canadian models scoring). She followed this up with an equally impressive piked Luconi (gymnasts wishing to qualify for vault finals were required to show a second vault from a different vault family), making her the only gymnast in the competition to show two vaults from different families worth 9.7 or higher. On the uneven bars, Purnell showed a new D mount (straight body jump to handstand), and hit her other skills well (giant-full to Gienger, overshoot handstand, ½ in ½ out dismount). She ended her competition on the balance beam, and she showed an aggressive set with some new combinations (swing ring leap to ring leap, aerial walkover to split jump-full), while showing excellent mastery of her other skills (open piked front mount, punch front, switch leap to wolf-jump full). Her dismount (double twist from two back handspring) was well done, and will hopefully be upgraded as the season progresses. Having chosen earlier this year not to try for a spot on the individual world championship team, Purnell proved that her extra training time paid off. Her competitive confidence is a definite asset to the Canadian team, with Olympic qualification on the horizon.
Gering, Mackie, Purnell, Banville
and others present to beam panel
Finishing second was reigning junior national champion Gael Mackie from Omega (coached by Vladimir Laschin, who showed new skills and combinations on every apparatus. She began her competition with a new floor routine (a faster and jazzier version of 1987 world floor champion Daniela Silivas' music) and solid tumbling (piked full-in opening, 2 ½ twist to punch front layout ½ second line, and triple twist last line). Her 9.15 (out of a 10.0 start value under Canadian models) was the highest score on the apparatus. On vault, she also showed a piked Luconi (definitely the current vault of choice in Canadian gymnastics), and for good measure showed a Yurchenko-full second vault, easily qualifying for finals. On uneven bars, Mackie missed one of her new connections, but confidently performed a new sequence of toe-on Higgins roll immediate piked Jaeger as well as her full twisting double tuck dismount. Heading into her final event, the balance beam, Mackie was in a good position to win the all-around title (competing in the same rotation as Purnell, Mackie led 27.1 to 26.75 after three rotations). After hitting her original skill (Arabian tick-tock), as well as an aerial walkover and switch side leap, she missed her acrobatic series (a foot slipped while landing a layout step-out, leaving her straddling the beam). Another fall on a switch ring leap near the end of the routine dropped her score to 7.95 out of 9.6. To her credit, she finished her routine confidently, with a new combination of two back handsprings to double tuck. Despite her final rotation misses, Mackie proved here that she is a valuable member of the senior national team, performing difficult gymnastics while maintaining a wonderful level of artistry and elegance - not an easy task under the current demands of the code of points.
Finishing third was Mississauga's Melanie Tham (coached here by Alex Bard and Svetlana Degteva, who was one of the most consistent performers of the competition (she suffered no falls). Tham, who last year unofficially won the junior all-around at Elite Canada before being disqualified for being one year too old for junior, performed confidently and thus proved she has what it takes to be a top Canadian senior gymnast. She began her meet on the uneven bars, hitting her giant-full Gienger, giant 1 ½ to straddle back, and tucked full-out dismount (a little close to the bar, but nicely done). On beam, she hit a solid layout step-out mount, a back tuck to back tuck combo, a Popa, switch leap to tuck jump-full, piked jump-full, and a double tuck dismount. On floor, she used the same choreography as last year, and showed an impressive first pass of two whips immediate 2 ½ twist. Her triple twist was a bit short, but she ended with a strong double pike, and her strong dance elements (triple turn, cat leap double to cat leap 1 ½, tuck jump double) helped her earn a Canadian models start value of 9.9. She finished her meet on vault, with a Hristakieva, and with a higher start value here, she could definitely have challenged for second place.
Commonwealth team memer Kylie Stone from Stampede City (coached by Stefania and Horia Iliesu) definitely had the goods to win this meet, but disappointing falls on beam (tuck jump-full, one armed ff-layout) and bars (Comaneci release) dropped her all-around score considerably. She did not disappoint on her best event, floor exercise, where her power full-in mount and double Arabian second line were as explosive as always, and she upgraded her final pass, adding a second whip back before her double pike. On vault, she now performs a Khorkina (slightly questionable preflight), and she also showed a powerful Yurchenko-full for event finals qualification. After a busy and successful competition season this year (medals at the Wild Rose Invitiational, Commonwealth Games, and Junior Pan Ams), it was good to see Stone trying some new elements here, and her routines should make her a strong contributor to next year's team campaign.
Finishing fifth, much to the delight of the pro-Ottawa crowd, was Purnell's clubmate Melanie Banville who also showed some upgraded routines. She began her day with a powerful floor exercise set (huge piked full-in opening, 1 ½ through to 2 ½ second line, double pike to close). On vault, her layout Yurchenko-full was powerful, and she followed this up with an Ivantcheva (round-off ½ on to handspring tucked front). She had some trouble on bars (mistiming a free hip-full after a jump to straight body handstand mount), which kept her from challenging for an all-around medal position, but she finished strong on the balance beam in the last rotation. She had a slight wobble on her ff-layout, but was solid on her other skills (punch front, switch leap to back tuck, wolf-full, Popa, split jump-full, switch side leap, 2 ½ twist dismount).
Finishing 6th was Flicka's Tracey Rai (coached by Flaviu Toma and Celestina Popa-Toma), who was definitely one of the strongest gymnasts in the competition on vault (Yurchenko 1 ½, piked front) and floor (Arabian double front, 2 ½ twist punch front layout, double pike). Her abstract floor choreography was one of the most impressive routines in the competition. This competition marked a nice comeback for the former carded national team member, who last year finished a distant 32nd all-around at this meet.
Finishing a close 7th (33.925 to 33.875) was Rai's clubmate Breanne King, one of four former Canadian junior all-around champions in the top 7 (King won her title in 1999, while Purnell, Stone, and Mackie won their crowns from 2000-2002 respectively). After a rough start on floor (she landed a closing 2 ½ twist punch front on her back), King came back well, doing a strong Yurchenko-full on vault, a nice Jaeger and full twisting double back off bars, and a solid and difficult beam set (piked front-on, switch leap to tour jete ½, aerial walkover to side somi, double tuck off). King has a graceful and elegant presence on the competition floor, and it was nice to see her return to top form in what could be her last year on the national team (she has a scholarship to the University of Florida starting in the fall of 2003).
Finishing 8th was defending champion Jennifer Simbhudas of the Winstonettes. Simbhudas was solid on three events, but had difficulty on bars (a bad fall on her double front dismount). A strong beam effort was the highlight of her day (piked front mount, aerial walkover to split jump-full, split jump ½ to tuck jump-full, ff-layout, switch side leap, double tuck off) and two strong vaults earned her an event finals berth there (piked Luconi and handspring piked front).
Rounding out the top 10 were Flicka teammates Natasha Gowda and Julie Medeiros. Gowda was particularly impressive on bars (giant-full Tkatchev, giant 1 ½ to Jaeger, double layout) and beam (full twisting-ff-ff-layout series - though some missed connections kept her start value surpisingly low), whereas Medeiros earned herself a spot in bars finals with a nice piked Deltchev and an early twisting Arabian double front dismount. Medeiros had an unfortunate fall on a tour jete ½ on beam, which marred an otherwise nice set (switch leap to switch side leap, punch front, piked gainer-full off the end). The entire contingent from Flicka was undoubtedly pleased with their performance here, with all four of its gymnasts in the top 10.
Finishing well below potential was national team member Lydia Williams, coached by Carol-Angela Orchard, Brian McVey, and Lawson Coo at Sport Seneca. Three falls off beam and a missed double pike last line on floor dropped her considerably, but to her credit, she finished her day on the uneven bars with the best exercise of the day by far on that event (giant 1 ½ to piked Jaeger, overshoot handstand immediate toe-on shoot to high bar, giant-full Tkatchev, double front dismount). With the uneven bars currently a weakness of the Canadian senior team, Williams cannot be overlooked as a possible team member next year based on her strength on this apparatus.
Rounding out the top 12 was Saskatchewan's Stacie Hogan of the Queen City Kinsmen club - one of three different Saskatchewan clubs represented in this meet. Her best results came on vault (handspring front pike) and beam (11th place on each). This was Hogan's first attempt at the high performance ranks, and it was good to see a variety of clubs from the different provinces represented here.
Several other national team members were on hand at this Elite Canada, with some mixed results. Mississauga's Teri Gibson qualified to floor finals (triple twist, front through to triple twist, double pike) but struggled elsewhere to finish 13th. Champions' Amanda Gering (coached by Michel Arsenault) was solid on the beam to earn an event finals spot there (a switch side leap with ½ turn and double tuck dismount highlighted her set) and on bars (piked Jaeger, Gienger, Pak, double front), but falls on floor (double Arabian) and vault (Yurchenko-full) dropped her to 15th. Katherine Fairhurst of Seneca, competing in the senior ranks for the first time, suffered a fall off her best event, beam (double turn) but performed a large variety of skills in her routine (one armed ff-layout, switch leap to switch side leap, aerial walkover, wolf-full, ff-ff-double twist dismount), but lower start values on the other events left her in 17th place. Still she impressed with her clean lines and elegant presentation throughout.
Rocca and others present
to beam panel
Melanie Rocca of Bluewater (coached by Dave and Liz Brubaker) started out very well with a strong routine on the balance beam (switch ring leap, aerial walkover to ff-layout, Omeliantchik, switch leap to ring leap to back dive ¼ to handstand, switch side leap to straddle jump ½, double tuck), but struggled the rest of the competition, finishing in 24th spot. Finishing just behind Rocca in 25th place was Stampede City's Jody McKellar, who struggled throughout the meet, but attempted some difficult skills, including a Comaneci release on bars (which she missed) and a triple twist on floor.
Competing on three events only due to injury was Laura-Ann Chong of Omega. The junior national champion on the balance beam had two falls there (after a piked front and layout-layout series) but was as elegant and beautiful to watch as ever. If she can put her injuries behind her, she should be one to watch. Also competing on three events (no bars) was 2001 world team member Joelle Ouellette of Hamilton (coached by Nick and Doina Moscu). She qualified for vault finals (nice Hristakieva, Phelps) but suffered falls on her other two events.
Other highlights of the competition included powerful vaulting from Saskatchewan's Meaghan Koshman (Athletes in Motion) and Quebec's Joanie Fortin (Gym-Alliance), both of whom qualified for vault finals with the same two vaults (Yurchenko-full and handspring front pike). Stephanie Gadbois of Gymnix tossed a Khorkina transition on uneven bars, and Viagym's Monica Nolet qualified for bars finals with a nice overshoot handstand immediate stalder-full combination, and also showed impressive choreography on floor.
Overall, the 2002 edition of women's Elite Canada showed that the top gymnasts are stepping it up a notch, with team selection for the 2003 world championships and Olympic qualifying on the horizon. At this stage in the game, beam consistency and uneven bars start values seem to be the biggest challenge for the Canadian women's team, but no doubt they will work on these areas diligently in the next few months and the performances will continue to improve throughout the season.
Written by Christopher Scott
All photos courtesy of Sofia.