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2002 Gymnix International: Junior Women

A junior competition was also contested at the Gymnix International March 9-10 at Montreal's Claude Robillard Centre. The junior athletes competed side by side with the seniors, and with very comparable skill levels among them it was difficult to tell them apart at times.

The American junior women proved to be equally as dominant as their senior counterparts, easily taking the top four all-around positions. Leading the way was 14 year old upstart Carly Patterson from the WOGA club. Despite an early fall on beam (on a piked back full which she had nailed repeatedly in warm-ups), Patterson took the title by a full point over clubmate Hollie Vise. After falling so early in her routine, Patterson could have crumbled, but instead nailed the rest of her difficult set: standing arabian salto, aerial walkover, punch front to sheep jump, switch leap 1/2, and a difficult and unique dismount pass of round-off ff arabian double front. On her next event floor exercise, she again amazed the audience with her world-class tumbling: open tucked in out (very close to a layout position), arabian double front, 2 twist punch front layout, and double pike. Every pass was secure and powerful. Her vault was a powerful and easily completed Yurchenko double twist (very clean form in the twist). She finished the competition on her "weakest" apparatus, the uneven bars - where she still took the highest score of the day (9.20 out of a 9.60 start value: toe-on full to stalder shoot transition, stalder-full to giant-full to Tkatchev, Pak salto, tucked in out dismount). Patterson will enter her first season of senior competition next year and she already has mastered one of the most difficult competitive programs in the world. The sky could be the limit for this extremely talented and dedicated athlete.

Second place finisher Vise, who turns 15 later this year, began her meet with a stunning 9.60 on the balance beam - the highest score of the entire all-around competition, junior or senior. Her routine was a brilliant display of flexibility, elegance, and difficult acrobatics including a ff to tucked full, switch leap to Onodi, aerial walkover to ff-layout, a gorgeous arabesque and front scale while holding the free leg, and a back walkover to two ffs to double tuck off. On her next event, she displayed some of the most dramatic choreography of the competition with some difficult tumbling (front double twist to punch front layout, triple twist, double pike). On vault her Yurchenko layout-full was strong and clean. On her final event, the uneven bars, Vise was attempting one of the hardest routines in the meet, but she had difficulty with her elgrip giant-full to Bi pirouette (full Ono turn with arm flair) to piked Jaeger sequence. Her start value was thus lowered to a 9.7, which affected her final score. Still her work showed wonderful extension, beautiful bodyline and fabulous shoulder flexibility.

Capturing third was 14 year old Tia Orlando from the Parkettes. Like a few of her teammates, she had difficulty with her first apparatus, the balance beam (where her mount was a difficult handspring to the board to punch front). She rebounded with some spectacular tumbling on floor (double layout, piked full-in, running punch double front piked), but had trouble with her last pass when her 2 twist was followed by a flyspring instead of a front layout. Orlando made her best effort on the following apparatus with a strong Yurchenko double twist, earning the second highest score of the day on that event. On the uneven bars, she showed a variety of difficult skills including an endo-full to Markelov combo and her trademark Weiler kip sequence. Orlando was definitely a crowd favourite in Montreal due to her bubbly personality, which was equally notable on and off the competition floor.

Finishing outside of the all-around medals was Orlando Metro's Melanie Sinclair, age 14. An opening two falls off the balance beam (punch front and Popa jump) prevented her from challenging for a higher position, yet she still displayed some of the cleanest gymnastics with the biggest amplitude of any of the competitors. On floor her tumbling was world class: arabian double front, double front, tucked front-full through to double pike, and triple full. On vault she executed a powerful and clean Khorkina 1. She finished the meet on bars with one of the highest Hindorff releases ever seen (very good counter rotation prior to regrasp). Her Gienger was equally high and clean, and her dismount was a strong layout-pike full-in. She scored 9.1 out of a 9.4 start value, which is indicative of her excellent execution here. Sinclair should be a strong contender (along with her three teammates here) for the US junior title later this year.

Finishing behind the dominant American quartet was Ukrainian up and comer Inna Teslenko (no relation to two time Olympian Olga Teslenko, though coincidentally Olga does have a younger sister named Inna). Several errors left her over a point behind Sinclair, but she too demonstrated a difficult program. A handspring double front opening and a unique side pass of front step-out to round-off side somi highlighted her floor effort, and she also showed a piked front on vault. On bars, some of her pirouetting skills gave her trouble, but she was attempting some of the most difficult work in the competition on this apparatus (her planned routine included a giant 1 facing out to Tkatchev combo, a stalder-higgins, elgrip giant-full to Jaeger combo, and a double front from inverts). On beam, she showed the precise choreography and expressive arm movements that her country is known for, and she also showed a layout step-out mount, an aerial walkover to side somi combo, and a round-off-ff-double tuck dismount. Teslenko is a likely candidate for future team membership for Ukraine, as early as this year's European Junior Championships.

Finishing in 6th was perhaps the most intriguing gymnast in the entire competition. Coached by former Romanian team member Camelia Mindricel (18th at the 1992 European Championships), young Yasmine Kheir represented her country of Jordan for perhaps the first time in competition in North America. Kheir, whose country probably has the briefest gymnastics history of any other in the field, did not look out of place and had many top class skills in her repertoire. On vault she showed a good layout Yurchenko full, and her beam had top skills as well (piked front mount, good punch front to Chen combo, double twist dismount). On floor exercise, her choreography was well presented (her music had a wonderful drum beat and the dance matched the musical highlights well) and the tumbling decent: double pike, 2 twist, front through to double twist. Kheir qualified for three apparatus finals, and if she continues to develop, in 2004 she could become the first gymnast (as far as is aware) to represent her country in the Olympic games.

The next ranking gymnast was Canada's best here, Sport Seneca's Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. Last year's national novice champion, Hibbs is continuing to build her repertoire of skills, and while she was not completely successful here, she still shows great promise for the future. On bars she attempted a new Fontaine dismount to go along with her Gienger release skill. Balance beam is normally her strongest piece, and while errors here held her back, her routine contained some of the hardest skills and combinations in the junior event: side aerial to layout step-out, punch front to back tuck combo, double turn, double tuck dismount. Her floor routine was charming as usual and really drew the audience in.

Three gymnasts tied for 8th place, nearly a full point behind Hibbs. Representing Ukraine, Irina Krasnyanska was unfortunate to struggle on bars, where she had some difficult elements planned (including some rarely seen inside stalder skills). Her floor routine to music from the Pink Panther was charming, and a double pike opening and front handspring-flyspring front double twist highlighted her tumbling effort. Tali Lyak of Israel (who actually had one of the largest delegations at the meet) had her best individual result on the vault, where her handspring piked front earned her a berth in event finals. Tying Lyak and Krasnyanska was Canadian Melanie Rocca from the Burlington club. Rocca, who actually competes senior in Canadian meets, showed her best work as usual on bars (elgrip giant to Gienger, Pak salto) and beam (Omeliantchik, aerial walkover to ff-layout, switch leap to ring jump, double tuck dismount), qualifying to apparatus finals in both. Overall Rocca looked much stronger than she had at December's Elite Canada competition, which is a good sign for the rest of the season.

While many of the top ranked Canadian juniors were not competing here, there was still some good work displayed by the rest of our gymnasts. Stephanie Gabdois of the host Gymnix club (who like Rocca competes at the senior level in Canada) competed well after an injury that kept her out of the last Elite Canada meet. Her top skills included a layout Yurchenko on vault, a Tkatchev release on bars, and a double pike on floor. Her clubmate Stephanie DeLima (6th at Elite Canada) competed only on bars and floor. With the former normally being her strongest event, DeLima struggled with some of her new pirouette work (giant 1 and toe-on full). Cindy Pierre of the Viagym club made beam finals, where a handstand step-down to ff back tuck combo and a double tuck dismount highlighted her work. Scarborough's Melissa Tan made uneven bars finals with her strong piked Jaeger, Pak salto, and double pike dismount.

Overall a very high level of gymnastics was displayed by the junior gymnasts at this year's Gymnix International. The US gymnasts were clearly dominant and hopefully the other competitors in the meet will be inspired by their performances and will use this inspiration to drive them towards future excellence as well.

Results of this year's events can be found here.

Written by Christopher Scott

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