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2002 Gymnix International: Senior Women

Gymnasts from 8 countries gathered at Montreal's Claude Robillard Centre March 9-10, 2002, for the 12th annual International Gymix competition. At this year's edition, Canada played host to teams from Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Argentina, Great Britain, Jordan, and the United States. While Ukrainian and Russian gymnasts have often graced the Gymnix stage in past years, this was the first time in many years that such a large delegation from the United States made an appearance here. In previous years, certain US clubs have brought teams (Olympians Dominique Dawes and Elise Ray represented their Hill's Angels club in 1996), but this year a strong group of 8 national team gymnasts (4 seniors and 4 juniors) made the trip - under the watchful eye of National Team coordinator Martha Karolyi. It was obvious that these American gymnasts are among a core group being closely watched with the 2004 Olympic Games approaching, and through their performances, the spectators at the Claude Robillard Centre were treated to some of the best gymnastics in the world.

The Canadian delegation also had future team selection on their minds under the equally watchful eye of National Team coach Andrei Rodionenko. With the Pacific Alliance competition on home turf this May in Vancouver, performances here (and at next week-end's Spring Cup and Jurassic Classic meets) should play a significant role in choosing the team. The Canadian team here was a relatively inexperienced group (with the exception of world team member Amélie Plante of the host club), so most of them were looking to make their mark in the senior ranks internationally for the first time and thus gain valuable competitive experience for meets later on in the year.

It was obvious from watching warm-ups that the American gymnasts would be the ones to beat here, and despite a few missed routines, they easily managed to take the top four spots in the senior all-around standings. Jordan Schwikert (coached by Cassie Rice at the Gym Cats in Las Vegas) took the title with four clean and steady routines. Though until now perhaps best known as the younger sister of Olympian and reigning US champion Tasha Schwikert, Jordan came into her own at this meet, her first international assignment since making the US junior national team last summer. A solid beginning on the balance beam (9.10 out of a 9.7 start value - including a well executed layout step-out mount) - an event where some of her American teammates came to grief - helped set her up for the victory. She followed this up with an equally solid floor routine, which featured clean and high tumbling (arabian double front, 2 ˝ twist to punch front layout, double pike), though it would be nice to see her use a different piece of music (here she used her sister's music from 1999, making comparisons inevitable). Perhaps best known for her powerful vaulting, she opted for only a single twisting Yurchenko here after an uncomfortable landing during warm-ups. Her strongest performance came on in the final rotation on the uneven bars, where her 9.9 start value was the highest for the apparatus. Her intricate combination work and good use of both bars highlighted her exercise: endo-half to Maloney (toe-on Shaposhnikova); stalder blind turn to endo-full immediate Gienger; stalder-full to overshoot half handstand immediate toe-on shoot to high bar (excellent technique and amplitude here); and an excellent Fontaine (1/2 in front-out) dismount.

Finishing 2nd - and nearly a point behind the winner (36.55 to 35.725) was Kaitlin White, coached by Evgeny Marchenko at the very popular and successful WOGA club in Plano, Texas. She fought through her first exercise on the balance beam (aerial walkover to ff-layout combo, switch leap to Popa, 2 ˝ twist dismount) and sold her floor routine well, with difficult tumbling (punch front layout immediate front with 2 ˝ twists - a bit short, triple twist, 2 ˝ punch front, and double pike ending right with the music). Her best event was vault (solid Yurchenko 1 ˝) and her final routine on the uneven bars was clean (giant-full to Gienger, Pak salto, tucked ˝ in ˝ out), though trouble on one of her pirouette skills knocked her start value down slightly.

All-around bronze medallist Terin Humphrey of the Great American Gymnastics Express club (coached by Al Fong and his wife Armine Baroutian) showed a clean and elegant style with some of the best-constructed routines and choreography in the meet. Despite a rough start on beam (she missed her yogi-type handstand early in the routine), she finished her difficulty packed set well (double turn in side lunge to open, full twisting-ff to ff-layout series, standing arabian salto, tucked front aerial to back tuck combo, round-off ff to double tuck off). Her floor routine was beautifully expressed (lovely hand movements and choreography down low to the floor) and well tumbled (arabian double front, 1 ˝ twist through to 2 1/2 twist, front with double twist, triple twist). Her Podkopayeva vault was also solid and she showed a difficult bar set (toe-on Shaposhnikova, stalder-full to hop-full to Gienger, double layout) with clean bodyline.

Finishing 4th in the senior all-around was three time US junior champion Kristal Uzelac, from the Parkettes club in Allentown, Pennsylvannia. Coached here by Bill and Donna Strauss, the first year senior competitor struggled throughout, yet still impressed the audience with her incredible difficultly. After saving her piked front beam mount (one foot slipped off), she rallied back to earn the highest beam score in the senior women's all-around (great ff to piked full, Rulfova, double pike dismount). She had the most difficult tumbling in the competition (double layout to open, piked full-in to close, good 2 ˝ twist to punch front full), but sat down on her arabian double front second line. Her Khorkina 2 vault (round-off ˝ on to tucked rudi-off) was the only 9.9 start value vault in the entire competition, and while it was a bit short on the landing was still impressive. Finishing up on bars, she showed a nice Tkatchev release, but had some difficulty with her pirouette work. After years of dominating the US junior scene, if nothing else Uzelac proved here that she was human. Look for her to rebound with a solid showing at next week's Jurassic Classic meet.

Finishing 5th was Celeste Carnavale from Argentina, making her second appearance at this event (she also competed here two years ago). Coached by Jorge Sayez and Paola D'Aloia, Carnavale demonstrated a world-class level of difficulty on all events (including a 9.9 start value on beam, where her top elements included a piked front mount, full twisting-ff, Rulfova, punch front, and double tuck off). Her bar routine was also spectacular, featuring a difficult sequence of 4 D elements in a row: giant 1 ˝, hop-full, Tkatchev, and Pak salto. Her piked Cuervo vault was dynamic and showed great technique.

Sport Seneca's Lydia Williams, coached by Carol Angela Orchard, finished as the top Canadian in 6th in what was her very first international competition as a senior gymnast. Best known for her strong bar work (her sky high Tkatchev and double front dismount did not disappoint), she wowed the crowd with her new piked Luconi on vault (recently raised to a 9.7 start value by the FIG). She also performed a solid 9.7 start value set on the balance beam, adding a back tuck to Chen combo, a tour jete 1/2, and a Rulfova to her already packed set (3 flairs to mount, double turn, tuck jump-full to 3/4 Furnon). She ended her well-choreographed floor set with a new front double twist (double pike to open and whip through to 2 ˝ middle run) but a low start value (9.1) kept her from passing Carnavale in 5th (only 0.05 separated the two gymnasts). Both athlete and coach were satisfied with the performance, which should make Williams a strong contender for the Pacific Alliance team.

Following Williams in 7th place was British upstart Rebecca Owen, coached by Colin Still. Owen's world-class repertoire of skills earned her event finals berths in all four events. Her vault was a very pretty handspring piked front. On bars, a giant-full to Gienger combo and double layout dismount highlighted her work, as did her many intricate pirouette sequences (stalder 1 ˝ to immediate front giant healy and later an endo to healy). On beam her top skills included a piked front mount, a punch front to Chen combo, a switch side leap, and a 2 ˝ twist dismount. Her floor choreography really engaged the audience and she backed it up with top-class tumbling: tucked full-in, 2 ˝ punch front, triple twist, and double pike.

Finishing 8th was the next best Canadian, Vanessa Meloche, who trains with the Parkettes. Still on the mend following last year's ankle surgery that kept her off the world team, Meloche looked much stronger than at last year's Elite Canada competition and showed a good level of difficulty throughout. Her vault (piked front ˝) and solid beam work (piked front mount, ff to back pike, punch front, switch leap to switch side leap, tuck jump-full, wolf jump-full, double tuck off) qualified her for apparatus finals on those events. On bars she showed a solid giant 1 ˝ to piked Jaeger combo, but steps on her double front dismount and a couple of missed handstands kept her start value down. A solid arabian double front mount highlighted her floor effort, but mistakes elsewhere on this apparatus hurt her final all-around score.

Finishing outside of the top 8 were both Russian entrants Olga Azarkevitch and Irina Kryuchkova, who ended up 9th and 16th respectively. Both gymnasts had just competed at the Russian championships less than a week earlier and had arrived in Canada only the night before the event. Though mistakes prevented them from challenging for higher all-around positions, both gymnasts showed world class difficulty on most event (Kryuchkova displayed a Comaneci on bars and two ffs to tucked full twist on beam; Azarkevitch showed a bars sequence of hop-full, giant 1 ˝ to Jaeger and an Onodi, aerial walkover, and double back off beam; and both gymnasts tumbled a full-in on floor).

Despite a few missed routines along the way, there were several bright spots among the rest of the Canadian gymnasts. Ottawa teammates Heather Purnell and Melanie Banville, coached by Tobie Goreman, Lori Iurello, and Peter Grozdanovic, debuted Yurchenko tucked fulls on vault as well as new tumbling passes on floor (piked full-in opening for Purnell and a 1 ˝ twist through to 2 ˝ twist for Banville). In addition, Banville showed new choreography with the upbeat and stylish dance her club is known for. An unfortunate stumble on a dance element for Purnell and falls off beam from Banville affected their final AA placements, where they finished 10th and 12th respectively.

Another bright spot was Gym Richelieu's Fanny Girard's performance. Coached by Michel Charon and Galina Laschina, Girard showed a new vault (an Omeliantchik: round-off ˝ on, piked front off) and an arabian double front opening on floor. She finished 11th all-around.

Performing in one of her last meets as a Canadian high performance gymnast, Abby Pearson, coached by Dave and Liz Brubaker at the Burlington gym club secured a spot for herself in the vaulting final with her strong Hristakieva. The 18 year old veteran also performed several of her trademark skills on the other events (Higgins roll to Jaeger on bars, Rulfova on beam) and appeared to be really enjoying herself on the competition floor in her final appearance at the Gymnix meet. Pearson, who finished 14th all-around, will begin her NCAA career at the University of Arizona this fall.

Finishing one rank behind Pearson was Gemini's Danielle Hicks, whose second place ranking from Elite Canada made her the highest ranked non-world team member in attendance. A very rough start on the uneven bars (she missed both releases - Jaeger and Tkatchev, as well as a cast handstand) meant this talented gymnast coached by Elena Davydova would have a lot of ground to make up the rest of the way. She did show some great work elsewhere (nice layout step-out mount, ff-layout-layout, side somi, ff-ff 2 1/2 twists off beam, 1 1/2 through to 2 1 1/2 and double pike on floor) and she ended the competition with a very strong Ivantcheva vault (round-off 1/2 on front tuck off). Hicks will look to improve her performances at next week-end's Jurassic Classic dual meet with the USA.

A minor ankle injury kept world team member Amélie Plante of the host Gymnix club from competing in the all-around, but this 18 year old veteran performed admirably on vault (piked front), bars, and beam. On her speciality event, Plante successfully caught her spectacular Def release skill (to the delight of the home town audience), but a missed pirouette kept her start value down slightly. On the balance beam, she landed her round-off layout to two feet well and also showed a piked front mount, a punch front, several twisting jumps, and a cartwheel to gainer double twist dismount. Plante, who is coached by Claude Pelletier and Francine Bouffard is scheduled to compete later this month at the Wild Rose meet in Edmonton and following that she should be a contender for the Pacific Alliance team as well.

Israel was the final country represented in the senior women's competition. Their top competitor was Stefani Zarug, whose strongest event was vault (nice position on a handspring piked front). National champion Michail Morali qualified to finals on vault (piked Cuervo) and floor (2 ˝ twist to punch front layout, triple twist), showing very entertaining choreography on the latter.

Overall the audience was treated to a very high level of women's gymnastics this week-end. Many of the gymnasts competing here will go on to compete at future world and Olympic competitions, and the experience gained at this competition will help guide them toward these future goals. As always, the Gymnix club was an excellent host and everyone involved in the preparation for this event should be congratulated for their efforts.

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

Written by Christopher Scott

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