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2003 Women's World Championship Team Trials

Day One

With the Canadian women drawing the Olympic order at the upcoming world championships, the gymnasts competed in two separate rotations, each beginning on vault. Featured in group one was reigning national champion Gael Mackie, Twisters' Laura-Ann Chong, national runner-up Melanie Banville, 2002 national silver medallist Heather Purnell, Seneca's own Lydia Williams, and last year's national champion Danielle Hicks. Starting on a bye were Flicka's Tracey Rai and Natasha Gowda, Commonwealth Games floor exercise bronze medallist Kylie Stone, Champions' Amanda Gering, 2001 world championship team member Jennifer Simbhudas, two-time world championship team member Amelie Plante, and NCAA champion Richelle Simpson. Commonwealth Games vault and uneven bars bronze medallist Vanessa Meloche competed in the second and third rotations only, performing two routines on the uneven bars.

Rotation One: Purnell started the first rotation with a bang, nailing her 1 1/2 twisting Yurchenko for a 9.350 and the early lead. Teammate Banville was not as lucky, however, bailing out of her 1 1/2 twisting Yurchenko (she completed something of a Yurchenko 1 1/4, while still twisting on the landing) for an uncharacteristic 8.775. Mackie vaulted a solid full-twisting Yurchenko with a step back (8.800), while Chong hopped out of her tight handspring piked front. Hicks finished the rotation with well-landed piked Luconi (8.950).

Rotation Two: Simpson was the best vaulter of group two, with only a large step to the side marring her clean 1 1/2 twisting Yurchenko (9.250). Stone also showed up well on vault, with a piked Khorkina that lacked slightly in repulsion and had a small step on landing (9.200). Plante opted for a piked front vault after showing terrific piked baranis in training (8.950). Rai and Gering both showed full-twisting Yurchenkos with mixed results (8.750 for Rai, 7.800 for a fall from Gering). Gowda scored an 8.600 for a tucked Luconi.

On bars, Banville nailed her routine for her best score of the day (9.400 - muscled her jump to handstand, immediate half-turn mount, giant 1 1/2 to clean bail-1/2 to handstand to toe-shoot, giant-full to Tkatchev, double layout dismount). Meloche marked her return to competition for the first time since last year's Commonwealth Games with a dynamic, well-swung effort on her first uneven bar routine of the day (toe-on to Shaposhnikova to Pak, piked Jaeger to very tight bail-1/2 to a flighty toe-shoot to high bar, Markelov, double front dismount with an awkward squat landing). Williams performed her new, safer bar routine well enough for a 9.050 (slightly cautious throughout). Purnell performed her usual bar routine for an 8.800, while Hicks' day turned sour with three major mistakes (two falls).

Rotation Three: With the Canadian team working to simulate the world team format, group one sat out rotation three with a bye, leaving the stage for group two on the uneven bars. There, Meloche made the best of her second effort on bars with an improved routine (better toe-shoot and landing on her dismount) for a 9.375 out of a possible 9.7. Plante went one better in this rotation, however, hitting the best routine of her career for a 9.525 (Def, free hip-full to giant 1 1/2 to giant full to Gienger, bail-1/2 to handstand to toe-shoot, double layout) out of a full 10.0 start value. With two events completed, Plante was creating a buzz with her rejuvenated performances that had her in first place at the meet's halfway point. Competing right after Plante, Simpson struggled significantly during her routine, missing her giant 1 1/2 to bail-1/2 on low bar (she performed a giant-full to giant pirouette to bail instead, losing connection bonus in the process), stopping to re-kip after her toe-shoot to high bar, and taking a major lunge on her double layout dismount (8.050 out of 9.100).

Purnell performs her
1 1/2 twisting wolf jump at the
2003 Pan Am/World Team Trials
Photo by Grace Chiu

Rotation Four: With the first group now on balance beam, errors quickly crept into many of the gymnasts' performances. Williams, Hicks, and Chong all had good performances ruined by falls (Williams on a punch front, Hicks on her RO-layout mount, and Chong on her ff, ff, double back dismount). Banville and Purnell both stayed on for 8.750 and 8.975, respectively (nice wolf jump 1 1/2 from Purnell), while Mackie confirmed her value as a potential team member by becoming the only athlete of the day to score over 9.0 on beam (nice reverse planche mount - 9.350 out of 10).

Rotation Five: The top contenders continued to suffer on beam, with falls from Stone (piked front mount), Plante (double turn, also a hand down on a wolf jump-full), and several missed connections by Simpson (switch leap to side aerial to split jump half, split jump full to straight jump full, 9.5 start value).

Floor was better for the women of group one, with a very nice performance by Purnell to the same music as last year (piked full-in, front-full to front-full, double pike, 9.450). Williams had her best performance of the day with clean, though relatively weak tumbling and well-completed dance elements that sent her coach Carol-Angela Orchard into open-armed celebration (9.350 from 9.8). Mackie performed her Russian-style choreography and quick tumbling (piked full-in, two whips to 2 1/2 twist, slight side-step on her triple twist) well enough for a 9.050, while Banville was not at her best on this day (low landing on her double pike, several errors on her dance elements), scoring a 9.025.

Rotation Six: After a sub-par effort on her first three events, Simpson entered the last rotation needing a strong performance to improve her chances of making the team. With a great deal of pressure riding on her, Simpson responded with her best routine of the day on floor, performing a double layout, double-twisting front, and two whips to double pike (slightly low landing) for a 9.550 out of a full 10, the highest floor score of the day. Stone also showed up well on floor exercise, taking a 9.200 (full-in, arabian double front, whip to double pike) en route to the day's second-best all-around score. After her struggles on balance beam, Plante came back with a vengeance on floor, showing stylish, dramatic choreogrpahy and some very good tumbling (arabian double front, piked full-in, whip immediate double twist, double pike) that resulted in a long judges' conference. Her initial 8.975 was later raised to a 9.250, and the firey quality of her performance confirmed Plante's status as a genuine contender for the world team. Also notable on floor was the performance of Tracey Rai, who showed a fun, well-choreographed jungle-themed routine (arabian double front, double pike) for an 8.600.

After the meet, Purnell reflected on her first-place performance. "It was a little nerve-wracking because I hadn't competed in a while," Purnell said, adding, "I was happy that I was able to come back and compete so well." Purnell also added that while she was happy with all of her performances on the first day of competition, she still saw room for improvement on day two. "My bar routine wasn't great today," the Commonwealth Games team member noted, "hopefully it'll be better in tomorrow."

For second-place Stone, the end of the competition brought relief. "It was actually pretty intense out there," she said, adding, "I did alright. Tomorrow I'll work on beam and the little stumbles I had on floor." On her chances of earning an automatic berth to the world championships, Stone was optimistic. "I think if I do the same as I did today, and clean up a bit, I can do it," she confessed, "I'd be disappointed if I didn't."

Slightly disappointed to find his athlete in seventh place after day one, Nebraska head coach Dan Kendig was philosophical about Simpson's performance. "Vault was okay, floor was pretty good, bars and beam weren't the best. I just have to slow her down on bars - she gets going so quick on those pirouettes. She's usually pretty confident, but she just gets a little too quick with some of her moves." Kendig added that the bigger concern was Simpson's missed connections on beam, one of the events she hopes to contribute to the team in Anaheim. "She'll be better tomorrow," Kendig vowed, adding, "we're just really proud of her, not just for this summer, but for her whole career." Kendig noted that should Simpson be selected for the world team, she would be coached the rest of the way by Nebraska assistant coach Adrian Burde. "Adrian has been just a great addition for Richelle. When he's up, Richelle's up, and when she's down, he helps bring her up. They play off each other so well."

Additional photos can be found in our 2003 Pan Am/World Team trials photo gallery.

Written by JS

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