Eaker, Allaire-Bourgie light up L'International Gymnix

U.S. star Kara Eaker won three gold medals as American teams dominated the International Gymnix Tournament this past weekend in Montreal.

Long known as a meet that hosts greats before their star turns on the world or Olympic stage, the highly anticipated Gymnix welcomed teams from five countries for its senior team cup and seven for Saturday’s junior team cup.

Eaker and U.S. teammates Alyona Shchennkiova, Sloane Blakely and Aleah Finnegan easily won the senior team competition, topping a Canadian team consisting of 2016 Olympian Isabela Onyshko, 2018 Youth Olympian Emma Spence, World team alternate Laurie Denommee and standout Haley de Jong by a ten point margin. A poised and promising Australian team (2014 World team member Emma Nedov, 2018 Youth Olympian Kate Sayer, Elena Chipizubov and Romi Brown) took bronze.

Eaker, a beam finalist at last fall’s World Championships in Doha, began the day by sticking her Yurchenko 1.5 vault and nailed her impressive set (side aerial, layout, layout, roundoff, back handspring, 2.5 twist dismount) for a meet-high 14.666 to move into first in the all-around after three events. She held onto it even after a fall on her double pike final tumbling pass on floor to edge Shchennikova, who opened the meet with a terrific double-twisting Yurchenko vault and carried the top score of the day on bars, by a mere tenth of a point, 55.298-55.198. She won the beam title during Sunday’s event finals as well, her third gold of the meet.

Tiny Azuki Kokofugata of Japan, one of several new faces the Japanese are sending to competitions around the world this year, impressed in her senior international debut, throwing a triple full beam dismount and turning in the best score of the day on floor exercise (13.8) for third overall, then added gold on floor in event finals. The U.S.’s Sloane Blakely finished with the third highest all-around score, but was bumped due to the two-per-country rule.

Fresh from winning last month’s Elite Canada, world beam silver medalist Ana Padurariu had a rough outing in the team/all-around competition, recording multiple falls on balance beam and coming off the uneven bars, but the 16-year-old came back to win bars in event finals.

Canada’s Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, already considered an Olympic team contender although she does not become a senior until next year, won the junior all-around competition ahead of Americans Olivia Greaves and Skye Blakely. Magnificent on uneven bars (Wyler to Maloney, Pak, toe Khorkina II, pike Jaeger, full-twisting double tuck) and balance beam (bhs, layout, layout series), Allaire-Bourgie added three medals in event finals, taking gold on floor and silvers on bars and beam.

“I’m truly proud of my performance!” Allaire-Bourgie, who competes for Club Gymnix, exclaimed. “I took things one step at a time, and everything went well. I couldn’t ask for more.”

U.S. junior Skye Blakely, the only junior in the competition to show a double-twisting Yurchenko vault, won that event as well as uneven bars. The entertaining Noemie Louon of Belgium won balance beam and took bronzes on bars and floor.

The U.S. team of Blakely, Greaves, Lilly Lippeatt and Kaylen Morgan won the junior team title by five points over the Belgians (Louon, Stacy Bertrandt, Charlotte Beydts and Jutta Verkest), while Bourgie, along with Clara Raposo, Rebeka Groulx and Rachael Riley, powered Canada to bronze.

UCLA commit Emily Lee was the top all-arounder in the Gymnix Challenge All-around, a separate all-around competition, tallying 51.35 ahead of Canadian standouts Laurie-Lou Vezina (51.166) and 2015 Canadian world team member Audrey Rousseau (51.049).

Gymnix Senior Team Final

1 - USA, 165.261
2 - Canada 2, 155.296
3 - Australia, 154.963

Gymnix Senior All-around Final

1 - Kara Eaker, USA, 55.288
2 - Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 55.198
3 - Azuki Kokofugata, JPN, 52.4

Gymnix Senior Vault Final

1 - Aleah Finnegan, USA, 14.0
2 - Haley de Jong, CAN, 13.467

Gymnix Senior Bars Final

1 - Ana Padurariu, CAN, 14.466
2 - Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 14.4
3 - Emma Nedov, AUS, 13.33

Gymnix Senior Beam Final

1 - Kara Eaker, USA, 14.466
2 - Sloane Blakely, USA, 13.766
3 - Elena Chipizubov, AUS, 13.2

Gymnix Senior Floor Final

1 - Azuki Kokofugata, JPN, 13.5
2 - Haley de Jong, CAN, 12.9
3 - Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 12.766

Gymnix Junior Team Final

1 - USA, 159.463
2 - Belgium, 154.530
3 - Canada, 154.463

Gymnix Junior All-around Final

1 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 54.532
2 - Olivia Greaves, USA, 53.666
3 - Skye Blakely, USA, 53.332

Gymnix Junior Vault Final

1 - Skye Blakely, USA, 14.083
2 - Olivia Greaves, USA, 13.383
3 - Rachael Riley, CAN, 13.433

Gymnix Junior Uneven Bars Final

1 - Skye Blakely, USA, 14.133
2 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 14.066
3 - Noemie Louon, BEL, 13.466

Gymnix Junior Beam Final

1 - Noemie Louon, BEL, 13.2
2 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 13.1
3 - Lilly Lippeatt, USA, 13.066

Gymnix Junior Floor Final

1 - Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, CAN, 13.233
2 - Olivia Greaves, USA, 13.133
3 - Noemie Louon, BEL, 12.966

Quick hits: 2019 International Gymnix, Senior Team/AA final

Rotation 1:

Kate Sayer (AUS), floor: Double tuck, bounces OOB. Looking more mature and elegant since last summer's Youth Olympic Games, where she was eighth AA. More landing troubles on double pike, but no falls. 11.5.

Aleah Finnegan (USA), vault: Yurchenko 1.5 with a big step/bounce forward, some leg form. 14.1.

Emma Spence (CAN), beam: Bhs, layout. Switch to switch half (leg form). Front aerial. Double twist. 12.3.

Romi Brown (AUS), floor: Double tuck. Good high double pike. 1.5 to front layout. Polished work from AUS so far on floor. Double full to end. 12.7.

Laurie Denommee (CAN), beam: Bhs, layout. Side aerial, wobble. Side somie, solid. Layout dismount. 12.4.

Alyona Shchennikova (USA), vault: Very nice DTY, nearly stuck. 14.433.

Emma Nedov (AUS), floor: Full twisting double tuck, well done. High double tuck. Punch front through to double full. Sits the double pike to end. Too bad! Very nice otherwise. 12.066.

Elena Chipizubov (AUS), floor: Double pike, lovely light landing. Easy double tuck. A soft, pretty exercise, practically something out of rhythmic. Double full. Full twist to end. 12.8.

Imogen Paterson (CAN), vault: Tucked FTY. 13.266.

Victoria Woo (CAN), beam: Bhs, layout. Side aerial. Switch (small wobble), wolf, scissone. 2.5 twist with a step forward. 12.433.

Jade Chrobok (CAN), beam: Switch to switch half, half not quite at 180. Off on bhs, layout. Double turn. Front aerial. Side somie. Roundoff, double pike from a single step. 11.733.

Rose Woo (CAN), beam: Off on first element, a double turn. Punch front to straddle jump, aggressive. Off agin on bhs, layout to two feet. Switch ring. Side somie. Front aerial, split jump. Switch half, big wobble. Double full dismount. 10.666.

Ana Padurariu (CAN), beam: Off on wolf double turn, just like Rose Woo! A pity. Pretty switch ring. Off again on side aerial, layout, layout. Switch half. Front aerial, split jump, bhs. Switch to sheep. Hands down on double pike dismount too. Not a good day for CAN on beam. 11.0.

Rotation 2:

Haley de Jong (CAN), floor: Nice high Arabian double front to begin. Triple full. Double tuck. 13.2.

Sloane Blakely (USA), bars: Pak. Toe shoot to high. Stalder blind, pike Jaeger. Toe blind and good high double front with a hop forward. 13.5.

Romi Brown (AUS), vault: Pretty Yurchenko full. Kate Sayer (AUS), vault: Another Y-full with a little bit of form. 13.166.

Isabela Onyshko (CAN), floor: Double tuck. Pretty, avant-garde music with an Asian feel. Punch front to double full. Double turn with leg at head to illusion turn. Switch ring to switch full. Double pike. 13.166.

Azuki Kokofugata (JPN), beam: Front aerial to double stag. Switch, sheep. Quick movements from this tiny young gymnast! Bhs, layout, big wobble but stays on. Triple full dismount. Impressive! 12.7.

Emma Spence (CAN), floor: 1.5 to double tuck, bounces out of it but stays on her feet. 2.5 to punch front that goes forward but not upward and still somehow puts it to her feet. Save of the day so far! Leg form on her leaps. Double pike to end. 12.7.

Laurie Denommee (CAN), floor: Nice double layout! Punch front to layout full, looks like she's capable of well m1ore than that. Great choice of music for her, allowing her to show off her power and finesse. Big double pike to end. Nice routine. 13.1.

Imogen Paterson (CAN), bars: Has a nice routine going but misses toe on entry into Khorkina II transition twice, then falls on the actual element. 10.5.

Fien Enghels (BEL), beam: Back dive mount. One of the nicer wolf double turns in existence. Side aerial. Bhs, layout, step back. Front aerial. Ring jump, head not far enough back. Roundoff, full dismount. Very nice set, extremely calm. 13.033.

Victoria Woo (CAN), floor: Stumbles out of triple turn. Lovely dramatic choreo. Punch front through to 2.5. Double pike, hops back but good height. 12.833.

Rotation 3:

Romi Brown (AUS), bars: Maloney to Pak. Blind to Deltchev. Open double tuck, small hop. Getting Hollie Dykes vibes with this one. 12.8.

Mikako Serita (JPN), floor: Double tuck. Triple turn, a tad off. Double wolf turn. 1.5 to front layout full, step/bounce out of it. Rudi. She's a little rough around the edges choreo-wise, but a nice start for someone so young. Double full to end. 12.433.

Sloane Blakely (USA), beam: Double wolf turn. Wonderful high standing Arabian. Switch to switch half to layout stepout, huge. Front handspring to sky-high front tuck but comes off. Front aerial. Side somie. Big easy looking double tuck dismount. Such.high.tumbling. 13.333 (5.9 D!)

Kara Eaker (USA), beam: Full turn with leg at head. Front aerial to ring jump, small wobble. Side aerial, layout, layout, beautiful. Scissone to side somie. Switch to bhs to Korbut. Switch, switch side, excellence everywhere. Roundoff, bhs, 2.5 twist, hop forward. Bravo Kara! 14.666.

Fien Enghels (BEL), floor: Italian opera music. Double tuck, bounces out of it and OOB. Punch front to full twist. Lovely form and presentation -- and performing her dance with a smile! Double full. Delightful routine from Belgium's junior national champion. 12.166.

Maellyse Brassart (BEL), floor: Full in pike. Punch front to double tuck, hop back. As with all the Belgians, unusual music choice and very thoughtful choreo. Double pike. 12.9.

Jade Vansteenkiste (BEL), floor: Tourjete full. Good high triple twist to open. 1.5 to front layout full. Switch to switch half. She's quite an actress out there! Some very raw "animal" choreo in this routine. Overcooks her double tuck and sits down -- too bad! 12.233.

Rotation 4:

Laurie Denommee (CAN), bars: Toe Shaposh to bail, toe Wyler, toe Khorkina II to high, Gienger, pirouette out of handstand, toe front half dismount. Some form here and there but nothing too serious. 12.866.

Emma Spence (CAN), bars: Pike Jaeger. Nabieva, nice! Pak. Toe full. Khorkina II. Clear hip to giants to double pike, a little low. 12.466.

Yuki Murakami (JPN), vault: FTY, very nice! 13.266.

Kate Sayer (AUS), beam: Tourjete, tentative, lacking in amplitude. Two bhs to double full. 12.433.

Haley de Jong (CAN), bars: Toe Shaposh, very nice! Pak. Maloney to bail. Toe shoot to high. Blind, half turn (feet apart), giants, pretty double layout. 13.033.

Elena Chipizubov (AUS), beam: Bhs, bhs, layout to two feet, VERY pretty. Front aerial, jump, back tuck. Punch front, very nice as well. Ring jump. A little careful with some of her leaps/jumps, but perhaps the most precise gymnast in the field. Bhs, bhs, double full. 13.0.

Emma Nedov (AUS), beam: The eponymous back dive mount. Bhs, bhs, layout to two feet, wobble. Front aerial to jumps. Switch, wolf. Switch ring, won't be credited but no wobble. Punch front, solid. Double pike with a small hop back. Well done Australia! 13.8.

Sloane Blakely (USA), floor, Nice high full in tuck, great. Arabian double front that seems to drop from the sky. Double pike, shuffle back. Double tuck, hop back. Entertaining routine, capped with excellent tumbling. 13.566.

Kara Eaker (USA), floor: Triple full, too much energy and bouces out with both feet glued together nonetheless. 2.5 to front layout full, small hop to the side. Terrific turn combo. Ladylike music and choreo. Front layout to front 2/1. Hands down on double pike! Aie. 12.466.

Jade Vansteenkiste (BEL), vault: FTY, very well done. Great height and distance. 13.666.

Three falls off the uneven bars for Rose Woo (CAN), who nonetheless nearly sticks her double front dismount. She was trying some new skills here, and is clearly still adjusting. 8.633.

Ana Padurariu (CAN), bars: Inbar blind to pike Jaeger. Misses inbar Tkatchev pike. Repeats the skill and makes it, successfully connects it to Pak. Bail to Ray, full twisting double tuck with a hop. 13.433.

#IntlGymnix 2019 Senior Women's AA -
🥇Kara Eaker, USA, 55.298
🥈Alyona Shchennikova, USA, 55.198
🥉Azuki Kokufugata, JPN, 52.4*

#IntlGymnix 2019 Senior Women's Team final -
🥇USA (Aleah Finnegan, Alyona Shchennikova, Kara Eaker, Sloane Blakely), 165.261
🥈Canada 2 (Emma Spence, Haley de Jong, Isabela Onyshko, Laurie Denommee), 155.196 
🥉Australia (Elena Chipizubov, Emma Nedov, Kate Sayer, Romi Brown), 154.963

*This was not the result that the livescoring showed -- it showed Sloane Blakely third, followed by Belgium's Fien Enghels, and even Kokufugata looked confused when called to the podium, but this is how the medal ceremony played out.

Angelina Simakova crowned Russian all-around champion

New Russian women’s all-around champion Angelina Simakova. Photo: Elena Mikhailovna/sportgymrus.ru.

New Russian women’s all-around champion Angelina Simakova. Photo: Elena Mikhailovna/sportgymrus.ru.

Four months after making her World Championships debut on bars and beam, Angelina Simakova bested a host of experienced contenders for the Russian all-around title Thursday in Penza.

Despite a fall on vault during the early rounds of the second of two days of competition, the 16-year-old from Obninsk, southwest of Moscow, persevered to take her first senior Russian title ahead of Olympic medalists Angelina Melnikova and Aliya Mustafina.

Simakova kept pace with Mustafina on uneven bars (14.1) and presented a steady beam routine that included a beautiful switch ring and an impressive new back handspring, layout, layout series. On floor, she showed precise 2.5 to front layout full, double pike and double tuck tumbling passes, all with very secure landings.

2018 champion Melnikova, second after day one, maintained her position with steady routines on vault, uneven bars and balance beam, but came apart on floor exercise, crash-landing her first two tumbling passes. The 11.633 she received for the routine ate up the lead she had gained over Simakova and dropped her back to second overall.

Angelina Melnikova on floor.

Angelina Melnikova on floor.

Fan favorite Mustafina, readying to compete at next weekend’s Stuttgart World Cup, finished third and showed her usual brilliance on uneven bars, where she has won the last two Olympic gold medals, and steadiness on balance beam, as well as a brand new floor routine choreographed by 2012 Olympic teammate Ksenia Afanasyeva.

Fifteen-year-old Daria Belousova showed very correct technique and positions in an impressive first year senior showing, finishing fourth ahead of 2006 European junior champion and 2008 Olympic team alternate Daria Elizarova, who at 28 was as nimble as ever as she tumbled a triple full to punch front and 2.5 to front layout full on floor.

2018 Youth Olympian Ksenia Klimenko showed wonderful lines and polish in all her exercises but vaulted only a Yurchenko layout to finish sixth, while three-time world team member Tatiana Nabieva, 24, was seventh.

Russian Championships - Women’s All-around final

1. Angelina Simakova, 107.897
2. Angelina Melnikova, 107.463
3. Aliya Mustafina, 107.398
4. Daria Belousova, 106.164
5. Daria Elizarova, 105.963
6. Ksenia Klimenko, 105.831

Aliya Mustafina on beam.

Aliya Mustafina on beam.

Quick hits: 2019 Russian Championships, Women's AA final

Aliya Mustafina. Photo: Elena Mikhailovna/sportgymrus.ru

Aliya Mustafina. Photo: Elena Mikhailovna/sportgymrus.ru

Rotation 1:

Daria Elizarova, vault: Beautiful stuck handspring front pike half from the 2006 European Junior Champion! Not particularly difficult but gorgeously done.

Ksenia Klimenko, vault: Has trouble coming onto the horse (way too high on the table), does only a Yurchenko layout. Had the same trouble at last summer's Youth Olympic Games, if memory serves...

Ksenia Kamkova, beam: Humphrey turn, double wolf turn. Front aerial to split to double stag ring, lovely. Side aerial to layout, wobble. Ring jump. Tourjete half. Side somie. Double twist.

Natalia Kapitanova, bars: Stalder 1/1 to Shaposh to Pak (legs apart), stalder to Khorkina II, Tkatchev, toe blind, front giant, toe full to double pike.

Anastasia Ilyankova, bars: Fantastic set Downie? to Pak, Toe Tkatchev half to Ezhova, but full twisting double tuck with a huge step to the side and off the mat.

Angelina Melnkiva, bars: Stalder full to Maloney to Park to toe Khorkina II, inbar blind to pike Jaeger, half turn to toe full to full twisting double tuck. Well done! Gelya all smiles afterward.

Rotation 2:

Elena Eremina, floor: Full in? Lovely presentation. 1.5 to front pike. Double turn with leg at head, a little rough at the end.

Aliya Mustafina, bars: Her regular royal routine. Such wonderful technique. A little tiny bit off on the toe full before her dismount if you want to be really picky, but not a big deal. Sticks her full twisting double tuck today. 14.1.

Daria Belousova, bars: Nabieva to begin, nice. Pak. Toe Khorkina II. Toe blind to pike Jaeger. Full turn to stuck full twisting double tuck. Determined routine, and very good handstands.

Sidenote: A furrow-eyebrowed Belousova is a sight! Meanwhile Melnikova still hasn't stopped smiling.

Daria Elizarova, bars: Stalder to toe shoot to high. Pike Jaeger. Toe full to Tkatchev. Pak. Toe half to toe shoot. Nice Arabian dismount. Elizarova, who went to compete for UZB for awhile, is one of those "in any other country in the world, she'd be at Worlds" gymnasts. Sigh.

Ksenina Klimenko, bars: Wonderful lines for this event. Stalder full to Khorkina II. Pike Jaeger to Pak. Maloney and a double front half out! Gorgeous routine. 14.1.

Angelina Simakova, bars: Inbar Gienge. Blind to Pike Jaeger. Toe full to Pak. Toe Khorkina II. Blind to double front, stuck. 14.1 as well. Popular score on bars today...

Tatiana Nabieva, beam: Punch front, big wobble. Switch, split half. Roundoff, layout to two feet, well done. Full turn with leg at head. Side aerial. As always, doesn't truly connect with her choreo but we love her anyway. Double full with a step back.

Rotation 3:

Aliya Mustafina, beam: Switch half, wobble. Onodi to ring jump, smaller wobble. Bhs, layout, very nice! Double turn, saves it. Switch to side aerial. Front aerial to split to double stag. Double tuck, close to stuck, small hop forward. Well done overall.

Daria Belusova, beam: Roundoff, layout stepout mount. Bhs, layout. Almost comes off on a switch leap. Onodi, pause, ring jump. Side aerial. Pretty leaps. Front aerial, split, Korbut. Messes up her double wolf turn but stays on. Two bhs to double tuck with a step.

After an age in which Mustafina dons a pair of red bedroom slippers and takes a lap around the arena, we have her beam score: 12.533.

Have to hand it to the judges at this Russian Championships: They don't seem to be engaging in score inflation here. A 12.533 is being scored at 12.533. Belusova earns...12.533.

Daria Elizarova, beam: Punch front, solid. Front aerial, bhs. Switch, wolf full. Side aerial. Side somie. Split half, the sole nod to this current code. Nice double tuck. Elizarova comes from a world where wolf turns on beam aren't a thing, and it's wonderful. 13.366.

Ksenia Klimenko, beam: Wolf turn. Swtich, scissone. Wonderful balletic Russian presentation. Side aerial, bhs. Side somie. Front aerial to ring jump. Front handspring, punch front. Beautiful switch ring. Front layout full dismount. Gorgeous through and through. 13.333.

Angelina Simakova, beam: Switch ring, excellent. Bhs, layout, layout, very nice! Frotn aerial, little wobble, ring jump. Switch to split jump. Side aerial. Side somie. Double tuck with a step back. 13.466.

Angelina Melnikova, beam: Punch front mount, a smidge unbalanced. Switch leap. Kotchetkova, wobble. Bhs, layout, small step back. Front aerial to ring jump. Building confidence as it goes on. Wolf turn double. Side somie. Split full. Nice lift on double pike, small hop.

Standings going into the final rotation: Melnikova in front, followed by Mustafina, Simakova and Belousova.

Rotation 4:

Daria Belousova, floor: 2.5 to punch front. Triple full, chest low on landing. Sounds like she's using a cut of Jaycie Phelps's 1996 music. Bounces out of double pike. Double tuck. Walks gingerly off the podium and looks miserable -- something must be hurting. 12.966.

Daria Elizarova, floor: Triple full to punch front. Both feet OOB on landing, but still so cool. 2.5 to front layout full, magically gets it around. Double pike. Very efficient work. Finishes with a smile. The Russian commentators like it a lot.

Ksenia Klimenko, floor: 2.5 to punch front. Jazzy piano music. Double turn with leg at head. Double tuck, step back. Switch half. 1.5 to front layout full. Switch ring. Tourjete half. Double pike to end. And a wolf turn to cap things off. 13.0.

Angelina Simakova, floor: 2.5 to front layout full. Full in. Double pike. Double tuck. Not going to lose more than 0.1 on any of those landings, very precise. Nice routine. 13.566.

Angelina Melnikova, floor: Oops, not her music. Oops, still not her music. Melnikova is hesitating between faithfully holding her opening pose for the next five minutes and walking off the floor. Ah! Here we go. Double turns in combo. Falls on 1/1 double layout. Not enough height. And again on double layout! Nearly loses it again on double tuck. A decent landing on double pike, finally, but aie.

Aliya Mustafina, floor: Arabian double front, awkward landing but not horrible. Bounces out of high double tuck. Mustafina turn, a little underrotated. 1.5 to front layout full. Double twist (legs). Not perfect but she got through it. Meanwhile, 11.633 for Melnikova.

Final standings:

1. Angelina Simakova, 107.897
2. Angelina Melnikova, 107.463
3. Aliya Mustafina, 107.398
4. Daria Belousova, 106.164
5. Daria Elizarova, 105.963

Thorsdottir, Mairosser take titles at 10th Austrian Team Open

The competitors at the 2019 Austrian Team Open take a group photo in Linz. All photos © ÖFT / Robert Labner

The competitors at the 2019 Austrian Team Open take a group photo in Linz. All photos © ÖFT / Robert Labner

After sitting out of October’s World Championships on account of a broken hand, Dutch star Eythora Thorsdottir celebrated a return to form by winning the Austrian Team Open this weekend in Linz.

The 20-year-old Thorsdottir, known for her exquisite choreography on floor exercise, posted the top scores on floor, beam and vault to tally 52.85 points for the all-around title, well ahead of Norway’s Nora Irgens (47.05) and Austria’s Bianca Frysak (46.6).

“First competition of the year,” Thorsdottir posted on Instagram, adding a check mark. “It’s a good first step on my way to the European Championships.”

Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza, the poster girl for next month’s Europeans in her hometown of Szczecin, was also warming up for Euros in Linz’s Tips-Arena. Fourth all-around with 46.2, Pihan-Kulesza would have been a viable podium contender had she not had to swallow a 7.15 on uneven bars.

Marta Pihan-Kulesza (POL) on beam.

Marta Pihan-Kulesza (POL) on beam.

2012 Austrian Olympian Elisa Haemmerle, who had suffering from the flu, opted to compete on uneven bars and balance beam only, but still managed the second best score of the day on bars (12.4).

Spain (Claudia Villalba, Berta Pujadas, Clara Navarro, Aina Puig and Etna Abella) won the women’s team title ahead of Austria and Norway, while Slovakia’s Sara Surmanova, born in 2005, was the top junior.

Austria’s own Johannes Mairosser took the men’s title despite a 9.15 on pommel horse. Norway’s Fredrik Bjornevik Aas, a tenth behind for second overall, suffered the exact same fate on pommel. The pipe was good to nobody at this competition except former Russian team member Matvei Petrov, a pommel specialist who was representing Albania at this meet. There, the former World and European finalist scored 15.45, the best score of the day on any event, and also contributed an event-high 13.8 on parallel bars.

Austria’s Vinzenz Hoeck, a former European junior champion on rings, was the class of the field on his best event, scoring 14.2 with a new routine that he hopes to use to make waves in Szczecin. Austrian veteran Matthias Schwab contributed the highest scores on vault (14.0) and high bar (13.3), while Leonard Gross was the best on floor (13.3).

Norway won the men’s team title ahead of two Austrian teams, while Didrik Gundersen led an all-Norwegian sweep of the junior men’s competition.

Full results from the Austrian Open can be found here.

Austrian rings star Vincenz Hoeck.

Austrian rings star Vincenz Hoeck.

Americans, Russian juniors impress at Jesolo Trophy

U.S. >seniors Gabby Perea, Emma Malabuyo, Sunisa Lee and Shilese Jones took the team title at the annual Jesolo Trophy Saturday in Italy, while Russia edged the Americans in the junior category.

U.S. >seniors Gabby Perea, Emma Malabuyo, Sunisa Lee and Shilese Jones took the team title at the annual Jesolo Trophy Saturday in Italy, while Russia edged the Americans in the junior category.

Rising U.S. talents Sunisa Lee and Konnor McClain led the Americans to 16 medals at the annual Jesolo Trophy this past weekend in Jesolo, Italy.

Lee, who turns 16 on March 9, teamed with Shilese Jones, Emma Mulabayo and Gabby Perea in compiling 166.798 points, helping the Americans take the team title over China (Liu Jingxing, Liu Tingting, Qi Qi and Tang Xijing, 165.201). Bolstered by a double-twisting Yurchenko vault and high-difficulty routines on all apparatus, Lee overcame a fall on a Humphrey turn on balance beam to take the all-around title over 2018 world beam champion Liu Tingting, 56.466 and 55.901.

A sharp Italian senior team featuring Olympic hopefuls Asia D’Amato, Alice D’Amato, Desiree Carofiglio and Elisa Iorio finished third. Italy was without the services of 2018 Youth Olympic all-around champion Giorgia Villa, who withdrew after injuring a finger during the warmup and was replaced by Alice D’Amato.

Lee’s sunny senior debut continued in event finals, where she won uneven bars with a sizzling set (calm stalder blind to pike Jaeger, Nabieva to Pak to Maloney to Gienger, toe stalder full to full-twisting double tuck, 14.45) and floor exercise (double double tuck, double layout, 1.5 to front layout full, double tuck, 14.2) and added bronze on balance beam (two back handsprings to layout and side aerial to two layout stepouts and double tuck dismount, 14.15).

Liu, crowned world champion on beam last fall, showed her trademark consistency and polish in winning the team title. Malabuyo, who missed the second half of the 2018 season with a back injury, showed polish and resolve in her first international of the year, taking bronze in the all-around and silvers on beam (Humphrey turn to wolf double turn, back handspring, layout, punch front, standing Arabian, double pike, 14.4) and floor (double layout, Arabian double front to single stag, full twisting double tuck, double pike, 14.1).

China, long a nation of uneven bars/balance beam gymnasts, arrived in Italy looking stronger on floor than in previous years. They broke into the medals on every event, with Liu golden on beam (front handspring to front tuck, split leap to side aerial to split jump, double twist dismount, 14.8), Tang winning silver on bars (Maloney to Pak, pike Jaeger, double layout, 14.35) and Qi Qi in bronze on floor (13.55).

A superb Russian team composed of Olga Astafyeva, Elena Gerasimova, Viktoriia Listunova and Vladislava Urazova upset the U.S. (Ciena Alipio, Sophia Butler, Konnor McClain and Kayla Di Cello) for the junior team title, drawing praise from every quarter for their difficulty, originality and the pureness of their technique.

But there was no stopping the talented McClain, who scored 56.167 to take the all-around title, a score that would have put the 14-year-old second among the seniors. Among the highlights: an excellent double-twisting Yurchenko vault, two back handsprings to layout on balance beam and beautiful double layout on floor. Born February 1, 2005, McClain is too young to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games, but her Jesolo performance marks her out as a potential 2024 hopeful.

Urazova and Gerasimova, the silver and bronze medalists in the all-around, continued their success in event finals, each adding two medals. Listunova, whose long lines and precise landings are reminiscent of a young Viktoria Komova’s, avenged her fourth place all-around finish with the titles on beam and floor.

Trofeo di Jesolo - Seniors

Team:

1. USA, 166.798
2. China, 165.201
3. Italy, 161.33

All-around

1. Sunisa Lee, USA, 56.466
2. Liu Tingting, CHN, 55.901
3. Emma Malabuyo, USA, 55.899

Vault

1. Asia D’Amato, ITA, 14.2
2. Desiree Carofiglio, ITA, 13.25

Uneven Bars

1. Sunisa Lee, USA, 14.45
2. Tang Xijing, CHN, 14.35
3. Elisa Iorio, ITA, 14.3

Balance Beam

1. Liu Tingting, CHN, 14.8
2. Emma Malabuyo, USA, 14.4
3. Sunisa Lee, USA, 14.15

Floor Exercise

1. Sunisa Lee, USA, 14.2
2. Emma Malabuyo, USA, 14.1
3. Qi Qi, CHN, 13.55

Trofeo di Jesolo - Juniors

Team

1. Russia, 165.234
2. USA, 163.899
3. Belgium, 152.734

All-around

1. Konnor McClain, USA, 56.167
2. Vladislava Urazova, RUS, 55.2
3. Elena Gerasimova, RUS, 55.0

Vault

1. Konnor McClain, USA, 14.425
2. Viktoriia Listunova, RUS, 14.1
3. Ciena Alipio, USA, 14.05

Uneven Bars

1. Vladislava Urazova, RUS, 14.3
2. Elena Gerasimova, RUS, 13.75
3. Konnor McClain, USA, 13.7

Balance Beam

1. Viktoriia Listunova, RUS, 13.85
2. Ciena Alipio, USA, 13.7
3. Elena Gerasimova, RUS, 13.7

Floor Exercise

1. Viktoriia Listunova, RUS, 14.3
2. Vladislava Urazova, RUS, 13.9
3. Konnor McClain, USA, 13.35

Leanne Wong tumbles off with the American Cup, and a star is born

Leanne Wong didn’t have to do it, but of course she did.

Leading the American Cup by a margin of 0.233 heading into her final event, floor exercise, 15-year-old probably could have played it safe with the routine she used to seal her junior national title six months ago. But Wong and her coaches had had some surprises in store, and Wong felt that now was the time to unleash them.

Talking upgrades two weeks before the meet, Wong declined to say exactly what she was working on, better to preserve the secret. “If they’re ready I’ll put them in, but if they’re not then I’ll just keep them out,” she said at the time.

Turns out they were ready. As the women’s competition reached its crescendo Saturday, Wong stepped up with two rare and difficult new tumbling passes, a final fireworks display in a competition where she had already flashed plenty of brilliance.

Despite the presence of World silver medalists Mai Murakami of Japan and Ellie Black of Canada, Wong and 2018 World team champion Grace McCallum were always the headliners of the meet, and one or the other was expected to carry on the long tradition of American domination at the event.

From her first vault, Wong established herself as the champion-in-waiting. Her 14.066 for her double-twisting Yurchenko was the best in the field, and though her 14.1 for her intricate bar routine was only the fourth best in the field, she hit it well enough to keep herself close to the lead. Add in the highest score on beam for the toughest routine of all competitors and by the time floor came around she was poised to be the breakout story of the night. The two new tumbling passes clinched it. Never mind if the judges may not have credited her 3.5 twist. She can do it, and it will only get better from here.

For her part, McCallum showed a steady poise and refused to be ruffled by small errors. In a way, the pressure on her was greater than it was on Wong, because after a highly successful Worlds debut last fall, McCallum was a known quantity with a reputation to nourish. Nobody would have blamed Wong had she shown senior debut nerves; for the world team champion, expectations were higher. Never mind her ranking -- the victory for this Minnesotan was competing without fault. Mission accomplished.

By tying for third, Black and Murakami, each the best female gymnast their nation has ever produced, showed that the American Cup is not just a showcase for talented U.S. gymnasts. Black, who hurt her knee in training, came out with four solid routines all the same, while Murakami’s bid to become the first foreigner to win the cup since Elena Zamolodchikova in 2001 was spoiled when she dropped off the balance beam. The two tied for third, causing the gymternet to give a collective “awwww!”

Germany’s Kim Bui, fifth, posted the highest score on uneven bars. Thirty years old last month, she competes like someone ten years younger, the result of quality training combined with a genuine love for the sport. Though she prefers to steer clear of the balance beam these days, she put up respectable scores on every event.

Overall though, the night belonged to Wong. “It was really exciting competing at my first senior meet, and I thought it went pretty well,” she said afterward. Us too, Leanne. Us too.

Quick hits: 2019 American Cup

Rotation 1:

Leanne Wong (USA), vault: DTY, very very nice! Teeny little hop. Hello world! Excellent start for her. 14.666.

Mai Murakami (JPN), vault: DTY with a sizable hop back. Good everywhere but could have been a little better. Even Mai thinks so. 14.333.

Grace McCallum (USA), vault: Easy-looking DTY, hop back. Well done. Legs crossed in the air if you want to be nitpicky. Came on the table a tad high. But really, a nice vault. 14.566.

Sanna Veerman (NED), vault: Great Yurchenko 1.5 with just a tiny hop forward. Bravo! 14.1.

Rotation 2:

Ellie Black (CAN), bars: Toe Shaposh, uprise to Tkatchev. Taktchev, Jaeger, Pak. Toe Khorkina II to full turn, toe on front half dismount. After all that struggle in podium training, experience pays off. Good for her! 14.266.

Celia Serber (FRA), bars: Toe Shaposh to Pak, Ray. Toe blind and misses her pike Jaeger. Too bad, but good form overall. 10.666..

Grace McCallum (USA), bars: Wieler. Stalder Shaposh. Tkatchev. Pak. Toe Khorkina II. Toe stalder to toe full to full twisting double back. She didn't attempt any of the connections she's been training, but it was a clean, safe routine. McCallum seems quite happy with her 14.2. Sure, it could have been better, but better to go to beam happy than frazzled. 14.2.

Lu Yufei (CHN), bars: Jump to high, Tkatchev to Gienger, good. Blind to full spin to pike Jaeger to Pak, holds on to it. Toe shoot to nearly dead hang. Full twisting double tuck with a big step forward. Rolls her eyes as she walks off. 13.3.

Lee Yunseo (KOR), bars: Solid routine (some deductions for missed handstands) with Pak, pike Jaeger, toe Khorkina II, full twisting double tuck dismount. 13.6.

Kim Bui (GER), bars: Jump to high, hop change, pike Jaeger to Pak. Toe Shaposh, Bhardwaj. Toe Khorkina II, Toe full, close, to Gienger. Full twisting double tuck, nearly stuck. Excellent routine! 14.4.

Leanne Wong (USA), bars: Inbar stalder to inbar Shaposh to Pak to stalder Khorkina II, couldn't have asked for better. Stalder blind ot Jaeger. Toe full to giants to STUCK double layout. Wow! 14.1.

Sidenote: What is so impressive about Wong so far is how well she's hitting under pressure. And how much better those routines were in the competition after some little problems in podium training.

Mai Murakami (JPN), bars: Toe stalder to toe Shaposh to inbar Gienger, blind to pike Jaeger, hop to Jaeger. Toe full to bail to toe shoot to high, sticks the full twisting double tuck! She wants to win this. Not finish second. Win. 13.933.

Tim Daggett cannot believe that Wong and McCallum are tied after two rotations. "They're not going to tie," he says, with meaning.

Rotation 3:

Sanna Veerman (NED), beam: Punch front mount. Bhs, layout. Side aerial, small wobble. Switch to jump full turn. Side somie, bigger wobble but holds on. Goes for a switch three quarters and has to grab the beam. Stuck 1.5 twist dismount. 12.166.

Leanne Wong (USA), beam: Middle splits mount. Switch, straddle. Bhs, layout, layout, wonderful! Full turns in combo. Switch ring. So calm up there, much like Kyla Ross. Front aerial to ring jump. Side aerial. Side somie, first little wobble of the set. Then triple full dismount! 14.066.

Mai Murakami (JPN), beam: Switch leap mount. Front aerial to switch. Front pike, solid. Bhs, layout, nice...and comes off on her double wolf turn! Uh-oh…13.233.

Ellie Black (CAN), beam: Switch leap mount. Double turn to full turn. Front tuck. Bhs, layout to two feet. Switch to switch half. Side somie. 2.5 twist dismount, small hop. Well done for Ellie Black! 13.8.

Rotation 4:

Celia Serber (FRA), floor: Full in tuck, steps out of bounds. Straddle full. Wolf turn. Double pike. Punch front to double twist. I suppose what you'd call "showy" choreo and music. 12.6.

Sanna Veerman (NED), floor: Nice opening sequence! Arabian double front, very nice. Not a natural ballerina but this routine is choreographed well. Double tuck. 1.5 to front layout full. Then hands down on her double full! Too bad! 11.833.

Kim Bui (GER), floor: Lovely double layout! Tourjete full. Double tuck, hop back. Stylish routine, a real pleasure to watch. 2.5 to front pike. Double pike with a shuffle back. Very well done. 13.233.

Mai Murakami (JPN), floor: Her iconic routine...triple turn, a little overdone. Double double tuck. 2.5 to front layout full. Double pike, stuck! Well, a good way to finish for her. 14.133.

Ellie Black (CAN), floor: Straddle full. 2.5 walkout to double tuck. Front double full to punch front. Double full. Such an invigorating routine, and she carries it off so well. 13.233.

Grace McCallum (USA), floor: Double double tuck, small hop to the side. "Hava Nagila" epic film 10,000 extras cut. Front layout to front double full, good! Very nice triple twist, maybe a shade underrotated tho. Double tuck, hop back. Total success. 13.866.

Leanne Wong (USA), floor: WOW! Perfect Arabian double pike to single stag. Wow! 3.5 twist! Beautiful again! Now this is a debut. 2.5 to front layout. Triple full to end, step back. Phenomenal. #AmericanCup champion! 13.933 feels a little light but the judges probably took a little on the landings of her second and fourth pass. No matter. Still basically perfection.


Results:

1 - Leanne Wong, USA, 56.765
2 - Grace McCallum, USA, 56.465
3T - Mai Murakami, JPN, and Ellie Black, CAN, 55.732
5 - Kim Bui, GER, 54.199
6 - Lu Yufei, CHN, 51.699
7 - Sanna Veerman, NED, 50.765
8 - Celia Serber, FRA, 49.798
9 - Lee Yunseo, KOR, 47.866

American Cup 2019: Women's competition breakdown

Mai Murakami of Japan.

Mai Murakami of Japan.

The American Cup stands as a particular point of pride for the U.S. women, where the last non-American to win the title was Elena Zamolodchikova in 2001. The list of champions after Zamo’s name reads like a roll call of American greats: Schwikert, Patterson, Liukin, Johnson, Wieber, Bross, Ohashi, Price, Biles, Douglas, Smith, Hurd. Among them you find ten Olympic gold medals and two appearances on Dancing with the Stars (with Ohashi’s candidature still pending.)

To resume: The American Cup is always the first all-around event on the international calendar and (almost always) the one in which an American walks off with first place. The rest of the world tends to see this meet as an extended world cup podium training or a water-testing of new seniors, but Americans take it very seriously indeed.

Except this year, the headliners are heading elsewhere. Simone Biles is preparing for the Stuttgart World Cup, and 2018 American Cup champion Morgan Hurd is going to the Tokyo edition later this spring. Fortunately, American depth has become as renowned as American difficulty, so while Biles prepares to bulldoze the competition in Germany and Hurd practices her Japanese greetings, we’ll be treated to a most interesting matchup between junior national champion Leanne Wong and 2018 world team gold medalist Grace McCallum, the breakout star among the new seniors last year.

Both have terrific qualities: like so many gymnasts who train at GAGE in Missouri, Wong is impeccably polished, but she also possesses a zen, Kyla Ross-like calmness on the podium. Thrust onto the world stage last October, McCallum didn’t flinch either: she nailed every routine and comes to Greensboro with a dramatic new floor routine and the confidence boost of having won the latest national team camp.

McCallum and Wong are similarly balanced in D-score capability (according to last season’s numbers) which is prone to make the battle close. Both competed double-twisting Yurchenkos (5.4 D) and had bars sets around 5.7. At the close of 2018, McCallum had a edge of a couple of tenths on both beam and floor, but they are close. McCallum’s difficulty, calculated based on what she did in 2018, is 22.2, the highest in the field, but Murakami is just behind with 22.1.

The biggest threat to American domination in Greensboro is likely to come from world all-around silver medalist Mai Murakami, who looked sharp and ready in Thursday’s podium training, and Ellie Black, who struggled here and there but whose potential difficulty, if well played, could land her on the podium. If she does everything she’s capable of, Black’s total difficulty is around 21.8, same as Wong’s.

Among the international field, the experienced Kim Bui, 30 and stronger than ever, has potential fantastic difficulty on bars but is unlikely to challenge for the podium due to a weak vault and beam, which she doesn’t compete too often these days.

Celia Serber, the French junior national champion last year, impressed with big skills and excellent form and should prove an exciting addition to the field. The Netherlands’s Sanna Veerman is a bright young competitor for a country that has made remarkable strides in the past few years. Veerman has the skills but lacks some of the polish, and this competition should be excellent experience for her.

2018 Youth Olympian Lee Yunseo of Korea is making her senior international debut at the American Cup and has some excellent skills up her sleeve. Of the eight women in the field, we saw the least in podium training from China’s Lu Yufei, who remains a question mark.

Quick hits: 2019 American Cup podium training

12:34 p.m.: The most anticipated matchup of the weekend on the women's side is Grace McCallum vs. Leanne Wong, the team player who's a budding star in her own right vs. the extremely elegant and poised junior national champion.

12:36 p.m.: Will also be interesting to see whether Mai Murakami (JPN) and Ellie Black (CAN) or someone else will be able to beat one or both of the Americans here. It's never a given at the #AmericanCup, but the U.S. women have 18 years of history going for them...

12:38 p.m.: Both the Americans have upgrades in their pockets, though both expressed some doubt they'd do everything. McCallum has a new FX to "Hava Nagila" and has been working a new pass and new series on beam and bars.

12:40 p.m: France's new senior Celia Serber makes quite a nice impression with her form on beam. Great lines but also looks very athletic. A little wobbly on some things, but great potential.

12:42 p.m.: Grace McCallum on floor: Oh my, that is some epic music! Like, film with 10,000 extras that spans history of a nation epic. Lawrence of Arabia epic. It's "Hava Nagila" all right, and a very dramatic cut of it. Hands down on triple full third pass, but she's still getting warm, it seems.

12:45 p.m.: McCallum's last floor set was from when she was 13, so she was very excited to get a new one. Choreographed by Dominic Zito. McCallum and coach Sarah Jantzi listened to a lot of music in choosing her new set, and this piece was the one that made Grace light up, according to Sarah.

12:46 p.m.: Also, there's a part where Grace does a wolf turn to the sound of a lone horn. Not so easy to actually choreograph a wolf turn into a floor routine -- Zito did well. Also a couple moments in the corner before her last pass where she's definitely channeling Aly Raisman there.

12:47 p.m.: Over on beam, Kim Bui and Murakami are doing battle with particular skills. For Bui it's her bhs, layout stepout series. Murakami takes a few tries to get her wolf spin in order, but then delivers a beautiful Humphrey.

12:49 p.m.: Leanne Wong's vault regime today consists of Yurchenko layout timer after Yurchenko layout timer. Over on bars, Ellie Black is looking a bit frustrated with her release skills. Great swing and big air, but hard to control.

12:55 p.m: Murakami looks strong and focused on beam -- except for that wolf turn, which continues to give her problems. She's done about seven now and has made one well.

12:57 p.m.: Seeing ambitious routines from Sanna Veerman (NED) on bars and beam. Nice full set from McCallum on bars, ending with toe full to immediate full twisting double back. Confidently performed all the way through.

1:03 p.m.: Very good bars set from Wong follows: Stalder, Stalder Shoposh to Pak to immediate toe Khorkina II to a bunch of other stuff and that gorgeous floated double layout.

1:06 p.m.: McCallum UB: Wieler to Shaposh to uprise Tkatchev, Pak to stalder Khorkina II to toe stalder, toe full to full twisting double back with a small hop. Two in a row.

1:10 p.m.: Murakami FX: She's kept her 2017-2018 routine. Double double tuck, no problem. Double layout, very nice. 2.5 to front full, very nice as well. Double pike. Sharp stuff all the way through.

1:12 p.m.: Seeing gorgeous things on beam from Lu Yufei. The typical China beamwork (switch ring, etc) but done with a lightness and extension rare even for a Chinese gymnast. Wonderful to watch.

1:16 p.m.: Wong UB: Inbar stalder to Shaposh to Pak to Khorkina II. That or some variation of that is the combination a la mode on bars today, but Wong's having trouble with it so far here -- two falls so far and some problems on high bar too before turning in a good routine.

1:17 p.m: That being said, one thing Al Fong was adamant about in conversation a couple weeks ago was what a competitor Wong is. She's quiet and reserved, he said. But make no mistake -- she wants to win, he said. And she does.

1:20 p.m.: Bui FX: Same stylish routine as 2018. Double layout, well done. Double tuck. Wonderful piece of music that suits her well. Double full. Didn't see the final pass.

1:24 p.m.: McCallum BB: Back dive mount, two wolf turns back to back, straddle jump half turn. Side aerial, layout stepout, nicely done! Punch front. Reminds me little of Alicia Sacramone up there. Timer for double back.

1:25 p.m.: Serber (UB): Second half - Toe Khorkina II, blind to pike Jaeger, full turn, full twisting double layout.

1:30 p.m.: McCallum sticks her double tuck dismount after her second beam routine. The way things have gone here is she's done one routine and it's been good -- and then a second that's been better.

1:35 p.m.: Wong BB: Middle splits mount. Bhs, layout, layout, solid! Turn with leg up in combination with second turn. Switch ring. Front aerial to ring jump. Side aerial. Side somi. Timer dismount. Doesn't get lots of height on her layouts but you can't argue with solidity. After a couple more timers, she shows a lovely triple full dismount.

1:38 p.m.: Lu on floor: Well. Stylishly choreographed routine with layout tumbling passes.

1:40 p.m.: Veerman FX: Music is one of those lovely Russian folk songs that gets faster and faster, meaning the audience is exhilarated and the gymnast exhausted at the end of it. Arabian double front. Form on a turn. Double tuck. 1.5 to front layout full. Double full.

1:41 p.m.: Black’s go to vault is usually a handspring front pike full, which she performed beautifully at Elite Canada a few weeks ago. Today she’s having troubles just doing a handspring front pike half. Sitting deep in conversation with coach Dave Kikuchi. This hasn’t really been her day, but it’s training, not competition.

1:45 p.m.: This podium training has left no questions about Murakami's preparation for this meet. She looks great and is a real contender for the title. Her floor difficulty is likely higher than both Americans, which could be critical.

1:46 p.m.: Veerman VT: Powerful Yurchenko 1.5. Slightly bent legs in the air but great height/distance.

1:48 p.m.: Curse of the liveblogger (and, according to Olly Hogben, the commentator): you need only write/say something like "Boy does [gymnast] look solid!" than said gymnast falls, or does something to prove you wrong. Murakami/Bui presently on the struggle bus on bars.

1:50 p.m: Thing is, both have solid technique and oodles of experience. They start doing their skills, swing efficiently and well, and then just lose it somewhere. Elite gymnastics is hard, guys.

1:52 p.m.: Women's podium training is nonstop action. Men's podium training is, uh, decidedly slower paced. Props to Petro Pakhniuk (UKR), who just did an honest to goodness tumbling pass (Randi) and then bent over to examine the dust on the carpet for the next 90 seconds.

From the press gallery, an American Cup memory

Gabby+2012.jpg

Podium training day at the 2012 American Cup in Madison Square Garden. The general warmup was over, and the U.S. women went to beam. First up: Gabby Douglas. In the media stands, reporters waited, fingers poised over their keyboards.

American unknowns don’t go to the American Cup. The U.S. takes its only world cup event of the year far more seriously than any other nation competing there, and selects its women’s representatives with special care. There’s a reputation to uphold. The last time an American woman didn’t win the cup was back in 2001, as it shook off the last doldrums of the unlucky 1997-2000 quad.

2001 was also the year Martha Karolyi was named U.S. National Team Coordinator, and the meet held special significance for her. It was at the inaugural American Cup in 1976 that the USA first met Nadia Comaneci, who, foreshadowing things to come, scored a 10 on floor exercise en route to winning the meet. The Europeans already knew who Comaneci was, since she had smoked at the 1975 European Championships, taking the all-around and everything but floor (where she finished second).

Then she came to the States and trounced the competition there too. It must have given Martha Karolyi a terrific amount of pride to think that a gymnast she molded had won the inaugural American Cup, and those she helped direct year after year kept winning them.

So, the American women don’t go to compete at the American Cup. They go to win. That’s why the vast majority named to compete there a) already possess world or Olympic medals already, or b) have at least won a junior national title or two.

In 2012, everything was flipped upside down. The two solid contenders named to compete in the Olympic year Cup were the U.S.’s most talented and most reliable: 2011 World champion Jordyn Wieber and team gold medalist Aly Raisman. Together the  constituted the best 1-2 punch in gymnastics. Days before the meet, Karolyi popped a surprise: she had Gabby Douglas inserted into the lineup as a last-minute exhibition athlete, meaning that Douglas would perform at the top of every lineup and she’d be scored like any other competitor. Those scores just wouldn’t count.

Douglas went on to unofficially “win” the meet, posting a four-event total better than both Wieber and Raisman. She may not have carried off the cup, but she certainly carried the day; the gymnastics media talked of nothing else for weeks.

Strategically, it was a brilliant move: the young and historically skittish Douglas was ushered into the spotlight and allowed to display what she could do without putting quite as much pressure on her as rested on the more seasoned shoulders of Wieber and Raisman. Wieber and Raisman, of course, would have the pleasure of actually winning and placing second at the cup, effectively illustrating that they too were top Olympic contenders.

When I think about the American Cup, I think about that strange and glorious 2012 edition. I remember the glitz of that competition day, the Olympic year zest buzzing through that historic venue, the three Americans, all among the best U.S. gymnasts ever, blowing the rest of the field out of the water. Of the applause that boomed through the venue when Douglas and Raisman landed their new Amanar vaults. Of Douglas in her shimmery periwinkle leotard performing to Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP’s “We Don’t Speak No Americano,” which was just the thing for that multicultural city, for that year, for that gymnast so young but so much older than she had been at her debut world championships that past fall, looking for all the world like the Olympic champion she would be five months later.

I think of all that too, but mostly I think of the first minutes of podium training. How the U.S. women came into Madison Square Garden that morning and went to beam. How Douglas went first. She got up on the beam and launched into the most gorgeous switch leap, and in that moment, she was no longer the wide-eyed kid who had seemed overawed by it all at the Tokyo Worlds four months before. This Douglas was a fiery, long-lined contender, a butterfly just emerged from her cocoon. What a difference four months can make.

The reporters in the media gallery were looking at each other wide-eyed, mouths in Os after that beam set. Seen today, with the rose-colored glasses of hindsight, Douglas flashed an unstoppable momentum -- in that moment, on that day, and in all the days that came afterward.

Zhao impresses, Ferrari makes golden return as Melbourne World Cup concludes

Chinese newcomer Zhao Shiting had a breakout moment as the only multi-medalist on the final day of competition at the Melbourne World Cup in Australia.

In her World Cup debut, Zhao, 15, showed star power in winning the balance beam title (beautiful roundoff layout; front aerial, split jump, Korbut; switch to split ring jump, double full dismount) and on floor exercise, where she tumbled a triple full, 2.5 to front pike, double tuck and double full for bronze despite a fall on the double tuck. Zhao did it all with a little help from friend and teammate Fan Yilin, winner of the bars title in Melbourne, who stepped in to act as coach in the absence of Zhao’s own personal coach, who was not sent to Australia.

Sixteen months after rupturing her Achilles tendon during the floor final at the 2017 World Championships, Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari took gold for a dance-infused new floor set that also included double layout, full in and front full tumbling passes. Puerto Rico’s Paula Mejias showed a 2.5 to punch front, Arabian double tuck and whip to double back for silver.

Like Georgia-Rose Brown on Saturday, Australia’s Emma Nedov gave the host country something to cheer about with silver on balance beam, her first ever world cup medal (two back handsprings to layout; front aerial, split, scissone; switch ring: punch front; double pike dismount.) Japan’s Mana Oguchi, one of a slate of emerging Japanese women set to compete at world cup events this year, won bronze (punch front mount; switch ring; bhs layout; front aerial; ring jump; front layout full dismount.)

Results

Balance Beam

1. Zhao Shiting, China, 13.566
2. Emma Nedov, Australia, 13.500
3. Mana Oguchi, Japan, 13.066
4. Elena Chipizubov, Australia, 13.033
5. Lai Pin-Ju, Chinese Taipei, 12.433
6. Eom Do-hyun, South Korea, 12.400
7. Valeriia Osipova, Ukraine, 11.233
8. Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan, 10.533

Women’s Floor Exercise

1. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy, 13.600
2. Paula Mejias, Puerto Rico, 12.533
3. Zhao Shiting, China, 12.266
4. Emma Nedov, Australia, 11.833
5. Lai Pin-Ju, Chinese Taipei, 11.733
6. Valeriia Osipova, Ukraine, 11.633
7. Aida Bauyrzhanova, Kazakhstan, 11.000
8. Ting Hua-Tien, Chinese Taipei, 10.566

Specialists Fan, Yeo win as Melbourne finals begin

Fan Yilin (CHN) on uneven bars. Photo: Melbourne World Cup.

Fan Yilin (CHN) on uneven bars. Photo: Melbourne World Cup.

World champion Fan Yilin and rising star Yeo Seojeong took the two gold medals available on the first day of apparatus finals at the Melbourne World Cup Saturday in Australia’s second largest city.

Fan, a two-time world champion on uneven bars, edged teammate Lyu Jiaqi for the title on her signature event (inbar Shaposh to Pak to stalder Shaposh to Gienger, inbar blind to full spins to her Fan dismount), her 6.3 difficulty score pipping Lyu’s 6.1 (toe Shaposh to Pak to toe Khorkina, full spins to piked Tkatchev, full spin with half turn out to double twist dismount, a tad sluggish at times.)

Yeo, daughter of 1996 Olympic vault silver medalist Yeo Hong-chul, continued to show that vaultinbg genes run in her family as she took the women’s vault title over superveteran Oksana Chusovitina. Yeo vaulted a Rudi and a double-twisting Yurchenko, while Chusovitina showed a handspring pike front full and Tsuk 1.5, which have served her well over the years and continue to do so.

Australian veteran Georgia-Rose Brown thrilled the home crowd in Melbourne by winning bronze (13.366) on uneven bars, and floor star Chris Remkes went for broke, landing a triple twisting double layout second pass before putting his hands down on his full twisting double layout dismount. The start value of his routine is 6.9, the highest in the field by seven tenths of a point.

Results

Women’s vault

1. Yeo Seo-jeong, South Korea, 14.266
2. Oksana Chusovitina, Uzbekistan, 14.200
3. Yu Linmin, China, 14.083
4. Alexa Moreno, Mexico, 14.066
5. Ayaka Sakaguchi, Japan, 13.833
6. Tjasa Kysselef, Slovenia, 13.833
7. Paula Mejias, Puerto Rico, 13.533
8. Asuka Ogawa, Japan, 12.962

Uneven bars

1. Fan Yilin, China, 14.833
2. Lyu Jiaqi, China, 14.366
3. Georgia-Rose Brown, Australia, 13.366
4. Jonna Adlerteg, Sweden, 13.166
5. Romi Brown, Australia, 12.500
6. Valeriia Osipova, Ukraine, 12.366
7. Ting Hua-Tien, Chinese Taipei, 12.300
8. Martina Rizzelli, Italy, 12.000

Prioritizing happiness, O'Keefe moves on from elite

The road to happiness in gymnastics does not necessarily pass through the Olympic Games.

Maile O’Keefe gets it. One of the best elites in the country for the past six years, O’Keefe voluntarily dropped back to level 10 following a challenging 2018 season. The stylish 2016 and 2017 U.S. junior national champion, who competed in her first ever level 10 gymnastics meet at the Brestyan’s Las Vegas Invite this week in her hometown.

“I just had to do what was best for me mentally and physically,” O’Keefe told FloGymnastics following the competition. “It was really hard [to make the decision to do level 10 instead of elite], but you’ve got to do what makes you happiest.” That sounds like Katelyn Ohashi, another seemingly Olympic-bound elite who found happiness as a level 10 and collegiate superstar.

O’Keefe made a poised beginning on the senior stage last year, taking the bronze medal at the American Cup despite errors during the competition. Her sophisticated choreography on floor and the way she handled herself when routines didn’t go as planned belied a maturity beyond her years.

So is making the decision -- likely the hardest of her life so far -- not to continue down the elite path. Most likely only six American gymnasts will make the 2020 Olympic team, and while their faces will be everywhere before and during the Games, they represent the top 0.001 percent of people in the sport. To say that it’s not easy to make an Olympic gymnastics team is a gross understatement, and power to those like O’Keefe who decide that two weeks under the Olympic rings isn’t everything there is.

In her interview with FloGymnastics, O’Keefe harked back to one of her favorite moments, her emotions coming off the floor in 2016 right after winning the first of her two junior U.S. all-around titles. “Remembering that feeling is why I do gymnastics,” she said. She’s on the right track, even if it’s not the Olympic one.

Padurariu returns to power at Elite Canada

It’s a happy time for Ana Padurariu. Not only did the world beam silver medalist return to all-around competition for the first time in a year at Saturday’s Elite Canada in Gatineau, Quebec, she surprised Ellie Black to win it, then went on to pocket event titles on bars, beam and floor.

This is the way it was supposed to go for the beaming Padurariu, whose ear-to-ear smile is capable of lighting an arena. Not like last year, where her highly anticipated senior debut at Elite Canada was gashed by the broken foot she sustained after crashing her vault (because vault was her last event and she still scored 11.85 for it, she won the silver medal.)

The 16-year-old from Ontario has taken her time returning to the event (the strong Canadian vault squad of Black, Shallon Olsen and Sophie Marois doesn’t need her there anyway) and wisely chose to spend the rest of her 2018 refining her best events, uneven bars and balance beam, which resulted in Canada’s only second ever world medal on beam (the first since Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs took bronze in 2006.)

On Friday night, Padurariu returned to the power events with gusto, if not an overwhelming amount of actual power. Her vault is a respectable Yurchenko full, and she opens her new floor exercise with a double pike. The floor routine is remarkable for the way Padurariu enjoys herself out there, something usually not seen until the athlete is well into the throes of an NCAA career (see Ohashi, Katelyn.) It’s a party of an exercise, and a classy one, too: all that’s missing are the pearls, feather boa and cocktail poised elegantly in one elbow-length gloved hand.

On track to become Canada’s first ever three-time Olympian in women’s gymnastics, Black wasn’t far behind. The 23-year-old missed her clear hip pike Tkatchev on uneven bars, which turned out to be the difference in the all-around, but was her usual solid self everywhere else, especially on vault, where she turned in one of the best handspring front pike fulls of her career.

Never one to rest on her laurels -- this is a woman who struggled mightily on bars when she first came on the scene; today it’s one of her best events -- Black and coach Dave Kikuchi continue to mix and match skills to see what suits her best. The latest addition to her repertoire is a 2.5 twist dismount off beam, which Black hopes to upgrade to a triple by the end of the season.

Zoe Allaire-Bougie, the great 2020 hope of Montreal’s Club Gymnix, continued her ascent with the bronze medal. A solid all-around gymnast with exceptional strength and athleticism, with just a smidge more difficulty Allaire-Bougie will be capable of filling any hole in a Canadian team lineup.

The future looks bright, too: Thirteen-year-old Rebeka Groulx, who resembles Shawn Johnson, won the junior division after claiming this title as a novice last year. Groulx, who trains at Gym-Richelieu with 2016 Olympian Rose-Kaying Woo and her older sister Victoria, took the title over Clara Raposo (Manjak’s) and former Elite Canada novice champion Leah Tindale (Manjak’s). Elsewhere, twelve-year-old Alicia Wendland (Revolution) was especially impressive on vault and floor to win her age division.