Up-and-coming juniors Part III: Britain and Italy
Posted October 22, 2008on:
After a short hiatus …
Today: Britain and Italy
1. Nicole Hibbert
Hibbert has been improving steadily over the past year or so — her first as an international elite, culminating in this year’s first-place finish in both the British Junior Championships (June) and the English Junior Championships (held in early October). At British Championships, she placed first on both vault and beam, and third on floor. Notably, Hibbert scored higher than any other competitor (a la Shawn Johnson in 2006). Competing against seniors, she took fifth in the all-around at this year’s British Teams. Internally, in fact, Hibbert had competed quite well in past years, placing second in 2006 and third in 2007 at British Espoirs (the level below international elite, perhaps equivalent to the American “elite” status, and obviously equivalent to France’s Espoir program), where she also medalled in three EFs. At Junior Europeans, she placed 23rd after a fall on beam, but qualified for the VT and FX finals, placing fourth on VT. Her other international competition has been fairly limited, but she did place first at the 2007 GB vs. Switzerland friendly meet (the British, unsurprisingly, swept the top three spots). She placed fifth two years ago at the GB vs. France friendly meet, and fourth this year after Youna Dufournet (FR), Danusia Francis and Jennifer Pinches (below). Hibbert is an extremely powerful gymnast, and is quite tidy, but needs to do some maturing in terms of performance. One problem is on FX, where she does a double Arabian and a double full-in, with a nice twisting combination pass and good turns, but has terrible choreography. I actually like her on UB, where she does a huge Tkatchev and a Shapashnikova, with a double front dismount (major upgrades since 2007). Actually, it’s not only her dismount that reminds me of Chellsie Memmel on this event — she’s strong and aggressive. On VT she does a 1.5 Yurchenko and a what I believe is a piked Omelianchik. I’m sure she’ll be upgrading to a DTY. BB is maybe Hibbert’s biggest problem area — she totally fell apart on this appartus at Europeans, falling three times. She does a solid set though, including a standing back tuck and a standing back pike, and certainly has proven with her later medals on this apparatus that she is no slouch.
2. Jennifer Pinches
Hibbert and Pinches were really close in this ranking, especially given that Pinches outplaced Hibbert at Europeans. On the other hand, Pinches placed only fourth at the most recent British Championships and, curiously, was not present at the English Championships, both of which Hibbert won. Pinches is really an amazing all-around gymnast. She trains with Beth Tweddle at the dominant City of Liverpool club, consistently the first-place finisher at the British Teams championships, after moving from The Academy. Pinches’ biggest international competition by far was at this year’s European Championships, in which she placed a very respectable eighth, though she did not qualify to any event finals. She also placed second in the all-around in a 2012 Olympic hopefuls even in the Czech Republic, and third all-around in a Great Britain vs. France friendly meet after Youna Dufournet (see this post) and Danusia Francis (see below). As an Espoir-level gymnast, Pinches was not as flawless, taking 15th her first year and 9th in her second. That same year, however, she placed first in the UK School Games, a major competition for pre-international elite gymnasts. This lead-up culminated in a first-place finish at the English Championships in 2007. This year at her first appearance at British Championships, she placed fourth, behind both Hibbert (above) and Francis (below). However, she went on to medal in every EF, with gold on UB. It’s not clear why Pinches wasn’t present at English Championships, though I do know that she is currently in training for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival, and was away for part of August in Beijing as part of a delegation of young athletes sent by the British Olympic Committee to observe the Olympians in training (a big endorsement by the BOC). Pinches is known probably best for her floor and beam, although she tends to place quite well on bars too. On beam, she’s a smooth worker, but needs some serious upgrades. She may have a Shawn Johnson-type problem on bars — the inner part of her routine is extremely clean (except a questionable Tkatchev) but with not the highest difficulty, but IIRC, she can do a double-twisting double dismount! Some upgrades, and she would be hugely competitive. On VT, she gets a good block off the horse and some good air time, but needs to upgrade (like almost every other junior). I like her best on FX: she is a precise tumbler, and does a beautiful double Arabian. She’s not at all a bad twister either, and does a nice double twist and a 2 1/2 (I think) in combination. The choreography could stand to be upgraded. I think this girl could be a decent AA threat, though it’s not clear yet whether she’s the one who can take Britain to the next level.
3. Danusia Francis
Francis placed seventeenth in the all-around at Junior Europeans and 2nd at the GB vs. France friendly meet in March, behind only Youna Dufournet. In internal competition, Francis was notably the second-place finisher at British Championships this year, and was the 2007 British Espoir champion. She competed solidly as early as 2006 (at the age of 11), when she was the British Espoir silver medalist and the British Teams champion. Overall, she has been at the top of the British competition in her age group for quite some time — even as far back as 2003, she was the Level 4 Champion. (For American readers, the levels work differently in Britain. Level 4 is the equivalent, skill-wise, of maybe Level 7. Level 3 is higher than Level 4.) I would say that her two best events are floor and bars. On bars, she does a really great Jaeger, and has been known to do a full-twisting double back dismount. She has good amplitude, but some form deductions (particularly leg separations on her shootover). On floor, she’s clearly powerful, and does a good double pike mount and a 2 1/2-twist dismount. Her main problem is the choreography, which is terrible (the music is Flight of the Bumblebee, which could be OK in theory). She’s quite wobbly on beam, although I haven’t seen much of it. On VT, she currently does a decent full-twisting Yurchenko.
Niamh Rippin also represented the British team at 2008 Junior Europeans, where she placed fifteenth in the all-around (above Francis and Hibbert). For the time being, at least, she is — like the others I have mentioned above — competitive with juniors from big gymnastics teams, and notably the Romanians (of course, as I have mentioned, the Romanian juniors are quite weak overall right now). At this year’s British Championships, Rippin placed third in the junior division, behind Hibbert and Francis and above Pinches, and qualified to all four EFs. Rippin’s best event is floor, and she is also decent on bars, and qualified into finals at British Championships with the highest score on both events (she also took first on floor and third on bars at last year’s British Espoir Nationals). Ironically, she didn’t medal in either event in EFs, but did take the bronze on both vault and beam. On FX, Rippin’s first pass is a double Arabian front, and she does a combination pass of a 1 1/2 to triple twist, which is totally impressive. I absolutely love this girl’s floor. She has good dance, some big tumbling (bigger than any other junior on the British team), and with a current A-score of 5.8 with some upgrading and tidying up, she could really contend on this event. On UB, she does a big Geinger and a nice Pak, though she needs to work on consistency a bit. Rippin has some consistency issues on BB too, but she does currently have an A-score of 6.0. If it weren’t for consistency issues, I would likely have ranked Rippin higher, because I think she is one of the most promising gymnasts coming out of Britain.
The only other British junior I would mention is Jordan Lipton (Rippin’s teammate), the fifth-place finisher at the GB vs. FR friendly and at British Championships this year. She went on to take the bronze on bars in Championships EFs and placed fifth on beam. Lipton was also the 2006 Espoir champion, and is a two-time Scottish champion. She has been on the Scottish senior team (not sure how that works) since the age of ten, when she helped Scotland win gold at the (little-known) Northern European championships. On UB, she does three big releases, a Geinger, a Tkatchev, and a toe-on Tkatchev, and does a full-twisting double front dismount.
The British team
I’m pretty into these girls, and I particularly like the styles of both Pinches and Rippin. I don’t see them contending against the really big names, but then again, many of them currently have AA scores that outshine those of the Romanian juniors (who, Nicolae Forminte has said, are really behind, so perhaps now that they are all moved to Deva, they will catch up). I think that they will compete well against the second-tier gymnastics nations, like the Italians and the French. Note for instance that the British team beat France — by three points — at the most recent GB vs. France friendly match (in which the above girls took individual places 2 through 5). I suspect that they will probably perform considerably better as a team than did the current crop of British seniors.
1. Paola Galante
Galante has been attracting the attention of international gymnastics observers since the 2008 Junior Europeans, where she placed fifth, and took fifth on bars. She is known for her immense flexibility and her gorgeous turns, and has competed extremely well against current Italian seniors. At 2008 Italian Nationals, in which juniors competed with seniors, Galante took third in the all-around, first on bars, and sixth on floor. She also qualified to event finals third on vault and floor. Internationally, beyond Europeans, she placed third at Jesolo 2008, and took second at the 2007 Lugano Trophy meet behind Ceralesca Patrascu and in front of Youna Dufournet (my choice for top French junior) and 2008 Olympian Gabriela Dragoi of Romania. Perhaps most interestingly, she placed fifth all-around at the May 2008 Friendship International Exchange Competition with the United States, where she beat, among others Corrie Lothrop. She also placed ninth on beam and took third on bars, above Lothrop but also Ivana Hong and Mattie Larson. As I mentioned, Galante’s especially well-known for her turns. She does two Memmel turns on FX, where she is very expressive but needs to seriously upgrade her tumbling. On BB, she does a 1 1/2 leg-up turn, a switch leap to back tuck, and a nice straddle handstand mount with a full turn. Curiously, she actually has significant form problems on leaps, particularly on BB. As far as I know, Galante competes only up to a Yurchenko full in competition, but then she’s not known as a power athlete. Her best event is certainly UB, where she has a 7.1 A score and has some great skills, including a back clear piked circle to a reverse Hecht straddled to hang (F value), and a decent Tkatchev. Unfortunately, her B score does not match up to her difficulty score (which is not uncommon amongst juniors). Galante is very different from Vanessa Ferrari, the 2006 World Champion (not without some controversy), but she may have the chops to be as successful as Ferrari, or even more so. Certainly she’s been attracting a lot of attention for her grace, lines, and flexibility.
2. Elisabetta Preziosa
Preziosa also competed at the 2008 Europeans, though she finished only in 19th place and did not qualify to any EFs. She also competed at Jesolo, where she placed third, but besides that does not have much international experience to speak of. She consistently places just behind Galante, including at nationals, where she placed fourth in the all-around and on floor, and first on beam (recall that seniors, including the Italian Olympians, competed). Preziosa is great on BB, where she an extremely light lander and also displays good flexibility. She does a nice switch leap to back tuck, a very pretty scale, and a decent leg-up full turn. She needs to upgrade the dismount, which is currently a double back. Like Galante, she displays good expressiveness and flexibility on FX, where she does a leg-up double turn, and has been known to perform a Memmel turn. She also does a quite nice layout full to front layout. Although she has some serious deductions on UB, she does a good Jaeger and a Pak, and, full twisting double back dismount. (Her A score, however, is only 5.4.) Preziosa is not unlike Galante style-wise, but she needs to boost the A scores. I think she has the best chance on beam, where her A score is currently 6.3.
3. Andrea La Spada
La Spada placed a respectable seventh at Europeans, where she also took fifth on floor, her best event. She also tied Samantha Shapiro to come in fifth at Jesolo. La Spada took second on floor at Nationals, where she only competed in two events (she qualified to beam EFs in sixth). She is very precise on that event, where she does a clean double pike and 3/2 and 5/2 twists. Her combination pass is a front layout to layout front with a full. La Spada definitely needs to upgrade and clean up her UB, though she does a front double pike, which is at least nice for being somewhat rare. La Spada is far more powerful than either of the above two, landing high on her double pike and taking her twists very high. I appreciate that. I haven’t actually see her on BB, but that is supposedly her second-best event.
Serena Licchetta is a more compact gymnast than Galante and Preziosa, but also has good flexibility (and also does a Memmel turn on floor — it’s apparently a requirement). Licchetta is not up there with these two, however, at least results-wise. Licchetta also competed at Europeans, and placed tenth at Jesolo and sixth at Lugano. At the Friendship Competition in Texas, she placed fourth on FX (thought out of third by over a point). She placed eighth at Nationals. She’s Ferrari-esque on BB — even down to the planche mount — where she does a standing back pike and a 2 1/2 twist dismount, but is sloppy overall. She does a mount to immediate Jaeger on UB, but I’ve seen her fall on it more than once, and she has some pretty major form deductions. She also has form problems on FX, though she is a decent twister. (She has a more peppy style than Galante or Preziosa, with cute if annoying music.)
Finally, a quick mention of Eleonora Rando, who competed on both the European and Jesolo teams. Rando has not been particularly competitive overall (she was tenth at nationals, and placed seventh on floor, her best event). But I actually really like her floor, which is precise, and is the only Italian floor routine among juniors to include two double saltos (piked and tucked). She is also not inflexible, and does both a Memmel turn and a leg-up full turn. She could be a good specialist (though given the size of its team, Italy really needs more all-arounders).
The Italian team
As far as I know, the Italian team currently has seven juniors, most of whom I have mentioned. As a team, they placed fifth at Europeans, and took second at Jesolo. Overall, they compete extremely well against their country’s own seniors. Though the Italian seniors are not the strongest competition, the fact that these juniors compete well against them bodes well. Many of their AA scores wind up in the higher 50s, which is more than can be said for many of the Romanian juniors, for instance. If the Italians can keep improving, I can see them actually being fairly competitive. (They have already been fairly competitive even against the strong USA juniors, particularly for what is not known to be the strongest gymnastics nation.) It’d be nice to see Italy move up a bit more in the team rankings. Galante certainly has the ability to contend for the AA if she continues upgrading and stays healthy. To be continued …
Up next: Australia and Canada