The C Score (2.0)

Posts Tagged ‘2008 Jesolo Grand Prix

After a short hiatus …

Today: Britain and Italy

Britain

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.

Nicole Hibbert

Nicole Hibbert

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.

Honorable mention

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.

Italy

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.

Paola Galante

Paola Galante

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.

Honorable mention

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

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With this quadrennium winding down, and speculation still flying about who will continue — Cheng Fei? Shawn Johnson? Nastia Liukin? Anna Pavlova? Jade Barbosa? — the big question is, who is the next big thing?

I addressed some of my preliminary guesses for the Americans, who have a great crop of juniors. But The Couch Gymnast has an absolutely great round-up of some of the top gymnasts from other countries. Definitely a must-read, especially if you don’t usually follow the juniors.

Below I give my top three picks for current juniors from all of the major countries. It doesn’t include recent additions to the senior roster, who will also be major players in the next quad (people like Daria Elizarova, the 2007 junior European champion, who was bumped from the Beijing line-up to alternate).

Pretty much every gymnast on this list, however, faces one major problem: big skills with less-than-stellar execution. Nearly everyone here tends to be pretty sloppy, which is going to be a much bigger problem in the new Code, which is clearly an attempt to mitigate the effect of large skills. It’ll be interesting to see what their respect coaches do about this. Finally, although this is fairly common among juniors, their vaults lag behind their other events — here’s hoping they can all concentrate on this (especially with reference to form) a little more.

Today: Russia and Romania

Russia

1. Tatiana Nabieva (RUS)

This one’s easy. Nabieva, who won’t even be eligible for senior competition until 2010, placed first in the AA at the junior Europeans, and qualified to all of the event finals, taking gold on floor and silver on beam, vault and bars. She’s been around the international scene since 2003, at the age of 9! She’s progressed from being an adorable pixie-type gymnast to having a really graceful body type and great form. I am most impressed by her UB — she was cleaner at Europeans than Dufournet, who took first. She has great handstand positions, clean lines, great transitions, including a nice Pak. Her FX is still a little sloppy, but she nailed her double Arabian without cowboying it, and often sticks her triple twist, which at Europeans was a 2.5 twist. She’s got a pretty decent front with a half on beam and her leaps on beam are good. Her VT is probably her weakest event right now, with inconsistent form in the air (then again, she still placed second at Europeans). She’s neither way on the graceful side nor way on the powerful side, but this actually means that she’s a balanced gymnast — good tumbling and dance, maybe a la Anna Pavlova. She hasn’t been around at many other competitions — she was not, for instance, at Gymnix 2008, but in 2007 at that event she placed first in the AA and medalled in every EF, taking first on bars. This is one major AA threat.

Tatiana Nabieva at 2008 Europeans

Tatiana Nabieva at 2008 Europeans

Aliya Mustafina (RUS)

Mustafina is a dancer’s gymnast. She’s still a little immature on floor, and needs to grow into her choreography a little, but her dance already exhibits beautiful lines and hints of graceful greatness. I love gymnasts of the Shawn Johnson variety — I tend to prefer them — but Mustafina totally won me over. She needs to beef up her FX tumbling skills level, which explains a fourth-place finish on that event at Europeans, but she is amazingly graceful. I would say she will eventually have Nastia Liukin beat on this front, because I think Mustafina can manage to pull out some clean and elegant tumbling too. Because she’s a slightly less powerful gymnast, Mustafina is also not totally competitive on VT yet, in terms of constistency, where she competes a 1.5 Yurchenko. But I think she has the potential to do it like Liukin does — stuck, with perfect form in the air. On BB she shows great flexibility and has some nice strength moves. And for all the talk of her having fewer big tumbling skills, she does a standing back with a half — not too shabby. On UB, she has — unsurprisingly — nice lines, and good pirouetting skills. She has a tendency to arch in handstand though, which I think is a result of trying to make them too perfect — this happened to Liukin once, notoriously (I think in 2007 Nationals, but I could be wrong). At Europeans she qualified only to two EFs, placing fourth in both. In 2007, she was second to Nabieva at Gymnix and placed second on every event at the International Junior competition in Yokohama in 2007 (to Rebecca Bross, who swept gold in the AA and all four EFs). Overall, gorgeous gymnast.

3. Viktoriya Komova

If I were Elfi Schlegel, I would start here by mentioning how Viktoriya Komova is the daughter of Soviet gymnast Vera Kolesnikova, and therefore has loads of gymnastics DNA. Instead, let’s talk about how Komova placed third at Pacific Rim and the WOGA Classic this year. She also qualified for all four EFs at Pacific Rim, though she finished out of the medals in all of them (and the dreaded fourth in two of these). Her best event may be the vault, where she does a strong but inconsistent DTY. Her floor is not too shabby either — it includes a 1.5 twist to double Arabian and a triple twist dismount, and actual choreography that her dance actually stands up to. Again, some problems with consistency — two falls at WOGA — but if she gets rid of those, she’ll be a powerhouse. Her BB is packed with difficulty, including handspring to two layouts and a standing Arabian. She’s a high jumper too. She’s actually solid and aggressive on bars too, where she does a big piked Jaeger and a nice Geinger. A great all-around gymnast. Incidentally, she’s only thirteen.

Honorable mentions:

The tiny Anastasia Grishina is up first here because, well, she’s strong and talented and … twelve. She placed second among juniors at the 2007 Friendship Classic and sixth at Gymnix 2008. She also won the 11-14 Russian all-around competition in 2007 (none of the above three participated). At Gymnix 2008, Grishina’s biggest international event so far, she placed second on bars, fourth on beam and fifth on floor in EFs. On UB she struggles on her low-to-high transition, but she also is generally aggressive and does a high-flying Tkatchev to Pak. Even in the past year she has improved tremendously on floor, and is quite graceful and shows good flexibility, though she needs to up the difficulty a bit.

Grishina’s my pick for the biggest stand-out beyond the three I’ve already mentioned, but I’d also add Violetta Malikova, one of the Russian juniors at the Pacific Rim Championships in 2008, and Eleonora Goryunova, who placed eighth at Gymnix 2008. Malikova is a solid gymnast. On BB, she has a strong Arabian and good, light tumbling. She actually qualified to UB finals at the Pacific Rim, but after a form break on her Tkatchev to Pak and a fall on the dismount, she finished in seventh. So far, my favorite event for her is FX, where she has a strong, expressive routine, and almost always completes her twists. Goryunova is not a stand-out in terms of scores on any event quite yet, but she is competitive on all four of them, and qualified to EFs in three of these at Gymnix. But I think eventually she will be an excellent floor worker. She has superb dance and choreography, but unlike the other young Russians, also throws big skills, including a 5/2 twist to punch layout front. Incidentally, Malikova and Goryunova finished second and third, respectively, to Grishina at the Moscow Championships last year.

Finally, there are three other Russians who participated at Europeans, all of whom deserve mention: Anastasia Novikova, Anna Dementyeva, and Tatiana Solovyeva. All three placed strongly at last year’s Moscow Championships, with Novikova and Dementyeva placing second and third on vault after Nabieva, and Dementyeva taking second and third on FX and BB, respectively. Solovyeva is an excellent beam worker (though not at the level of Mustafina and Nabieva — though she did place third at Moscow Championships), and Dementyeva is actually a reasonably good bar worker.

ETA 10/7: I should also mention the sister of Mustafina, Nailya Mustafina, who placed third at Gymnix this year, and 12th at the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships. She also placed second (to Bross, suffering her sister’s fate there!) at the 2008 WOGA Classic, beating Komova, who placed third. She is also only 12, but will be eligible for senior competition for the 2012 Olympics. She is more compact and stronger than her sister. On BB, she does a back handspring to back with a full. Despite falling on this skill at WOGA, she wound up with a 15.600. She also outscored Bross on FX. Her floor is unbelievable, especially for her age (great combination twists).

The Russian team:

This was the easiest ranking to do because the Russian juniors, led by Nabieva, are unbelievably strong. These gymnasts are not only talented, they have international experience, which makes a direct national ranking less important. Nabieva has routinely beaten Mustafina, mainly because her difficulty levels are higher, although actually — and especially compared to many other juniors — Nabieva has quite good form. The one problem I can see is that there are not as many Russian juniors floating around internationally as there are even Romanians. Either way, these three are excellent — all operating at least on some events at a senior level. Perhaps more importantly, the junior Russians participate internally in a number of competitions that include things like compulsories and work on a single bar, which give them a lot of work on basics at a high level of competition that other girls in other countries simply don’t have. Providing they stay healthy, I think we might need to acknowledge the resurgence of the “Russian threat,” especially if people like Semenova and Afanasyeva stick around. They also have a talented crop of very young juniors, including Grishina, who will be of the perfect age for 2012.

Romania

1. Amelia Racea:

Racea’s one of the only juniors of note on the Romanian team right now, which is a major problem. She placed fourth at this year’s Europeans, taking second on balance beam and third on floor. She’s not the most graceful of gymnasts, but she’s got pretty big skills. Her floor reminds me of that of Daniela Druncea, which means good tumbling with light, stuck landings, and questionable dance. Her beam is similar, composed largely of acrobatic skills and fewer dance elements (this will be problematic with the new code). Floor and beam are her best events, but she’s decent on vault too. In fact, in addition to taking the all-around title in Category II (1993-1995 births) in the Romanian junior nationals last year in September, she took gold on all three of those events. On UB she is Romanian — by which I mean low-scoring — but, in the only routine I’ve seen of hers (from Jesolo 2008), she actually had decent form and good handstand positions. UB is the only event in which she did not win gold — she took silver — last year, where her score also beat that of the Category I winner Diana Chelaru (see below). At the most recent Romanian Championships in Ploeisti, in July, she placed second to Chelaru on vault and second on beam. Unfortunately, like the other Romanians I’ll be discussing, she has limited international experience — in fact, it’s pretty much entirely from Europeans. Fortunately, though, she is on the younger side for this quad, so she still has time.

Amelia Racea at the 2008 Europeans

Amelia Racea at the 2008 Europeans

2. Ana Porgras

Porgras placed ninth at Europeans, and second to Diana Chelaru in Category I last year. She also had the highest score in team finals of any Romanian at Jesolo, and placed eighth (the highest Romanian placement) in the all-around. Porgras placed second on floor and first on UB and BB in the Junior Nationals in 2007, with a massive 16.450 on BB (she also won BB event finals at this year’s Europeans, with a 15.700). Her floor is solid, and I really appreciate that she flies high (instead of far) on her twists. My standards for Romanian bars are tremendously low right now (see below) so I’m quite pleased that she has decent form and only the occasional loss of tightness in her back. She’s not the biggest daredevil on BB, but she does the really nice Romanian-style acrobatics, combined with a fair amount of grace. She does one of the best aerials to arabesques of anyone, junior or senior, on the Romanian team (even though I’m not a huge fan of that skill). She looks like a senior on this apparatus. It’s not clear to me, however, where she was during Championships in early summer 2008. Here’s hoping she’s not seriously injured.

3. Diana Chelaru:

Chelaru was last year’s Category I champion in Romania, though she later scratched on event finals because of an injury. This year at the Romanian Championships, she placed first on vault and qualified to the other three event finals, proceeding then to place dead last in two of them. Not sure what was going on there. Chelaru has little international experience, which is a major problem. She actually was not at Europeans, and did not place at Jesolo. She was, however, the third highest-scoring Romanian at that competition in team finals, after Racea and Porgras, and was the only Romanian to compete at DTY. Presumably, the other juniors will be updating their vaults eventually, and I’m thinking Chelaru could go up to an Amanar. Chelaru’s also solid on beam and floor — though she needs to clean up her landings on the latter — and is prepared to compete on all four events, which is unfortunately more than I can say for the other Romanians below. Her weakest event, unsurprisingly, is bars — she scored only a 13.500 on that event at last year’s Nationals, and had major errors plus an A-score of 5.000 that gave her an 11.200 on that event at Jesolo.

Honorable mentions:

There are some interesting Romanians lurking around, but like the three I have already mentioned, they have limited international experience.

Larisa Iordache won Category III (1995-1997 births) last year. She’s tiny, and extremely young (she turned 12 in June), so it’s hard to say how she will hold up, but so far she shows amazing potential. We didn’t see too much of her at Nationals this year, but she did have the second-highest overall score on her Dinamo team during team finals (after Elena Chiric, a senior). She’s also among the more polished of these gymnasts, with especially nice form — and flexibility — on floor (where she placed second in 2007) and beam (first). She actually reminds me of a young Andreea Raducan.

Loredana Sabau, who placed third in Category I last year, was also strong, taking first on floor and vault and second on beam and bars. At this year’s Nationals, however, she only placed in one event final — third on bars — though she did compete respectably for Deva in team finals. She has not really shined yet in international competition, with a disastrous 11.700 on bars (B-score in the fives — she lost her swing on a giant, ending in a dead hang not once but twice) keeping her out of finals in Jesolo, and a sixth-place finish at Europeans (with only one qualification to EFs, on floor). Honestly, her floor is pretty terrible right now on dance, but she has good form in tumbling, particularly twists. Good form (and Dominique Moceanu’s mount!) but a lot of balance checks on BB.

Finally I would mention Diana Trenca and Madalina Neagu. Trenca placed second to Racea in Category II last year, and took two silvers, one bronze and one gold (on bars) in event finals. This year, at Nationals, she took second on bars among all juniors. In fact, I would say she’s probably the best bars worker among Romania’s juniors (though she had a major mistake at Jesolo. Neagu is a floor specialist, though she also placed second all-around in Category III last year. She has won both FX finals she has competed in Romania, and apparently got the biggest reaction from the crowd of any performance at Junior Nationals in 2007. She’s dynamic and only needs a little work on expressiveness. She’s also no slouch on other events, placing in EFs on both beam and bars (though the bars thing is relative).

The Romanian team:

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Romanian team, and I am seriously concerned about them. To be fair, their juniors rarely see the light of day before they become seniors, so the lack of international experience may not be so terrible. On the other hand, their juniors are exhibiting the Druncea symptom slightly — precise, big skills with almost no style (exceptions include many of the ones listed here, including Iordache and Neagu). The biggest problem here is going to be bars. Recently a big problem for this team has been that they have not kept up with the trends in bars. But from what I’ve seen of these juniors, the problems go much deeper — in Jesolo and at the Pre-Olympic Youth Cup in Bergisch-Gladbach (GER) we saw major form break after form break, falls, dead hangs, extra swings — and this from the girls I have mentioned here, including Neagu and Sabau. Really bad news.

Still to come: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, United States

Up next: France and China

This L.A. Times piece from back in August asks who the next big thing will be for women’s gymnastics.

Of course, the spin they put on it is that a number of L.A. girls are in the running. Two of the girls mentioned in this post are Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro (both from All-Olympica in L.A.), both of whom are obvious contenders for 2012. Larson was old enough this year, made it to trials, but had a stress fracture (and, in all honesty, didn’t contribute so much that she should have been put on the team). Shapiro was too young. (Mattie Larson will be on the old side in 2012, at 20 — but same age as Alicia Sacramone and Chellsie Memmel this year.)

But who else? My comments on Larson and Shapiro, plus a few more:

Rebecca Bross
This is an obvious one. The girl was junior all-around champion at Visa Championships in 2007, and took first on three of the four event finals (the only event on which she wasn’t first was beam, where she took second). On floor, her choreography is great (it is WOGA after all), and she handles some pretty mature dance beautifully. She also does a lot more twisting than other gymnasts (her last pass isn’t a double pike!), which reminds me of Nastia Liukin, except I think that Bross is a better tumbler, and manages to be graceful even in the non-dance segments of her routine (can’t say that for Liukin).

Chelsea Davis
Not the best timing for Davis, who will be 19 for the 2012 Olympics. On the other hand, she was fourth at Nationals in 2007, sixth at Jesolo, and first at the 2008 Gymnix competition (senior), although frankly her only other true competition was Mattie Larson, who placed second, and Kristina Vaculik, who only competed two events. And, of course, she was eighth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. On the other hand, her A-scores aren’t the highest, especially given that she’s among the oldest in this group.

Mattie Larson
Larson will be 20 for the 2012 Olympics, which is not ideal. Then again, she is strong and graceful, and had a good chance of making the team before her injury. On the other hand, her contributions weren’t staggeringly amazing, with a DTY and only a 5.8 A-score (last I checked) on bars.

Samantha Shapiro
People love Shapiro, and with good reasons. Like Larson, she is graceful but also strong. Her bars and beam are both really high-difficulty, and will only get better. Shapiro’s weakest event is the vault, but that’s less of a concern because we need help other places more. One of those places is bars, and Shapiro is at All-Olympia, which has a great coaching staff for bars. I think she’s a candidate to stick it out, even though her age isn’t ideal.

Jordyn Wieber
She has some growing up to do, but she’s already done quite a bit since she burst onto the national stage at the age of 10 (although she wasn’t on the national team until 2006). At the age of 12, she placed 3rd in the all-around at Nationals. Her floor is not very mature yet, but I think part of that has to do with her club (Geddert’s) choreography. Her bars are actually quite clean even though she’s a pretty powerful gymnast (the type you might expect to be sloppy on bars). And I think she could eventually update to a 2 1/2-twisting Yurchenko. And she’ll be the perfect age for the 2012 Olympics.

I actually don’t have the highest hopes for people like Bridget Sloan or Davis simply because of their ages. Of course, Memmel and Sacramone proved that you can be 20 and still make it onto the U.S. team, but then their Olympics didn’t turn out quite as they had imagined. And then there’s the fact that the next big thing for four years down the road doesn’t usually surface quite this early.

I’ll discuss this more later, but our big problem right now is obviously bars, and we need someone who really stands out on that event. Actually, we need at least two people, if these Olympics prove anything.

Bross is really up there for me right now. I can’t wait to see her in senior competition. Here’s her floor from the 2007 Pan Ams:


About The C Score

First there was A score and B score, now D score and E score. Where is the C score? Right here. In the form of my random thoughts about women's artistic gymnastics.

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