After the Senior Cup competition Friday night, the Junior gymnasts came together for their own face-off on Saturday. The true stars of this meet, which included top players from USA, Russia, Italy, Canada and Japan, these younger athletes were ready to show off their skills and prove their worth to their respective teams as we enter a new Olympic cycle.
Just as with their Senior counterparts, the first day of competition, named Junior Cup, serves as both team and all-around finals and qualifications for the event finals on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, the US girls came out on top with a final score of 166.603 despite counting three falls into their team total. Starting on beam, the team of Emma Malabuyo, Maile O’Keefe, Gabby Perea and Sunisa Lee had quite a shaky rotation with only O’Keefe hitting her routine for a score in the mid-14s, while both Perea and Malabuyo counted falls for scores in the low-13s and low-12s, respectively. However, the Americans were able to show their mental toughness, recovering well on floor with three hit performances, receiving scores in the high-13s from Malabuyo, Perea and O’Keefe. Next on vault, they continued their streak with three solid DTYs from Malabuyo, O’Keefe and Perea, all posting in the mid-14s range, and finally on bars, they counted a mid-14 for Perea’s super solid routine and two mid-13s from Malabuyo and Lee who had some errors in their exercises. In the end, despite some mistakes and falls from all four girls, they still managed to finish on top, showing once again that team USA is still the one to beat in this new generation of gymnasts. While they might be lacking the consistency and confidence of their older teammates, they’re all very young and those things come with time so no one should be worried with a slightly off performance from girls who won’t be fighting for spots on big teams for at least another year or two.
While the Americans winning gold was basically a given from the start, the silver medalists were actually a very pleasant surprise, with the Italians girls (Giorgia Villa, Elisa Iorio and the D’Amato twins, Alice and Asia) giving it their all and posting 164.038, just over two points behind team USA. On vault they actually surpassed the US thanks to three very strong DTYs from Villa, Iorio and Asia D’Amato, which received scores in the mid to high-14s, while on bars they once again counted three super hit routines, with Iorio posting in the low-14s and Villa and Alice D’Amato scoring in the high-13s. Unfortunately, they had some issues on beam with both twins having mistakes and scoring in the low to mid-12s, after a hit routine from Villa for a score in the mid-13s, and lastly on floor, Villa, Iorio and Alice D’Amato all had hit performances, posting in the low to mid-13s. Coming in with very promising basics and quite respectable difficulty, these four 2003-born girls are set to continue the rise of the Italian gymnastics program throughout the next quad and should become great stars at least at the European level. Hopefully they can all keep on evolving in the sport and reach the Senior ranks successfully, providing team Italy with the most talented generation in its History.
The bronze medal eventually belonged to the young Russian team of Arina Strukova, Daria Belousova, Elena Gerasimova and Irina Komnova who scored a total of 157.405 after trading places with the Americans and being the most consistent team, not counting any falls into their final score. Beginning on vault, they counted two mid-13s for Strukova’s and Belousova’s FTYs, as well as a high-12 for Komnova’s front tuck vault, while on bars they showed solid exercises albeit with low difficulty for two scores in the low-13s from Belousova and Gerasimova and a mid-12 from Strukova. Beam was also quite successful with just minor wobbles on their routines, resulting in two scores in the low to mid-13s from Strukova and Belousova and a high-12 from Komnova, and floor was equally good with all three cute routines hit for two scores in the mid-13s for Strukova and Belousova and a mid-12 for Gerasimova. While this was the most consistent team of the meet, the Russians still showed quite a low level of difficulty which hindered their results and kept them so far from the two top finishers. However, most of this team won’t become Seniors until 2020 and boosting enormous difficulty at this point in time would only increase the risk of injury and burn-out. Therefore, gradual progression is key for these young athletes who still have a long way ahead of them so that they can reach their full potential when the time comes.
Outside the podium were four more teams, three of these representing Canada. In fourth place was the general Canadian team with Ana Padurariu, Lucia Jakab, Victoria Jurca and Zoé Allaire-Bourgie who only managed to score 153.804 after mistakes on multiple pieces, while in fifth were Japan’s Marin Mune, Mikako Serita and Soyoka Hanawa with 152.537 mostly due to low difficulty scores. Canada East with Éloise Monat, Jillian Langille, Megan DiPietro and Myrelle Morin was sixth with a total of 147.438 and finally Canada West with Charlotte Innes, Elizabeth Holmstrom, Imogen Paterson and Quinn Skrupa was seventh with 143.469.
As for the all-around standings, the USA once again topped the field with Maile O’Keefe taking gold with 55.934 and Gabby Perea taking silver with 55.700. On vault, O’Keefe showed a DTY with a hop back for a score in the mid-14s, followed by a disappointing bars routine where she unfortunately counted a fall on her Ricna for just 12.900. Still, she was able to deliver on her best event, beam where she was the highest scorer of the entire competition, showing fantastic work, including two acro series of three elements: first a daring side aerial to LOSO to LOSO and then a BHS to BHS to two feet layout, and finishing things off with a solid double pike dismount for 14.600. Finally on floor, she had yet another hit performance with successful tumbles and leaps for a high-13.
Second place finisher Gabby Perea also showed a solid DTY on vault for a score of 14.400, which she was able to match after an incredible uneven bars performance, including an inbar full to Maloney to Ricna, a van Leeuwen and a double layout dismount with just a step back. Unfortunately, she too was forced to count a fall for her total, this time on her layout to two feet on beam, bringing her score down to the low-13s despite a relatively solid routine, where she once again hit her standing full perfectly. Lastly on floor, she showed a tucked full-in to open, followed by a front tuck through to triple twist, 1.5 twist through to 2.5 twists and double pike dismount for a 13.800, tying her teammate O’Keefe for the top score on the event.
Quite surprisingly for some gymfans, the bronze medal did not belong to an American (which could sweep the medals since there was no two-per-country rule) but rather to 2003-baby Giorgia Villa of Italy with a total of 55.502 after another fantastic performance. Like the two top medalists, Villa also vaulted a DTY, showing very clean execution and a small hop back on the landing for a huge 14.734. On bars she impressed with a toe-on to Maloney to Tkachev connection and a stuck full-in dismount, maintaining the recent trend of great bar workers among the Italian Juniors and scoring in the high-13s. Beam was another hit routine, posting in the mid-13s after a round-off to tuck full (!) series, a double turn and a 2.5 twist dismount, while on floor she received a similar score for her entertaining performance that included a triple turn, a tucked full-in, a front double twist, a triple twist and a double tuck dismount.
Outside the podium, rounding-up the top 8 were Emma Malabuyo in fourth with 54.135, Asia D’Amato in fifth with 53.934, Elisa Iorio in sixth with 53.902, Alice D’Amato in seventh with 53.668 and Daria Belousova in eighth with 53.268.
Just as with the Senior athletes, Sunday was also time for event finals for the Juniors who had placed in the top 8 scores on each apparatus. Unsurprisingly, the USA were the dominant force of this competition and won 8 out of 8 possible medals, placing both of its finalists on each event on the respective podium. On vault, Emma Malabuyo won gold with an average of 14.388 after a DTY with a hop and a solid FTY, followed by teammate Maile O’Keefe in second place with 14.100 after performing the same two vaults but showing a few errors on both. The bronze medal eventually went to Italian Asia D’Amato who received an average of 13.975 for yet another DTY + FTY vault pair albeit with some low landings and steps.
In the bars finals, Gabby Perea once again proved that she’s one of the best of her generation, posting a great 14.600 after a Maloney to Ricna to pak and a double layout dismount with just a step forward to capture the gold medal. Her teammate Sunisa Lee managed to recover from a lackluster qualifications performance and hit her routine to place second with 14.125, showing two incredible release connections of Nabieva to pak and Maloney to Gienger. Lastly, Elisa Iorio took the bronze with 13.725 for another successful bars performance from the young Italians, including a Ricna to pak, a Endo to Endo full and a creative double front half-out dismount.
On beam, Gabby Perea managed to add yet another gold medal to her collection after posting a 13.825 for a solid routine that featured an excellent standing full once more, as well as a great BHS to BHS to layout series. Surprisingly the silver medal belonged to the relatively unknown Zoé Allaire-Bourgie who received a 13.575 after a very clean performance albeit with lower difficulty than most of her opponents. In third place was Maile O’Keefe with 12.575 after counting a fall on her LOSO and a big wobble on her switch half. Despite counting heavy mistakes, O’Keefe still managed to reach the podium since everyone else in the final also had errors in their performances and her high difficulty eventually helped her medal here.
In the last final of the day, floor, Maile O’Keefe was able to redeem herself from the beam final and win another gold medal, which she shared with teammate Gabby Perea after both scored 13.675. Both showed powerful tumbles, as well as beautiful leaps and choreography, with O’Keefe presenting a double arabian and a 1.5 twist through to 2.5 and Perea showing a tucked full-in and a front tuck through to triple twist as their most difficult passes. In third place was Canadian star Ana Padurariu who finally got a medal here with a score of 13.500 after a relatively underwhelming competition in general.
As in previous years, this competition served mostly to give the younger gymnasts some international experience before their Senior years and all eyes were set on the Junior divisions, which featured top teams like the US and Russia, as well as the emerging super power of the Italian girls. While things were far from perfect with most athletes counting falls in their routines and others still struggling with higher levels of difficulty, this was first and foremost an opportunity for these girls to perform on a big arena and get used to the pressure of international competitions, with results being the least important thing at the moment. Nonetheless, the Americans and especially the Italians managed to impress the audience with their great routines and difficult skills and should become crucial players for their respective teams in the near future, ensuring that the next generation of gymnasts is here and ready to take over their countries’ programs. Hopefully they all manage to stay healthy and keep improving on their skills and pretty soon we will see them at the biggest international meets in the World.
Full results here.