2014 was such a great year for rising talent, we had the most difficult task in the world when attempting to narrow it down for the purposes of this article. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, take a look at some of our favorite young gymnasts making names for themselves as seniors in the sport.
1. Noémi Makra, Hungary
Noémi became a senior in 2013, and technically landed on our radar with her 14th place all-around finish at World Championships. Though she unfortunately missed out on the all-around final at this year’s Worlds after a fall on beam in qualifications, she had some great success early on, picking up the bronze on bars and gold on beam at the Cottbus World Cup, and then the silver on bars at the Osijek World Cup. She finished 8th on vault at Europeans and then swept the gold medals at the Hungarian Championships. Dorina Boczogo has been relatively unchallenged as Hungary’s best since her senior debut in 2008, so the rise of Makra will definitely add some spice into their nation’s program, especially as they begin to battle for a spot in Rio.
2. Laura Waem, Belgium
Like Noemi, Laura put her name on the map after landing in the all-around final as a first-year senior at last year’s World Championships. Also like Noemi, she will join a two-time Olympic veteran – Gaelle Mys – in leading her team this quad. In 2014, she had an incredibly consistent season; with two falls, she still managed to become the Belgian silver all-around medalist, and even when she didn’t land on the podium, she averaged a 54.574 internationally at meets that included Beaumont en Veron in France, the Novara Cup in Italy, and European Championships, where she helped her team to a 7th place finish. At this year’s Worlds, she qualified 24th into the all-around final, and overall showed a ton of promise for the future of Belgian gymnastics on the international scene.
3. Julie Kim Sinmon, Brazil
Brand new Brazilian seniors Rebeca Andrade and Flavia Saraiva have dominated the conversation about Brazil’s future, but in their wake, Julie Kim Sinmon has been quite a bit unfairly left in the dust. She didn’t have a great start to her year, falling multiple times at the WOGA Classic in February, but by the time Brazil’s Championships rolled around this summer, she began to display a true prowess on beam, where she really shines. She finished 7th in the all-around at Pan Ams, tying teammate Daniele Hypolito with a 54.1 (about eight full points higher than her WOGA debut!), and then earned bronze on beam with a 14.0 for her lovely and solid set. With a little bit of work, she could be a huge deal for Brazil as they prepare for the Olympics on their home turf.
4. Bai Yawen, China
Was there any more perfect story than Nanning-born Bai Yawen unexpectedly winning the silver World Championships medal on beam in her hometown?! With a mediocre performance at Chinese Championships in May and a mostly rough showing at the Asian Games just weeks before Worlds, only the die-hard Bai Yawen fans had high hopes for her at Worlds. But even after she stepped up with a gorgeous beam routine in qualifications, the Chinese coaches didn’t give her a spot in team finals and almost swapped her out of event finals, not trusting her to stay consistent. But Bai slayed in finals, earning the silver medal with a massive 15.033, less than a tenth behind champion Simone Biles. It was the feel-good underdog story of the year, and she can only get better from here.
5. The Fearsome Kiwis
From a country that didn’t qualify a single gymnast into the Olympics in 2012 to one that brought an entire team to World Championships last year, New Zealand deserves a ton of praise for their total turnaround. The small nation made a ton of strides in 2014, including an historic vault silver medal for Courtney McGregor at Pac Rims (she competed the country’s very first DTY). In addition to McGregor’s hardware, Charlotte Sullivan and Brittany Robertson qualified into international finals, the team put up a respectable fight even in the face of several major injuries at Commonwealth Games, and junior Millie Williamson beat out Australian juniors for Oceania’s spot at the Youth Olympic Games. Though they missed the cutoff to qualify as a team for 2015 Worlds by about ten points due to lingering injuries and other setbacks, this young team – all of their seniors aside from Anna Tempero were born between 1997 and 1998 – had a ton of heart and with a bit more experience, should definitely challenge in the next quad.
6. Claire Martin, France
There is a quiet elegance to Claire, who doesn’t necessarily receive the highest scores for her performances – in fact, she didn’t win any medals all season until her gold-winning beam performance at Élite Massilia in November. She’s lovely and fluid in all of her movements on beam and floor, and for such a young gymnast (she turned 16 during European Championships), has displayed a great knack for artistry in addition to a knack for excellent technique. The skills aren’t super difficult, but training and focus will help there while her attention to detail and the quality of her performance is something that can’t be taught.
7. Claudia Fragapane, Great Britain
She’s been called a sparkplug, a firecracker, and a “pocket rocket” (yeah, that’s a weird one) by gymnastics commentators throughout the world, and Claudia is just getting started. While her senior debut in 2013 was a bit underwhelming, she had a brilliant rise last year, especially with her dominating performance at the Commonwealth Games this summer. She’s a powerful vaulter, a fierce tumbler, a consistent all-arounder…and most importantly, a team player. At European Championships, she contributed two big scores to the team’s impressive silver medal finish, she led her team to gold at the CWGs, and though there were some mistakes at Worlds, Claudia qualified into three individual finals in addition to helping her team to 6th place. She should continue to be an absolute superstar for her team in the future, and we can’t wait to see her rise!
8. Lavinia Marongiu, Italy
Lavinia definitely wasn’t on the radar for even the sharpest gym pundits this year, especially after not making it on to the European Championships team for her country in the spring. However, injuries and illnesses brought her to the forefront of Italian competition, and as the need for her routines grew, the better she began to perform. Lavinia was the bronze all-around medalist at Italian Championships, reached a 54.250 at the Novara Cup, and earned a second bronze, this time on beam, at the Golden League meet in the month before Worlds. By this point, adding her to the team heading to Nanning was a no-brainer, and she contributed a lovely beam routine to Italy’s team final performance.
9. The Little Romanians
Like New Zealand, the Romanian team was insanely young this year, with Larisa Iordache the grandma at just 18. The rest of her Worlds teammates were 1997 (Ana Maria Ocolisan and Stefania Stanila) and 1998 (Andreea Munteanu, Silvia Zarzu, and Paula Tudorache) babies with very little experience, and yet they put up a fight to the death in an attempt to earn a team medal ahead of Russia despite qualifying all the way down in 7th into the team final. They famously fought their way through team finals and were tenths away from defeating the Russians to bronze when a last-minute fall on beam from a devastated Stanila gave them a finish five tenths away from the podium. Though they weren’t the best Romanian team by a long shot, like the kids from New Zealand, these little Romanians had as much heart and fight as the teams at the top.
10. Daria Spiridonova, Russia
Daria had one of the most-anticipated senior debuts among the Russian gymnasts in the early half of this quad, and for good reason. With her beautiful lines and lovely presence, Daria immediately showed her prowess on the uneven bars, winning the title at Russian Championships before going on to take the bronze medals at European Championships, the Russian Cup, and then finally, World Championships, where she defeated proud teammate Aliya Mustafina for the honor. After excelling at bars all year, she began earning all-around titles after Worlds, including at the Arthur Gander Memorial, the Swiss Cup, and Élite Massilia. Though bars are what she’s known for, her newfound all-around success could really help the Russian team as they hope to contend for team podiums in the future.
11. Ashton Locklear, United States
Most gym fans had never heard of Ashton until the U.S. Classic last summer. In fact, the live broadcast of this competition completely passed her over until news of her uneven bars score – a massive 15.7 – reached the Universal Sports producers. Her quick, efficient, and clean bar routine packed in the skills without sacrificing form, and she easily swung her way to event titles at U.S. Championships and then Pan Am Championships, her international debut. Though she managed impressive scores consistently in the low 15s at World Championships, she finished 4th in event finals, just 0.017 behind bronze medalist Daria Spiridonova. Definitely not an easy feat, especially just coming back from injuries; now that she has the experience and is on the mend, expect her to make major waves as she continues her senior career.
Article by Lauren Hopkins