In the senior session of the 2015 WOGA Classic, Xie Yufen of China – the alternate for her country’s World Championships team last year – earned the gold medal with a 55.6. Celine van Gerner of the Netherlands took home silver with a 55.55 while Japan’s Natsumi Sasada earned bronze with a 55.4
I was pleasantly surprised with how well Xie competed, especially on bars, where she displayed exactly the kind of routine you’d expect from a Chinese bar worker. She won gold on this event as well, earning a 15.35 after a clean routine with insane pirouetting (I honestly couldn’t keep up, but there was definitely a 1.5 in a series of three or four pirouettes, all from front giants and the last going into her Tkatchev). She actually fell on her front aerial to sheep on beam and went out of bounds on floor, but her bars set her just a hair higher than van Gerner, making the all-around title hers.
Speaking of the 2012 Dutch Olympian, van Gerner looks to be in some of the best form of her life, which is awesome, especially as she missed nearly all of 2013 and 2014. She had a fall on her full-in dismount off bars, but her beam in the final rotation was one of the “not to be missed” routines of the night. Just absolutely gorgeous and effortless. Her floor isn’t very difficult in terms of the tumbling (she has a double pike, 1.5 to front layout, and double pike) but it’s super clean and she performs it incredibly well.
Sasada, who missed out on an Olympic bid in 2012 but has become very successful for Japan since then, competing at World Championships in both 2013 and 2014, had a consistent day. There were no big standout routines but no major errors either. She looked tidiest on bars and beam (typically her best events), and despite what looked like a tiny bit of hesitation going into it, she nailed her jam to handstand straight into her straddle Jaeger, which is an upgrade from last year’s Worlds (though I believe she’s done the jam before). She also hit a nice giant full to Tkatchev and a full-out dismount with a tiny hop.
Japan had quite a large team there at WOGA, as both the Nippon Sports Science University and Saints Gymnastics sent athletes. Six gymnasts (including Sasada and 2009 World bronze medalist Koko Tsurumi) competed for NSSU, easily capturing the team title above China and Wales. Tsurumi returned to competition at the Japanese team championships last November, but this was her first time really stepping out on a big stage, and she was absolutely fabulous.
Tsurumi, now 22, is a workhorse on beam, and didn’t let a single bobble bother her, finishing her routine there with a stuck 1.5 dismount. Not the most difficult routine, but definitely one the Japanese would love to add to their already solid beam arsenal. Bars was where she showed tremendous work, including some fantastic pirouetting. She does a Healy right into her straddle Jaeger as well as a Healy with an extra half turn right before the giants into her beautiful double layout dismount. It’s a Worlds event finals-worthy routine with a tiny bit of clean-up, so I’m sure she’s definitely being welcomed back onto her country’s national team with open arms.
From the Saints club came new seniors Sae Miyakawa, who competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, and Yuka Momiyama. Miyakawa is a ball of power, though unfortunately looked a bit out of control in her senior debut. She’s doing incredibly tough work on floor, including an opening double double, a double front, a front double full, and a double layout to finish. She came in a tiny bit short on the double double, and put her hands down on the DLO, finishing with just a 13.25 on the event in addition to counting a fall on beam.
Miyakawa performed two vaults at WOGA, but unfortunately crashed both her Rudi and then her DTY. The Rudi is actually a new vault for her; just six months ago she was competing the handspring layout half quite well, and she is also definitely capable of hitting a nice DTY, so we’ll chalk up Saturday night’s misses to ‘new senior’ jitters. Once she calms down and figures out how to control her fantastic power, she’ll be huge for Japan.
In addition to Xie, China also brought along 2014 World beam silver medalist Bai Yawen as well as new senior Zhu Xiaofang. Bai unfortunately had a bit of an off day, beginning right away on floor where she went out of bounds on her full-in and then couldn’t get her triple full around, hitting just 2.5 rotations before jumping the last half into position. She finished with a nice double pike, however, and I thought the routine itself was exquisite and well-performed.
Bai also had some cool combinations on bars (like an Endo into a straddle Jaeger), but she was mostly plagued by short handstands and some muscled kips, as well as a teeny bit of a dead hang after her toe shoot. Even beam didn’t go quite right, as she had a fall on her roundoff + layout, but you have to remember it’s an awkward point in the season, and it’s kind of awesome that China would send her to begin with!
Canada’s Isabela Onyshko tried her hand at the competition after making a name for herself at last year’s Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Though she didn’t have the most consistent night, she looked happy throughout and seemed to roll her eyes and laugh at her fluke mistakes rather than get caught up in them.
Beginning on bars, she caught her pak salto with her legs pretty much apart and then peeled off on her van Leeuwen before getting back on to finish with an Endo to double front. There are lots of good bits and pieces in that routine, so I hope she’s able to put everything together and build consistency so it becomes strong as a whole. On beam she sat her double tuck dismount and struggled with connecting a few elements, but showed a solid bhs + bhs + layout, and one of her combos – a front aerial to illusion – is gorgeous, even if she didn’t link them quickly enough just yet.
The Welsh ladies also had some struggles. All three – Georgina Hockenhull, Raer Theaker, and Angel Romaeo – competed at the Commonwealth Games for Wales where they had great success, shockingly defeating Canada for the bronze medal. They would each like to be included in England-dominated Great Britain’s national squad picture in the coming months, so this was a great way for them to get international experience.
Theaker, who was injured at Commonwealth Games and is only just getting back in the swing of things, had the roughest outing among the group, beginning the night with three falls on beam (on the side aerial + loso, turn, and then sitting her 2.5). She came up a bit short on her full-in and triple full on floor before going OOB on her 2.5, though the tumbling is really ambitious and should get better as she continues to heal and compete more. Finishing on bars, there were only minor issues until she fell on her full-in dismount.
The other Welsh ladies also crashed their bars dismounts, though otherwise had much stronger days than their teammate. Hockenhull was especially lovely on beam, as always, with her only issue sometimes the length of her prep for certain elements (like the bhs + loso). She is just so lovely on that event, though, and was also pretty to watch on floor, where she went for a double arabian and 2.5 to punch front. Aside from the bars fall, she had lots of little issues throughout the routine, though like Theaker’s floor it’s a super ambitious set, including lots of stalder work and fantastic combinations, like her Endo half to Maloney to pak salto, and then a Chow to bail to stalder half.
All right, it’s time for the Americans. I do wish more senior elites from other U.S. gyms competed, even as a way to brush up before the next big thing, but I digress. The only two U.S. seniors present this year were WOGA darlings 2014 World gold medalist Alyssa Baumann and 2013 American Cup champion Katelyn Ohashi, who technically isn’t even an elite anymore and yet stole the show with her presence alone.
Ohashi competed her level 10 routines, so her difficulty was quite a bit lower than what you may be used to. I wouldn’t expect an elite comeback anytime soon — she was definitely just there because her gym was hosting, but in a way, it was great to see her in this no-pressure atmosphere. She looked happy, confident, relaxed, and SUPERB in all of her work.
Working with just a 5.2 start value on beam (remember when she was up around a 7.0?!), she was able to pull off a 14.05 for the silver medal after hitting her bhs + bhs + layout, switch ring, side somi, side aerial, sissone + wolf, and near-stuck double pike. The execution was fantastic throughout, and it looks like a routine she can do in her sleep. On floor, she had a great piked full-in and front 1.5 to front pike; though she stumbled her double pike a bit OOB, it was still a strong routine, and she also nailed her FTY on vault. After watching NCAA routines day in and day out over the past six weeks, she already looks like she belongs in UCLA’s lineup on all three of her routines and will make an incredible addition to the Bruins next season.
Finally, poor Baumann. She warmed up several events, but after multiple falls on bars, made the decision to scratch the remainder of the meet. Her bars really were scary, and it looked like each time she got back on, she looked angrier and more frustrated than the time before, which of course leads to more mistakes. The first fall looked like a fluke. It was on her toe full, and she just seemed to struggle in getting the handstand all the way up, so when she started the pirouette, she was at an angle and couldn’t get it around the rest of the way, losing leg form before hopping off.
After re-chalking for 40 seconds, she got the opening sequence out of the way and hit her Maloney, but came in way too close to the bar on her pak salto, catching the bar with her hips. Getting back on again, her van Leeuwen looked almost aggressive, and she fell apart in the air before she even had the chance to catch the bar, falling again to the mat before standing up, saluting half-heartedly, and walking away. It was probably for the best, as by this point she was clearly too distraught to compete safely by the looks of it.
As a side note, Polina Shchennikova was originally expected to compete and showed off some routines in podium training, but ultimately withdrew from the competition. I don’t believe she’s injured again, but likely didn’t want to risk further injury if she made a misstep. It’s still early in the season; she’ll come back when she’s ready and we can’t wait to see it happen.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Photo care of Katelyn Ohashi // Instagram