Belgian Juniors Shine at European Youth Olympic Festival

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Last week, the European Youth Olympic Festival, a biennial multi-sport event for youth athletes, was held in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The Russian junior competitors, as expected, were dominant, picking up nine of the eleven medals available to them, including team and all-around gold. Perhaps less expected, however, was the surge of the Belgian girls, who earned team silver only one point behind the Russians in addition to five individual medals – all-around silver and beam and floor gold for Axelle Klinckaert as well as bars silver and floor bronze for Nina Derwael.

Klinckaert actually tied 14-year-old Daria Skrypnik of Russia for the all-around title with a score of 55.75, though a tiebreaker was put into place, pushing her into second while Russia’s Anastasiia Iliankova finished just behind these two with a 55.5 for bronze, just over a point ahead of Derwael, who fell on bars in the all-around final yet still managed to finish fourth.

Klinckaert and Derwael both made big impressions at Elite Gym Massilia last fall, where both showed tremendous promise. Born in 2000, the pair could very well help their team qualify to the Olympic Games in Rio at next year’s test event, especially now that they are beginning to see major results. Klinckaert has sat out most of this year with injury, though Derwael became the junior champion in March, where her 55.316 all-around score included a fall on beam and was still better than any senior result by a full two points.

These young Belgians have beautiful, expressive, and fun floor routines, their work on beam is lovely, and Derwael is becoming a huge standout on bars, where she boasts a 6.2 start value and earned a 14.8 in the final. They are absolute game-changers for the Belgians, who finished one spot behind Brazil at the test event for London, missing out on a chance to compete as a team by just one point. This time around, with these new seniors in addition to veterans like Gaelle Mys, Laura Waem, and hopefully a healthy Julie Croket, the women should pose a very big threat in 2016.

The Russian team featured Elena Eremina alongside Iliankova and Skrypnik, and despite some minor bumps and bruises throughout the week, they still had an impossibly strong showing. In addition to their team and all-around success, Skrypnik picked up bars gold, vault and floor silver, and beam bronze while Eremina earned vault bronze and Iliankova took home bars bronze.

Skrypnik didn’t have her cleanest of meets, showing form issues and minor errors throughout all aspects of competition in addition to a couple of falls (including on beam in the all-around final), so to come out as she did with six medals shows just how strong and ahead of the game she is. I thought Iliankova’s bar work was gorgeous, and was impressed with how clean Eremina was on her stronger events, vault and floor, though as a 2001 baby, her difficulty isn’t quite as high as the others.

With Russia and Belgium eating up 15 of the 18 total medals, the remaining three went to Germany with team bronze, Marine Boyer of France with vault gold, and Maisie Methuen of Great Britain with beam silver. Germany’s team featured junior champion Tabea Alt alongside Florine Harder and Rebecca Matzon. Each had problems throughout the entire competition, however, though Alt did manage a decent bars set in event finals, earning a 14.3 to place 5th.

Using the junior rules on vault that allow for two vaults from the same family, Boyer performed a slightly messy DTY followed by a beautiful FTY to average a 14.275, putting her about two tenths ahead of Skrypnik for gold. And on beam, Methuen showed great precision to pick up the silver medal with a 13.65, an impressive feat considering she had the lowest difficulty of the bunch.

One surprising standout we need to talk about is Zsofia Kovacs of Hungary. She is wildly talented, placing fifth in the all-around with a score of 54.0 after looking especially impressive on vault and with her big-difficulty bar routine. While she unfortunately had some issues with falls (especially in event finals), she is so naturally good on every event, I think she could actually be the one to beat two-time Olympian Dorina Boczogo for Hungary’s spot next year. Keep your eye on this one.

I was also incredibly impressed with Diana Varinska of the Ukraine. She finished 17th in the all-around after a very rough bar routine though qualified 12th and is possibly one of the country’s top gymnasts despite being a 2001 baby! Her bars are beautiful, and she came half a tenth from the podium after her polished 6.1 difficulty set.

The Romanians brought Olivia Cimpian, Andreea Ciurusniuc, and Ioana Crisan along, though traditional bars struggles kept them off the podium as a team by a point. Crisan’s beam was a highlight for the team, and I absolutely LOVE Cimpian on floor, though both unfortunately had errors in finals, with Crisan falling and Cimpian making minor errors leaving her seventh in what was an incredibly tight field (the first through seventh place finishers were all within half a point from one another!).

Other names to remember include Juliette Bossu of France, who showed lovely work on floor, the little Italians (Caterina Cereghetti, Francesca Linari, and Martina Maggio all did great work), and Livia Schmid of Switzerland.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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