The 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo kicked off to a bizarre start when the gymnasts realized the floor set up for the artistic competition was actually a rhythmic floor, leaving them unable to compete on that event.
It’s kind of like when your teacher cancels a test at the last minute. You’re a little bummed because you’ve prepared really hard, but at the same time, you’re thrilled for the free pass you get because they don’t happen often. It was a bummer for gymnasts who consider floor one of their strongest events, like Aya Mahgoub of Egypt who trains with U.S. national floor coach Mihai Brestyan and typically kicks butt there. How unfair that she and others lost potential medals there or were unable to boost all-around scores without their standout routines, but for those who struggle there, the relief must have been great.
The meet belonged to South Africa, whose gymnasts dominated from start to finish, bringing home seven medals including team gold as well as all-around and beam gold from Kirsten Beckett. Beckett also picked up silver on bars while teammate Claudia Cummins won vault silver, Tylah Lotter won bars bronze, and Angela Maguire won beam silver.
Beckett, who spent the last year overcoming injury, competed internationally for the first time since the 2014 Commonwealth Games (where she impressed with her all-around qualification performance that earned spots in four individual finals). She looked as though she’d never left, hitting vault and beam to help her team to gold and earning a 12.5 on bars as one of her country’s top scores despite mistakes (which she fixed in finals, posting a 13.2 for the cleanest set of the bunch to earn silver).
The South African team overall was one of their strongest in recent memory, including 2014 world championship team members Cummins, Lotter, Maguire, and Bianca Mann. All but Mann qualified to (and medaled in) individual finals, and Mann was only out due to the two-per-country rule, as she put up a solid beam performance with a 13.0 in qualifications but had two teammates ahead of her. Cummins and Lotter appeared on vault, where Cummins averaged a 13.633 for silver and Lotter finished just off the podium with a 13.55, a tenth behind bronze. She got some revenge on bars, however, picking up the bronze after a solid performance that earned a 12.8, and then Maguire stepped up on beam, posting a 13.033 to finish just behind Beckett for silver.
As the team was without Beckett at worlds last year, they were forced to put up four all-arounders in a four-up four-count situation in qualifications which put them at a disadvantage. They finished in 33rd as a team, nine spots out from the top 24 teams who qualified to this year’s worlds, so only three of the five can compete in Glasgow this year. The women will contend for spots on their worlds team in Pretoria next weekend, though Beckett aside, it’ll be a tough battle for this very talented group.
One of the most exciting presences at the All-Africa Games was Farah Boufadene, who requested a change-of-nation from the FIG in May. The Algerian-born French gymnast is a first-year senior with some great junior results, but felt her Olympic dreams would be too difficult in her country of residence, where the competition is much steeper. Boufadene is now the leader of the Algerian program, helping them to team bronze in addition to nabbing all-around bronze and then golds on vault and bars.
It was an historic finish for Algeria, and with the potential to hit around 52 or 53 in an actual four-apparatus all-around, Boufadene has a fantastic shot to qualify as an individual for Rio, a goal she’ll begin to set in motion with world championships next month. While she’s pretty solid across the board, her bars were a huge standout in Brazzaville, earning a 14.1 with a big 5.8 start value in event finals.
Also on our radar was Egypt’s Nancy Taman, the silver medalist with a 39.833 thanks largely in part to the 14.5 she earned with her excellent vault. She also earned a 13.3 on beam, the third best on the event during the team competition, though she fell in event finals and placed fourth there with an 11.8. She also struggled on vault in event finals, though still managed the bronze with an average of 13.617.
Helping the Egyptian team to the silver medal, we saw Maiyada Bayoumy with a 13.367 on vault and an 11.4 on bars, Aya Mahgoub with an 11.9 on beam, Mai Ahmed Saad with a 12.9 on vault and a 12.5 on bars, and Ingi Ayman El Khashab with an 11.033 on beam.
The Nigerians put up a good fight, showing some respectable vault scores across the board, but their routines elsewhere were not up to international elite standards. Their top earner was Helen Ocheke, who posted an all-around score of 16.867.
Ethiopia and Namibia also placed gymnasts into the event finals. Sofia Abdulrezak Kiyar of Ethiopia placed 8th on vault, Annelise Koster of Namibia placed 6th on bars and 7th on beam, and Katja Serrer of Namibia placed 7th on bars and 8th on beam.
Despite all of the floor drama at the start, the rest of the competition went off without a hitch, showcasing new levels of greatness in African gymnastics. A clause exists in qualification rules for the Olympic Games stating that two gymnasts from every continent must be included in the WAG competition no matter their qualification scores, and in the past, Africa has benefited the most from this stipulation. Based on what we saw in Brazzaville this week, the continent is not going to need any help qualifying gymnasts next year.
Full results from the competition are available here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins