It’s been a while since we’ve seen utter brilliance from the French gymnasts. They’re very talented but have often been limited internationally due to injury after injury, and while they’re not totally healthy this year, the majority of their key players are going to Worlds. Even with strong bars gymnast Youna Dufournet out, they still managed to have a good deal of depth when it came to choosing their 2015 World Championships team.
At their friendly meet against Spain held in Paris this weekend, the French women scored an unprecedented 226.25, a score that would’ve had them near the top of the pack at last year’s Worlds qualifications. A score like this puts them ahead of perennial team final favorites Great Britain, Italy, and Japan, a far cry from their 13th place finish with a 214.062 in 2014.
The team that competed in Paris is exactly the team we’ll see in Glasgow, and includes leader Marine Brevet alongside Louise Vanhille, Valentine Pikul, Claire Martin, and new seniors Loan His and Camille Bahl.
Everything finally came together for Brevet, who hit all four routines wonderfully to win the all-around with a 57.1, her highest to date. She’s been steadily building all season, breaking her previous record in Romania three weeks ago, and now shattering it by over a point with her top-notch work in Paris. She has a gorgeous FTY, and hit a couple of perfect handstands in her bar routine, which also featured a toe full to Chow to pak, a Maloney to bail to Ray, a big Jaeger, and a double arabian dismount.
Beam is probably her best event, and she was as steady as she could be there, hitting smooth connections, a clean bhs-loso, a nicely extended side somi, and a big double pike, her only issue being a check on her Y turn. On floor, she opens with a big double layout, and then performs a beautiful 1.5 to split jump, excellent leaps and pirouettes, and a double tuck, all done to her awesome Pink Floyd music. With a 14.45 on beam and a 14.25 on floor, she’s definitely looking about as good as she can be.
Louise Vanhille, who missed nearly all of her debut senior year due to injury, placed second here with a 56.1. Bars is where it’s at for Vanhille, who scored a huge 14.75 for her lovely set, which includes a toe full to Maloney to huge pak (admittedly some little form issues there…looks like she got way more oomph from the high bar than she’s used to!), a Chow to bail to Ray, a floaty Jaeger, and an awesome double layout.
The 16-year-old vaults a clean FTY, and has an excellent front aerial to split jump to side aerial series on beam. Her leap sequence is a little short there and she has just a double full dismount, but as a whole it’s not bad. On floor, she performs a great rendition of “Storm,” sticking her piked full-in on Saturday in addition to hitting a double tuck and double pike for a 13.4.
In third was Loan His with a 55.85. Her best routine was her floor set to the opera “Carmen,” which earned a 14.2 after she stuck her big tucked full-in, hit a lovely double full, and nailed her double tuck to finish the excellently-performed routine.
His also earned a pair of 13.7s on bars and beam, and on bars it was with a fall. She unfortunately over-arched on her toe full, but went on to catch her van Leeuwen, big Jaeger, Church, pak (with flexed feet), and Maloney to bail to toe shoot before sticking her full-in, a great routine aside from the fall. On beam she had a fantastic Y turn and absolutely nailed her bhs-bhs-loso, finishing her hit set with a hop on her double full dismount.
The alternate Anne Kuhm actually hit a 54.9 for fourth place, proving just how deep this team is at last! Kuhm showed great work on bars and beam, with her bars set containing a clear hip to giant full to Gienger, a Jaeger, a toe on to bail to toe shoot, and a beautiful stuck double layout for a 13.8…just beautiful work. And on beam, she showed a clean side aerial, a bhs loso, a fantastic double turn, great extension on leaps, and a double pike with a step for a 14.15, the third best of the day. I can definitely see her being reconsidered for an actual team spot.
If that happens, it’d probably be over Valentine Pikul, who was right behind her in fifth with a 54.75. When Pikul hits she’s very good on floor and will definitely be used there in Glasgow, but her problem is actually getting to that point. She’s about half and half for hits and misses out of nine routines this year, and this weekend she did her double tuck to her knees, finishing an otherwise good routine on a sour note. She just seemed to run out of gas, so hopefully she can get stronger in the coming weeks.
Pikul did have a great tsuk full, and hit a 14.1 bar routine with a shaposh to messy pak, Maloney to messy bail to toe shoot, closely-caught Jaeger, and a double layout with a step…a little over-scored I thought considering the form issues, but hit nonetheless. On beam, she earned a 13.8 for her strong front tuck mount, solid punch front, and stuck double tuck dismount.
Sarah Païs, one of the young reserves, had a fantastic day for a 54.6 while fellow reserve Grace Charpy tied for 9th with a 53.0.
In 14th place was specialist Camille Bahl, who is the strongest vaulter for France, though she struggles on her other events. She hit a solid enough DTY for a 14.35 after showing some leg form issues in the air, but despite the low score considering the 5.8 start value, it was still easily the best vault of the day. She had a 12.35 on beam, and then a 12.5 on floor with a low landing on her piked full-in, a bounce back on her double pike, and a bigger bounce back on her double tuck.
She actually had a quite terrifying moment on bars. After muscling up a kip cast to handstand, she had to go straight into her piked Jaeger yet had clearly broken her flow. She basically released too late and caught the Jaeger with her ankles on the bar, though thankfully with some quick thinking (and probably doing this somewhat often in the gym!) she managed to not only grab the bar again, essentially almost doing a jam out of it, but to hold on and get right back into the routine without hopping off. She continued with a bail to Ray and then stuck her double layout for an 11.15.
Finally for France comes the lovely Claire Martin, who shines on beam and floor, winning the silver medal for both. Her beam brought in a 14.3 and included fluid work on her bhs-bhs-loso, split jump to side aerial, and switch to switch half. She missed the connection on her Onodi to jump series and again on her front aerial to sissone to beautiful side somi, but looked lovely on the skills individually, and then hit her double pike with her chest down.
On floor she performed beautifully and expressively in addition to showing some effortless dance elements, including a triple pirouette and a Memmel turn to L turn in the opposite direction. Her tumbling’s a bit easy, opening with a double tuck, performing a front handspring to front full to stag, and then sticking a double pike cold, but she’s truly gorgeous to watch and brought in a 14.2 despite the lower difficulty.
The Spanish women earned a 214.4 with a team that included everyone they hope to take to Worlds, aside from Roxana Popa, who has spent the past year recovering from a knee injury. We did get to see the return of Maria Paula Vargas, however! She placed 8th with a 53.55 after solid routines everywhere but floor.
The top Spanish gymnast was Ana Perez in 7th place with a 54.15 and a lovely beam performance. Nora Fernandez was 9th with a 53.0 after hitting all but floor – which was a weak event overall for the women on Saturday – and then they saw Natalia Ros in 11th with a 51.85, Claudia Colom in 12th with a 51.45, Paula Raya in 13th with a 51.25, and non-Worlds nominative gymnast Laura Gamell in 15th with a 49.3.
Among these competitors, bars was a standout, especially for Colom who had some big skills, Raya who competed cleanly, and Ros who had absolutely beautiful work to earn a 14.4 for the silver medal.
I believe with Popa not competing, Gamell is likely to take over as alternate while the other six make up the core of the team. It’s unclear whether Popa will be out or not at this point; she hopes to return at the Novara Cup but on Instagram she seems frustrated with the progress of her comeback. She continues to write that Glasgow is her goal, but two weeks ago wrote about a knee treatment that gave her lots of pain and required a week of rest, so it’s likely that she’s just not physically ready for the demands of elite gymnastics just yet.
Article by Lauren Hopkins