It’s Not Just About the Big Guns


We all know the big guns set to hit the stage in Friday’s qualifications…Russia, Romania, Japan, Italy, Canada, Germany, and Brazil are on our radar all the time, but now it’s time to branch out a little bit. In these final hours before the competition is set to begin, we have the scoop on some others who will be making waves from smaller programs. Enjoy, and keep your eyes peeled!

Roxana Popa (Spain)

With Popa and Maria Paula Vargas back in action, the Spanish team could very well be a top 16 squad. They only have Popa back on bars at this point, but she looks great, training a toe half to Jaeger, Ray to pak, toe full to Maloney to Gienger, and a gorgeous full-twisting double layout. She was still dealing with knee problems as of a week or two ago, which seemed to frustrate her according to her Instagram, but it doesn’t show at all in her work.

Her teammates Natalia Ros, Claudia Colom, Ana Perez, and Vargas will compete in the all-around while Nora Fernandez will do everything but bars. Colom trained a huge Ray and Bhardwaj, and I’d say both Vargas and Perez could challenge for all-around finals spots if they hit.

Oksana Chusovitina (Uzbekistan)

Affectionately known as Chuso, this legend who has already competed in seven thousand consecutive Olympic Games is casually busting out a Produnova on vault. It’s not terrifying…a little low, but what Produnova isn’t? She also said she has a ‘surprise’ second vault. She trained a tsuk 1.5, which is what she usually does, though a Dutch commentator said she was going for a triple tsuk. I don’t know if I believe it, but if it happens, it’ll be out of a 7.0 start value, just like the prod. If Chuso medals here in Glasgow, she will earn an automatic spot at the Olympic Games.

Isabella Amado (Panama)

Put Amado on your list right now. This girl is awesome on beam and floor, having medaled on both at world cups this year. Bars holds her back in the all-around, but for the most part she’s great, which you should probably expect from a girl who trains at Excalibur, the gym that produced Gabby Douglas. In adorable news, two other small programs – the Dominican Republic and Peru – are also Excalibur-trained, so the three girls had to capture this most amazing photo.

Stelutsa Savvidou (Cyprus)

Savvidou, who goes by Stella, is someone you’ll get to know better VERY soon, as she’s going to be competing for UCLA beginning in January! Savvidou trains in Great Britain, and already has the makings of a great NCAA floor routine, with sassy music, a double tuck, a 1.5 to punch front, and a double pike.

Dilnoza Abdusalimova (Uzbekistan)

Also keep Abdusalimova in mind. She is a bit of a long shot for the all-around final, but it’s not totally out of reach. At the Asian Championships this summer she earned a 54.1 with four steady routines, and she was in three event finals at Universiade. The 20-year-old has improved a great deal in the past year, especially on beam. Elena Rega will also compete for the country, though has mostly low difficulty, even on her best event, bars.

Lisa Ecker (Austria)

The back-to-back national champion, Ecker is 23 and looks better than ever. She’s been busy in the past month, getting all-around silver in a friendly meet before nearly sweeping Austrian nationals two weeks later, and she’s such a calm and consistent competitor now, especially on floor. She’s another one who has benefitted from multiple World Cup appearances this year, and is using the experience as she works to become her team’s Olympian in 2016.

Barbora Mokosova (Slovakia)

This gymnast is super hard-working in her quest to become an Olympian. She’s not always the most graceful or technically proficient, but she’s the kind of “fall down seven times, get up eight” gymnast who you can tell when she becomes SO frustrated with errors, she uses that frustration to attack the rest of her routine. I love watching her on bars, where she has some big skills and combinations, like a pak right into a stalder and a Maloney to bail to toe full to Ray. She might not be in the running for any finals, but I still love watching her fight.

Tzuf Feldon (Israel)

You may have seen Feldon, 16, at one of the ten international meets she attended this year. She’s kept super busy, working on the consistency of her beam routine, which is excellent when hit and earned her a bronze medal at the Challenge Cup in Anadia this May. She also does her floor routine to “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof which we think is all kinds of awesome.

Ayelen Tarabini (Argentina)

Did you know Tarabini is currently ranked number one in the FIG world rankings on beam and floor? That’s because she goes to as many challenge cups as humanly possible and kicks butt at all of them. This year, she made finals at all five she attended, and medaled three times, earning floor bronze in Ljubljana and silver on beam and floor in Anadia. She’s incredible to watch on these two events, and is definitely the frontrunner for her team’s Olympic spot next year.

Courtney McGregor (New Zealand)

Unfortunately, McGregor had a less-than-stellar last year due to a knee injury sustained at the Commonwealth Games. The 16-year-old became her country’s first Pac Rims medalist when she brought home silver after debuting her DTY on vault in 2014, and then at her national championships this September, she turned heads earning above a 55 in the all-around, a huge five point increase from the last time she competed all four events. If this is how she winds up in Glasgow, she definitely has the all-around final in her future.

Charlotte Sullivan (New Zealand)

You may remember Sullivan as one of the adorable little kiwi gymnasts who made their international debuts at Pac Rims in 2012. The team sent all juniors to Seattle, and they seemed just as excited about seeing all of the future American Olympians as they did about actually competing! Sullivan made a big impression when she qualified into the beam final, and though she fell there, now nearly four years later as a senior she made an even bigger impression when she got a bronze medal on her favorite event at the Challenge Cup in Anadia.

Marcela Torres (Sweden)

We did an interview with Torres earlier this year when the 26-year-old from Argentina won the Swedish all-around national title. She moved to Sweden almost four years ago to be with her boyfriend, Karl, and wound up training with the coach of Veronica Wagner, who was named the Swedish Olympian in 2008 but was kept home by her country due to funding issues. Marcela has dealt with an injury recently, but will compete on everything but beam in Glasgow. Vault is her strongest event.

Thema Williams (Trinidad & Tobago)

If you’ve seen pictures of 2012 Olympic coach John Geddert gallivanting around Scotland, it’s because he’s there with Williams, who moved to Michigan from the twin island nation of Trinidad & Tobago to begin training with him this quad. She narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth at the test event in 2012, but has been working hard this quad to see if the second time’s the charm.

Ava Verdeflor (Philippines)

A protégée of Yevgeny Marchenko, Carly Patterson’s coach, Verdeflor competed at the 2014 Olympic Games for the Philippines, where she was born and lived until the age of two. This summer, she was their standout performer at the Southeast Asian Games, winning silver on bars, her best event…not a shock considering she trains at WOGA! At 16, this will be Ava’s first world championships and she has a strong shot at getting an Olympic berth next year.

Jessica Lopez (Venezuela)

She’s probably a no-brainer to you at this point. Lopez is one of those ‘fine wine’ gymnasts who didn’t really start coming out of her shell until a little later in her career. Now at 29, she’s nearly in the best shape ever, having dominated the world cup all-around circuit this year with silver in Stuttgart, bronze in Glasgow, and fourth place in the stacked American Cup field. She’s been a bit limited due to injury all summer, though looked mostly strong when she returned to all-around competition at the Novara Cup two weeks ago. Bars is her clear standout, and she’s also rocking a DTY, which should help her finish among the top ten all-arounders in the world.

Annika Urvikko (Finland)

At almost 25, Urvikko is someone you see everywhere, with a long and exciting history in the sport. She quietly does low difficulty but clean work on all four events, a strategy that recently worked for her at the challenge cup in Osijek, where she won silver on bars. That’s her strongest event, and it’s improved a great deal in the past year as she continues to add difficulty. She’s another one who probably won’t get past qualifications but who you should pay attention to anyway, because she’s awesome.

Filipa Martins (Portugal)

Martins is probably Portugal’s best gymnast ever. She shocked gym fans with her excellent finish at last year’s worlds, earning a 54.732 in the all-around final for her remarkably clean and consistent routines across the four events. She’s seriously super balanced, but if I had to name a standout, it would be bars, where she’s capable of scores in the high 13s. So far in 2015, she’s earned three world cup medals as well as beam bronze at Universiade, and she seems primed to repeat her worlds success once again in Glasgow.

Paula Mejias (Puerto Rico)

The past year had some of the worst vault luck ever for Paula. The 21-year-old stepped out-of-bounds on vault at the Central American & Caribbean Games to finish in fourth place, off the podium by half a tenth. When she got another shot in Anadia, she got injured on her first vault and couldn’t compete a second. Then at the Pan Am Games in July, she again seemed like a sure shot for the podium, but balked her tsuk double to earn a zero, finishing last. Her day in the sun finally came in Osijek, where she hit the tsuk as well as a handspring front tuck 1.5 to win the title, finally. With there being so much depth on the event at worlds, it’s unlikely she’ll make the final, but give her some love during qualifications because she deserves it.

Farah Boufadene (Algeria)

A first-year senior and recent transplant from France to her adopted country of Algeria, Boufadene is an excellent all-arounder on the first leg of her journey towards earning an Olympic berth. She shines on bars, but also puts up a solid FTY and clean work on beam. Africa sometimes relies on the universality clause for qualifying gymnasts to the Olympics, which allows them to earn two spots regardless of how they place at the test event so they can obtain their “two gymnasts per continent” quota. But with Boufadene on board, she will certainly help the continent get one of the spots on the merit of her performance, which is awesome to see.

Marta Pihan-Kulesza (Poland)

As another one in the fierce “oldies but goodies” clan, Pihan-Kulesza wasn’t looking like she would be able to pull it off this year after an injury took her down in the spring. She was initially left off of the nominative roster, but then she returned to a friendly meet in late September and kicked major butt to win gold medals on her best events, beam and floor. She repeated this two weeks later at the Barborka Cup, where she also snagged all-around gold with a 54.015. What injury? She will hope to lead her team to a top 16 finish this year, though with the depth in the team competition, she’ll probably have to settle for yet another solo Olympic trip – what would be her third.

Teja Belak (Slovenia)

I love the gymnasts who go to all of the world cups because you really get to know them and their style. Belak is one of these gymnasts, having attended six of the seven cups in 2015, making vault finals at all and medaling at four, including silvers in Varna and Ljubljana. She also made the final at European Championships, where she attempted to debut a DTY but fell. Her vault difficulty is likely not difficult enough to get her into the final at worlds, so with all of the hard work she’s done this year make sure to give her some love during qualifications.

Tjasa Kysselef (Slovenia)

Kysselef is usually right alongside teammate Belak at the world cups, having also made all six vault finals, winning the silver medal at Cottbus but placing right outside the standings everywhere else. Again, you’ve gotta have respect for her, especially knowing that she and Belak train in a gym so small, they have to extend their vault runway out the door into the street to make it regulation length. Major props to both of these women who work so hard to succeed.

There are obviously about a million gymnasts we’ve missed, but these are some of the stories we’ve come to know and gymnasts we’ve grown to root for over the past season. What about you? Do you have a personal favorite who might not be in the top groups but is still at the top of your list?

Best of luck to all of these ladies as well as to everyone competing in Glasgow this weekend! Remember that for the majority of gymnasts, the competition begins and ends at qualifications, so if you’re physically there or able to see any of their performances online, show them some love!

Article by Lauren Hopkins

5 thoughts on “It’s Not Just About the Big Guns

  1. Did Ava Verdeflor compete at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games? I think you might have missed a word in there 🙂 Great write up though, on these lesser known but still awesome, ladies!


  2. Vasiliki! She needs to make the beam final!
    My personal favorite of the “unknown” ladies is Farah Ann Abdul Hadi! She’s just got such a delightful presence and beautiful gymnastics.


  3. Thank you so much for including Filipa into this. She really is Portugal’s best gymnast ever and I hope she will do very well this year and in years to come.


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