This year’s Elite Gym Massilia, held over the weekend in Marseille, France, saw the hometown ladies pick up the team medal in the Masters competition, followed by a young Russian team and then the Romanian team in third.
France’s A team saw strong performances from all four members, including 2015 worlds team members Marine Brevet, Loan His, and Claire Martin alongside junior Marine Boyer, who will become a senior next year. His in particular seems to thrive under the support of a home crowd, delivering hit routines on beam and bars (her specialty) along with a very clean FTY and a fun floor routine with just a couple of bounces back on tumbles.
Martin performed beautifully on beam and floor, qualifying first into the beam final and displaying some gorgeous balletic work and a wonderful toe point, while veteran Brevet hit on all four pieces to finish third all-around, despite landing out-of-bounds on her double layout. Newcomer Boyer displayed some complex work on beam, scoring a 13.95 with a 6.2 d-score (counting big balance checks on her L turn and side somi) and she hit her three other events to help the team to gold.
In second were the Russians, with a fifty-fifty performance from their mostly junior squad. Let’s start with the good! Natalia Kapitonova showed some beautiful work, qualifying first into the bars final with a 15.3 for her fluid, well-executed routine. Her beam routine was slightly tentative, with a big wobble after the side-somi, but she hit her series well. Her floor routine was very pretty, including a whip whip double tuck, 2.5 to punch front (slightly out of control on the landing), a pretty good attempt at a triple Y turn, 1.5 to front pike, and a double pike, and she had a very neat FTY, finishing fourth in the all-around.
Unofficial Russian Cup champion Angelina Melnikova also had a great performance, with an okay DTY, a gorgeous bar routine (earning a 15.0…she and Kapitonova were the only two gymnasts to reach a 15 on any apparatus), and good work on beam with a wobble after her layout series, a well-executed double spin, and good fluidity throughout the whole routine. Her Kalinka-Malinka floor routine was well-received by the crowd, and she finished first all-around with a total score of 57.5.
Onto the less fortunate…EYOF champion Daria Skrypnik didn’t have a stellar day, looking slightly uninspired and failing to make the bars final after falling on her piked Jaeger and displaying some foot and leg form problems.
However, worlds alternate Evgenia Shelgunova – the only senior on the team – had the worst day of all. She started out well on floor (her Memmel turn was a thing of beauty!), but then she fell on her DTY and went on to perform a disastrous bar routine. She repeated a messy Tkachev after failing to connect the first time to a downright terrifying pak salto, and followed that with one of the scariest falls I’ve seen in quite a while. Over on beam, she had another fall on her side aerial and left the podium looking completely dejected.
Team Romania, led by Diana Bulimar, came in third. Laura Jurca didn’t have the best day, falling on her DTY and having a few bounce-outs of her tumbles on floor, but she hit bars cleanly and had a good beam routine to finish eighth all-around.
Juniors Maria Holbura and Andreea Ciurusniuc had similar performances to each other – FTYs (Holbura had slightly wild legs), Romanian bar routines (Ciurusniuc has arguably more dynamism but a lot of form issues, whereas Holbura has more release moves but everything looks like a big effort – still, they stayed on!), one fall each on beam in their otherwise neat and tidy routines, and precise but uninspired floor routines.
Bulimar, however, emerged as the star of the weekend. Probably the most experienced gymnast at the meet, she has grown to be a consummate professional. She hit all four of her routines beautifully (only an FTY and she appears to have removed the Church from her bars routine), and did a wonderful job as team captain, supporting her younger teammates whole-heartedly and displaying great sportsmanship toward the other teams. Her bronze all-around medal was well-deserved.
In fourth place was the entirely junior team from Belgium. EYOF silver medalist Axelle Klinckaert had an unfortunate fall on beam, but her crazy “I’m-a-frog!” floor routine delighted the crowd, receiving the biggest round of applause of any non-French competitor, and she was clean on vault and bars to finish 11th all-around.
The tall and elegant Nina Derwael sadly fell on her van Leeuwen on bars, keeping her out of event finals on her best event, though with a 6.6 d-score, she still managed to score a 14.05. Her work featured a shaposh to incredibly lovely Bhardwaj, Chow half, straddle Jaeger, stalder Tkachev to pak, and a full-in dismount in addition to the ill-fated van Leeuwen.
Senna Deriks showed some powerful tumbling on floor but had a fall on bars, and Julie Meyers had some lovely work but not a great performance, counting three falls on beam and two on floor. This is definitely a team to watch, especially as Klinckaert and Derwael enter the senior ranks next year.
The Italian women placed fifth, with seniors Enus Mariani and Elisa Meneghini accompanying 2001-born juniors Martina Maggio and Francesca Linari, who will not be eligible for Rio. It’s a shame, because they both have some potential! Maggio was strong on vault and bars, but had a fall on her double pike on floor, whereas Linari fell on a full-in on floor and again on her beam dismount. Falls aside, however, they showed some excellent work and were impressive overall.
Other noteworthy things from the team and all-around final? Camille Bahl, relegated to France’s Open 1 team, got herself stuck on the bars but made it through thanks to her superhuman abs. All of the French competitors wore black armbands throughout the competition in reference to the recent attacks in Paris. And for a funny moment, Brevet, just before receiving her all-around silver medal, realized she was still wearing her team gold on the podium and frantically yanked it off and threw it to her teammates.
Sunday saw event finals, with Romania taking three of the four golds beginning with Jurca’s win on vault. Due to the inclusion of juniors in the competition, vault finals used junior rules, allowing vaults from the same family, and so Jurca performed both an FTY and a DTY very cleanly – a great improvement on her all-around attempt.
Klinckaert came in second with an FTY and a handspring pike half…and kudos to her, as she was one of only two gymnasts to perform something other than a Yurchenko! (The other, FYI, was France Open 1’s Coline Devillard with a DTY and a handspring pike half, though she had a lot of execution problems.) In third place was Bahl, also with a DTY and FTY.
Bars was a fairly disappointing final with falls from two of the six competitors. Kapitonova repeated her beautiful routine from the day before, scoring a 15.267 to win the gold medal by more than a point over the silver medalist Mariani (14.267 with a solid routine). In third place was French junior Oréane Léchenault with a tidy routine, and fellow French junior Alison Lepin came in fourth. Her coach actually did some rather invasive spotting on her shaposh, which seemed like it might have been distracting for her and judging by her e-score, it seems the judges took away the point.
His, who qualified third, fell after overshooting on a handstand, and all-around champion Melnikova came to grief on a shaposh, leaving both major contenders out of the medals. As a note, the vault and beam finals were simultaneous, as were bars and floor, meaning that anyone in both finals could only warm up one piece. Melnikova was therefore the only competitor who didn’t actually get to warm up on the bars before competing, which seems slightly unfair. The only other gymnast affected by this was Jurca, competing on both vault and beam, but…
The young Romanian, having just stepped off of the vault, performed cleanly but slightly tentatively on beam – shout out to her awesome disguising of a mistake on her straddle quarter jump – though it was good enough to win her second gold medal of the evening. Mariani took home another silver medal with another solid routine, and Derwael was lovely and elegant for the bronze.
Brevet actually tied scores with Derwael, but was separated from her by an e-score tie-breaker, and Bulimar had a big fight to stay on after her side aerial, leaving her in fifth. Top qualifier Martin had a disappointing routine, going off-line during her acro series causing her to leave out the loso with a huge balance check in its place, which threw her off mentally and caused her to wobble throughout the rest.
Bulimar took home the gold on floor with a well-executed and well-performed routine, including a double layout, stuck piked full-in, double pike with a step, and a double tuck for a 14.233. Silver medalist Klinckaert, however, was the joy of the night. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd laugh so much at someone’s intentionally hilarious floor routine! Mixing gymnastics with comedy is unusual, but hey, it works here! She performed a clean double layout, a full-in, an incomplete Memmel turn, switch ring to tour jete, full wolf turn, double tuck with a bounce back, aerial walkover, and a double pike for a 14.1.
Brevet’s Pink Floyd routine won the bronze, as well as the love of the French crowd. After being heavily spotted throughout warmups on her double layout, she competed it well. She hit her 2.5 to stag jump, slightly over-rotated her Memmel, and stuck her double tuck for a 14.067.
Meneghini placed fourth after being judged quite harshly by the e-panel (she stuck her double layout, had a slightly squatty landing on her full-in, and then performed a whip whip double back and a double pike for a 13.967), and Derwael was fifth with another interesting and original routine (she had a very high double tuck that she managed to keep just about in-bounds, a 1.5 to front layout full, the best Memmel turn of the night, and a 2.5 with a wobbly landing for a 13.733).
Melnikova started out fine with a piked full-in with a little scurry backwards, a well-controlled double L spin to full Y turn, whip whip to double tuck, almost-triple wolf turn to a double spin (she fell out of it a little), and a clean double full before putting her hands down on her double pike to finish sixth.
At the very end of everything, there was a dance-along flash mob in which teams Romania, Italy, and Russia (a threesome sans Shelgunova, who didn’t appear to be in attendance that day) participated joyfully. Props to Bulimar, who encouraged the shy Russians into it, and who led a happy ceremony of high fives and hugs all around afterwards between the three teams. Isn’t this kind of thing another reason we love gymnastics?
Article by Mari Ilona Szutenberg