The annual Top Gym Tournament in Charleroi, Belgium will get underway this weekend with exciting junior gymnasts from around the globe set to compete.
Unfortunately with the attacks in Paris leading to terror threats in the Brussels region, several gymnasts – including the American juniors Ragan Smith and Jordan Chiles – have opted to withdraw. The competition is still looking to be a great one, however, especially with two of Belgium’s most exciting recent prospects in years leading the field.
Since 1992, Top Gym has been known for its young victors going on to do big things. U.S. Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson and Jordyn Wieber were champions in 2005 and 2008, respectively; Russia’s Anna Pavlova took the title in 2000, and some of Romania’s best have also stood atop the podium in Charleroi, including Larisa Iordache in 2009.
Last year’s title went to Angelina Melnikova, also the 2014 junior European champion and a 2016 Olympic hopeful with a very strong shot at making the team. She was actually the top all-arounder in the country at the Russian Cup this September, defeating worlds team members Daria Spiridonova, Seda Tutkhalyan, and Maria Kharenkova, though she was ineligible for the title due to her junior status.
In 2015, with the participation of Belgium’s Nina Derwael and Axelle Klinckaert, it’s looking like the host country could pick up their first gold medal in the competition’s history. Julie Croket, Belgium’s entry into the 2012 Olympic Games until she was forced to withdraw due to injury, won the silver behind Iordache in 2009 to become the first and only Belgian woman to stand on the podium, but both Derwael and Klinckaert are among the strongest women competing this weekend and are the most likely to take the top two spots if they perform well.
Derwael placed 5th at last week’s Elite Gym Massilia with a score of 56.3, and that was with a fall on bars, her best event. Earlier this year, she placed 4th at the European Youth Olympic Festival with a 54.1, she won the junior title at the Flanders International Team Challenge with a 56.05, and she became the Belgian junior national champion with a 55.316, a score that would’ve topped the senior field as well. Her bars are fantastic and should be a highlight of the competition, and she’s delightful to watch on floor as well.
Nina’s uneven bars routine from the FIT Challenge this June…and she’s made upgrades since then!
Her teammate Klinckaert has quite possibly one of the most engaging floor routines currently being performed, which will no doubt be a huge hit in front of a home crowd (and she’s also a pretty excellent tumbler). She was a fan favorite at Massilia last week, though a fall on beam – normally a great event for her – pushed her down to 11th place with a 54.95.
Her score of 55.75 actually tied for first place at the European Youth Olympic Festival, though a tie-breaker put Russia’s Daria Skrypnik in first and Klinckaert in second; she came back with great performances in finals, however, and took both the beam and floor titles there, at her first competition back from an injury that kept her out earlier in the season.
Axelle’s fabulous floor routine at Massilia.
There is one gymnast who can present a big challenge to these two, and that’s Russia’s Anastasia Iliankova. In September, Iliankova placed 8th at Junior Japan with a 52.6 after falling on beam, though she came back strong in the bars final to win gold there with a huge 15.166.
She also has a bit of a history with Derwael and Klinckaert, which should make for a fun battle in Saturday’s all-around competition. At EYOF, Iliankova sat right between the two Belgians with the bronze medal, earning a 55.5 there, just two tenths behind Klinckaert…and then Derwael went on to win the silver medal on bars over Iliankova by a tenth. Otherwise, she spent nearly all of 2014 and 2015 out due to injury, so EYOF was a great comeback for her and she should definitely be on your radar.
While these three are the strongest in Charleroi by quite a long shot, as we all know, anything can happen! Keep your eye on Laurie-Lou Vezina of Canada on beam, her teammate Victoria Jurca on floor, the Spanish gymnast Helena Bonilla, France’s Alison Lepin and Oréane Léchenault (they’re both especially good on bars), and Kirsten Polderman of the Netherlands.
The remainder of Belgium’s main junior team is also quite strong, featuring Senna Deriks, Julie Meyers, and Maellyse Brassart, all of whom competed at Massilia last weekend; and Russia’s Uliana Perebinosova, a 2001 baby, shows great potential on bars.
A full list of competitors is below. The competition will include an all-around meet on Saturday November 28, which will act as the qualifier for Sunday’s team and event finals.
Marieke van Egmond
Article by Lauren Hopkins