The New Seniors: Belgium

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Nina Derwael, Julie Meyers, and Axelle Klinckaert on the podium for their team silver at the European Youth Olympic Festival

Of all of the nations with a shot as a team in this Olympic year, Belgium’s senior debuts are the most anticipated. While their 2015 squad was a strong one, the country has two new seniors who are capable of out-performing everyone who went to worlds last year and they now have the opportunity to send their first full team to the Olympic Games in the sport’s modern history (Belgium last appeared as a team in 1948, before the women’s competition underwent a major overhaul to the format we know and love today).

The biggest takeaway about the young Belgians is that they are all supremely talented performers. No other country as a whole has a command of floor exercise in the way these ladies do. Their choreography, their stage presence, and their ability to connect with their music should be the standard by which the FIG measures all artistry in elite competition. These gymnasts are truly magical in their work, so please, take some time to watch every Belgian floor routine you can get your hands on.

Nina Derwael

I introduced you to Nina Derwael a couple of weeks ago as an elite you should get to know, but here’s a refresher course. Derwael, who turns 16 in March, is a force to be reckoned with, coming into the Olympic year as the strongest all-arounder in her country after last season, where as a junior her scores would’ve topped any senior competitor.

This was a huge improvement from her 2014 season, where her best performance got her a total of 53.7 and she averaged only about 51.8 and her top individual event score was a 13.95 on bars. But something clicked for Derwael between the two years, and when she reemerged in 2015 it was like watching a totally different athlete. Her bars are now super consistent, putting her mostly in the high 14 range, she’s become much more consistent on beam, and she’s absolutely fabulous to watch on floor.

Derwael should be a shoo-in for a team spot at the test event this April, and with upgrades and improvements on beam and floor to match the fantastic work she’s already done on bars, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. She is constantly working on bars upgrades, including a stalder version of the Tweddle connected to an Ezhova.

On bars at Belgian Championships in 2015

Basically, Derwael is the one to watch for team Belgium this year, and has insane potential to help her country qualify their first full Olympic team to the Games.

Axelle Klinckaert

Derwael isn’t the only one with excellent potential this year. Axelle Klinckaert, from the small village of Oudegem smack in the middle of the Ghent-Antwerp-Brussels triangle, turns 16 in May and already has tons of experience to offer in the Olympic year.

Like her slightly older teammate, Klinckaert – the 2014 junior national champion – also grew tremendously between 2014 and 2015. She missed the early part of last season, including championships, and performed a lackluster bar routine at the Flanders Team Challenge in May, but then exploded onto the scene with a huge bang at the European Youth Olympic Festival, going in a relative unknown and walking out the silver all-around medalist as well as the champion on beam and floor.

I had my first intro to Klinckaert’s style when I caught her gold-winning floor routine at Elite Gym Massilia in 2014. She had so much energy and pizzazz, I couldn’t help but watch the pint-sized Belgian take her performance to a whole other level even if her tumbling wasn’t exactly high-level.

The crowd loved Klinckaert at Top Gym last year

Not only did she ramp up her skill repertoire on both beam and floor in 2015, she also took her performance ability to a new level with her hilarious frog routine, a huge crowd favorite no matter where she competes.

Klinckaert’s biggest changes between 2014 and 2015 came in her consistency and confidence, as she’s now pretty reliable as a competitor and has the all-around scores to finish above most of the seniors. She’s not quite as strong as Derwael, and bars have always been a major weakness, but she’s a great little spitfire and will bring a ton of energy and style to the team as they fight at the test event this April.

Senna Deriks

Senna Deriks just turned 15 about a month ago, making the cutoff for the 2016 Olympic Games by only two days. She’s one of the lesser-known among the Belgians, having been consistent as a junior but not quite as strong as the others, and probably due to her younger age, didn’t quite jump onto the scene until the end of last year.

Last year, Deriks showed improvements from 2014, though it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that of her teammates. With the silver medal at nationals, Deriks had good, solid routines but nothing that made her stand out among the rest.

She didn’t compete for the majority of the year, and didn’t quite have the meet she wanted at Massilia in November, but then at Top Gym she showed tons of great promise, unexpectedly taking the silver medal right behind Klinckaert and above the two Russian gymnasts expected to top the podium. She had a very clean performance for a 54.883, and then came back for event finals with a beautiful and promising bars performance, showing a lovely swing, big skills, and tons of confidence.

On bars at Top Gym at the end of 2015

With the confidence gained from her excellent performance in Charleroi, Deriks is coming into the Olympic year with a lot of depth in her country, but also with a bar routine and clean work on floor that could help them get to the Games. Watch for her to show some upgrades in her preparation this spring. She’s one who can do big things and I can’t wait to see what happens!

Julie Meyers

At the end of 2014, Julie Meyers came back from injury with pretty weak routines, scoring only a 45.967 at Elite Gym Massilia. That didn’t discourage Meyers from continuing on, however, and by the time Belgian Championships rolled around a few months later, she was the bronze junior medalist with a 50.25.

Slowly but surely, Meyers – who turns 16 in August – has been adding skills and working to boost her confidence, reaching a 52.8 in the all-around at the Flanders Team Challenge and then a 53.183 at Top Gym, where she did especially nice work on bars and floor.

Consistency is a bit of an issue for Meyers, however. A week before earning her 53+ in Charleroi, Meyers scored a full five points lower at the 2015 Elite Gym Massilia, earning a 48.35 after disaster struck on beam and floor. She was also a member of the European Youth Olympic Festival team, where she was somewhat in the background as Derwael and Klinckaert stole the show. Competing in the all-around in qualifications, only her vault – a 14.0 for an impressive hit FTY – counted toward the team score, with her total of 50.75 unable to challenge the scores of her teammates.

On floor at Top Gym last year

At the start of 2016, Meyers – whose strengths are her beautiful technique and expert performance quality – needs to work on consistency and adding difficulty to remain competitive with the current depth in the Belgian program. But her hit routines are fabulous, and she could very well add to that depth with a few slight changes.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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