U.S. Juniors Dominate in Italy

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The junior competition in Jesolo was almost as good as the senior meet, thanks to some great depth among the top teams. There was no clear standout for the all-around gold, and we also saw some breakout performances from some girls with great international futures in the sport.

It’s no surprise that the four U.S. ladies were pretty dominant, sweeping the podium after top-notch performers from Jordan Chiles, Emma Malabuyo, and Gabby Perea. They didn’t claim all of the top spots, though, with Canada’s rising star Ana Padurariu earning fourth place just about a tenth away from bronze and edging out Trinity Thomas by over a point.

Chiles, who missed the Gymnix title just weeks earlier due to falls, won the gold here with a big Amanar and an otherwise excellent day for a 58.25, enough to put her in the lead by over two points. I think this was the best I’ve ever seen Chiles compete, as she’s always generally a strong gymnast but struggles mentally with the sport which has cost her medals both at home and internationally. But here, she was golden, and with more performances like this she will certainly reign as a senior next year.

In second was Malabuyo, who kind of snuck up on us with her insanely good beam in Canada last month. Malabuyo has come a long way from nationals last summer, getting named to the national team at camp and it’s pretty clear why. Her 56.15 all-around score is a result of nicely-balanced work across all four routines; while she didn’t show her best work on beam, she was still clean on most skills to get a 14.1 there, the same score she earned for a lower-difficulty but solid bars set, and the crowd in Italy loved her “Angry Birds” floor music.

Perea was third with a 55.75, faltering a tiny bit on beam and floor, but showing the most breathtaking work of the junior meet on bars, where she had a 14.65. She’s a unique gymnast with lots of strengths that will make her a fan favorite for a long time coming.

Like Chiles, there has always been a lot of spark in the charming Padurariu, but we don’t always see her fully come through when it counts. Here, though, she had a 55.6 all-around, showing remarkable work on beam – the best in the competition, easily, by a lot – for a 14.85 and then clean work elsewhere. She’s only 13, but if she had been born in 2000 or earlier, she’d practically be a lock for this summer’s Olympic team. That bodes well for someone with two full seasons left to compete as a junior, and I guarantee that she will rule the school in Canada next quad. Her teammate Jade Chrobok wasn’t as fortunate at this meet, falling on both bars and beam to place just 16th with a 50.25, way below her potential…I hope this was just a fluke because she’s capable of so much more and should hopefully be a big threat for the 2017 worlds team in her home country.

Thomas unfortunately had some mishaps in her day, but still earned a 54.45 for fifth. She was followed by the Italian junior prodigy Giorgia Villa, the 12-year-old who, like Padurariu, can handily beat many of her country’s senior elites. Villa had a 54.35 for sixth here with a most impressive bars set, an event the Italians are always looking to fill out, so as long as she keeps up her progress here she’ll undoubtedly be in the mix for a long time coming.

She was followed by a long line of Italians, with teammate Martina Maggio finished seventh with a 54.35, showing her best work on beam and floor, and then Francesca Linari placing eighth with a 53.9, Maria Vittoria Cocciolo placing ninth with a 53.2, Asia D’Amato placing tenth with a 52.65, Sydney Saturnino placing 11th with a 52.55, Martina Basile placing 12th with a 52.15, and Giulia Bencini placing 13th with a 50.75. Of these, I was especially impressed with the beam work…in general it showed a lot of promising difficulty and nice attention to detail. Also competing for Italy was Elisa Iorio in 15th with a 50.35, Sara Berardinelli in 17th with a 50.15, and Giorgia Balottari in 18th with a 50.05.

Only a couple of Germans competed, with Helene Schäfer finishing 14th with a 50.65 and Lisa Schöniger finishing 20th with a 49.35. Schäfer, the younger sister of 2015 world beam medalist Pauline Schäfer, showed some of her sister’s beam talents definitely rubbed off, with great form, difficulty, and presence there despite some mistakes.

From Slovenia, we saw Lucija Hribar place 19th with a 49.7, Pia Hribar place 22nd with a 46.9, and Lara Crnjac place 24th with a 43.9 (and no, the Hribars aren’t sisters!). Like their older teammates Teja Belak and Tjasa Kysselef, vault was a standout for these kids, with Lucija Hribar looking lovely on her FTY, and I found all three entertaining on floor as well.

Finally, we had the girls from Finland, with Enni Kuttenen placing 21st with a 46.95, Tira Kuitunen placing 23rd with a 45.15, and Emilia Kemppi placing 25th with a 41.15. These girls lack in difficulty quite a bit, with bars lacking most, but they were so much fun to watch, looking cheerful and excited throughout the entire meet. Finland isn’t exactly known for having a top team, you never know who will rise up and kill it as a solo competitor, so hopefully this experience inspired them to do great things going forward.

The vault final saw Chiles dominate with an Amanar and a DTY for a 15.575 average, blowing away the rest of the field by 1.5 points. In the junior competition, the girls are allowed to compete two vaults from the same family, so we saw about a million Yurchenkos here, though I hope Chiles mixes it up and adds a Yurchenko half-on or even a front handspring in the future because she’s so insanely powerful and could win a ton of medals if she keeps that up. Maggio won the silver medal with a 14.05 average for her Yurchenko 1.5 and FTY, while Chrobok came back a bit from her all-around performance to win bronze with a 13.875, competing the same vaults as Maggio.

In the bars final, Perea’s supreme difficulty won out over Malabuyo’s slightly superior execution. Perea got the gold with a 14.65, looking fabulous and confident, while Malabuyo earned a 14.35, tying Chiles – who was a balance of the two – for the silver. Villa put up a good fight to hit a solid routine with a 14, and got lucky in that the Italian federation rewarded her with the bronze even though she was technically fourth.

On beam, the fight was looking like it would be between Malabuyo and Padurariu for gold, but Padurariu had an fall and a few wobbles, finishing sixth with a 13.05, while Malabuyo won the title for her brilliant set, earning a 14.6. Maggio surprised for silver with a 13.6 much to the Italian fans’ delight, while Schäfer followed in her sister’s footsteps to win the bronze with a 13.5. The other Americans in this final, Chiles and Perea, both had falls to place fifth and seventh, respectively, and Basile also fell to finish eighth while Linari had a hit routine to come fourth.

With the most difficulty in the bunch, Thomas overcame her mistakes in the all-around to win the gold medal on floor with a 14.15, slightly ahead of Malabuyo who won the silver with a 13.6. Maggio again pulled through to win her third medal of the competition with the bronze after performing to a high standard for a 13.5, while Chiles – one of the strongest contenders here – had a fall to finish eighth with a 12.8.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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