Yesterday, for the first time since 1948, the Belgian federation was able to name a full team set to compete in women’s artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games.
The Belgian women finished third ahead of historically stronger programs like France, Australia, and Romania at the Olympic test event in April, making history as the first team to qualify in the modern era of the sport after narrowly missing out by one point in 2012. The program is currently at its strongest ever, with nine gymnasts fighting for the five spots in Rio, all of whom had something to offer to the team. The decision was undoubtedly a tough one.
In an awesomely dramatic ceremony (the video below is not to be missed!), Belgium named two-time individual Olympian Gaelle Mys (24), three-time worlds team member Laura Waem (she will turn 19 on the day of opening ceremonies!), and first-year seniors Axelle Klinckaert (16), Nina Derwael (16), and Senna Deriks (15) as the team that will represent the country in Rio.
The team will travel to France to train for ten days in July and will participate in a friendly meet against Germany, France, Romania, and Switzerland on July 23 before flying to Rio on July 29. Rune Hermans, Cindy Vandenhole, and Julie Meyers have been designated as the reserves, and will travel with the team to train and compete in France.
Julie Croket, who was originally named as the country’s 2012 Olympian but had to withdraw due to injury, unfortunately has ended this Olympic bid as well. Croket has been injured for most of this quad, though did a fantastic job getting healthy enough for worlds last year and then again to help her team qualify at the test event. Now, at 22, it looks like this could be it for Croket, though she put up an incredible fight along the way and the team will miss her leadership.
Klinckaert, Derwael, Mys, and Waem made themselves locks this season based on multiple competitions, and I don’t think anyone would’ve argued their with inclusion on the team. I had Hermans going over Deriks for the fifth spot, as Hermans – who made the all-around final at worlds last year – is generally a consistent and more well-rounded gymnast who can go up in a pinch on any event to get solid results.
Deriks, meanwhile, is a standout performer on bars and posted the highest score there for the team at the test event, where she also qualified into the event final. She won’t be a finals contender at the Olympics solely because the field is stacked, but she could add valuable tenths there in qualifications, which is vital when the country is hoping to make it to the team final.
Either Hermans or Deriks would’ve been the right choice, for different reasons. It’s actually interesting, because France had a similar dilemma between selecting the consistent and well-rounded 17-year-old Louise Vanhille or opting for first-year senior Alison Lepin, fabulous (albeit a bit inconsistent) on bars but who wouldn’t have contributed elsewhere. France played it safe with Vanhille, who has a great bars routine in her own right, but Belgium is trying to maximize their potential, which worked for them at the test event where Deriks also made the team over the more well-rounded Vandenhole.
“The selection was not easy, but at the same time, the picture was clear,” head coach Yves Kieffer told the press. “We respected the scores obtained by each, and all agreed to this selection. Hermans is very close to the rest of the team, and if the six-member format had been in effect, she would have been on the team as well, but we are limited to just five in Rio.”
With so much depth, the Belgian federation did a fantastic job at putting together a balanced team with gymnasts who complement each other very well. I think we’ll end up seeing Klinckart, Derwael, and Waem in the all-around with Deriks on bars and Mys filling out the remainder of the lineups. In qualifications, these lineups would allow for fairly equal scores on all four events, with bars the standout rotation but no real weakness if everyone hits elsewhere.
Article by Lauren Hopkins