Of the couple dozen Commonwealth nations with international gymnastics programs, only a handful showed up to the Junior Commonwealth Championships held in Namibia this week, but the field ended up showcasing some very exciting young talent.
The Welsh women weren’t at top strength here, but they really didn’t need to be, as they still won the team gold by a hefty margin in addition to winning eight individual medals. Welsh star Maisie Methuen was the all-around favorite, though struggles on bars and beam gave teammate Emily Thomas her time to shine atop the podium with the gold. Methuen had great work on floor, however, and still managed a 51.9 all-around to win the bronze.
Thomas had everything come together for her when it counted at this meet, putting up especially strong work on beam and floor to finish her day with a 52.6. Thomas went on to win the bars title with a 12.75, though she placed eighth in the beam final with a 10.25 after falling there. Methuen came back nicely to win two more bronze medals in event finals, cleaning up her beam a bit for a 12.85, and though her floor wasn’t as strong as it was in the all-around competition, her 13.05 was still enough to tie for third there.
Their teammates all had some individual success here as well. Holly Jones, fifth all-around with a 50.55, won the vault title with a 13.9 for her clean work as well as the floor title with a 13.65, making it a great meet for her. Latalia Bevan, the recent School Games all-around champion, only competed on bars here, performing extremely well in prelims; while her finals routine wasn’t quite as strong, her 12.7 put her just a half tenth behind Thomas for the silver medal there. Zoe Simmons, seventh all-around with a 50.2, placed seventh in the vault final with a 13.0.
The Welsh ladies happy to get gold.
South Africa ended up taking a top-notch junior team to Walvis Bay, a team that could probably challenge the senior squad that competed for the bulk of this quad! They earned the silver medal as a team alongside the three individual medals that went to Caitlin Rooskrantz, the 14-year-old who has the potential to take this country by storm with her gymnastics in the coming years.
Rooskrantz led the team with a fantastic all-around performance that brought home the silver medal with a 51.95, the best international all-around score the country has seen in a couple of years. She already rivals the country’s best senior gymnasts, including their recently-retired 2014 Commonwealth Games star Kirsten Beckett. With great skill on each event, she qualified easily into all four apparatus finals, adding a vault silver and a bars bronze. On beam, some uncharacteristic mistakes landed her in sixth place with a 10.5, and though she hit her floor routine well, the field there was too deep for her to medal, with her 12.75 landing her in fifth place, three tenths behind the tie for bronze. Overall, it was an excellent meet for Rooskrantz, and I can’t wait to see her reach the senior level next year.
I thought Naveen Daries also showed a great deal of promise, putting up one of her best all-around performances of her career and showing the incredible strides she’s made in the past six months in preparation for her senior debut next year as well. Though she didn’t share the medal haul Rooskrantz took home, Daries wasn’t far behind, finishing fourth all-around with a 51.3, fourth on vault with a 13.35, fourth on beam with a 12.8, and seventh on floor with a 12.4. She had a few small errors in event finals, but as a whole she showed very strong work in Walvis Bay and I think she and Rooskrantz can really push each other to greatness if they keep moving forward in this way.
Also representing South Africa were Courtney Noel, Jade Pailman, and Caitlyn Kelly. Noel finished 11th all-around with a 45.6, Pailman finished 12th with a 45.15, and Kelly competed only on bars, earning an 11.95 in prelims to make the final, where she placed fourth with a 12.4, the best bars score of her career.
Team South Africa with the flamingoes in Walvis Bay
New Zealand has a brand-new junior team of little kiwi gymnasts to get to know and love, and they looked sharp here, winning the team bronze on top of five individual medals, a big boost of confidence for the young team that will be looking to rebuild in the coming quad as two of their top gymnasts — 2016 Olympian Courtney McGregor and 2016 Anadia World Cup bronze medalist Charlotte Sullivan — go off to college.
The kiwi team ended up with only three gymnasts able to contribute, putting them at a large disadvantage coming up against the top two teams that each brought five, but they held their own with strong scores across the board. Isabella Brett wound up sixth all-around with a 50.2 while teammates Stella Ashcroft and Samadiana Fariz weren’t far behind, finishing eighth and ninth with scores of 49.9 and 49.15, respectively.
While Ashcroft, who trains at the famed Christchurch School, got some experience at Pac Rims earlier this year, this was the first big international meet for the other two, both from Tri Star Gymnastics in Auckland. You wouldn’t know of any lack of experience based on how well they performed, however, as all three took home apparatus medals in addition to the team bronze.
Fariz, the darling of the team at 13, won the bronze medal on vault with a 13.4. Ashcroft, 14, won the beam title with a stellar performance for a 13.35 and then got the floor silver with a 13.4, making it an exceptionally successful finals day for her. Brett, who becomes a senior next year, won the silver medal on beam right behind Ashcroft with a 12.9, the two edging out all international competition for the top two podium spots; she then went on to tie Methuen for floor bronze with a 13.05 for her clean routine.
Charlotte Ryan was also expected to be a contender for New Zealand, but an injury in training limited her to just bars in prelims, where she earned a score of 8.55.
The Kiwi gymnasts at the hotel
Rounding out the team final was Sri Lanka in fourth and host team Namibia in fifth. Neither of these countries broke into the individual medals, but I was excited to see a solid level of difficulty from Sri Lanka’s Milka Gehani, who earned a 48.55 to place tenth all-around, a solid ten points ahead of anyone else on her team. Thanks to the two-per-country rule, we got to see Gehani in all four finals, with fifth on beam her best finish.
In addition to her precision on beam, Gehani showed lots of power on vault and floor. While we generally don’t see her country much at all internationally (the last time any Sri Lankan gymnast has competed was at the Commonwealth Games in 2014), I hope she is able to break onto the scene because she absolutely has what it takes to keep up with many international elites currently competing.
Gehani traveled to Walvis Bay with four teammates. Rashmi Navodya placed 17th with a 39.75, Shenuki Dishalya placed 18th with a 38.55, Binya Dhananjana placed 19th with a 36.45, and Anuji Jithara competed only on bars and beam.
The Sri Lankan men’s and women’s teams en route to Namibia
Namibia’s top finisher was Elisbè Swanepoel, who placed 15th with a 41.15. She was also the only Namibian gymnast to reach an apparatus final, and she placed eighth on bars with an 8.35. Her teammates included Emogene Kgobetsi (20th with a 35.95), Natascha Pfaender (21st with a 34.95), Christel Thirion (22nd with a 33.5), and Carane van Zyl, who only competed two events, though stood out with a 10.7 on beam and a 10.45 on floor.
Namibia and Cayman Islands training together, featuring Christel Thirion, Emogene Kgobetsi, Samantha Peene, Natascha Pfaender, Raegan Rutty, Carane van Zyl, and Elisbe Swanepoel
Aside from the team gymnasts, we also saw some individual competitors from Malaysia and the Cayman Islands. Geanie Ng Ee Ling represented Malaysia with a 13th place all-around finish with a 44.6 in addition to coming in seventh on beam and eighth on vault, and for Cayman Islands, Samantha Peene and Raegan Rutty both competed, finishing 14th and 16th with scores of 42.8 and 40.6, respectively.
The Cayman program is completely home-grown, something the almost brand-new federation takes a lot of pride in, and Peene is so far the best gymnast to come out of the island that has a population smaller than most suburban American towns. Her score in Namibia was the highest all-around ever for a Cayman gymnast, beating her own record set at the Pan Am Championships last month by over a point. She also became the first Cayman gymnast to reach an apparatus final at the international level, placing eighth on floor with an 11.4 to match the same score she received on this event in the all-around.
Cayman gymnasts Samantha Peene and Raegan Rutty with Malaysia’s Geanie Ng Ee Ling
For full results from the women’s artistic events in Walvis Bay, click here. Next up on our calendar is one of our personal favorites, the annual Northern European Championships, held this year in Oslo beginning October 21!
Article by Lauren Hopkins