Hilton Wins British Espoir All-Around

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The first of two days of competition at the 2016 British Espoir Gymnastics Championships took place today in Basildon, Essex. 38 gymnasts competed in today’s all-around meet, which also served as a qualifier for the individual event finals taking place on Sunday. The best-represented clubs, perhaps unsurprisingly given their consistent success in team competitions, were South Durham, with three gymnasts, and Heathrow, with four. South Durham made more of an impact, as they are without a doubt still riding the wave of Tinkler’s Rio success.

The championship title was taken by clear favourite Halle Hilton from Europa. Hilton brought both the difficulty and consistency of her recent international experiences, her almost two-point lead boosted by her clean, high Yurchenko full. It seems that bars might be her least favourite, but the clean routine she produced with a piked Jaeger was still enough for 12.05 and a spot in the final.

On beam, she performed two or three more skills than the vast majority of other girls, including a clean bhs bhs loso series, switch half, side aerial, front aerial, sheep jump, and a high double twist dismount. Hilton qualified for all four event finals, and has the potential to medal in all of them. Hilton was cheered on by her rowdy but adorable Europa teammates, who after the announcer struggled with the pronunciation of Hilton’s name, proudly informed me “she hates it when people say Hay-ley. It’s HAL-LY.”

Second place finisher Paige Thomas was an obvious standout in this field thanks to her long lines and natural bar swing. Her top score of 12.65 on this event was a whole half point higher than the rest of the field, helped by her piked Jaeger and double pike dismount, which she lands with a high chest.

Paige (one of three gymnasts today with the surname Thomas, just to keep us on our toes) also had a captivating floor, qualifying her to that final in third. Although her tumbles are of a similar difficulty level to those of her competitors, it’s her dance skills which set her apart – opening with a double pike, pretty choreo, and a butterfly thrown in for good measure, she also performed a confident switch ring and switch full, and shakier but still pretty illusion and double turns.

In the close three-way race for bronze, Sioned Thomas just got the edge over Leah Greenland and Annie Young thanks to her exceptional vault and floor – two events on which she took home silver medals at the Northern Europeans back in October. I only managed to catch one of her two vaults, a handspring front pike with excellent repulsion, which stood out amongst the multitude of Yurchenko layouts and tsuk tucks. On floor she opened with a standard double tuck, but had pretty choreo, and closed with a stylish punch front layout to front layout full.

Greenland, in fourth, was the best of the well-drilled ‘Pink Ladies’ of South Durham, with impressive difficulty on vault, beam, and floor. Leah qualified to the beam and floor finals and has a good shot at a minor medal in both. Young from Norfolk in fifth is a true all-arounder with no real standout event, just clean, pretty gymnastics across all four. She earned spots in the bars and beam finals, so it will be good to see her shine on an individual event in the second day of competition.

In sixth was Isla Lees of the ever-impressive Notts – if you only watch one routine from Saturday, make sure it’s her floor. Set to an instrumental of the Bond theme Skyfall, she has considered, mature choreography. Her high E score tells the story behind her first place finish on floor, opening with a double tuck, followed by a front full and double full, all with clean landings.

Outside the top spots were several impressive girls who either had difficult days, with multiple falls across four events, or tiny first-year espoirs who haven’t quite grown enough to put up competitive difficulty across all four pieces.

One example of the former is Shanna-Kae Grant from Leeds Gymnastics Club, who, had she gone clean, would have been in the mix for a medal. Her first vault is a NCAA-worthy Yurchenko full with an excellent block, which got her into the vault final. Sadly, falls on each of the other three events saw her finish down in the bottom half of the rankings.

Her floor is one to watch in the coming years, as she already opens with a strong double pike with a high chest on landing, but had an unfortunate, scary fall to her head and shoulders on a punch front layout to what I presume was meant to be a punch front layout full. She had another scary fall on an aerial on beam, but dismounts both beam and floor with floaty double twists. She’s definitely one to watch for the leg events.

Scarlett Williams of Notts would only have needed in the mid-12s on floor to make the top six, but for some reason she only competed on the other three events. Her beam, although lacking big skills aside from a strong layout stepout, is a cut above the rest thanks to her confident execution. She did show a double layout dismount on bars which was a lovely surprise.

Other honourable mentions go to Amelia Thomas, seventh in the all-around, who on floor started with a stuck double tuck, followed by a back 1½ twist to punch front and double full dismount. She sadly fell on her back handspring layout stepout series on beam, but landed a side aerial and back tuck well after that to prove her quality on that piece. Amelia showed the same assured grace on bars as her compatriot Paige Thomas, catching the piked Jaeger she had previously missed in warmups.

We got an exciting injection of style and originality from the Harrow School of Gymnastics in the shape of the Gadirova sisters, Jennifer and Jessica. They are both far too small to muster strong bars routines now, but this doesn’t stop them on beam – they qualified in second and third to the final with stunningly choreographed routines, each of them mounting with a genuinely interesting variation of a press to handstand, one, who I think was Jennifer, pressing to a stag planche. Jennifer’s beam also included a tucked side somi, split leap half, and double full dismount. On floor she showed similar artistry, reminiscent of a 2006-era Olga Scherbatykh, closing with a stuck double full.

Her sister Jessica had an equally strong and pretty beam, with a bhs bhs loso series. Her floor was a triumph too, set to Nastia Liukin’s Beijing music, the choreo a completely original interpretation of the track, and exceptionally well-executed around three twisting tumbles, two of which she stuck cold. The only thing stopping the Gadirovas making the floor final was their lack of double saltos, but I’m sure they will both be the artistic highlights of the GB junior system for the next couple of years, and it will be great to see them upgrade as they grow!

Other standout skills and pieces belonged to Lili-Mae Snuggs of Abingdon who showed a Geinger on bars, and made vault and floor finals, cheered on by what seemed like half of Oxfordshire. Lucy Robinson of Bury Spectrum showed pretty full Y turns on beam and floor.

Karis Jacomelli was the standout of the Heathrow girls, and although she sadly just missed out on the beam final, she did show an impressive punch front, as well as strong tumbling difficulty with a double pike, double tuck, front full, and double full dismount on floor. Roshelle Spencer-Smith was equally impressive on floor, with flighty double salto passes getting her sixth position for the floor final.

Another strong hope for the Welsh, Ella Gaynor from Cardiff Central, had a fabulously choreographed floor to a perky-horror-soundtrack compilation (think Ragan Smith, but cuter!) playing a wind-up doll. Her choreo was well supported by clean tumbling and impressive dance skills – she almost completed a double Y turn to immediate illusion full, and later threw in a full Y turn for good measure.

Finally, sending positive thoughts to Phoebe Jacubczyk who sadly injured her foot on an awkward landing on a leap on floor. Get well soon Phoebe!

Full results from the competition are available here, and the competition continues on Sunday with event finals.

Article by Rachel Scoffield

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