I don’t know of any elite program that had such an insane drop-off in participation as Sweden between last year and this year.
Between hiatuses and retirements, Sweden is currently without pretty much its entire senior national team in terms of those who were major contenders last quad. Marcela Torres, the Argentinian transplant who became the Swedish all-around national champion two years in a row before retiring last spring at age 27, recently got back to training and plans on competing at nationals this July, but aside from her and a few new seniors with potential but no major experience, things are looking bleak.
There are no major junior standouts at the moment either, but there’s lots of promise and potential in all of them. At a junior selection meet in Stockholm last weekend, held to pick the team going to Junior Nordic Championships this weekend, a few of them showed hints of excellence and lots to look forward to in the future.
One of these is my absolute favorite, the 13-year-old Tonya Paulsson, who began gymnastics at age seven and quickly worked her way up the ranks. Paulsson, who began competing at the elite level last year but was limited to bars for most of the season due to injury, got on my radar when she won the bars title at her debut in Norway last April. She had super low difficulty, but her routine was excellent. I felt about her the way I felt about watching girls like Laurie Hernandez and Ana Padurariu back when they were 11 or 12, gymnasts with almost no difficulty but who were impossibly good, so good that you knew deep down once they grew up and added difficulty, they’d be fabulous.
Paulsson recently added a pak salto into her bars set, and she caught it in competition on her first try, looking clean and polished both there and on the rest of her skills at the selection meet, earning an 11.55 to win the title. The pak aside, it’s still mostly all about the basics for her, but she’s training a Jaeger and has a great swing with beautiful lines…a few years down the road, and she’ll have a phenomenal set here.
She ended up winning the all-around at this meet with a 45.85, also posting the top score of 12.6 on vault as well as the third-best score of 11.55 on floor, where she also has low difficulty but performed well, with her only struggles at this meet coming on beam.
In second was Jessica Castles, who lives and trains in England where she recently placed 11th at English Championships. I’m not sure where her Swedish ties come in, but she clearly adds some depth to the program, finishing with a 45.5 all-around after also hitting the top floor score of 12.2 (she has a double back and a double full here). She had an extra swing on bars and a couple of falls on beam at this meet, otherwise she would’ve come out on top, so once she gets control of her nerves she’ll be another one to watch.
Kristina Undheim, who lives and trains in Canada but has Swedish citizenship through her mom, was third with a 44.45. She was the only gymnast with a flight element on bars, earning a 10.15 there with no major mistakes in her routine, and her floor was lovely with a great deal of artistry, earning a second-best score of 11.85.
Unfortunately, last year’s Swedish junior champion Cecilia Wrangdahl didn’t have her best meet here, falling on her double pike dismount on bars in addition to not putting up her strongest work on beam or floor. She earned only a 43.9 when she’s capable of scores a couple of points higher than that, placing fourth nearly a point ahead of Ida Staafgård in fifth with a 43.15, winning beam with an 11.0 but looking pretty low-difficulty across the board.
These five will compete at the Junior Nordic Championships beginning Friday in Oslo. Outside the top five, Emilia Schmekel was sixth with a 39.2 (she hit the low bar twice on bars in addition to falling on her dismount), Thea Rosby was seventh with a 38.95, Ida Rönningen was eighth with a 37.45, and Paula Ebbersten was ninth with a 32.75. Kristina Åhlin competed bars and beam, and Nadja Olsson competed only on beam, where her 10.7 was the second-best score of the day.
I look forward to seeing how this junior team will look this weekend stacked up against Nordic nations that are typically weaker than Sweden, but could now see the tables turn in their favors. Norway’s juniors are especially strong compared to previous years, and there are a few from Denmark, Iceland, and Finland who could surprise as well.
Full results are available here. And please, if you love life, check out Tonya Paulsson’s Facebook for some videos of her routines and upgrades. Trust me, you’ll want to follow this kid’s career going forward!
Article by Lauren Hopkins