The Flanders Team Challenge, held every couple of years, is a big team competition hosted in Belgium and generally attracts a large number of competitors from top nations.
At this meet, the juniors and seniors competed in their own separate all-around and team competitions on Saturday, and then on Sunday, the qualifying countries and mixed teams moved onto something like a super team final, with juniors and seniors combining to put up four scores on each event.
Italy basically dominated, taking the super team title as well as the senior and junior team titles, while Sydney Saturnino, Asia D’Amato, and Elisa Iorio swept the junior all-around. Belgians Rune Hermans and Maellyse Brassart took the top senior all-around spots with Lorette Charpy of France in third, and France and Belgium placed second and third, respectively, behind Italy in the super team final.
So much happened at this meet with 90 competitors in the junior and senior divisions, so I went through and watched a bunch of videos to pick out my favorite standouts rather than just hashing through every single routine.
1. Nina Derwael on Bars and Beam
This should be an obvious one if you know me and my obsession with Nina Derwael‘s bars in general. So, Nina had a couple of mistakes on the first day of competition, missing her feet on the toe-on after her pak, which caused her to break her rhythm. She caught the van Leeuwen, but then arched over the toe full after that, and came off, earning a 13.166.
The routine wasn’t perfect on day two, but it was vastly improved, complete with her Downie, Ricna half to Ezhova, her always beautiful lines on her transitions and swinging elements, and a full-out with a step back. This time around, she got a 14.8, currently the third-best bars score among seniors so far in 2017, a big step in her quest to earn Belgium’s first-ever medal at worlds this year.
I was actually equally impressed with her beam on day two, which was I think one of the strongest beam sets I’ve seen her do. That’s an event where she’s been holding back a bit due to a nagging injury, but she’s such a lovely performer, when everything comes together this ends up being a truly fabulous event for her and I hope it’s one she continues to improve.
2. Marlies Männersdorfer’s Team Performance
Over the past quad, Marlies Männersdorfer often fell in the shadows of several of her older teammates, but in Flanders, the 19-year-old got to lead not only Austria, but also the super young mixed team that joined her country with Ireland. Männersdorfer fell on beam in the all-around, placing 22nd, but in the team final she was one of the only gymnasts to compete all four events.
This time, she hit all of them, earning a 49.932, a score so impressive for her, it would’ve defeated every single one of her international scores last quad, where the code of points had all-around totals at about two points higher than this quad on average. It was a new level of consistency for her, and she showed to be a really strong competitor on all of her events when she hits, with beam especially good for her here. I love seeing low key gymnasts step it up, especially when they’re in a position of leadership, and that’s exactly what Männersdorfer did here.
3. Sydney Saturnino Grabbing the Spotlight
The talk of Italy so far this year has been the quadruple threat 2003 baby group of Giorgia Villa (currently injured), the D’Amato twins, and bars standout Elisa Iorio, but the promising 2002-born Sydney Saturnino is someone we should also get excited about, and in Flanders, she showed us why. Saturnino doesn’t have any of the flashy skills that endeared fans to her teammates, but she beat both Asia D’Amato and Iorio here, finishing first in the all-around with a 53.365 while posting the top scores on beam and floor, the areas that have been notoriously weak for the Italian juniors this year.
Saturnino’s best score of the meet came with her 13.533 on beam in finals, a spectacular beam score for a junior, and one of the top Italian beam scores among juniors and seniors so far this year. D’Amato did well with her DTY on both days of competition, but both she and Iorio struggled on beam, and Iorio, who has competed roughly a million times so far this year, wasn’t at her best on bars on either day, though this group of three still managed to put out the top three all-around scores in their division, continuing Italy’s junior domination that began earlier this year at Gymnix.
4. Belgian Seniors Looking Strong
2016 Olympian Senna Deriks, known for her excellent work on bars, injured her knee this spring, taking her off the European Championships team. The FIT Challenge marked her return to competition, and she looked great both days, hitting clean inbar skills, a big piked Jaeger, a stalder full to Tkachev, and a full-in for scores of 13.8 and 13.933. Due to the injury, Deriks stuck only to bars, but she was looking better than ever at Jesolo earlier this spring and I think she’ll be the kind of gymnast who really blossoms as she gets older.
Her Olympic teammate Rune Hermans and new senior Maellyse Brassart were the top all-arounders at this meet, with Hermans — this year’s national champion — earning a 53.265 and Brassart getting a 53.099 after strong performances from both gymnasts. Neither has a real standout event in terms of posting big scores, though both are super entertaining on floor, and I loved seeing them just get through a meet with solid routines, especially Brassart, who made her senior international debut here.
I was also happy to see Julie Meyers have a good meet, earning a 50.265 to place 16th. Her past couple of outings have been rough, with beam a real struggle for her to mentally get around, but while she wasn’t perfect here she was able to keep from melting down, an important step as she continues to work on her consistency and confidence.
5. France’s Senior Depth
France didn’t send its absolute top seniors to this meet, instead opting to put things in the hands of new senior Lorette Charpy and her teammates Alison Lepin and Juliette Bossu, both of whom have some international experience but are trying to make the jump from B team to the front lines.
Charpy was the best of the three, winning the bronze all-around medal with a 52.999 after a pretty successful competition, but both Lepin and Bossu stood out on bars, placing second and third on the event, respectively, with clean and solid routines on day one, performances they repeated in the super team final.
Lepin has shown consistency struggles when put to the test in the past, which makes her a somewhat risky choice for a team, but she did her job here and hopefully will gain a bit more confidence from this. Bossu also showed some very strong work on bars, but her star turn came on floor on Sunday, where she earned a 13.5 for her expressive performance and strong tumbling, especially on her whip whip to triple full.
6. Ana Perez
One of my favorites, I’m always up for watching Ana Perez compete because yes, she’s super talented, but she’s also one who always looks like she’s enjoying herself and having fun competing. I was crossing my fingers for a win for her in the all-around, because she was having a fantastic day, but unfortunately did have a mistake on bars that kept her off the podium by a few tenths.
In team finals, Perez had a better day, performing on all four events to post a 53.232, leading Spain to fourth place. Her beam was a treat on both days, earning a 13.433 to win gold in the all-around competition, and then a 13.833 for an excellent set in finals.
7. Sanna Veerman
The top Dutch junior, Sanna Veerman finished just a tenth off the podium in Flanders behind the fierce Italian trio, reaching a 52.099 with especially strong work with her Yurchenko 1½ and on bars, where she performed a piked Jaeger, Church, pak, van Leeuwen, and full-in.
Veerman was miles ahead of her teammates, who all earned scores in the 44-47 range, and was the driving force behind the junior team’s fourth-place finish, though due to having only one senior competitor at the meet, the Netherlands didn’t qualify to the super team final. Anyway, I love Veerman a ton, and while she still needs a little bit of polishing before she turns senior next year, she has a stronger foundation than most Dutch juniors tend to have, which could mean big things for her future.
8. Carolann Heduit
Another one of my junior obsessions, I’ve been freaking out about Carolann Heduit since her incredible international debut at Jesolo. Here, the 2003-born gymnast placed fifth all-around with a 51.732. She wasn’t at her absolute strongest here, but still stood out a ton in this large field of juniors, doing good work on beam and earning a 14.233 on vault. She was doing a full last time I checked, so I’m not sure what she upgraded to here to earn that. A great Yurchenko 1½? A decent DTY? Either way, it was the second-best vault score not only among the juniors but out of every competitor at the meet.
9. Edel Fosse
15-year-old Edel Fosse gets my wildcard shoutout here, partly because she was the top competitor among those from smaller programs, but mostly because I loooove her and think she’s a gorgeous gymnast. Fosse’s difficulty isn’t super high on any event, but she had a pretty strong day here, earning a 48.732 which doesn’t sound like much, but she finished 15th in a field of 57, kind of a huge deal for a Norwegian gymnast. I wish more videos of this kid existed, because she’s fabulous and could be one of Norway’s top artistic gymnastics talents in years as she continues improving.
10. French Espoir Domination
Only a small handful of nations did the espoir competition here, with the Netherlands and Belgium sending multiple teams in addition to France and Ireland sending one each. The French girls were SO good, though, easily winning the team title by nine points ahead of the top Dutch and Belgian teams, while also sweeping the all-around.
Alizee Letrange-Mouakit was first with a 50.532, putting up the second-best scores on every event but beam, and the super talented Mathilde Wahl ended up second with a 49.999, posting the top scores on everything but bars, which is typically an incredible event for her, though she unfortunately had falls here. Their teammate Eva Meder ended up winning bars, posting a 12.633 for a clean routine, though she struggled on beam and posted a 48.565 for bronze, tying the Dutch gymnast Isatu Barrie. The team also got some help on vault from Charlene Birin, who ended up placing eighth all-around with a 46.265 after her weaker performances on her other events.
The level of difficulty at the espoir level, which mostly includes girls aged 12-13, is generally quite low, and that was the case for the majority of gymnasts here, but the French girls are already getting close to a solid junior level, which gives them an early start as they prepare for European Junior Championships next year.
BONUS: The Italian Seniors
So, I kind of ignored the Italian seniors here, not intentionally but mostly because they just didn’t really stand out…which was the point of this article. The standouts. HOWEVER, the team DID place first, and Desiree Carofiglio posted the top scores on vault and floor, so here’s my shoutout to them.
As a whole, they all came together and did some strong work, but at an individual level, even Carofiglio with her top scores wasn’t really at her best, so compared to other meets this year and despite their win, it was kind of a ‘meh’ meet overall. Giada Grisetti and Elisa Meneghini had the best Italian senior all-around scores, placing seventh and eighth with scores of 52.264 and 52.232, respectively, while Francesca Linari was tenth with a 51.466 and the second-best floor score, Caterina Cereghetti was 11th with a 51.066, and Carofiglio was 12th with a 50.632.
So yeah, they were all basically at the same level here, and that’s why they won, compared to other teams that may have had some stronger standouts, like Derwael for Belgium and Perez for Spain. These teams with standouts struggled as a complete entity, showing how important depth is and why Italy was so successful here even though they weren’t, like, doing massive difficulty or even perfect every step of the way.
All results from the FIT Challenge are up here.
Article by Lauren Hopkins