Spence Leads Promising Juniors at Elite Canada

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Golden girl Emma Spence with Dynamo coaches Victoria Moors and Denis Vachon

With Ana Padurariu, who dominated most of the junior competitions in Canada over the past two years, now at the senior level, we came into the 2018 season thinking this year would be anyone’s game, but Emma Spence of Dynamo Gymnastics brought big upgrades into her competition in Quebec City this year, making her the new “it girl” for the junior program.

Spence, who began competing as a junior last year, has improved rapidly since her debut, going from not making any of Canada’s Gymnix squads in 2017 (she instead competed in the open division with her club, winning the bars title but placing 22nd all-around) to finishing second behind Padurariu at nationals, earning one of two spots for Junior Japan, and now taking over as the top junior gymnast in the country.

A super hard worker, Spence has been able to not only add impressive difficulty, but she has also come a long way in her ability to execute those skills while also growing tremendously in her confidence. Turning 15 next week, Spence — who earned a 53.001 in the all-around for a great performance despite a fall on beam — will be a frontrunner for some big international assignments this year, including Pac Rims and the solo Youth Olympic Games spot this fall.

Aside from the beam fall, which came on her layout series near the end of an otherwise solid routine, Spence had no issues at this meet, hitting a big and clean Yurchenko full on vault, a toe full to Maloney to Pak, van Leeuwen, piked Jaeger, and double pike with a hop on bars, and a fantastic floor set featuring a piked full-in, 1½ through to 2½, and a front through to double tuck. Throughout the competition, she looked like she was enjoying herself, and even though she ended with that fall, she was still more than far enough ahead to keep her strong lead ahead of the rest of the competition.

In event finals, Spence picked up another couple of gold medals on bars and floor while also grabbing the bronze on vault with a fall, which came when she sat her new Yurchenko 1½, though the full that came after the fall was excellent as always. Her bars ended up being one of her best sets, and she also had an incredible outing on floor, setting herself ahead of the competition by nearly a full point on both events.

Going into the rest of the season, Spence should continue to dominate the junior field as she’s generally the most consistent at the moment in addition to having the most well-rounded programs in the country, but behind her is a group of young gymnasts that has also grown so much in the past year.

Behind Spence, we saw Imogen Paterson in second with a 52.734, Kyra Cato in third with a 50.768, Rachael Riley in fourth with a 50.468, Ilka Juk in fifth with a 50.001, Sophia King in sixth with a 49.835, Mia Saint-Pierre in seventh with a 49.202, and Okeri Katjavari in eighth with a 48.801. This is a fairly young group, with Cato, Riley, King, and Katjavari standing out at the novice level last year while the others have both improved a ton to put themselves in contention for prime national team spots this season.

Paterson has made excellent strides in the past year, going four-for-four in the all-around here with a good FTY on vault, a piked Jaeger, Pak, toe on to van Leeuwen, and full-out on bars, clean work on beam, where she dismounts with a double full, and a solid floor set that ends with a triple full. She made all four finals here, getting the silver medals on bars and floor behind Spence on both, while also placing fourth on beam with a fall on her switch leap to side aerial and sixth on vault.

I expected big things from both Cato and Riley here, and they absolutely delivered, despite a few rough spots for each. Cato had an excellent all-around performance, but finished the day by sitting her stalder half to double front on bars, a bummer after everything else went so smoothly, and I especially loved her performance on floor, while Riley had some issues on bars and some bobbles on beam, though hit an excellent vault and a floor set with tons of potential.

Cato unfortunately had the same dismount issue in the bars final, finishing fourth, and she also fell on her front aerial and sat her double tuck on beam while her vault difficulty was too low for her to be a contender there, but despite her dismount drama on bars, her routine itself has so much promise. As for Riley, she ended up with the gold on vault for her excellent work, and though she fell on her side aerial on beam, her flight series there was great and she ended up in fourth while also placing fifth on floor.

With Juk, I was so excited about her beam, which could use some polishing, but it’s SO packed, with a full attitude turn, layout stepout flight series, Kochetkova, Onodi, and Omelianchik. The non-stop acro is so much fun to watch, and with a few tweaks, this could be an excellent set to see on the international stage. Juk hit this routine with no major problems in both the all-around and the event final, sticking her front layout full dismount on the second day to win the bronze.

Otherwise, Juk had some mishaps in her competition, muscling some bars skills and sitting her double front, and landing a couple of her tumbling passes a bit low, and though her FTY was solid both days, she sat her Yurchenko layout in the final to finish last there, though she did pick up the bronze medals on bars and floor on top of her beam bronze, showing that even though these events aren’t exactly the strongest the program has to offer, she was able to push through with consistent sets where pretty much everyone else had bad days.

King’s issues were all pretty minor in the all-around, where her floor routine was a standout with a double tuck stuck on her toes, a clean 1½ to front full, and a 2½ with a step on top of a great performance quality in her “Sweet Child of Mine” routine. She placed seventh there in finals after falling on the punch out of her second pass, and she also placed fifth on bars after coming off on a front swing, but she picked up the silver medal on beam for an excellent set that included a split leap to full Y turn, flight series with a minor adjustment, front aerial, and nearly stuck 1½ dismount.

Saint-Pierre had a strong FTY on vault, but showed some struggles on bars and also fell on her side aerial on beam, and then missed her hand after the roundoff out of her front pike and into the next skill on floor, balking it and just doing a layout before going on to crash her double pike to her head. Her floor did show a great level of difficulty, however, opening with a solid tucked full-in, and she also has a strong handspring front pike on vault, helping her to a fifth-place finish there in finals, though she unfortunately had a fall in the bars final, finishing last after arching over and coming off on a handstand before stumbling back her double layout dismount (though her Ray was great!).

I thought Katjavari proved to be an exciting up-and-comer here, with eighth place in the junior field a big improvement from tenth as a novice at nationals last year. Some of her skills are a bit wild and her difficulty isn’t huge, but she had moments of greatness here, with a solid double front bars dismount, a nice flight series and double full dismount on beam, and a nearly stuck double tuck on floor, placing seventh in the bars final and sixth on floor on top of her top eight all-around finish.

In addition to the top eight all-arounders, Zoe Allaire-Bourgie was one to watch, competing every event but bars on day one, including a big clean FTY, a mostly good beam set aside from a fall on an aerial, and a gorgeous floor routine that included a quad spin, a nearly stuck high double tuck, a 2½, front full, and slightly short double full.

She easily won the beam title after hitting one of the best routines I’ve seen her do in the final, including a front aerial to a jump, a solid flight series, a lovely double spin, a gorgeous switch leap to switch half, and a hop on her double full. She’s SO good on this event, but generally has consistency issues that keep her from reaching her full potential, though she reminded us here just how good that set can be and hopefully will continue to keep the momentum going for the rest of this season.

Others to keep an eye on included vault silver medalist Lucia Jakab, who has a great tsuk full there, though had multiple issues throughout her all-around competition to place ninth, Kiera Wai continues to show off as a lovely beam worker, though struggled a bit here with a fall on her flight series in the final, and I also loved the floor choreo I saw from Nya Kraus and Bryn Topham, both of whom were great performers.

Full results from the competition are available here, and you can also check out the photo gallery from the all-around competition. Next up for Canada’s juniors will be Gymnix in early March, which will likely serve as a test for those hoping to travel to Colombia for Pac Rims in April.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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