Farah Hussein, Zeina Ibrahim, and Naveen Daries
This year’s African Championships, the third of four continental championships being held this season to qualify gymnasts to the 2020 Olympic Games, kicked off with the women’s competition today, where Zeina Ibrahim of Egypt and Naveen Daries of South Africa earning their spots in Tokyo.
Ibrahim, who competed at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 but missed out on worlds the following year due to an injury. She had a solid competition here, beginning with a clean bars set that included a van Leeuwen, straddle Jaeger, and double layout, a hit beam routine with a side aerial to layout stepout acro series, and a floor set that included a double full, double pike, and front layout.
Her teammate Farah Hussein, who won two world challenge cup medals during her senior international debut in 2017 and has since made three world championships appearances, also had an excellent day on the first three events. She missed a few handstands on bars but hit a Maloney to bail to toe shoot, straddle Jaeger, and a layout dismount, and then nailed her switch leap mount, flight series, Kochetkova, and layout full on beam as well as her double pike, front full, and double full on floor.
The two were neck-in-neck going into the final rotation, but on vault, Hussein crashed her Yurchenko full, while Ibrahim hit hers, just taking a big bounce back on the landing. In the end, Ibrahim won the all-around competition and secured the spot in Tokyo with a 50.200, nearly two points ahead of Hussein’s score of 48.400 for the silver medal.
Also representing Egypt was 16-year-old Jana Mahmoud, the 2018 African junior champion who also competed at the inaugural junior world championships. Mahmoud had some big skills on bars, where she caught a straddle Jaeger and Pak before hitting her double layout with a hop, and she did beautiful work on floor, competing both a full-in and a triple full. Unfortunately, she had a fall on beam, and then in the final rotation, put her hands down on her tsuk full, finishing third with a 47.250, though with the two-per-country rule in play for the podium, she was ineligible to win the bronze medal.
The bronze went to Daries, who had a bit of a rough day, falling on all four events to finish with just a 43.850, more than five points lower than the score she put up at world championships in 2019. Stuttgart was Daries’ first attempt at qualifying to Tokyo, she missed out due to the one-per-country rule as her teammate Caitlin Rooskrantz came in just 0.067 ahead of her. But Daries, who came into this meet as a frontrunner for the podium and an Olympic spot, still managed to finish ahead of the rest of the eligible field – including her own sister, 16-year-old Zelmé Daries – to earn a second spot for South Africa.
Daries started out with a Yurchenko full that landed on one knee, and then on bars, she got off to a great start with a toe full to Maloney to Gienger and a straddle Jaeger, but then she arched over on a handstand and had to hop off. Her beam was mostly strong aside from a fall on her transverse straight jump full, and then on floor, she sat the front tuck out of her opening 2½. Still, Daries had been about two points ahead of the rest of the field going into the final rotation, and with the two-per-country rule knocking Mahmoud off of the podium, she was able to finish her day with an all-around medal.
While none of the Algerians here were frontrunners to qualify for Tokyo, thanks to Daries’ mistakes, Fatima Ahlem Mokhtari – who competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and most recently helped her country to the silver team medal at the 2019 African Games – got pretty close, finishing fifth with a 42.650. She hit all four events, with her punch front mount on beam a standout, getting the upset over the other two South Africans, as Mammule Rankoe finished sixth with a 41.700 while Zelmé Daries was seventh with a 40.800, showing some pretty decent sets but falling twice on bars.
Algeria’s Lahna Salem came in at eighth place with a 40.050, her teammate Chama Temmami was ninth with a 39.250, and then Cameroon’s first-time competitors Ajara Petsadjui, Lisa Mebar, and Celestine Nanga Ntyo’o rounded out the standings, competing low-difficulty routines here, but I was impressed with Petsadjui nailing a punch front mount on beam.
Mandy Mohamed and Caitlin Rooskrantz, who had previously qualified for the Olympic Games at world championships in 2019 for Egypt and South Africa respectively, also competed here, with Mohamed on all four events while Rooskrantz stuck to vault and bars. The routines were considered more exhibitions, and were unranked here, but Mohammed had strong performances on vault and floor after falling a few times on bars and beam, while Rooskrantz was a bit soft in her Yurchenko full, though her bars routine was excellent, featuring a toe full, Maloney to Pak, van Leeuwen, piked Jaeger, a brand new Ray to Gienger combo, and a front layout 1½ dismount.
The men’s competition concludes tomorrow afternoon in Cairo, with athletes from Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, and Nigeria expected to compete.
Article by Lauren Hopkins