Derwael Leads Young Belgian Team for Tokyo

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Maellyse Brassart, Fien Enghels, Noémie Louon, Nina Derwael, Lisa Vaelen, and Jutta Verkest

The Belgian federation announced yesterday that 2016 Olympian and two-time world champion Nina Derwael will lead the 2020 Olympic team for Belgium, joined by three-time world championships competitor Maellyse Brassart, 2019 junior world championships competitor Lisa Vaelen, and first-year senior Jutta Verkest, who made the all-around final at European Championships earlier this year.

The team is a young one, with Brassart, Verkest, and Vaelen all becoming seniors in the 2020 quad, and Verkest just 15, a new senior this year, but it’s one full of experience at the highest levels. The team also speaks to the level of depth in the Belgian program right now, with Derwael the only 2016 quad veteran who was in serious contention for a spot, a big deal when most national teams rely on multiple veterans to hang on for several quads to keep the team in play.

Not only is the team largely made up of young talent, but several top contenders with potential to score really well in Tokyo ended up being left behind, with Noémie Louon and Fien Enghels named as the reserves who will travel to Japan with the team, while a few other strong competitors – Margaux Daveloose, Axelle Klinckaert, Charlotte Beydts, Kéziah Langendock, and Margaux Dandois – will miss out on the experience. As with those who made the team, all contenders for Tokyo became seniors in the 2020 quad with the exception of Klinckaert, who was originally a member of the 2016 team before she was sidelined by a knee injury.

A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have predicted either Verkest or Vaelen making it, and had my money on Louon, Enghels, and Daveloose as those most likely to join Derwael and Brassart, with Brassart only a lock for me after she upgraded her vault to a Yurchenko double. But Verkest’s performance at European Championships and at the recent FIT Challenge made her impossible to leave behind as someone with team finals-worthy routines on all four events, while Vaelen, who has a really strong combination of routines on vault and bars, also stepped up as a top contender in recent weeks, especially after winning the bronze on bars at the Osijek Challenge Cup in June.

After finishing 12th in qualifications as a team in 2016, Belgium will be looking to make the team final in Tokyo, and of course, Derwael is a strong contender to make several individual finals, where she’s looking to finish as a top six all-arounder in addition to fighting for gold on bars. I think Belgium will also qualify a second athlete into the all-around final, with either Brassart or Verkest likely to make it happen, though it’s not likely they’ll have any apparatus final contenders outside of Derwael.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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