Saturday, June 27, 2020

Skin in the Game: A Q&A with Kent Pieterse


3 years is a long hiatus, but as the old saying goes: there's no time like the present...


In May and June of 2020, a lengthy series of worldwide protests broke out against racial discrimination and police brutality towards the black community, in response to the death of American citizen George Floyd at the hands of white police officers. The waves of the debate reverberated profoundly here in Australia, where there has been a significant history of oppression towards first nation and migrant black Australians. For those readers unfamiliar with Australia's history, this deep pain ranges from colonialism's slavery and forced family separations to constitutional and ongoing socioeconomic inequality, and racial attacks both online and in communities. The 'Black Lives Matter' support movement has gathered in strength, urgency and amplification of its important messages.

In light of this increasing movement, many organisations around the world have expressed their solidarity with those protesting, and asserted a greater commitment to diversity within their structures and the wellbeing of POC (person/s of colour). A number of athletes, musicians and other public figures have been stepping forward to share their experiences with racial remarks, stereotypes and unequal treatment. Some were exasperating, some were genuinely life-threatening; some had been very recent, some were childhood incidents, all were shocking - but not altogether surprising - to learn, as the world has such a long way to go in its striving for peace and fairness.

One such individual making his voice heard is Kent Pieterse.


Image courtesy of Spotify


Kent was a member of the Australian men's artistic gymnastics national team for several years, and represented the country at numerous international competitions during his career, most notably the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I've followed Kent on social media for a while as I greatly enjoyed his performances on the competition floor here in Melbourne. Now retired from the sport but still coaching, Kent recently posted a series of tweets where he recounted some racially discriminatory remarks made by a senior coach while he was training and the lack of support received from team-mates. I reached out to Kent asking if he would be comfortable elaborating on these experiences, as I felt that as a white person with European heritage it is important at such a critical time in our history to elevate the voices of the marginalised, to listen and to learn.

 As a sport, artistic gymnastics has undoubtedly been shaped by a white-centric gaze and white European techniques. In 2020 the very notion of 'artistry' itself, in a field governed by an open-ended scoring code, is being continuously disassembled and debated by enthusiasts while Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Morgan Hurd, Christopher Remkes, Courtney Tulloch, and a multitude of non-white gymnasts continue to push the boundaries of what is possible on every apparatus. 


I am extremely thankful to Kent for his time and his honesty in responding to my questions.


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"I think John Orozco and I have quite similar stories in the sense that we struggled to find where we fit in, but we were both two black guys who wanted to do the best we could for our country but we were made to feel different because of how we looked..."


Hi Kent. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.


First and foremost, where can we find you these days during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown period? What activities have you been up to? I see music is still one of your big passions!

That’s a fantastic question!

As far as work goes, I’ve been fortunate enough to still coach gymnastics classes over Zoom live calls, as well as having an online LMS (Learning Monitoring System) which my club had put in place during the shutdown to help kids continuously keep up with and practice their skills and activities at home.

You are also very correct about the music! Just before COVID-19 made everything go into complete shut down, I managed to finish set up and make my studio in the back of my house (bless my amazing fiancĂ©e for being super patient and supportive of it!) I’m currently working on my first full-length album which has been something I put on hold for quite some time as I wanted to focus all of my attention to my last year of gymnastics in 2018 and to do more producing and song writing during 2019. I’m hoping to have it completed and released sometime this year or latest early 2021.


So to give people a bit of background to you in case they didn't know already, you were born in Durban in South Africa. At what age did you come to Australia and what was that transition like?

I moved to Melbourne on the 1st July 2005 with my parents and two siblings (older brother and younger sister), it was solely based on the fact that my parents had both been here and really liked the place. My mother also had family that lived in Perth and Melbourne, so we decided on Melbourne over Perth. I was 11 at the time and as you can imagine, it was already halfway through the school year which made it difficult for me to get a gauge on what the level the education was like (when I was in primary school here in Australia, the year 5 and 6 students were in the same class split up into different colour rooms). I was also starting to go through the early stages of puberty which made for a lot of emotional days missing the rest of my family and friends back in South Africa.

To be honest, it took the rest of that year to transition into familiarising myself with the Australian culture and customs as well as the way things are done (or perceived) to most Australians about the rest of the world. As most people know, a lot of South Africans moved to Australia at the end of the apartheid to start new lives, but I was very surprised that most of my class members genuinely didn’t know about South Africa or thought I lived in a hut and had a lion as a pet. I also had a bit of fun with this and actually went along sometimes before saying “No, I lived in a house just like the one you live in.”



You had already started gymnastics back in Durban. What was starting in gymnastics here in Australia like for you? What kind of barriers did you find yourself navigating? What things came to you easier than others?


I was very lucky to be given a chance to do the entrance test for the then Victorian Men’s Gymnastics High Performance Centre (HPC for short), three days after arriving in the country. I arrived on the Friday night around 11pm and was up and ready to check the gym out by 8:30 the next morning! I remember walking through the entrance and seeing predominantly white male gymnasts with the exception of 3 male gymnasts who were of colour (two were Asian and one was mixed race/biracial). I knew this was going to be tricky in itself, as I didn’t have someone who could relate to where I came from and the hardships that were still happening within South Africa (the country of South Africa we know today only came about in 1994 after the abolishment of apartheid, so realistically it’s only a 26-year-old country where everyone was now treated as equals). I think it took a good two weeks until I was comfortable enough to start talking and say hi to my team mates when making my way to my locker or swapping between the apparatus we were training on.

I think having the self-motivation and drive to push myself without being asked what to do came easier to me than to some of my team mates. From a young age I was taught that if you want something, you need to be willing to work hard for it and not give up. This helped me through some really tough times and taught me to also show my character and my worth through my actions, more than just talking about it and nothing ever eventuates out of it. I also took pride in being a gymnast and not just venturing off and doing a sport like athletics, soccer or rugby which I could have excelled at. They just never felt challenging enough for me and never gave me fulfilment like gymnastics did.



Image by Russell Cheyne/Reuters/Globe and Mail 2014


Throughout your gym career you really flourished on vault and on floor, can you talk a little about any experiences you had dealing with people's perceptions or expectations of black athletes, in terms of beliefs around athletic power and/or speed? Was there an expectation or an ideal that you felt that you had to live up to in the gym on your specialty events, and how did that affect how you trained or felt about yourself?

Initially in the early years as I started making national squads and teams to compete at international meets, there was definitely a couple of times where I’d get the occasional “But you’re black, you have so much power!” or, “This should be easy for you with the leg strength you have.” I remember during a junior training camp at the AIS in 2009 or 2010, a few of us were having lunch and I said “I always worry each time I do vault that if I don’t quite land properly, my left kneecap will break or snap again”. (This was due to me originally splitting and re-breaking my left kneecap back in 2006 and again in 2008.) One of my team mates said without hesitation, “Look at the size of your legs compared to mine, must be all that black power. You’ll be fine.” My response was, “but I’m human, just like you…”

I think as time went on I learnt that I can be a major factor for our team results on floor and vault at a state and international level, as I had a very clean and consistent Tsukahara 3/2 twist on vault and at least 3 different floor routines varying in difficulty depending on what the situation was, and if I needed to hit a clean set or bump up difficulty to catch another team. It was tougher for me during my time as a specialist as I knew I would struggle to find the difficulty on rings being more on the taller side of the gymnastics world. I knew that if I could work on being more of a backup and focusing on execution, I could also be a reliable choice for a solid consistent score. Funny enough out of all the events 
my favourite was high bar, so even though I’m known for my tumbling and vaulting, I’d always look forward to smashing out a high bar routine and at some points in my career, it was my highest start score of the 4 events that I did as a senior.


Right now it feels like we are at a real 'turning point', with the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systemic racism in the US spreading wider than ever, and starting to bring about major cultural reflection and change. What have been some of your thoughts on seeing this activism and solidarity in action?

I think over the last few weeks that the Black Lives Matter protests have been happening, it’s really shown me just how little I know about the indigenous and Torres Strait people of our country. I’ve been talking to a lot of my Indigenous and Torres Strait friends about their stories, their culture and their ancestors and heritage. I think it’s fantastic that we acknowledge the lands of the tribes that lived on them, but as far as educating and informing our youth, young adults and even our older generations about this amazing history of the first people of Australia, unfortunately we are not doing nowhere near enough! I think I only learnt about the ANZAC’s in high school from year 7 all the way through to year 12 during history and I understand its importance, but we also need to discuss the other heavier things like “The stolen generation” and how “Australia Day” is actually “Invasion Day”.

What conversations or changes do you hope it will spark here in Australia?

As a person who has been an Australian citizen for over 13 years now, we shouldn’t only accept and acknowledge the good things about our country, we also need to accept and acknowledge the bad so that we can better ourselves and our people. Also, it’s 2020! Why do black people in the USA still have to fight to be treated equally or fear that it could be their last day alive when driving or walking down the street because they fit the description of a person who robbed someone or one of the most common excuses being “You look/looked threatening?! We are all human beings at the end of the day, period.


As they kept going on it changed from feeling beyond pissed to unappreciated, worthless and quite frankly, “What’s the point of continuing when I’m never going to be good enough in your eyes?” 

You recently wrote some tweets sharing specific past experiences you had in the gym where you felt your identity was singled out. You mentioned one incident where a senior coach used a racially derogatory choice of words to describe the way that you were standing on the floor mat. How did you react to that at the time, and looking back now would you have reacted any differently?


I remember initially feeling "beyond pissed", as this was a person who I thought had my best interests and wanted to see me succeed and excel in our sport. As they kept going on it changed from feeling beyond pissed to unappreciated, worthless and quite frankly “what’s the point of continuing when I’m never going to be good enough in your eyes?”





Did it change your relationship with that coach or the way that you viewed them? 

My relationship and the way I viewed that coach definitely changed after that conversatio
n.


You also talked about other coaches and teammates not really understanding, or dismissing it, when you raised the incident. What would you have liked to hear at the time?

I think this hurt even more to be honest. Knowing that some of my team mates and coaches who I spent more time with than my own parents, siblings and friends just said “ignore them” or “GET OVER IT”. I can’t tell you how many times I heard those three words when trying to explain the importance of calling someone out for being out of line and disrespectful to others but also when a racist comment, a snarky comment about someone’s “manliness” or a homophobic comment was thrown around with no consequences or repercussions at all. I felt that they would never step up and help when I needed it the most and that’s not just on the competition floor and at training, but just in life.

What is some advice you would give to coaches or to teammates that have a gymnast raise an issue like this with them?

My advice to coaches and my former team mates is, listen to your athletes and you team mates, if they’re going through something and are asking you for help, be there! It seems like a mighty big thing to do but if someone knows that you are invested in them, I guarantee that it will be returned later on down the track. To sum it up “treat people the way you want to be treated”.


You also claimed you were told by this same senior coach, "You're nothing special, you're lucky you are even on the squad". How was this different to the kind of feedback given to other members of the national squad? 

I remember many incidents where a few of my team mates weren’t having the best day and the coach would say “It’s alright, you will get it next time” or “Don’t be so hard on yourself” whereas for myself and a few of my other team mates there was always an urgency to nit-pick all the small things we did wrong. I can promise you this, there was even a time where you would go into a trial for a competition and at the start of the week you could pre-determine who was going to be on the team. As long as they never injure themselves during that time, you knew they would be going to that international meet.Was the person called out for saying these things?

There were a couple of times when this coach was called out for the feedback they gave, but as far as what they said to me, I don’t think any discussion or being called out on it occurred.


[E]very time Prashanth and Chris go out there and represent our country, there is potentially a POC child watching them and saying “I want to be like him and do what he can do!” I say this because that’s what Prashanth was for me.



Have any other ex- or current Australian gymnasts expressed to you that they have had similar experiences, and feel supported by your speaking out?


Yes, they have. I think a lot of them just like me, didn’t know when was the right time to speak out or say something about what was happening behind the scenes. I guess it was this big play of “Hey everyone! We’re one great big family!” but in reality, it was more “I’m going to stand here next to you and put on a fake smile, even though you treat me like absolute s**t when these people or no one is around.” You’d be surprised how many amazing and talented gymnasts left the sport because of this and how many to this day, still feel the effects of those moments that they had to endure, simply because no one knew.


Many of Australia's MAG international medals and rankings over the years have been thanks to gymnasts who came from non-white, non-European backgrounds, including Prashanth Sellathurai, Naoya Tsukahara and Chris Remkes. Can you talk about what it means as an athlete to see diverse representation within lineups?

It's so important! You have to remember that every time Prashanth and Chris go out there and represent our country, there is potentially a POC child watching them and saying “I want to be like him and do what he can do!” I say this because that’s what Prashanth was for me as a junior gymnast and I know that’s what Chris is for many junior and young gymnasts of today.

Kent (back left) and Naoya Tsukahara (foreground) and Australian team, 2014
Image courtesy Instagram

Prashanth Sellathurai (second left) and Australian team, 2010
Image courtesy ABC.net.au

Christopher Remkes (far right) and Australian team, 2018
Image courtesy Zimbio


Diversity helps us to break the cycle and the mould of stereotypes!

Imagine if we said this to every person of the same race: “Oh, you’re Black so that must mean you play basketball and want to go to the NBA.” or, “Oh, you’re Asian so that must mean you play table tennis and want to go to the Olympics.” Firstly, that’s stereotyping and low-key racism at its finest and secondly: is that all you know those races for?! It’s like every time I (and I’m sure many other people of these races) have to say back “You do know that we’re not all just really good at one thing, right?”

I think it’s important for people to see diversity as a normal thing and shouldn’t be surprised if a team is made up of all races and not a predominant one.


As an Australian gymnast with South African heritage, what did it mean to you to compete at a Commonwealth Games (in 2014)? 
Everything! Being on that competition floor I knew I wasn’t just representing my country, I was representing my birth country and heritage for both Australia and South Africa! To be able to say I went to the Commonwealth Games and almost came home with a bronze medal on vault against some of the world’s best vaulters… To even be mentioned in the same sentence as them was insane to me! The craziest part was I originally wasn’t even named on the team! For all my family, friends and all their friends back home in South Africa and Australia, it gave them hope to keep working towards their goals because if I could make it and achieve one of the goals I had set out for myself, so could they. It gave me and everyone around me hope, hope to keep working towards where you want to go.

Image Courtesy BBC Sports Scotland 2014


A lot of athletes and public figures lately have been sharing their stories within the Black Lives Matter hashtag on social media. Are there any that have really resonated with you, and why?

I think John Orozco and I have quite similar stories in the sense that we struggled to find where we fit in, but we were both two black guys who wanted to do the best we could for our country but we were made to feel different because of how we looked. Obviously, his story differs in some areas but I can also relate to not feeling welcomed by my own heritage (being mixed race/bi-racial and not knowing my Dutch and Belgium heritage). All in all, I really did resonate most with his story.


What are some actions you think Gymnastics Australia as an organisation could take (or should take) to meaningfully address racial inequality within gymsports in Australia, and show commitment to supporting the wellbeing of POC?

I think having more representation and events revolving around and celebrating how diverse our country is and how diversity is what makes Australia great!

It would be awesome to have more workshops or talks that involve our past POC gymnasts and them talking about their experiences inside and outside the gym and how it shaped them into the person they are today, as well as using local businesses within the POC community to collaborate with to get more people excited about how inclusive gymnastics is.


Finally, is there anything else that you would like to add?

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who supported me through my 13 years as an Australian gymnast and for those who continue to support me during my coaching and educational career. Gymnastics has given me so much and even though not all of it was good, you learn to take the good and the bad, it’s the same with life.

 I wish all my team mates and anyone associated with gymnastics in Australia the best both past, present and future and I hope we can all catch up and have great times and memories together.

A big thanks to you Meredith for reaching out and also, I want people to go out and see the world (whenever we’re allowed to do that again) and experience it for themselves, don’t have a bias/swayed image or depiction about a place beforehand. Go and meet the people, hear their stories, enrich yourself with their culture, heritage, cuisine and places that they are proud of!

And finally: “Just be a good person”. Uplift people, show love, empathy, encouragement, positivity and most importantly support.


If people want to know more about my story and the ways that I am helping out the POC community and our gymnasts currently in Victoria, please feel free to email me at kentpieterse1@gmail.com or on Twitter and Instagram @kentpieterse. I’m always happy to catch up over a cup of coffee or tea and see where I can possibly help.


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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Australian National (Artistic) Gymnastics Championships

Hey there!

Long time no see!

I didn't even write up the Melbourne World Cup, how slack is THAT?! Admittedly it is saved in my drafts. Unfinished. I'm the worst.

What ISN'T the worst is nationals, my favourite fortnight of the year.

This year I attended the Friday night Sr and Jr MAG/WAG All-Around Final and day 2 of the apparatus finals. I was extremely excited to attend the first championships under the tenure of new national women's coach Mihai Brestyan, and the first after the dust had settled on a very successful world cup circuit campaign for various Aussies.

I'm going to whip through some highlights and lowlights, as much as my tweets during the event and the livestreams (now on demand here!) allow me to recall.


HIGHLIGHTS:

* Wednesday night's first round of major competition came in the wake of a horrific stadium concert terrorism incident in Manchester, UK. The world was still reeling from the barbaric incident that left innocent families without daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, siblings and treasured friends. I was very conscious of this going into the event. Very aware that the majority of the spectators around me were young females and their parents, just out to have a nice time and enjoy a spectacle. I shed my tears in the day prior and gave a quiet thanks as I walked up to Hisense Arena for the emergency services personnel, security staff, Melbourne Olympic Park team and other officials there to ensure we were all kept safe and reassured.

* Despite beloved announcer Ade hanging up his headphones after so many years, despite Peggy Liddick stepping down after 20 years at the helm, despite the absence of trailblazing superstar Lauren Mitchell, despite reports of injuries and time away for WAG favourites Emma Nedov, Larrissa Miller, Emily Whitehead, Mez Monckton, Yasmin Collier, Paige James, Kiara Munteanu, and yes even despite the events in Manchester, the mood throughout the meet was upbeat and celebratory.

* In the recent GA strengths and weaknesses review, one recommendation by the consultancy firm was that the head coach should be on the floor less at major meets. That they should take the example of Marta Karolyi and do their work in training then sit in the stands for the event, not working on the floor. Throughout the meet I noticed Mihai doing just this. While I can't vouch for prelims Wednesday, on the Friday AA final he was in the stands the entire time observing, speaking over the barrier on a couple of occasions to Liddick or individual coaches. During Sunday's senior beam and floor finals he had a small table set up on the small concourse section beside the warmup gym (close to the springboard end of beam) with a start list, AA results list and pen. He chatted to various coaches and officials, and after the event I saw him again speaking with the likes of Jeb, John, Ross B and Peggy. My heart melted during senior beam warmup as Nikolai Lapchine passed the table and gave Mihai a hearty salute with a big grin. Everyone was excited for him to be there and he was constantly checked on, constantly introduced to new people with warm voices, constantly smiled at. He never seemed to pout or frown or sigh or get cross. He just made his notes. At one point, former Olympian Georgia Bonora passed by and I heard him cheerily call out, "Oh hi! Hi! I have to say I barely recognise you without your hair up!"

* There was no Amanar to be seen but Emily Little still brought a vaulting masterclass to the arena every night that she competed. Also impressive was reigning all-around champ Rianna Mizzen upgrading to a double herself. Both performed beautifully and would be an asset to any team lineup.

* Speaking of masterclasses - not enough people talk about Chris Remkes like he's the heir to Kenzo or Hypolito. Mark my words people, HE IS. A double double as a side pass?! A double arabian as a side pass?! That triple double layout are you *kidding me*?! Quickhitting his routines took multiple tweets and always involves more than on exclamation point. Also his Dragulescu is so scary good it basically violates my human rights.

* If Mizzen and Little are our vault 1-2 punch, then for high bar it has to be Tyson Bull and Mitchell Morgans. Those guys deserve epic, epic Zonderland points for the trickery they each busted out. Casual Cassinas like it's no big thing.

* If you loved dynamic 'smallfreckly' Amber Fulljames in 2008 or UCLA's Macy Toronjo in 2017 then you will loooooooooooooooooooooove Jemimah Lam from Victoria. What a gem. She has an eye-catching walkover mount on beam reminiscent of Hollie Dykes, and engaging choreo on floor. I loved every time she stepped up to the plate.

* Cassidy Ercole, who knew you could piked full-in on floor like that?! NSW brought some great surprises this week, including Sopie Stuart's back layout stepout to immediate whip. So cool.

* Georgia-Rose Brown had the all-around meet(s) of her entire life. Oh my god. While she still lacks in some respects in the difficulty stakes, she was more consistent than she has ever been across the whole week, and she has cleaned up a whole lot on bars. Her choreography just makes you swoon whether it's a lengthy series on floor or small flourishes on beam. Head to toe it's lovely.

* Same goes for Emily Little, I am thrilled she finally got her national gold. It was so deserved after so long languishing in the runner-up positions.

* Waverley kept the spirit of Larrissa Miller alive with a gorgeous bars set from finals medallist Kate McDonald - the height on her tkatchev is ridiculous - and a dynamic floor from Jade Vella-Wright. I can't get enough of that girl's whip to double tuck on floor. They also solid performances from junior Romi Brown. I was hoping for Jade to have done slightly better in the all-around final, ditto her clubmate Talia Folino, but alas her major hardware came on the final night of competition.

* Pommel is........ pommel. And blah. And I pretty much saw none of it. Sorry.

* I was so, so thrilled to see Michael Merceica back after knowing he was injured in this very arena one year ago on parallel bars and it withdrew him from Olympic reserve contention. He had a decent week.

* Favourite new MAG for reasons other than skills was Gabe O'Sullivan from WA. I nicknamed him "Wavey Gabey" he always had a big smile and lengthy waves for the crowd after his routines, especially any time he nailed his triple twist on floor.

* Cause of my death: The combined sass and commitment to unique choreo of Victorian girls Alex Eade, Elly Bayes and Eadie Rawson. Their eye contact and diva-esque struts on and off the mat alone are worth the price of admission.

* Congrats to the new graduate from the Olivia Vivian School of Coming Back to Elite Competition During/After College Gymnastics and Kicking Total Butt Like They Never Left: Tyson Bull!

* Secondary cause of my death: Seeing the white 2008 Olympic Test Event leo that Dasha Joura wore on a bunch of Vic juniors in the vault final and then lo and behold DASHA HERSELF WAS ON HAND AN HOUR LATER TO HAND OUT THE WAG MEDALS.

* On of the men had a triple back on high bar but sat it down during the AA, unfortunately I did not catch who it was. It was really cool.

* Next year's Commonwealth Games will be on the Gold Coast, Queensland. Definitely expect seniors Mizzen and Georgia Godwin, and exciting juniors Kate Sayer and Isla Ross to factor into the mix. Sayer had some tremendous vaults and Ross was a delight to watch on bars after having a great 2016 nationals too.

* Double layouts on show from: Little, Godwin, Alex Eade. Please never ever stop doing these. I bet Mihai likes you the best. You get big air, and you get big air, and you get big air...

* Kent Pieterse is BACK, baby! And so is his fab hairdo.

* Larrissa Miller confirmed in sideline interview that she will be returning to the gym within the next month, and we are so excited to have her back!

* Triple acro series on beam from: Erin Modaro, Talia Folino, Rianna Mizzen, and I did not realise until some time later, lovely little Miss Elena Chipizubov. When they were on, they were really on!

* Allana Slater led a brief tribute to Peggy Liddick, including shoutouts to her achievements with the WAG program and those infamous distraction tapes. Truly Allana is a fine ambassador for this sport.


LOWLIGHTS

Oh boy. There was some tough stuff.

* The new announcer was the worst I've ever experienced at a meet. No offence, GA. I know you had big shoes to fill. But it was abundantly clear this woman was either working from a script without glasses, or working with a script she was given 2 minutes before the meet. Constant mispronunciations (even during Luke Wiwatowski's retirement presentation. THREE TIMES.), stumbles over announcements, incorrect apparatus introduced... I was pretty embarrassed for her, as were people who tuned in on the livestream. I know it is not an easy job by any stretch but it honestly sounded like this woman had not even rehearsed from a mock running sheet.

* Emily Little took a very bad floor fall on day 2 of apparatus finals. I captured it on video at the time but since delete my tweet of it out of respect. Although Em performed a great double layout all week she had warmed it up Sunday night with a full twist, a tumble we haven't seen her do at a major meet since last nationals. The warmup looked superb, but in the routine I guess she got a bit lost in the air and crashed down badly, at first I thought she had just dinged her forearms as she seemed to hit the floor still twisting, then I grew deeply concerned for her head and neck as she stayed down for a while. Thankfully she tweeted later after a medical checkup that was mainly just store, which was a hugely relief. I hope she isn't permanently put off trying the skill again in future.

* Withdrawing due to injury altogether after night 1 of all-around was Georgia Godwin, a hot favourite to reach the dais after a good first day of competition that saw her in second place overall. She later confirmed it was a hamstring strain. Get well soon, GG!

* A few competitors seemed quite banged up, mostly strapped ankles but a fair few strapped toes! There was a bruise on Rianna's leg that you couldn't take your eye off.

* The men seemed to struggle with adjusting to the floor mat. A LOT. Very few floor routines went through unscathed. More podium meets during the year means more practise!

* Sean O'Hara retired! :'(

* Rianna Mizzen had a very tough few nights of competition but did come back to finally scoop the bars title. She had missed her Hindorff release every other night so to hit it at last in the final was sweet redemption. Not so sweet was her beam, which gets serious execution deductions in the first place for her triple acro series (daring though it is), in beam final she counted two falls if I recall, and said acro series was way too close to the end of the beam. She was lucky not to go flying off.

* A lot of scores in the sub-10 range. Loooooota scores. Owch.

* The ninth circle of hell is nothing but wolf turns. Every day. On a loop. Set to Zorba music.

* No real exciting WAG vaults aside from the two Yurchenko doubles so the future does not look hugely bright on that front just yet. Junior 15 (I think) vault final had two gymnasts in it.


So there are some fixer-uppers. No doubt. In some areas I saw consistency we had not really seen before, in others I saw more tweaking needing to be done. Mihai himself says it won't happen overnight.

 Overall with WAG I think the vibe on the floor was less tense with no Liddick (she was assisting NCE Victoria girls), yet more focussed and individual - everyone seems to work more comfortably when they come down off the podium and see their personal coach there, not the intimidating spectre of the national head coach. I had never witnessed "angrybeam" redemption quite like Emily on her all-around night. Girl has laser beam eyes you could see from the back rows of the arena. And with MAG? I definitely think that the men have been buoyed by recent world cup successes and the profile of their sport being lifted a bit. Some of the biggest cheers of the competition came for well performed vaults and high bar routines. They are all always so positive for each other.

I think the healing has begun (slowly) and everyone is coming together a bit better. GA was thrown into harsh spotlight with the consultancy review, humbled no doubt, but if a more upbeat vibe was one anticipated outcome then I hope they keep implementing the right moves to keep the good times rolling.

Full results are here and once again here is the OVO livestream coverage that is on demand for artistic and currently streaming for rhythmic, acro and T&T.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How The West Was Lost

The Hon. Mia Davies MLA BMM
Minister for Sport and Recreation
Western Australia


Dear Minister and Department Members,

Dear you, Reader,

Dear Friends and Families,


This afternoon it was unexpectedly announced that the women's artistic gymnastics program at the West Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) is to be closed down on December 31st, not long after the excitement and fervour of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

It is with great urging that I ask you to reconsider this action. Not just for my own interests as a longtime spectator and social media contributor to the sport, but for the wellbeing of the families and athletes who have spent years working with the program.

I wish that I could say that, in my capacity as the above, there was something remarkable about me. I wish I could say I inspired the kinds of hopes, dreams and excitement these athletes do. But I don't, I strive to elevate those that do.

Perhaps you were not all fully aware of the utter 'remarkableness' of this program.

WAIS Gymnastics is not only a significant program in the scheme of Australia's gymnastics operations, it is the premier program. Thanks to WAIS, Australia can boast a female World Championship gold and silver medallist, (the nation's first), 9 Olympians, a multitude of Commonwealth Games gold medals, FIG World Cup gold and silver medals, and a national championship results board that sags under its own weight. To put it bluntly - much of Australia's rise on the world stage in gymnastics between 1991 and 2014 is thanks to the environment and consistency fostered at WAIS.

There was something remarkable about Sarah Lauren, one of Australia's youngest ever gold medallists at a Commonwealth Games in 2002. There was something remarkable about Daria Joura, the Russian-Australian Olympian who in early 2008 received a floor routine score that topped the rest of the world. There was something remarkable about Allana Slater, an upstart redhead the world met in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur and watched lead Australia to a consecutive Commonwealth team gold in Manchester 2002. And truly there is something remarkable about Lauren Mitchell, our first women's world champion and a dual Olympian who graciously credits her success to her WAIS Gymnastics' renowned coaches and specialists.

Unfortunately, since 2011, Australia's international results are not completely what they have been in the past. The road to Rio has been paved with hard work, unpleasant decisions, nailbiting performances and the absolute best of intentions. Stalwart performer Mitchell has suffered a number of injuries that have hampered her world-class contributions to the team. Injuries have also niggled at our recent national champions Georgia Godwin and Rianna Mizzen, while Rio Olympics alternate Emily Little (who calls WAIS home) has herself fought valiantly in the green and gold despite minor injuries and a brief break from competing.
After the women's team performed shakily at the London Olympics, the funding and coaching structure within gymnastics (like other sports under the ASC's review) was under heavy scrutiny in an attempt to right the ship. National head coach Peggy Liddick acknowledged that improvement would not happen overnight, and after serious review and restructure of the national high performance KPIs decided to send no representatives to the 2013 World Championships, an unprecedented move. Australia had qualified a berth on its own merits, but all gymnasts were to stay at home with the intent to improve difficulty and consistency across the national program. Although lamentable, as several eligible athletes were fit enough to compete, the decision was upheld. The strategy paid off in a top-8 team finish one year later in China, even without anchor Mitchell, and an individual apparatus final placing for Victoria's Larrissa Miller. But the relief was short-lived after further nerves and injuries set in before 2015 World Championships, and a team finish outside the top 10 saw Australia face its toughest challenge yet leading into the Olympics. There would be one last opportunity to qualify a full team berth to Rio: Finish 4th or higher at the Rio Test Event in six months' time or settle for qualifying just one individual. To the dismay of fans, the Australian women (led by Emily Little) again did not finish as high as hoped at the event, and would see only one of them selected to compete at the Games.

And that is where we are today: only one Australian gymnast will compete in 3 weeks in Rio. It is not a WAIS gymnast, but it is a gymnast that justly earned her selection, and counts WAIS' competitors as her friends. Her compatriots. Her sisters. We warmly congratulate Larrissa Miller on her deserved selection. WAIS will proudly field the reserve role in Emily Little, who last week did not let disappointment distract her and won the vault event at a competition in the Netherlands, and finished 5th on the event in Portugal. These two Australians are great inspirations for young athletes everywhere, as are so many of WAIS' past and present competitors.

In short, WAIS Gymnastics is worth much more to Australia than the loss of it would be. It is greatly distressing to read that parents and athletes, and even Gymnastics Australia officials, were not given prior warning of this decision. We respectfully ask that you do not extinguish a fire that ignited in 1998 with a maiden Commonwealth Games team gold medal, and the Perth gymnast who became the trailblazer for so many. Gymnastics Australia President Jacqui Briggs-Weatherill said of the news, "This sends the message 'Your aspirations aren't important'." and it is heartbreaking to have to think of the situation like this. It would be extremely difficult for the 60 gymnasts of the program to transition to other locations to continue training, or other sports programs altogether. The 2016 National Championships in Melbourne allowed WAIS gymnasts to show tremendous promise and potential, in both junior and senior fields. There is so, so much more to come from this program in the lead-up to Commonwealth Games 2018 and Tokyo 2020.

Please reconsider the move to close down the WAIS Gymnastics program.

My sincere thanks for your time.


Meredith

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

National Championships 2016: Apparatus Finals

The last Saturday and Sunday in May are always a bit chilly in Melbourne, but the skills and confidence on show at Hisense Arena in the apparatus finals were hotter than a jalapeno hula skirt!

VAULT:

No surprises here, with Chris Remkes and Emily Little taking the golds in their respective senior fields.  Remkes was one of only 3 men's competitors, so it was a question of what colour medal he would be taking home if he successfully stood up his vaults. The shy 145cm-tall South Australian repeated his recently acclaimed World Cup form, standing up a daring Dragulescu and a Tsukahara 2.5 twist for 14.862 to take the top spot over national AA champ Luke Wadsworth and WA's Jake Thompson (neither of whom could match Remkes in the difficulty stakes).

Like Remkes, Little was also unmatched for difficulty in the final. We are extremely excited to hear Em has a Tsukahara 1.5 twist and an Amanar in training, though neither was on display this weekend. No stick on the Baitova but a nifty stick on the tsuk. Her 15.012 was one of the highest women's scores of the weekend and I've no doubt the teased higher difficulty will keep that 15 streak going. Next in difficulty though not in ranking was Yasmin Collier whose highlight was a decent Yurchenko 1.5 twist, she had to settle for 4th place. In second was Kiara Munteanu, who did not vault a Yurchenko 1.5 while third placegetter Naomi Lee (13.612) did, though sitting down her 1/2 on double pike off secured Munteanu's medal. Sometimes it's all a matter of execution. While the rest of the field was admittedly little flat, we do know the senior women's field has doubles waiting in the wings from Godwin, Mizzen and an absent Monckton.
  Execution and difficulty on the junior women's side left a lot to be desired, but rising star from Jesolo last year Talia Folino proved victorious again after her Junior All-Around win, as one of only 2 gymnasts with a 5.0 difficulty vault in this final.


BARS:

Oh, the agony and the ecstasy.

The 2016 bars title was, as I grandiosely stated after the all-around final, Larrissa Miller's to lose. And in an unexpected finals turn (a Maroney Moment if you will), she did.

Miller was completely stunning in her stalder and pirouette work, catching every release smoothly though appearing to clip her feet ever so slightly in her in-bar geinger. And then it all fell apart. Back on the high bar and seconds away from clinching another podium finish, Larrissa lost momentum in a full pirouette and came off. Unfortunately she was not able to fully brush the mistake off, and repeated the error almost immediately. Back on the ground she seemed extremely distressed and keen to finish up, which she eventually did again - finishing the skill on the third attempt and landing with her trademark stuck full twist dismount. It was devastating to watch unfold and to see her ranked last, but Larrissa is a fighter and we knew she'd come back strongly in the floor final. The medal dais was not to be Waverley-less, as first year senior Emily Whitehead (competing on her only apparatus of these championships due to injury recovery) snatched silver with a competent routine that featured a Markelov and shap half for 13.775.

Already crowned national all-around champion, Rianna Mizzen backed up last year's first bars place finish with another stellar routine (capped off with a stuck dismount) that brought her the gold. Like fellow finallist Queenslander Georgia Godwin, Rianna shows fantastic toe-on and Weiler work, and her tkatchev into pak is beautifully controlled. Her difficulty (5.8) is just below Miller but enough to top the field. Godwin herself managed the bronze with a routine that admittedly lacked some of the calm control she shows on beam and floor, and finished with a mere double pike dismount. Another routine that will surely get more daring with time.

In junior uneven bars it was again a Waverley dais double act with Talia Folino and Jade Vella-Wright taking gold and bronze respectively (12.150, 11.100). Another final that showed a few cracks in the pre-senior tier (only silver medallist Lily Gresele had an execution score above 7), Folino's 5.2 difficulty is helped by a corker of a straddled jaeger. She like several others in the final showed just a double pike dismount but she has so much stamina I am certain it will be a double layout, or better, extremely soon. I am told they didn't show Junior Bars on the livestream so courtesy of my phone and twitter here are....
Lily Gresele 
Talia Folino
Cassidy Ercole
Eadie Rawson
Elly Bayes


Parallel bars and high bar were yet another Luke W battle, with Wadsworth taking out the former and Wiwatoski finally breaking his silver streak in winning the latter on the final day. Both fought hard these championships that has seen many succumb to fatigue.  Each one's double pike dismount off pbars sent their clubmates into loud frenzy each round of this competition and this final was no exception. While Wiwatowski has the difficulty edge by two tenths, it was Wadsworth who pipped him with better execution to nab a 14.200. On high bar, "Wiwa" was the only gymnast to show a noteworthy release in the gravity-defying Kolmann he'd missed nights earlier in the all-around, and a thrilling double-double dismount. The gold this time was unquestionably his. Scott Brooks? Not so lucky!


RINGS:

I watched this one from home on livestream, and once again it was a Luke W 1-2. Both have a 5.5 difficulty, both showed a tucked 1.5 dismount... you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a gymnastics Parent Trap! But once again, Wadsworth's execution notched him again of Wiwatowski for a golden 14.375. Chris Remkes had the highest difficulty of everyone with 5.9 but could not translate it into a medal-worthy performance. Bronze went to ACT's Adam Falzarono, a serial apparatus finallist this year. I was thrilled to see the return of South Australia's Clay Stephens, usually a vault powerhouse but like Em Whitehead only competing the one event this year. Unlike Whitehead he was unable to squeak into the medals and settled for 4th place.

POMMEL: 

Again, not the funnest event to sit through. Pocket rocket Remkes was one of several to suffer falls and bobbles, the most entertaining being Wiwatowski's front somersault off the side of the horse after a hand slip. Sorry, Luke, acrobatic bonus doesn't work on this event! This was another event that went to Wadsworth, the last man standing.

BEAM: 

The senior women's event was one of 2 'blue ribbon' finals on day 2. Unfortunately all-around champion Rianna Mizzen was withdrawn from this final (I had so looked forward to her layout stepouts again) and replaced by Georgia Godwin. Despite a fall from first up gymnast Yasmin Collier (who still drilled her own layout stepout sequence and made my heart flutter), each performance was close to or better than the one before it. Every single gymnast hit the routine of her life, it was so wonderful to see. Georgia-Rose Brown had one of her most confident showings yet, fully extending in her leaps and back handsprings, I am certain the meet photographers got some gorgeous shots. Godwin, too, showed the beam prowess that had brought her national championship placings over the years. More crisp wolf spins, and a solid BHS-back layout. However, Georgia brought me the second of two heart attacks this final with her extreeeeeemely close to the end of the beam side aerial sequence - the first was Alex Eade taking a very long pause before her dismount, leading me to think she'd suffered a total mental blank.
   Controversially, gorgeous beam queen Emma Nedov was awarded just 13.8 for a routine that, even without the additional layout stepout from the all-around, was hit tremendously. So great to see her make her bhs-flic-layout sequence with confidence, and have no significant issue on her double pike dismount. She did protest the low score but the 13.8 was upheld. The only error I could see was in one of her pirouettes, though I am sure code experts have a lot to say on the matter! She was bested only fractionally by Emily, who was skittish but stayed on to take silver. Personally I think the result should have been swapped, but I guess you can't have them all.

 The highlight of this rotation was the return of Lauren Mitchell to her first major meet final since the knee injury that kept her out of worlds last year. Nobody seemed to mind that Loz was accidentally introduced as "Lauren Miller". She showed much more poise than on night 1, successfully landing her two-foot layout sequence and two(!) wolf pirouettes. She took just one step on her double tuck dismount, clocking up all of her 6.2 difficulty to win the day on 14.025

I finally spotted Peggy Liddick on the sidelines as beam finished up and floor got started. I am sure the performances this rotation made her selection job even harder!

Unfortunately I didn't catch junior beam, but Waverley were victorious again - this time Jade Vella-Wright took the top spot on 13.255 over Shannon Farrell of NSW (a powerful vaulter), with golden girl Talia Folino settling for the bronze.


FLOOR: 

Once again, Chris Remkes proved that when he's on he's really on. Overcoming the hiccups from all-around night, Chris stood up a high-flying triple twisting double layout (it's a mouthful!) albeit with a step out of bounds, to a roar from the crowd. He backed it up with a double front pike, an arabian as a side pass and a triple twist for 14.450. He squeezed every ounce of of his 6.4 difficulty value but copped a fair whack in execution deductions. Jake Houtby of Queensland boasted a close 6.1 but numerous large falls on piked tumbled and a 3.350(!) execution dropped him to last place.
  Wiwatowski got the better of Wadsworth (before high bar of course!) with the silver medal on just .025 behind Remkes. He showed really tidy arabian work and a nice 2.5 twist closing pass.

Junior women's floor was starting to leave me a little uninspired until young Miss Eadie Rawson hit the mat. She only managed bronze, but her audience engagement and choreography (even simply walking on and off the floor) was utterly golden, a real junior Joura. Here she is at the recent Australian Classic, it truly is something special. Another Lisa Bradley masterpiece! Fresh off her beam win, Jade "Vee Dubs" took gold here on 13.525, a lovely whip to double tuck made everyone sit up and take notice. Talia Folino won silver and showed fantastic potential with a tucked tsukahara, high double tuck and a double pike almost cleanly stuck (5.2/13.225). This was quite the meet for her.

Senior women's floor was the most electrifying final of the weekend, not least of all because of Mitchell's return to the event that delivered her 2010 World Championship gold. It was a killer lineup (minus the national champion), with Rio Test team members, the previous year's all-around champion, and exciting young upstarts. Kicking us off again was Yasmin Collier who showed lovely choreography and combination passes, but the fireworks were yet to come.
  With teammates and coaches roaring like crazy in the corner once more (think a college team during the final rotation of a Super Six!), Emily Little blew the roof off with a full twisting double layout, a tiny little bit piked down but a vast improvement on her outright piked full-in. Phenomenal. She followed this with her usual strong Tsukahara and double tuck and pike for a straight 14.0

Alex Eade kept the exciting vibe going with an almost-stuck double layout, the only one of the women's competiton (so to speak... aside from Emily!) and nice tsukahara. I am so thrilled Alex has stuck around, she has really blossomed as a senior. I am glad to hear other people got Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs vibes from her choreography and expressions, her routine is a blast. Georgia Godwin, too, stood up her tricky double front opening pass and stuck her double tuck, but it was only good enough for 6th. I still stand by my statement that her wolf turns are so great she would excel at figure skating!

Lauren Mitchell had been waiting a year for this moment. After two other days of up and down competition, she found herself back at the top of the favourites list in a final against the nation's very best. It was hard not to let out a cheer as she stuck cold her piked full in (not connected to any jump) and successfully stood up her double arabian (welcome back!) and double pike. It was masterful, and if her knee is still experiencing discomfort she certainly didn't show it.

The gold medal went to a tenacious Larrissa Miller. As hoped, she bounced back like a trooper from her bars final errors the night before. Miller later admitted that prior to starting the routine she was a little teary from feeling so exhausted (emotionally as well as physically, I am sure). How admirable to see her put it aside and hit one of her best routines ever. I will never tire of that beautiful front lay to double front, even some international fans tuning into the livestream remarked on it. She took a step out of bounds in her combination pass but the rest was so sublime it kept her at the top of the rankings. The crowd's reception of it put me in mind of a ballet diva taking her final bow. If that was an emotional, tired, self-doubting Miller.... fear her when she's having a good day, is all I will say.

And that was that.

Winners crowned, losers frowned, and artistic gymnastics waved goodbye to Hisense Arena for 2016. Full results and more media can be found at ausgymnasticschamps.com.au

Gymnastics Australia report that we will officially find out our Rio Olympics artistic representative at the conclusion of the championships (tumbling, tramp, and rhythmic take place this second week). Here is one of my tweets stating the case for my preferred selection - the tweets after it in my timeline give a bit more context. But as this week proved: the game can go anyone's way on the day.

Thank you for joining me!


Saturday, May 28, 2016

National Championships 2016: Senior Men's & Women's All-Around

Christmas comes but once a year.

Twice, if you're an Australian gymnastics enthusiast.


Friday May 27th saw the first finals night of Senior men and women's artistic gymnastics competition at the 2016 Australian National Gymnastics Championships. Teams battled it out for glory, while individual seniors looked to improve on Wednesday's preliminaries and walk away with the individual all-around title.

Australia is in a tough position this year, qualifying neither a full men's nor a full women's team to the Rio Olympic Games. While this fact hangs over Hisense Arena a little like the creeping Melbourne fog outside, it does not diminish the importance of the event to those athletes seeking valuable podium experience - especially the one female gymnast to be selected as our sole Olympic representative.

The arena this year is resplendent in blue and red, with a proud 'jumbotron' at its centre. It seems all the stops have been pulled out and the atmosphere is more engaging than ever. We had dance-cam and Snapchat filters, post-competition fan photo opportunities and wonderful energy throughout the night. And in lieu of a Gymnastics Australia representative entertaining the crowd before and during competition, we welcome to our humble sidelines the one and only James Sherry, TV presenter and football roving reporter extraordinaire. Sherry was incredibly impressive for someone completely new to gymnastics. He shared delightful moments with gymparents, junior gymmers, and even past and present competitors. Sherry was warm and inquisitive with his guests of all ages, and displayed genuine admiration for the skills on show down on the floor. Having him at this event is a masterstroke - I nicknamed this competition the Sherry With A Twist. ;)

Missing from the championships this year is fan favourite Maryanne Monckton, while junior upstart Emily Whitehead only competed uneven bars. The biggest buzzes were around returned powerhouses Lauren Mitchell and Georgia Godwin (the latter looking to 3-peat), while some new faces set to surprise.

 On the men's side, it was to be an exciting battle for who would step out of the shadow of recently retired Naoya Tsukahara, though missing in action were 2015 crowd-pleasers Clay Stephens and Mitchell Morgans. I was amused to see a competition field with multiple Jakes and Jacks, a Jay, a Joel, two Joshes and a Jordan!

A big shout out to FullGymnastics for uploading videos from the livestream. 

So to the competition proper:

VAULT:
 Two absolute standouts here: Emily Little (WA) for the women, and Christopher Remkes (SA) for the men. Both were in medal form on the apparatus recently, with Little reaching the podium at the Olympic test event and Remkes winning a maiden world cup medal in Doha. Both are explosive and, in training videos, show potential for even more difficulty to be added. They were superb in prelims and even better tonight. Of note is Little's Yurchenko double twist (15.1 total), currently the hardest vault being performed in the women's national program. Little had a slight shuffle backwards on landing that even appears to be hinting at a quarter turn, a clear sign she could be our own McKayla Maroney and make the fabled 2.5 twist vault on home soil. I have heard very strong rumours we could see it as early as Saturday's vault final. She currently tops the standings with this vault.

The next hardest vaults came from unassuming performers Yasmin Collier and Naomi Lee. Lee (ACT) is a great leg gymnast, impressing us later on floor. with big tumbles. Emily's Rio test teammate Rianna Mizzen, usually a bars specialist, is still overcoming injury and was not able to show the Yurchenko double she herself has recently mastered. Rianna went with a simpler full twist as her first vault but a stellar execution score on this and her second vault (9.4 and 9.35!) assured she would stay near the top of the rankings. Teammate Georgia Godwin, also capable of a Yurchenko double, also stayed safe with a full. Australia has a number of female gymnasts with obvious leg power who could in the months and years to come be impressive vault gymnasts in the vein of Little. Things are going in the right direction with the foundations being put in place now at camps - Mizzen, Monckton and Leydin got their harder vaults in fairly short time given the high pressure circumstances of the last 12-18 months -  but it comes a little too late for the Class of 2016.

My knowledge of men's vaults is rather lacking, but there was no denying the stellar effort of Remkes. A huge (and rare) Dragulescu vault landed to his feet wowed the crowd, the sometimes shaky Southstrayan was consistent across the two 6.0 difficulty vaults to rocket up the standings. Sadly he couldn't translate this consistency over to floor. Crowd favourite Scott Brooks (VIC) also showed off a nifty near-stick for 14.766, one of his better scores of the night.


BARS:
My thoughts with Michael Merceica, who going into this week was 2nd individual reserve for Rio off the back of his performance at the recent test event. Michael was injured mid-parallel bar routine in the qualifying round, landing awkwardly on his hand during a transition and having to be assisted off. He confirmed on Thursday that it was a dislocation, with fractured metacarpal. Michael also stated he was officially having to withdraw from the championships, we wish him the best for a speedy recovery. The highlight of this apparatus in qualifying and the final was the Victorian one-two punch of Luke Wiwatowski and Luke Wadsworth who hit their routines (capped off with neat double pike dismounts) very nicely, sending the home crowd sitting right in front of the apparatus into an absolute frenzy.

I pretty much missed all of high bar unfortunately! I'll be interested to see who this year can out-wow the crowd in the apparatus final given impressive performances in the past by rockstars Tyson Bull and Mitchell Morgans who are absent this year.

On uneven bars, this year it is transplanted Queenslander Larrissa Miller's title to lose. Veteran bars star Olivia Vivian snaps at her heels in most domestic meets but a freak mistiming error on her double front dismount on Wednesday, and a crash landing on her piked jaeger after hitting her feet in this final, have practically counted her out. But she's ok, folks...!
  Miller is far and away the nation's best bars worker. And what work it is - crisp and controlled handstands, impeccable release moves performed inside and outside the bars, and textbook toepoint on her dismount that she stuck cold in the final after shuffling in the prelim. The crowd roared. You can especially see the work that has gone into controlling the final full pirouette before her dismount, no Glasgow nerves here. The best thing about this gymnast is she is always better than her last round of competition. She greatly improved on her 14.650 score from qualifying and we know even better is yet to come.
 
Rianna Mizzen made an even bigger impression than in last year's title-winning performance and will give Miller a run for her money. A neat worker with great toe-on giant work in the very same vein as Miller, she showed no sign of the nerves that plagued her at the recent Pacific Rim Championships. A stuck dismount sealed the confident showing (14.725). Reigning all-around champ and fellow Queenslander Godwin was shaky in her set that includes some decent Weiler kip work, but only a double pike dismount (12.45). Victorians Munteanu and Whitehead showed off their brave release work, the latter boasting a very cool Markelov.

  Emily Little made a rare bars appearance this year, showing that she's not to be counted out for an all-around role. There were some form errors in her releases but still gutsy work for what is her weakest event (12.425) including the always impressive double layout dismount. I finally got to see the measuring and adjusting hoopla that goes into raising the bars for tall poppy Georgia-Rose Brown, our announcer Ade even saying during warmups on night 1, "This now concludes your warmup... everyone except Georgia Rose." Georgia showed a tidy routine (13.90) that makes the most of her exquisite Russian-esque bodyline, but still a pak salto with some kinks in it like a crease in an elegant ballgown, and a surprisingly stuck double tuck dismount.

Victorian and Queensland men really shine on high bar, and have for several years if past results are anything to go by. Like WA on women's floor, their daring sets them apart on the event. Variations on a double layout dismount (some singles and doubles in the mix) are always incredible to watch. Wiwatowski came off on a missed release but pulled through for an amazing stuck dismount, his difficulty one notch down from the 5.8 he had in qualifying.


POMMEL/RINGS:

Ah, pommel. If beige was an apparatus it would be you. I only really paid vague attention to it during prelims, where Luke Wadsworth suffered a scary fall on his dismount (over-rotating into his head) and Luke Wiwatowski stayed on - remarking after the competition that doing so was his highlight of the meet!

Rings... err.... was a thing that happened. That I can assure you. My watching of it was not. Someone did a really amazing double-double dismount, though, might have been rocking Remkes or bombastic Brooks again!


BEAM:

Lauren Mitchell's post-injury beam routine is dampened but not disappointing. Although a little skittish, she improved from preliminaries where she fell on her two-foot layout, and still rocks a 2.5 wolf turn (twice!)  like she's done it for a hundred years. Her dismount was a BHS-flic-double tuck landed a little squatted, I always worry she has pulled in too close and is going to clock her head on the beam!

Little suffered a fall and was hit with major execution deductions but it was not the worst we have seen from her, and she is always someone keen to improve. I hope one day we get to see the back tuck full she once showed off as a 'muckaround' skill in training. Her WA teammate Yasmin Collier, who is a real treat in the choreography stakes, surprised us all with a back handspring to two layout stepouts, beautifully performed. Mizzen also showed off this skill sequence very nicely too, and had a near-stick on her double tuck dismount to leapfrog Little (13.825). Not so lucky with the same acro sequence was Emma Nedov, favourite to take the beam title after preliminaries with a stunning routine. She added in the extra layout stepout that Maryanne mentioned during Wednesday's livestream, but slipped off clutching the beam and had to settle for 13.425. There is huge score potential, though, if she repeats the routine of this difficulty in the final with the confidence she did on Wednesday.

Godwin showed a decent two-foot layout (from one back handspring and not two these days) and excellent wolf spins, but had form errors in her change leg ring leap and double pike dismount (13.15).


FLOOR: 

On the men's side, head and shoulders above his competitors is teeny tiny Chris Remkes. He performed much better in qualifying with 6.6 difficulty (13.233) but couldn't repeat it in this all-around final, crashing out badly on his unique 'triple double' opening pass - yes, a double layout somersault with THREE twists! He bounced back with nice arabian work (tucked and piked) but there were some form errors throughout that hamper him, ending with 12.60. A few fellas came unstuck in their twisting work, and it will be interesting to see routine composition once roll-out skills are done away with. Costin, Wadsworth and Wiwatowski all kept their nerve to each score above 14.1, at one point Wiwa showed a double arabian with so much extra bounce I thought he was going to launch into an immediate extra front tuck!

The women's floor rotation was the blue ribbon event here, with the return of Lauren Mitchell drawing in much of the crowd. But alongside her were WA compatriot Little who has shown spectacular form recently with her new-look routine, world championship finallist Miller, reigning all-around winner Godwin, and upstarts Paige James, Naomi Lee and Alex Eade.

The absolute highlight outside the the actual routines was the WAIS team. Standing in the corners adjacent to the stands, they cheered for every girl's performance, and none were louder than head women's coach Martine George. Along with Stacey Umeh and competitor Olivia Vivian, they were getting the crowd involved from rotation start to rotation end, following every beat to one another's music and all heartily joining in the "HOO-WUH!!" vocalisation and claps in Emily Little's routine.

Mitchell again has had to show a modified routine due to injury rehab, but for the second time in as many years her performance made me utter "WHAT injury?!?" Still performing to hip-hop strings, she showed a powerful piked full-in to open (couldn't quite hit a fully-splitted jump on landing) and double back tuck and pike, the latter landed a little low. Her London Olympic teammate Little performed her fun new floor that wowed the crowd recently at Pacific Rim. Although still some form errors, there is no denying her explosive power. Her piked full-in is almost back to fully laid out, and she backs it up with a great tucked one straight afterward. No cold sticks tonight, but an engaging routine that gets serious air (13.650).

Beam queen Nedov showed a little anxiousness tonight, hugely under-rotating her opening tsukahara and closing double pike, putting her hands (and almost her face) down on the mat on both. I am pleased to observe though that they have worked on the volume of the wailing vocals in her music, it is obviously much quieter now at its peak - to the relief of the stadium sound guys, I am sure! Georgia Godwin was also unable to replicate her prelims performance, sitting down her opening punch double front but staying strong to get great height in her back double tuck (very open, like Kytra Hunter) and double pike for just 12.4. Errors aside, her wolf spins are so smooth, she would make a tremendous figure skater!

Larrissa Miller (14.4) showed the delightful form that made her a world finallist in 2014, her evocative dance combined with neat difficult tumbles thrilled the crowd. Who doesn't love a front lay to double front performed like it's ballet? Expect her to medal this weekend, and to be top of the candidate list for Rio. Test Event teammate Brown showed one of her best floor performances yet as well, with more air and stamina than ever in her 2.5 twist and stuck double tuck, her unique dance elegance showing up well on the 'big stage'.

The standout floors came from some dark horse gymnasts. Alexandra Eade (13.050) has gone from shy, small junior to explosive and mature senior. Her salsa-inspired routine had the crowd grinning, and not just because she showed off the only double layout of the women's competition. Like a Joura or a Slater of years past, she shows great expression in her face as well as her dance and will be a real asset to floor lineups of the future. Even more so is ACT's Naomi Lee. Lee, like Eade, always seemed shrimpy and shy. This nationals was a wonderful deb ball for her! I mentioned her vault above, and her floor was pretty remarkable too. While performing to "Fire and Ice" made famous by Monette Russo (who was in the house), Lee showed off a dainty double arabian and thrilling triple twist. An out of bounds and some execution deductions held her back, but the potential is amazing.
  And then there's Paige James from WAIS who has been on my radar for over 2 years now. The only indigenous Australian female senior, Paige showed great firepower in a routine much improved from prelims for 12.225. A speedy full twist through to triple twist and double back tuck were the highlight, ongoing injury recovery meaning her third pass was just a laid out punch front. But like Little and Eade, she really got the crowd clapping along.

Mizzen sealed the deal in her final rotation. Although her score couldn't beat Little or Brown, her ground had been made up on beam and bars, and she capitalised on the errors of Nedov and Godwin to take the lead for her first national all-around title. I'm sure it will not be the last. She showed the fantastic form she had already shown in the Pacific Rim team trial, with wolf spins to rival Godwin and tidy tumbling. Her strengths are intelligently nurtured by her coaches and she put behind her all the errors from her recent international competitions.

3 - Little
2- Brown (also helped Victorian to team gold)
1 - Mizzen

RESULTS


3- Costin
2 - Wiwatowski
1 - Wadsworth

RESULTS

Congratulations to our senior winners Rianna and Luke, a testament to the strong coaching and development in their respective training centres. Two gymnasts with calm and focussed competition demeanour, I look forward to seeing them in more team lineups in the future. They and all the medallists showed off Australian gymnastics at its best and should be very proud.


NOTES AND QUOTES:


  • "I'm fine. [But ] sorry to anyone who had to change their underpants!" - Olivia Vivian, being interviewed after her scary bars fall
  • "ONE! TWO! YES!" - Martine George, counting Emily' Little's wolf spins at the start of her floor routine. Every. Single. Time.
  • "Um, about 6 weeks?" - Small child in the audience picked for one of the gymnastics challenge games, asked how long he has been doing gymnastics
  • Godwin and Darcy Norman shared the cutest high-five/handshake on the team medal dais
  • Georgia-Rose stooping down for photos with shy fans outside the arena was adorable
  • For the love of God please do something about the end part of Kiara's floor music where it fades out quickly, it is SCREAMING for "finishing behind the music" deductions that she doesn't deserve to get.
  • A tweet of mine made the livestream on Wednesday, apparently? Cool.  :)
  • You are damned right I got a selfie with James Sherry
  • VOTE FOR JUNIOR CHAMP TALIA!!!!