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!
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.
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....
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!