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:
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.
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.
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!
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).
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
2 - Wiwatowski
1 - Wadsworth
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!!!!