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.

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