There’s not much I can say about the junior p & g championships that hasn’t already been said. Just like most of you, I was in tears when MG elite teammates Jazzy Foberg and Laurie Hernandez received their silver and gold medals while holding hands and when Christina Desiderio finally got over her nerves to make her first junior national team. Just like every fan out there, I was amazed by Ragan Smith’s level of difficulty, Jordan Chiles’ beautiful clean gymnastics and Gabby Perea’s flawless execution while I was beyond impressed by Deanne Soza’s comeback and Morgan Hurd and Sydney Johnson Scharpf’s amazing progress. However, since the performances of those athletes have already been widely discussed, I’d like to write about five gymnasts who caught my attention despite not being among the country’s absolute best right now.
An athlete that stole my heart with her beautiful artistry is 13-years-old Emma Malabuyo, who finished 7th on beam and 9th on floor at nationals. Emma was born in 2002 and she is a first year elite who has been training at Texas Dreams since 2013. She had a very rough first day of competition, but she got it together and showed beautiful gymnastics in day 2. As expected for someone so young, she doesn’t have the most impressive level of difficulty yet, but she has some hard skills like an 1.5 + 2.5 twists and a double front twist on floor, a sheep jump and a switch ring on beam and a tkatcev on bars. She really is an excellent twister, with beautiful form and height in her elements and her yurchenko full on vault is very nice. The quality that really sets her apart from the rest of the field is her artistry. Her ballet training is obvious in all of her movements and she looks like a fairy when she takes the floor. There’s a grace and a lightness about her movements that you don’t find in many gymnasts and her floor choreography is just a delight to watch. So many junior elites from Texas Dreams never made it as seniors due to injuries and I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that Emma will not be one of them.
An other new elite who immediately caught my attention was Trinity Thomas from Prestige Gymnastics. After being injured last year, Trinity competed for her first time as an elite and she did a brilliant job, finishing 16th in the All Around and 5th on beam at her first Nationals. This girl has the whole package. She’s powerful, she’s clean, she’s artistic, she’s flexible and she’s consistent. She is very promising on beam, where she performs a beautiful switch leap into a switch half, well executed aerials and a lovely 2.5 twists dismount. She was very solid during the competition, posting high execution scores both days to finish on the top 5 on the event. Her full twisting yurchenko on vault has plenty of distance and power and she should be able to add an extra twist in there during the next couple of years. The apparatus where she really shines is definitely floor. She said that her best thing about gymnastics, is the feeling she gets when she performs on this event, and you can definitely see that during her performance. She starts with a beautiful double layout and she finishes with a fabulous and high triple full. Her low to the floor choreography is absolutely gorgeous and she shows elegance, beautiful lines and flexibility throughout the entire routine. She had a bit of trouble staying in bounds, but she has everything one would need to become an excellent floor worker. The uneven bars are definitely her weakness. She has some nice skills, like a weiler 1.2, a maloney and a tkatcev but she only dismounts with a double pike and she really struggles with finishing her pirouettes into a handstand. Despite her young age, she has already trained insanely difficult skills and combinations, like a Biles and a 2.5 step out into a double tuck on floor and an amanar on vault. Of course, we can’t know if we’ll ever see any of those upgrades in an actual competition, but the fact that she’s training them shows how talented and determined she is. You can watch some of her training videos on her youtube channel.
Twin City Twisters’ Tori Tatum does not have the skill level of the gymnasts mentioned above but she was one of the athletes I enjoyed the most during USA’s national competitions. She is a very young gymnast, born only in 2003 and at the age of 12 she was one of the youngest elites competing at nationals. As expected, she doesn’t have much difficulty yet but she does have a beautiful smile that can light up the entire arena. During the competition, she was always smiling and it looked like she was so excited to be out there and that she was enjoying herself. Despite not having high start values, Tori shows lots of potential. Her tumbling passes on floor are all high and well executed, her piked jaeger on bars is absolutely beautiful, her double tuck dismount off beam has lots of power and her full twisting yurchenko looks strong. Her floor routines are so much fun to watch. She smiles during the entire performance and she knows how to put on a good show. The way she handled the pressure during her first elite season was also very impressive. During Classics and nationals, she only had one fall on her balance beam dismount and she managed to finish 10th on bars. In a sport like gymnastics it’s very difficult to predict the future of a 12-years-old, but I am very excited to follow Tori’s journey and see her growing.
Tori’s Twin City Twisters teammate, Abby Paulson is a very talented gymnast, who was 6th at bars, 8th on floor and tied for 10th All Around at Nationals. Abby is born in 2000, which makes her eligible for the Rio Olympics and she already has a fantastic level of difficulty. Her best event is probably the balance beam, where she has a very impressive 6.3 start value. Her most impressive combination, is the very unique side aerial into two layout stepout she performs on this event. There aren’t many people out there competing that connection right now, so it’s very impressive to see her landing it well. It really is a shame that she struggled with hitting her routine under pressure, because if she had done that she’d have an excellent chance to win the beam title. Some of her other notable skills are, her front aerial + sheep jump combination, her triple full on floor, her toe on full + chow + pak and her unique double arabian dismount on bars. Some times, her gymnastics can be a bit sloppy and she needs to work on her form, her consistency and her extension, but she has beautiful lines and flexibility and I love her chest stands on beam and floor. Her floor routine is very nicely choreographed and all her movements are crisp and go well with the music, which makes her very enjoyable to watch on this event. Abby will turn senior next year, and I’m not sure if she’ll be able to compete against the country’s top gymnast for a spot on the national team but I would love to see her gaining confidence and becoming a contender for the next quad.
The athlete who tied Abby for the 10th place All Around at nationals, while also placing 9th on vault was Shilese Jones. Shilese, who now trains at Buckey’s gymnastics alongside Olympic Champion Gabby Douglas, got lots of attention last year for performing a tumbling pass that the world had only seen once before: an 1.5 twisting double tuck. This unique skill is not part of her routine but she is a much better gymnast than she was last year. She is a powerhouse, with a dynamic double twisting yurchenko on vault. She starts twisting a bit too early off the table but she has lots of potential on this event. Her tumbling is also amazing. She is capable of an extremely difficult 1.5 + full in combination on floor and she performs it better than most people who have attempted it in the past. Her double arabian on floor and her standing arabian on beam are also sky high and she has a jaeger and a maloney on bars. She still needs to polish her gymnastics, clean up her execution and acquire better control of her body, but she still is not turning senior until 2018 so she has plenty of time to do that. There have been some rumours about Jones possibly following her teammate Nia Dennis’ footsteps and switching gyms but she doesn’t really have a reason to do that after performing so well at nationals.
Impressive start values were also posted by TIGAR’s Alyona Shchennikova, who will turn senior in 2017. After competing as an elite gymnast in 2014 and 2015, Alyona has made a name for herself and she is not known as “Polina’s younger sister” anymore. She is one of the most improved athletes in the country and she debuted major upgrades on three events. There was nothing special about her bars in 2014 and now, she has one of the most difficult and exciting routines in the world. Last year she wasn’t even capable of performing any shaposhnikova variations and she didn’t seem to be too comfortable with her inbar stalder. And now, she starts her routine with a magnificent inbar 1/1 + komova 2 + inbar + piked tkatcev + pak combination. She also connects a chow to an inbar 1/2. At the age of 14, she is the only gymnast on the planet who is capable of doing inbars out of her shaposhnikova variations and her double layout dismount is simply stunning. Her level of difficulty, helped her get a bronze medal on bars despite her many execution flaws. An other unique quality about her is her forward tumbling on floor. She opens with a double front into a stag jump and her second pass is a rarely seen front layout with 2.5 twists. Her routine is nicely choreographed, and once she learns how to sell it to the crowd she’ll be a star on this event. In one year, Alyona added almost a full point in difficulty in her start value on beam, where she performs a double wolf turn, a back handspring into two layout stepouts and an onodi. Unfortunately, her execution is not nearly as great as her difficulty. She doesn’t keep her legs together, she doesn’t point her toes, she bends her knees and her body is quite loose during her exercises. Some of her handstands are often short and some of her landings are rather low and on top of that, she’s also very inconsistent. I hope she’ll be able to work on all those stuff in the next couple of years, because if she cleaned up she would be fantastic to watch.