| Two weeks after meeting in the Black Sea city of Constanta, women's teams from Romania and Great Britain held a rematch Saturday in the English town of Ipswich. IG contributor Amanda Muxlow attended the competition and offers the following report.
The race is on! With the golden gates of Beijing about to beckon the world's best gymnasts, the importance of every step, leap and jump has never been paved with more significance. Reigning Olympic champions Romania have gone through much change since its Athens success, including the retirement of coaching pair Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang, and finishing off the podium at the 2006 worlds. The team came back to pastures new with a sparkling display at the recent European Championships in France. Hence all eyes were fixated on the Romanian starlets, have they improved? Could they challenge current pacesetters, the USA and China? A few of these questions were answered as the Romanians defeated their British hosts 237.000-232.000.
Steliana Nistor and Sandra Izbasa were once again the prime components of an important jigsaw that wants to be picture perfect for Beijing. Starting on bars, the Romanians ditched the demons often associated with their bars, with Gabriella Dragoi and a much improved Andreea Grigore (giant 1½, giant ½ Jaeger) hitting their routines with the renowned consistency synonymous with the Romanian team. Izbasa had her only mishap in a strong outing with a fall on her double front dismount (A: 5.9 = 13.350). Anchor Nistor scored a colossal 16.350 with a routine which had lofty releases and the all important stick on her full-twisting double back dismount. With an A Score of 7.3, Nistor made it crystal clear that she intends to fight hard for a place in the apparatus finals in Beijing.
With a total amassed of 59.400, Romania moved onto their forté, the balance beam. With a goal to build an advantage on their best apparatus, the Romanian warriors had to take a couple of chinks to their armor when Dragoi and Grigore each counted falls — Dragoi on her flip flop, back pike combination and Grigore on her double pike dismount. Nistor quickly regained team focus with a stellar set demonstrating an elusive balance of speed and deftness in precision (flick - full twisting tuck back somersault, and a new full spin with leg at horizontal to immediate front kickover somersault) to score 15.800. Izbasa reinforced this with a 15.500 before newcomer Andreea Acatrinei showcased all the talent and promise to propel herself into contention for an Olympic place with a beautiful flick - straight back somersault — a gymnast to definitely keep an eye on.
Dana Druncea entered the competition on floor and gave the Ipswich crowd a lesson in how to tumble (triple twist; full-twisting double back; double twist; back 1½ to front 1½; 2½ twist, double pike) to score 14.750. Acatrinei followed with a beautifully lifted double layout mount, setting up Nistor who worked effortlessly through her repertoire of tumbles, including a newly added triple twist to further increase her difficulty score. Nistor stumbled on a front step out through to 2½ twists, however, to count a 0.800 deduction to both the team and her all-around total. In such situations it's handy to have a European champion next in the lineup, and Izbasa didn't disappoint. Working the tumbles and crowd with the refinement of an accomplished maestro, Izbasa took the top floor score of the day 15.650.
Yurchenkos were the name of the day on vault with Acatrinei and Grigore each performing well-flighted Yurchenko 1½ vaults. Druncea, Nistor and Izbasa each performed Yurchenko double twists to push the team score to 237.200, exactly five points clear of their British challengers.
Romania competed without Europeans team member Ana Maria Tamarjan, who was in Ipswich but was rested having completed warm ups (immaculate switch ring leap on balance beam). With Izbasa and Nistor shining, the younger members of the team need to showcase their potential over these coming weeks to push the Romanian further forward. Grigore and Acatrinei stated their cases here but the trial is long and only the best will be put forward for the Romanian title defense.
Great Britain (232.000) had its own agenda and set its case for an Olympic team final place with a positive outing here. With the team in the middle of their Olympic Trials process, every performance is key and the team of Beckie Downie, Hannah Whelan, Rebecca Wing, Imogen Cairns, Marissa King and Kayleigh Cooke didn't disappoint. World and European gold medalist Beth Tweddle sat out the competition to rest for the Olympics.
Starting on vault, the British propelled out of the starting blocks with the venom of a sprinter. With each vault starting from a minimum A Score of 5.5, the team had the ammunition to hit the target bang on center and make an impact. Whelan, Wing and Cairns executed well-performed Yurchenko 1½ vaults to provide a perfect platform for vaulting dynamos King (Tsukahara 1½) and Downie who led the team score with an excellent double-twisting Yurchenko. With a vault as high as it was long, Downie rocketed off the score to achieve the top vault score of the day, 14.900. With the first rotation complete the British team were able to drop Cairns' respectable score of 14.500.
Imogen Cairns highlighted her continuing improvement with a first-up routine on uneven bars, with a flighted Gienger and a new dismount of double pike to score 13.550 (A Score: 5.5). Whelan suffered a hands down on her double layout dismount before King signalled her continuing improvement on her weakest apparatus (13.600) with a routine which had a lofty Markelov and a sky high double Arabian dismount.
Downie performed last and easily took on the mantra of golden bell vacated by team leader Tweddle this weekend. Performing a routine out of 6.7 Downie scored 15.800 linking a Stalder full to immediate Ricna and a beautifully flighted toe-on Tkatchev. Downie has reworked her routine and would have scored higher but for having to use an exit route at the start of the exercise (missed giant 1½ only did the full then the extra giant ½ before the toe-on Tkatchev) it should be noted that in warm ups Downie linked a Stalder ½, Endo ½, Giant 1½, toe-on Tkatchev a combination which would have boosted her scoring potential not only in A Score but past the 16-point barrier for the first time.
On beam Cairns and King set the benchmark for Rebecca Wing to exude her class and artistry. Beautifully extended and elegant, Wing flows from the gymnastics elements to the acrobatics with grace (round off layout mount, full-twisting flick) to score 14.300. If Wing offers the British team sublime artistry, then Downie exudes power, the 16-year-old providing an excellent performance to score 15.500.
Heading into the final rotation Romania had amassed a strong lead, though the battle for individual honors was still up for the taking with a little less than two tenths separating Nistor (46.400) and Downie (46.200). Could the 2007 British junior champion defeat the world all-around silver medallist?
Cairns was once again given the task of being the lead-off gymnast before King made her mark. Performing a new floor routine with improved dance and choreography, King hit her tumbles (full-twisting double back, double Arabian, 2½ to layout front, double twist, double pike) to score 14.600, much to the delight of the 17-year-old from Huntingdon Gymnastics Club. Cooke made her entrance into the competition in style with two difficult opening tumble runs of double layout and full-twisting double back to leave the closing performance to Downie. Downie brought the curtain down in style to score 14.550, breaking 60 points for the first time (60.750) to finish second between Nistor (61.000) and Izbasa (59.200)
Day two saw the apparatus finals contested with Downie leading a British sweep on the vault, Nistor winning beam and Izbasa taking gold medals on balance beam and floor.
Romania vs. Great Britain
June 14-15; Ipswich, England
1. Romania 237.200
2. Great Britain 232.200
1. Steliana Nistor ROM 61.000
2. Beckie Downie GBR 60.750
3. Sandra Izbasa ROM 59.200
4. Andreea Acatrinei ROM 57.350
5t. Andreea Grigore GBR 57.300
5t. Marissa King GBR 57.300
7. Imogen Cairns GBR 56.950
8. Daniela Druncea ROM 56.850
9. Gabriela Dragoi ROM 56.550
10. Kayleigh Cooke GBR 56.100
11. Hannah Whelan GBR 56.050
12. Emma White GBR 52.250
13. Rebecca Wing GBR 42.700
1. Beckie Downie GBR 14.425
2. Imogen Cairns GBR 14.225
3. Marissa King GBR 14.150
4. Daniela Druncea ROM 13.500
5. Andreea Acatrinei ROM 12.525
6. Andreea Grigore ROM 12.325
1. Steliana Nistor ROM 16.500
2. Beckie Downie GBR 16.100
3. Andreea Grigore ROM 14.700
4. Rebecca Wing GBR 14.300
5. Gabriela Dragoi ROM 14.000
6. Imogen Cairns GBR 13.500
1. Sandra Izbasa ROM 15.550
2. Steliana Nistor ROM 15.500
3. Hannah Whelan GBR 15.400
4. Rebecca Wing GBR 14.700
5. Kayleigh Cooke GBR 14.450
6. Andreea Acatrinei ROM 13.850
1. Sandra Izbasa ROM 15.700
2. Steliana Nistor ROM 15.250
3. Andreea Acatrinei ROM 15.000
4. Hannah Whelan GBR 14.750
5. Marissa King GBR 14.600
6. Kayleigh Cooke GBR 14.500
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