November 8, 2008

Junior Watch: Blanc-Mesnil Tournament

For 18 years now, the French town of Blanc-Mesnil has organized an annual MAG/WAG competition that tends to attract some of the world's top juniors. Over the years, so many juniors who once competed in Blanc-Mesnil have gone on to become household names on the senior stage that the event has become a bit of a talent spotting ground.

This year's edition of the competition was rather smaller than previous years'. Only five countries showed up to take on the local French teams: Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. Each country was represented by three male gymnasts and three female gymnasts.

The Ukrainian team at Blanc-Mesnil. AA winner Kononenko is the middle girl.

The women's all-around portion of the competition was won by Ukraine's 14-year-old Natalia Kononenko (55.450), an elegant gymnast whose arms bear all the hallmarks of the great Ukrainian school (click here to see the beautiful beam routine she did at this year's Junior Europeans). Two younger Romanians, Diana Bulimar and Ana Maria Baicu (both born in 1995), placed second and third, respectively, scoring 53.850 and 52.500. Bulimar (affectionately known as "Didi") is considered one of Romania's greatest young talents. She looks especially promising on floor (watch a very recent floor exercise of hers here). Baicu, who also competed in last year's Blanc-Mesnil event, is less elegant than either Kononenko or Bulimar, but definitely seems a talent for the future. Her beam routine can be viewed here.

The event titles went to 4 different gymnasts. Ukraine's Marina Sergiyenko (a powerful tumbler on floor too) won vault, while Kononenko won bars. The gold on beam went to Romania's Patricia Tiron, whose routine at the Romanian Nationals can be seen here. Tiron's teammate Bulimar claimed the floor gold with a meet-high 14.375. Switzerland's Linda Staempfli also did well in event finals, grabbing the silver on floor and the bronze on bars.

The Romanian team at Blanc-Mesnil (both photos taken from the official competition website)

Romania supplied two medalists in the men's all-around competition as well. Twenty-year-old Cristian Botaga won the gold (84.600), while his compatriot Andrei Muntean took the bronze, scoring 82.400. Switzerland's Kimon Wegmann ranked second (82.700). The Ukrainian men disappointed, finishing 5th, 8th and 15th, respectively. Then again, they were the youngest competitors.

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