Team USA captures team title
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
The United States' women's senior team dominated the Pacific Alliance Gymnastics Championships last night at the Neal Blaisdell Arena.
Team USA's Nastia Liukin and Chellsie Memmel tied for the all-around gold medal, and the U.S. captured the team championship before a turnstile crowd of 1,262.
"We did so good as a team," Liukin said. "I'm so proud of all of us."
The Honolulu event is considered one of the world's premier international gymnastic competitions, drawing top athletes from Pacific Rim countries.
Last night's competition featured USA's 2005 world all-around champion Memmel and world all-around silver medalist Liukin. Australia's Monette Russo — the world all-around bronze winner — also competed.
The women's all-around is composed of the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and the floor exercise.
The three-day competition continues today and ends tomorrow. Events are also held at the Hawai'i Convention Center.
Liukin and Memmel each finished with 61.050 scores. Memmel scored team-bests in balance beam (15.800) and floor exercise (15.450), while Liukin topped the uneven bars (15.950).
Liukin moved ahead of Australia's Hollie Dykes and took sole possession of first place after the third event — the balance beam — by scoring 15.600.
In the last event, the floor exercise, Memmel caught her teammate, scoring 15.450, while Liukin recorded 14.650 for the 1-2 USA finish.
"It feels great, even though I had a mistake on the floor," Liukin said. "Mostly all my routines are new compared to the World Championships, so I think I just need a little more time to get consistent."
In an unusual and funny scene, Liukin and Memmel posed for photographs, huddled side-by-side on the gold medal platform with the second-place step empty. Australia's Dykes stood on the third-place step.
"We wanted to share," Memmel said of the crowded winner's platform.
"I was happy with my performance all around," Memmel added. "It was a surprise to be tied."
USA's Jana Bieger scored 61 points to finish third, but because of an international rule, only the top two from any one country can be awarded all-around medals.
The United States — represented by Bieger, Liukin, Memmel and Shayla Worley — combined to score 183.150 to win the title. Australia finished second at 177.050, followed by Canada (172.050), Japan (166.450), Hong Kong (134.650) and Mexico (123.800).
"We all did great," Bieger said. "This is one of the strongest women's teams we've had for a while. It's just awesome to be together with these girls, and to be able to compete together as a team."
Bieger qualified for vault and the floor exercise in the individual competition. Liukin qualified for the uneven bars and balance beam, Memmel qualified for the balance beam and floor exercise, and Worley qualified for the uneven bars. The individual event finals will be held 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Blaisdell Arena.
Spectators last night watched a new scoring system introduced this year. The system — designed in part to reduce judging errors — replaced the traditional perfect-10 benchmark, and combines a "difficulty score" and "execution score," allowing gymnasts to get a higher total.
Hawai'i's Nani Vercruyssen is scheduled to compete in the junior trampoline preliminaries at 10 a.m. today at the Hawai'i Convention Center. The top six advance to tomorrow's finals at 4 p.m.
Vercruyssen, a 14-year-old Kaimuki Middle School eighth-grader, is one of two U.S. competitors with Hawai'i ties. Junior women's artistic gymnast Shantessa Pama, 15, was born in Kona, Hawai'i and lives in Dana Point, Calif.
Reach Brandon Masuoka at email@example.com.