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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hawai'i teenager gets chance to bounce back

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

Brett McClure of the United States competes on the rings last night in the Pacific Alliance Gymnastics Championships at Blaisdell Arena.

MARCO GARCIA | Associated Press

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Hawai'i trampoline gymnast Nani Vercruyssen will attempt to bounce back in the Pacific Alliance Gymnastics Championships today after nearly bouncing herself out of it yesterday at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

"I'm very happy I made it to the finals," said Vercruyssen, a 14-year-old Kaimuki Middle School eighth-grader.

Vercruyssen placed fourth in the junior trampoline preliminaries yesterday and narrowly advanced to today's 4 p.m. finals.

American Erin Blanchard scored 61.60 to win the preliminaries. Canada's Samantha Sendel was second at 57.10, followed by Australia's Jaimi Meyer at 56.30 and Vercruyssen at 55.70. The Hawai'i teen edged Canada's Anita Cirillo by .4 of a point.

The Pacific Alliance Gymnastics Championships is considered one of the world's premier international events, and draws many top athletes from Pacific Rim countries.

In the senior men's competition last night, China's Lu Bo won the all-around title, and Japan won the team crown in front of 1,197 at the Blaisdell Arena.

Vercruyssen secured the fourth and final spot out of six gymnasts in her Level 11 competition. Trampoline an Olympic event is being held for the first time at the Pacific Alliance Gymnastics Championships.

"I know I can hit my routine, so I'm just trying to push for doing my best," said Vercruyssen, who is one of the eight members on the U.S. Trampoline Team.

Vercruyssen posted the third-best compulsory score at 25.30, but ran into trouble with her optional routine yesterday.

She absorbed a 2.4 deduction when she veered off the trampoline, grazed the padded outer surface and landed in a standing position on the floor.

"I lost my balance on the out-bounce the last bounce after all 10 skills and just kind of flew backward," Vercruyssen said. "I'm just going to learn from my mistake, and hold my body and bounce straight up."

To score in trampoline, gymnasts must maintain straight form, keep a consistent bounce height, and stay within the center of the apparatus, according to officials.

"So often in this sport, you can be in medal contention, and then you make a boo-boo and then you're all the way at the bottom of the list," said Dr. Max Vercruyssen, her father and coach. "That's what's exciting about it. It's a little bit of a cliffhanger."

A crowd of about 90 friends and family watched Vercruyssen compete in her first international competition in Hawai'i yesterday. Some spectators were from the Hawai'i Academy in Kalihi, which is Vercruyssen's home gym.

"I was very happy with the crowd," Vercruyssen said. "I'm excited to have so many family and friends here. It was easy to concentrate because everyone cooperated in being quiet ... when I was competing. They were just perfect."

Yesterday's preliminaries are applied for today's final seeding. Since Vercruyssen placed fourth, she will compete first, followed by Meyer, Sendel and Blanchard. Yesterday's scores will not carry over.

"It's new life," said her father. "Her boo-boos are behind her. She gets a fresh start for the next one. In Russia, she was tied for 10th, went into the finals and ended up second overall. It should be real exciting for the audience."

Vercruyssen's ability to deliver strong performances under challenging conditions has earned her the nickname "The Mailman," which was coined by her father.

In the men's senior all-around competition, China's champion Bo earned the title by scoring 91.050. He recorded the competition's top score in the rings at 15.8000.

"I wasn't satisfied with my performance," Bo said through an interpreter. "Some of the apparatuses I didn't do so well."

The men's all-around is composed of the floor exercise, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar.

China's Feng Jing placed second with 90.450 points, and Canada's Nathan Gafuik took third with 90.050 points.

Brett McClure led Team USA, placing sixth with 89.250 points.

"My performance was pretty good," McClure said. "I had one mistake on parallel bars which cost me a full point. ... But everything else, I made it through. And I'm still healthy. It was a good day."

Japan represented by Makoto Okiguchi, Hidetoshi Mizutori, Yosuke Hoshi and Takehito Mori combined to score 268.800 for the team title.

Team USA Guillermo Alvarez, McClure, David Durante and David Sender finished fourth with 267.550 points.

"We couldn't put one event together as a team," McClure said. "We either had two guys hit a good routine, and one guy make a mistake. We could never get all three to hit great routines on one event. The potential is there."

Alvarez qualified for rings in the individual competition. McClure qualified in the pommel horse, Durante qualified in the parallel bars and high bar, and Sender qualified for the floor exercise, vault and parallel bars.

Reach Brandon Masuoka at bmasuoka@honoluluadvertiser.com.