By Mark Etheridge
The South African women’s gymnastics team returned home on Monday with a bagful of medals in their baggage after a successful 13th African Championships in Algeria.
In a history-making occasion all nine gymnasts hailed from the Johannesburg Gymnastics Centre.
The squad was coached by the vastly experienced Ilse Roets-Pelser who was part of Team South Africa at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and last year’s African Games, and Shirley Watson who fulfilled the same role at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
Commonwealth Games competitor Claudia Cummins was in the thick of things from the start and in the senior competition the Olympic hopeful placed second overall with a total of 51.9, more than three marks higher than at last year’s world championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
Said Roets-Pelser: ‘Claudia also went on to help our inexperienced senior team to place second behind a very strong team from Egypt. She also won a medal in every apparatus final, winning a silver on vault and bars and a bronze on beam and floor.
‘Kirsten Beckett, placed third overall in the all around competition but proved once again that she is a real contender, when she won gold on vault, silver on floor and bronze on bars in the apparatus finals.’
Beckett, is steadily making her mark again after surgery to rectify a troublesome shoulder injury and her total score of 50.2 is a two-mark improvement from where she was in October 2015.
Roets-Pelser says that Beckett has made it clear that her goal are the next Commonwealth Games in Australia (2018) and then the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and both her and Cummins are looking stronger and better prepared than ever.
Looking to the future and the coach has great expectations: ‘Fifteen-year-old Lukisha Schalk, a first-year senior gymnast won the silver medal on beam and the trio are on their way to Croatia next month where they will be competing in the Osijek, World Challenger Cup.
‘Then 16-year old Aatiqah Abrahams, also competing at her first senior international did a fantastic job with three out of her four scores counting towards the team final score.’
In the Junior competition Caitlin Rooskrantz placed second overall and Naveen Daries placed third overall. Rooskrantz went on to win a gold medal on bars, silver on beam and bronze on floor. Naveen won a bronze medal on vault and a silver medal on floor.
‘Both girls, who turn senior next year will be a force to reckon with going into the next Olympic cycle.
Rooskrantz and Daries were recently in Europe where they competed in Linz, Austria as preparation for African Championships.
‘In the team competition South Africa placed second behind Egypt, and the rest of the juniors Paige McElligot, Jade Pailman and Caitlyn Kelly who are still juniors for 2017 as well, will be part of the team of girls who raise the standard of gymnastics in South Africa to another level.’
South Africa also had representation on the administrative side of things with judges Lynette Lindeque and Caroline Thompson doing duty.