By Mark Etheridge
Spearheaded by 2014 Commonwealth Games competitor Claudia Cummins, South African gymnastics is cock-a-hoop after their best ever performance at a World Championships.
A team of four jetted off to the Artistic World Championships in Montreal, Canada but there was a late hiccup as Angela Maguire became ill with a virus shortly before the competition and was unable to participate.
The team refused to let the setback get them down and Cummins, a final year bio-kinetics student at the University of Johannesburg, went on to finish 34th overall and she was closely followed by Naveen Daries in 39th spot. The team’s other competitor, United States based Cathy Eksteen, competed on two apparatus only and ended 118th.
A total of 146 women’s gymnasts were in action with 72 competing on all four apparatus.
Cummins, 22 (pictured above), and Daries (she’s yet to turn 16 and is being home-schooled at the Le-Amen Naves school), both compete out of the Johannesburg Gymnastics Club under head coach Ilse Pelser with Lynette Lindeque (who was in Montreal as team coach) and Glen Hlongwane and former Commonwealth and world championships gymnast Candice Cronje are also closely involved.
Prior to Montreal, South Africa’s best finish at worlds came four years ago when the now-retired Kirsten Beckett ended 46th in Antwerp, Belgium.
Said an ecstatic coach Lindeque from Canada ‘This is huge for South African gymnastics and we hope to keep improving and building on this good result as we head towards next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia.
‘It’s unfortunate that Angela could not compete at this event due to her illness and wish her a very speedy recovery. The other three girls really held their own and out of the 10 apparatus we competed, we counted one fall only. This in itself is a massive improvement from 2015, where we counted seven falls across 12 apparatus.
‘The girls were extremely well prepared for this event and we’ve had extensive help from Patrick Kiens and Martine George from the Netherlands & Australia going in to these championships – we are obviously very grateful for this.
‘To say I’m proud is a huge understatement. The team worked so hard leading up to this event. We all know that a lot of hard work lies ahead but we’re ready for the challenge with an arsenal of good gymnasts back home who will work just as hard to continue to make history for South Africa.’
Led by Pelser, women’s gymnastics in South Africa has shown steady progress over the last 10 years and with Cummins finishing as the top gymnast in Africa again at the world championships (she managed this in 2015 as well in the Glasgow world championships), she’s certainly paving the way for a gymnast to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The last time a women’s artistic gymnast competed at the Olympics was 13 years ago in Athens, Greece, when Zandre Labuschagne, from North West Province did a sterling job.
With Montreal being an individual world championships there’s no team competition this year, but SA are already preparing a team of 6 girls for the team world championships in Doha, Qatar next year.
Says JGC head coach and owner Pelser: ‘Our goal there is to improve from our current 33rd ranking as a team. We really want to break in to the top 24 and realsze this is going to take a huge effort from all involved.
’But this is going to be a huge motivation for our team – this fantastic result has already inspired us to achieve more and be even more competitive on the world stage. We have broken in to the top half of the world placings for the first time ever and we intend to build on this and work harder than ever before.’
Picture of Darries in Montreal action courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
The SA competitors’ official results
Claudia Cummins – 34th, with a total score of 48.432. Individual apparatus: Vault 13.433, Bar 11.933, Beam 11.366, Floor 11. 7
Naveen Daries – 39th, with a total of 47.799, Vault 13.4, Bar 11.233, Beam 11.166, Floor 12.0
Cathy Eksteen – 118th, Beam 10.766, Floor 11.166