On the 1st March, Cambridge University Olympic Gymnastics Club were welcomed to Abingdon Gymnastics Club to battle it out on the competition floor with our Oxford gymnasts to see who would be crowned the winners of Varsity 2020! OUGym alumnus and ex-captain Alex Koziell picked up the microphone to hype up the audience as the gymnasts took-off to their first apparatus.
This year the Oxford women were captained by Katie Miles making her A team debut alongside Jess Mason following successful all-around performances by both at last year’s Varsity match. The team hurdled into action on vault where despite a knee injury the night before, Amelia Bowman gritted her teeth and smashed her handspring which received a grand round-off applause from the audience. Newcomer Lucy also impressed the judges with her clean half-on half off to score 12.30. Following a successful start to the competition on vault, Amelia chalked up to debut her first ever bars routines while Lucy showed her talents yet again with beauti-full lines in her handstands and finished off with a high-flying layout dismount. Huge scores of over 13.00 from the light blue team’s Chang sisters allowed Cambridge to build up a significant lead that would be difficult to double back on. Nevertheless, the dark blue girls remained composed on the balance beam with a daring tuck back dismount from Katie and a unique full twisting front aerial from Lucy. Meg Buckley showed the value of experience on her last two pieces of apparatus by achieving remarkable scores of 13.00 and 13.90 for her beam and floor routines respectively. The judges were floored by both Jess and Meg’s textbook tumbling that will undoubtedly be missed in Varsities to come. Lucy’s quirky choreography entertained the audience along with a few dance moves from Katie that were reminiscent of the viral sensation Katelyn Ohashi. Unfortunately the dazzling floor routines from the dark blues could not stop the light blues from taking the Varsity 2020 trophy back to Cambridge ready to be battled for in 2021.
Gabi Hakim was the well-deserved captain of the Women’s B team this year after a long runway to recovery that paid off from the get-go at this year’s Varsity with a solid vault score of 10.40. This was followed closely by scores of 10.10 from Lizzie Daly who made a recent return to gymnastics after many years and from teammate Tiri Hughes competing in her second Varsity. Gabi and Tiri went all guns blazing by mounting the uneven bars in the second round as the only two competitors in the B team competition to compete on all four pieces of apparatus which is an achievement in itself. Isabela Valencia began her first ever gymnastics competition on the balance beam and banked a respectable score inspiring some confidence to leap over to floor and deliver her astonishing, self-choreographed routine. In fact the whole of the women’s B team seemed to flourish on floor including Kiera who turned to the dark side this year. If there is one thing we learned from the competition, it’s that Kiera’s floor routine is the definition of sassy thanks to all of the seriously saucy salsa skills! Somersaulting to the top of the floor leader board however, was Tiri hitting a whopping 12.85. The final scores were tight with a score difference of just 2.60 that favoured Cambridge on this occasion however personal achievements were made by Lizzie Daly who took the bronze medal for the individual all-around competition scoring 32.50 with Gabi hot on her heels, only just missing out by a mere 0.25.
The Oxford men knew the competition was going to be tough before it began as they were pitted against commonwealth gymnast Jack Neill for one last time, but going down without a pommeling wasn’t an option. Ex tumbler James Odwell kicked the competition into top gear with his first ever performance on the artistic floor scoring a massive 13.40. Men’s captain Rory Edwards performed a unique floor routine that combined elements from his tricking background with more traditional artistic gymnastics skills to please the judges and the spectators. Despite a couple of tumbles, Varsity veteran Grant Cox-Sehmi still sprung into second place on the pommel leader board with 12.10 on the judge’s score cards which is a clear indication of the difficulty he packed into his routine. James also competed pommel horse for the first time alongside Lewis Walker who was entering the competition off the back of a successful 4th place all-around finish at the BUCS Championships 2020. Rory showed true team spirit when he stepped up at the last minute delivering a sound routine to provide the final of the four counting scores for pommel. Moving on from a shaky start on floor, Eugenio Graceffo showed his resilience, swinging into action on rings and showcasing a variety of well-executed elements including an impressive press handstand. George Lee earned a spot in the A team this year after storming last year’s Varsity to finish 3rd overall. George proved his versatility shifting from an outstanding series of strength elements on rings, to a powerful handspring which he competed on Olympic vault height for the first time. Sky-high tsukaharas from Eugenio and Lewis topped up the vault scores, including a show-stopping, piked tsukahara from James. On parallel bars, Grant swung elegantly as always with perfect 10 handstands while Lewis stuck his pike front half dismount earning them 12.80 and 12.90 respectively. James competed high bar to make this his first event competing on all six pieces of apparatus and Lewis was left to do the same, much at the anticipation of all who were present at Varsity 2019. Coach Chris in particular was kept on his toes hoping he could go home on time this year instead of to the emergency department. To everyone’s relief Lewis redeemed himself this year finishing with huge air time in his dismount. Grant humbly rolled up to the podium to receive his bronze medal (74.75), and much to his surprise Lewis came 2nd (75.70). It tsuks that the A team’s efforts were still not enough to trump Cambridge in the team competition this year but an opportunity awaits next year!
The pressure was on for our B team boys this year who were succeeding their champion predecessors from 2019, and for Saad Rana, this was his second opportunity to bring back the team gold for Oxford. Kyri Foti overcame advarsity this term recovering from various injuries to multiple limbs in order to back up his team, and with a little help from OUGym alumnus and ex-captain Sid Baines, Kyri rebounded across the floor setting a high bar for the rest of the competition. Things were looking tight on the individual scoreboard already with B team captain Wen Hao Kho tied in first place alongside two rival tabs, all scoring 12.20. Valentin Nicod deposited a further 12.10 to the team’s floor score putting Oxford ahead of Cambridge by 0.50 after the first round. On pommel horse Wen managed to tick all of the composition requirements beginning with a loop in from the end of the horse to move into difficult scissor work and he polished off his shiny performance with a smooth wende dismount. The light blue’s worst nightmare arrived when Ram(bo) Choudhury flexed on the rings transitioning without hesitation through bent arm strength skills, kips and levers. Wen topped the apparatus leader board for the second time scoring 11.20 on rings and made it a hat-trick on vault topping with 12.00. On a 10cm higher vaulting platform than the previous year, Saad improved on his vault score of 10.25 in 2019 to secure a solid 11.10 and Ram flipped a high-scoring handspring to contribute 11.30. With only two rounds left it was down to Christoph Seven to secure a second win for our men’s team. The judges were in favour of Christoph’s execution on parallel bars and he hit a home run on high bar, turning a spectacular somersaulting dismount. Christoph had taken a big risk being the only competitor in the B team competition to grip it, rip it and live it on the steel pipe, but was it worth it? Only Koziell had the answer as he announced a tiny margin of 0.30 between the light and dark blue teams; one step on landing had made all the difference! The gym erupted with applause for our Oxford winners and to top it off Wen and Christoph stepped onto the podium in 2nd and 3rd place with scores of 35.40 and 34.10 respectively. All that was left to do was to head to bars (Spoons and Cirkus) to celebrate!
OUGym would like to pass on a huge thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to make Varsity a great success including OUGym alumni Jack Mustafa and ex-president Serena Chang who joined the judging panel once again to support the club. The gymnasts really enjoyed the competition and spirits have remained high since.