Glasgow 2014: Canada shine in rhythmic gymnastics

Wales' Laura Halford competes in the Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Final and Individual Qualification. Picture: PA
Wales' Laura Halford competes in the Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Final and Individual Qualification. Picture: PA
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FROM the sequins on the costumes, to the stardust of the hoops and the gleaming teeth of the smiling athletes, rhythmic gymnastics is surely the most glittering and spangly event at the Commonwealth Games. In this company, the medals look as though they could do with a polish.

One thing’s for sure, the Canadians will be happy to oblige. Led by the brilliant 17-year-old, Patricia Bezzoubenko, they comfortably won gold in the team event last night, leaving Wales to settle for silver at the Hydro, with Malaysia taking bronze. Scotland, inspired by the impish Lauren Brash, came seventh.

Given the Canadians’ superiority, it was the best that Wales, and Frankie Jones in particular, could have hoped for. She has had quite a week. The silver medal, which adds to the one she secured in Delhi four years ago, came just 24 hours after she had carried her country’s flag at the opening ceremony. For the 23-year-old, a veteran by gymnastic standards, Glasgow 2014 has been worth waiting for.

The same could be said for the three-strong Scottish team. By close of play, they were some way off the pace, but it was an emotional experience for Brash, Vicki Clow and Rebecca Bee. While the latter two failed to qualify for the individual finals, to be contested today and tomorrow, they were visibly moved by the home crowd, especially in last night’s second session.

Roared on to the mat, and backed by spontaneous outbreaks of support during their performance, they were also congratulated on the big screen. “Pure dead brilliant,” was the message to

Bee, described on one banner as the Bee’s Knees.

“Oan yersel wee yin,” was the response to Brash, which just about gets her right. She went down a hoot with the locals, not least when she chose Donald Where’s Yer Troosers? for the last routine of the night. It was a showstopper that made her a surprise qualifier for today’s all-round final.

Brash, 15, is quite a prospect. One of the youngest members of the Scottish team, she was last in the Hydro to see Bruno Mars, but here she was, taking centre stage, with scarcely a hint of fear. The Livingston girl, a pupil at Deans Community High School, was the highest-placed Scot in the individual rankings, topped by Bezzoubenko.

For the uninitiated, rhythmic gymnastics, played out to music of the athlete’s choice, is part sport, part dance, part circus act. Each competitor yesterday completed four routines, one with a ball, the others with a hoop, clubs and a ribbon, after which judges awarded a score for execution and difficulty.

It made for a colourful spectacle at the Hydro, part of the Exhibition precinct that rests on the banks of the Clyde. Inside the arena, whose towering stands were more or less full for both sessions, the gymnasts covered every corner of a cream mat, which shone on a blue stage, bathed under brilliant lights.

It was a beautiful scene, albeit less so than the competition itself, which was less sport than art. Bezzoubenko justified her pre-Games billing with a breathtaking mastery of the hoop, but it was the ribbon that painted the prettiest picture, the trace of its swirling path lingering like writing in the sky.

Not only does rhythmic gymnastics demand grace, strength, balance and flexibility, it is a test of nerve. Several years’ work hinge on the fall of a hoop or the bounce of a ball, each of which must be timed to perfection. Bee demonstrated the difficulty of it all by dropping the ball at a crucial moment, which must have been eating at her as she retired to the sofa.

The sofa, incidentally, is a curious, yet integral, part of the occasion. For it is there that athletes are taken and forced to sit, their every emotion captured on camera, while judges arrive at a verdict. Bee was among the more comfortable under the spotlight, playfully engaging with the crowd via the big screen.

That was in the afternoon session – for hoop and ball – at the end of which Brash was 21st in the individual standings, four places ahead of Bee and six in front of Clow. Scotland, at that stage, were seventh in the team list.

While the evening session changed little for the Scots, it was decisive for the medal contenders. Of the 32 gymnasts on show, many went through to tomorrow’s individual finals for specific apparatus. Others qualified for this afternoon’s all-around final, which encompasses the four props used yesterday. Canada’s team gold was based on the aggregate of their best 10 scores.

The results mattered less to the partisan crowd than the occasion. Urged on by our host, Cat Cubie, erstwhile BBC weather girl and childhood gymnast, they gave it up for the three home hopes.

For Team Scotland, waves of applause swept around the stands, together with more than a few smiles at their musical choices. Clow, a 20-year-old Glaswegian out for 18 months with what turned out to be a broken back, picked Lulu’s Shout for her hoop routine. And they did.