by Anna Rose Johnson

The annual WOGA Classic is always a fascinating competition, showcasing the talents of many rising U.S. stars in addition to top international gymnasts from countries such as Japan and Canada. The 2018 edition of this meet was perhaps one of the most interesting (and exciting!) WOGA Classics in years, bringing several future contenders to the forefront.

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The Japanese women’s team is on the rise, as evidenced by their strong performances in Rio and Montreal. The WOGA Classic was another confirmation of this team’s new strength and depth. Finishing 1-2 in the all-around were Hitomi Hatakeda and Kiko Kuwajima, who displayed remarkable performances to secure the gold and silver medals.

18-year-old Hatakeda, who enjoyed a successful 2017 season, sailed to victory in Plano with a 55.450 AA total. Her best score (14.400) came on uneven bars, where the Japanese team has traditionally struggled in the past, she scored 13.100 on floor for her tidy tumbling passes and polished choreography.

Kuwajima, a first-year senior in 2017, showcased a lovely beam routine this weekend. Reminiscent of legendary Japanese star Koko Tsurumi, Kuwajima’s big skills and consistency could be a major factor for Japan in the future.

WOGA’s Irina Alexeeva has been on the radar since her junior days, especially after her success at the 2016 U.S. Classic, where she won the junior all-around title. Absent from competition for much of 2017, Alexeeva recently won the 2018 Buckeye National Qualifier and secured the bronze here.  Her score of 53.850 was just a half-tenth behind Kuwajima, and her bars routine was especially strong (14.100). Aside from some form errors and missed handstands, Alexeeva performed well and hit a solid dismount (the same dismount Nastia Liukin performed in 2008).

Other notable names in the senior field included Madeleine Johnston of Hill’s Gymnastics, who placed fourth, Canada’s Laurie-Lou Vezina (tied for sixth), and Luisa Blanco of WOGA, who finished ninth in the all-around. Hatakeda won the bars title, Kuwajima won vault and beam, and Alexeeva won the floor gold.

In the junior division, Kayla DiCello of Hill’s won the all-around with a fantastic 55.250, with her highest score coming on beam (13.900). Rounding out the medalists were Sophia Butler and Kaliya Lincoln of the USA. Japan’s Ayumi Niyama won the vault gold with a 14.100, while DiCello won the other apparatus titles.