Five new gymnasts have been added to the GB senior squad for 2016, all have come from the junior ranks, and have represented Great Britain at junior level. In this fifth and final profile, meet Catherine Lyons.
Catherine is the eldest of a hugely talented crop of young gymnasts coming thorough the ranks from Europa Gymnastics club under coaches Rochelle Douglas and David-Roy Wood.
In September 2009, just after her ninth birthday Catherine took part as an in age level 4 in the Alpha Factor Invitational. She placed third all round, 14th on vault, =3rd on bars, 4th on beam, and was awarded the highest floor score.
Oh, and she also became a worldwide internet sensation among gymnastics fans.
The original video of this floor is no longer up on YouTube, but it spread like wildfire, and people from all over the world wanted to know who was this little girl? In one routine Catherine Lyons became the Nastia Liukin of British Gymnastics. This is not to compare them as gymnasts, huge Giengers and great flexibility aside, they’re very different. The comparison lies where like Nastia had as the first American, Catherine became the first British gymnast that people watched from an incredibly young age, dissected every routine, every success, failure, result, speculated endlessly, and asked ‘when does she become senior?’ time and time again.
Timing is everything, and as well as being unusual in performing such mature, and detailed choreography so well at such a young age, it is interesting to look at the timing of this routine.
Nastia Liukin was viewed by many as the last bastion of artistry as many gymnastics fans had known it, a link through her parents to the Soviet Era which for many, myself included remains the pinnacle so far of this sport. In 2009 Nastia was gone, it was a year before Viktoria Komova and Anastasia Grishina would light up the Junior Europeans, then Komova the Youth Olympics, and Mustafina would take the World title. This is not to say there weren’t any beautiful performers, Ana Porgras of Romania for one, but the growing trend for some years had been the move away from routines where the performance was as important as the tumbling, leaps, and spins. To see a tiny gymnast clearly being coached from the very beginning that choreography, projection, execution, and performance are an integral part of a floor routine was refreshing, and hopeful.
It also boils down to this, the reason people love Catherine’s gymnastics, the reason people love Eythora Thorsdottir, Viktoria Komova, and Laurie Hernandez is that people love to see clean gymnasts with great lines performing within their capabilities so as to minimise form deductions. People love connection to performance, no matter what your performance style, people just love genuinely artistic gymnastics. Of course people love high level difficultly too, part of Simone Biles’ huge appeal is that she performs her spectacular difficulty so exceptionally cleanly, but she is in the minority with many choosing the reward of high D score over aesthetics. There are signs that the tide may finally be starting to turn though with stricter E panel deductions penalising poorly executed routines, and gymnasts with cleaner but less difficult routines reaching international finals.
Like fellow new Senior Teal Grindle, Catherine did incredibly well through the age group levels. Never out of the top four in either compulsory or voluntary national finals, and trading the top spot for the combined title with Teal, her results speak for themselves.
Level 4 Compulsory 1st
Level 4 Voluntary 3rd
Overall British Championships 2nd
Level 3 Compulsory 1st
Level 3 Voluntary 1st
Overall British Championships 1st
Level 2 Compulsory 2nd
Level 2 Voluntary 4th
Level 2 Overall British Championships 2nd
In 2012 Catherine became an Espoir, and began the year placing 5th at the English Championships, including 4th on bars, and second on floor. At her first British Championships she won the AA competition with the highest scores on beam, floor, and range and conditioning. Catherine excelled at R+C with it’s focus on strength, control, and range of movement, so much so that she outscored her nearest competitor by 1.1 on this piece.
Qualifying for two finals, a couple of weeks later Catherine competed for apparatus titles on beam and floor as the Espoirs joined finals day at the main British Championships. She took the beam title with the type of routine we have now become accustomed to seeing from her, flowing, fast paced, intricate choreography, clean skills and beautiful leaps. We also saw her trademark back spin from Y scale stand which would feature in all her beam performances over the years to come.
On floor it wasn’t her day, but this is the best video of her new routine from 2012 which she only kept for that year. At 11 years of age, an even more impressive commitment to performance quality. It will come as no surprise that Catherine was awarded the trophy for most artistic gymnast at the British Championships across all age groups.
Catherine was also selected to compete for England at the School Games in 2012, she helped the team to the gold medal, and placed 4th AA. In a competition where Ellie Downie took every gold available, Catherine impressed by sharing the beam title. Catherine was also selected to compete for Great Britain at the Coupe Avenir in Belgiam at the end of the year, she helped the team to the gold medal, and placed third AA.
2013 saw Catherine in her second Espoir season, she began by travelling to Australia as part of the British team at the Australian Youth Olympics Festival. The British team took the silver medal, with Catherine finishing 4th on both beam and floor. It was also the first major outing for the floor routine which would see her through the next two years, and take the European Junior title.
Catherine’s Beam from AYOF
Back home, and it was time for the English Championships, 4th AA, second on bars, and first on floor this time. At the first British Championships of the year, Catherine placed 2nd AA, and took the bronze on bars in apparatus finals.
Catherine was once more selected to represent England at the School Games, where she led the team to the gold medal, took the AA gold, and every single Apparatus Final title. I think this also may have been the first time she competed the full twisting Yurchenko on her way to the vault title.
Catherine was also selected to represent Great Britain at the prestigious International Japan Junior where she placed 8th AA, 7th on floor, 6th on bars, and 4th on beam. One of the youngest competitors, she did very well against gymnasts up to two years older than her.
Catherine saw out her Espoir career in the best way possible by sweeping all titles at the British Championships in December, the second time that year she had completely dominated a championships.
2014 meant it was time to enter the Junior ranks, as a first year junior against second years Tyesha, Amy, and Ellie, Catherine took silver AA at the English Championships, as well as the beam title, and shared the floor title with Amy Tinkler. Two weeks later she placed 3rd AA, 3rd on vault, and shared the floor title again with Amy thanks in part to upgrades to two of her tumbles. In 2013 she had used the double pike, then one and a half to punch front, then finished with a double twist. Now she opened with a one and a half to straight front full, then used the double pike, and finished with the two and a half to punch front.
An international friendly in Germany followed, where Catherine helped the British team to the silver medal. On bars she competed a routine about twice as long as her planned one due to having to adjust as she went along, but showed excellent fight and endurance to keep going without major form break or error to get though to the end.
A place on the junior team for the European Championships was the reward for all her hard work so far, and Catherine of course became part of the first ever junior medal winning team when she competed so well in her biggest competition to date. Catherine had the second highest bars, and highest beam and floor scores of the British girls for the team competition, so made a huge contribution. Catherine qualified to the all around, and placed 4th overall missing out on bronze by just 0.11. In the apparatus finals it was 4th place again on beam, and then with a simply beautiful performance of her floor routine, Catherine became only the second British gymnast to take a junior European gold medal. Three gymnasts had higher start values, but Catherine did what she does best, beautiful clean gymnastics with virtuosity in performance that was rightly rewarded with the title.
At the end of the summer in 2014, Catherine suffered a concussion in training, and was required to spend six weeks completely away from the gym. We wouldn’t see her again in competition until early 2015, but training footage from the year showed that she was working on a huge amount of upgrades ready for her final year as a junior.
2015 should have been a big year for Catherine, there were several prestigious junior competitions throughout the year in which she would have likely excelled. She began her year at the Welsh open, taking the title, and showing a new Maloney to Shang combination on bars which although not caught, was an impressive upgrade. She also upgraded on beam trying a one and a half spin from standing Y scale, and also adding an E difficulty change to ring.
At the English Championship Catherine was the top scorer on every piece but bars due to a fall, I’m including the routine, as it has the Maloney to Shang which she then omitted at the British after struggling a little with it in podium training.
On to the British Championships, and near complete domination of the event. AA title with 55.60, 2.80 clear of her nearest rival. On apparatus finals day her AA total of 56.70 put her second on the highest AA British scores of 2015 seniors included. Her beam score of 14.70 was the highest British score of 2015 on this piece. AA, vault, beam and floor gold, bars silver. There were no bonuses used for juniors, so these results are an enormous achievement.
Apparatus Finals Beam
The other thing Catherine had of course done for 2015 was change her floor. An inspired choice to come full circle from that tiny girl in the blue leotard that captured the imagination of gymnastics fans world wide back in 2009, and return to the same piece of music. A beautiful blend of the original, and updated choreography, the perfect end to her junior career, and we shall see whether it’s also the beginning of her senior.
On track for a stellar 2015, Catherine competed in May adding some upgrades into her routines. She brought back the Maloney to Shang on bars and the one and a half spin on beam, she tumbled a new one and a half to double twisting straight front on floor, and added a full twisting ring leap. She also successfully warmed up her new double twisting Yurchenko vault, but didn’t get to compete it, as after floor she felt a pain in her foot which turned out to be the stress fracture that has kept her out of competition for the rest of the year.
A huge shame for Catherine, she was listed to compete at both the European Youth Olympic festival, and the International Japan Junior, but had to withdraw from both. It is impossible to say, but there is every chance she could have returned with several medals from both events. It was not to be though, and rehabbing was her main task for the rest of the year.
As we go into 2016, it is now eight weeks until the British Team Championships which count as the first Olympic trial. We should see all British seniors out competing provided all are healthy. The Welsh open is only six weeks away, will we see Catherine return to this event to get out on the competition floor again before the National and International season kicks off?
Catherine has shown several training upgrades which we will hopefully see in competition as she enters the senior ranks. We know she has upgraded her vault and bars, although she has spoken of even more bars upgrades. She had already upgraded on floor, in addition she has a two and a half to straight front full, a whip to immediate triple twist, and a double layout which have all looked ready to go in training, so we may see some of these. On beam she had been working the triple twist dismount, and talked of further upgrades that are ready.
If Catherine can return fully fit, upgrading her routines while maintaining the same quality of performance and execution, she will without question push for a spot on the Rio team of five in her first year as a senior. She is a steely as she is stylish in competition, and I hope for her to be at her absolute best.
Good luck to Catherine in her first year as a senior!