By Charlie Pinkerton
It was the perfect comeback for Ben Astorga who came 1st overall in his first competition of the season after spending two years riddled with injuries.
“It’s good to be back,” the 17-year-old said with a smile. “And it was a pretty good way to get (the season) started.”
In the early going of the first session of the men’s artistic gymnastics first Ontario Cup at the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre on Friday, Astorga looked like a lock for 2nd place as he trailed his teammate, Canada’s reigning all-around open division champion, Eric Gauthier.
Until the national champ made a rare mistake.
Gauthier, 20, set the bar early with a strong performance on the rings, recording a score of 13.133. It would hold as the best score of the day in the division.
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Competing one-after-another all afternoon, Astorga stayed on Gauthier’s heels through their first three events. Following each of their routines on rings, vault and parallel bars, Gauthier looked poised to pull away with a 2.5-point lead over his teammate and the rest of the competition.
In their fourth event, the high bar, Gauthier missed his hand placement while attempting a pirouette and hit the mat. He said he doesn’t remember ever making that mistake while attempting the move.
“Freak accidents happen,” Gauthier said. “It was honestly just kind of a fluke. I don’t know what happened; I just missed the bar for some reason.”
Gauthier laughed off the mistake and finished his routine. He was awarded a score of 10.4.
“I wasn’t really looking at the all-around scores at that point,” Astorga said. “I really focus on just taking it one event at a time because if you look too far ahead or behind it just messes up everything because I have to stay very narrowly-focused and make sure that I do my routine properly. If he fell or not that doesn’t change my outcome.”
Astorga turned in a meet-best score of 12.9 immediately after Gauthier, erasing his lead with only the floor and pommel horse remaining.
The teammates reflected on the advantages of competing in their home gym.
“You have support because everyone’s here to watch you,” said Gauthier, 20.
“It’s nice because I know all of the equipment, especially the pommel horse, which is usually different,” Astorga said. “In other places it’s a bit more square and a lot sharper. Here I know it really well, so I knew what I was getting into when I came in which is nice for the competition because it’s a lot less of a shock and I can focus more on just doing my routines and not adapting to the situation.”
Astorga’s routine on the pommel horse was good for a score 11.1 (2nd place) in spite of a fall that he had midway through. Gauthier came 1st with 12.3.
Astorga separated himself from his teammate on the floor, the duo’s second last routine of the afternoon.
Gauthier had to use his hands on the landing of one of his tumbling lines, in which he attempted a double backflip. He said it’s something he’s added to his routine this year.
“It is a new skill for this year so hopefully it will get more consistent as the year goes,” he said. He scored 11.8 in floor.
Astorga scored 13.266 in his floor routine. He finished just over a half-point ahead of Gauthier to win the meet’s gold medal.
“For me this was an ego boost,” Astorga said with a laugh. “I feel a lot more confident going into the next competition.”
As well as winning the all-around gold medal in the open division of the first men’s Ontario Cup for artistic gymnastics, the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre athlete placed 1st in high bar, 2nd in vault, pommel horse, and floor, 8th in parallel bars and 9th in rings.
Gauthier came 1st in pommel horse, rings and parallel bars, and came 6th in vault, 11th in floor, and 9th in high bar.
“Honestly overall, I was happy with how it went, it could have been better but it could have been worse. It’s all good for the first meet,” Gauthier added.
Nathanael Teng of Rideau Gymnastics won all-around bronze in the men’s open division. He finished 4th in floor, 3rd in pommel horse, 7th in rings, 7th in vault, 4th in parallel bars and 5th in high bar.
Other divisions and age groups will compete at the first Ontario Cup at the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre all weekend.
The second Ontario Cup is just over a month away. It is scheduled at the Kitchener-Waterloo Gymnastics Club from Jan. 19-21.
There, Oleksandr Zavadych, Astorga and Gauthier’s coach, said he was generally pleased with his athletes’ performances, and talked about what he would like to see from Astorga and Gauthier in the future.
“My guys have good quality and good basic preparation but they need more difficulty,” Zavadych said. “Now they compete in the open category, but the next step is maybe next year they could compete in the senior division; for senior they need more difficulty.”
“I’ve been working quite a few skills that I didn’t (use in competition),” Astorga said. “I wanted to come to this competition and do clean routines without falling and make sure that I can show off a basic level and then from that, once I get more consistent I can build onto it more difficult skills.”
“There’s lots of things we worked on during the summer that weren’t quite ready for this meet, so we’ll see if we can get those things in shape and in our routines (for the next competition).”
Both Ottawa Gymnastics Centre athletes have big ambitions for this season.
“I am determined to go to Nationals and either get a medal in some event, or place all-around in the Top 5 at least,” Astorga said.
“I want to qualify for the (National) Championships one more time, and honestly if I can just get my routines more difficult I’ll be happy however I place,” Gauthier said.