By Martin Boyce
At 8 years old, Cleo Page fell in love with the beauty and grace of rhythmic gymnastics. Now, a decade later, she’s moved away from home to train with Team Canada and recently made her World Cup debut with the national group rhythmic gymnastics team.
“It’s a really cool accomplishment just to be considered at their level by my coaches and the people choosing the team,” underlines Page, who’d only competed at the provincial level prior to joining the Canadian group program in Toronto. “After I moved and joined the team I think my biggest accomplishment was catching up to them and improving so fast.”
Born in Zhuzhou, China, Page’s very first step towards Team Canada came at 9 months old when she was adopted by her Canadian parents.
At age 8, the former artistic gymnast switched into rhythmic gymnastics since she displayed exceptional flexibility. Page credits her coach at the Ottawa Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, Xinhong Jin, with not only propelling her gymnastics career, but also acting as a role model of the Chinese culture she didn’t get a chance to experience herself.
“It was really important in my life because I got to be a part of their culture,” explains the winner of back-to-back-to-back Ontario all-around titles from 2013 to 2015.
Page earned her spot on the national team shortly after Canada missed qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games, as a number of athletes (including 2015 Pan Am Games double-medallist Lucinda Nowell of Kanata) moved on from the program. That meant packing up and moving to Toronto along with her mother.
“Having to leave all these people and having to start over was really hard,” signals the 18-year-old former Nepean High School student, noting it was especially difficult leaving her father and sister.
“I think all the extra stuff, besides gymnastics, was the hardest to transition,” she adds. “But being around everyone that’s basically better than you is big motivation to learn and improve.”
Page made her international debut with Team Canada in late March in France, then competed in her first World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan from Apr. 28-30, followed by a May 2-7 World Cup in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a June 2-4 World Challenge Cup in Guadalajara, Spain.
In Sofia, Canada leapt up the standings in the 5 hoops final to place 4th – ahead of powerhouse Russia, amongst others. The 17.050 mark was one of the highest scores a Canadian team has ever received.
“It gave us a lot of confidence, but also motivation to work harder and add difficulty to our routines to get the value of our routines to the level of other groups,” indicates Page, who now has her sights set on August’s World Challenge Cup in Belarus and September’s World Championships in Italy.
National rhythmic prizes
At the May 18-21 Canadian Championships in Edmonton, Cynthia Zhang of the Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club was gold medals in hoop and clubs en route to an all-around silver medal in the novice category.
“I felt kind of relaxed,” signals the 11-year-old who’d earlier placed 4th at April’s Eastern regionals. “I’m not sure why, but the bigger the competition, the more relaxed I am.”
Having her supportive coaches and parents at her side was a special moment when she saw the results.
“I was really happy,” Zhang recounts. “I was hugging everyone.”
Kanata’s Haley Miller earned a spot on the junior national team on the heels of a 9th-place performance all-around in the junior high-performance category at nationals.
Other local nationals competitors included Kanata’s Erika Lin (13th, junior open), and Ottawa’s Raya Boicey (10th, novice), Selena Pang (12th, novice) and Kateleen Jia (13th, senior open).
The Ontario Championships and RhythmFest took place June 10-11 at the Markham Pan Am Centre. Gymnastics Ontario had not posted results as of Sportspage press time.