Gymnastics nationals set for return to Ottawa in 2019

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Now a member of the senior Canadian team set to compete at the World Championships, Ottawa’s Sam Zakutney (seen above at the 2013 event at Carleton University) was still in the youth divisions the last time nationals were held in town. Photo: Steve Kingsman

By Dan Plouffe

Young local gymnasts will get to see the dream live in front of them when the 2019 Canadian Artistic Gymnastics return to Carleton University next May 21-26.

The inspirational force of Canada’s best will be one of the main benefits from hosting the event, say lead organizers from Tumblers and Ottawa Gymnastics Centres, who were rallied by Ottawa Tourism to bring the big show back to town following successful 2013 and 2014 nationals in the capital.

“It’s great for Ottawa, the city, and from a club perspective, it’s really exciting and a great experience to be part of,” notes Tumblers general manager Christine Groleau, whose group was awarded the event in the summer and has since been working quietly on planning it all.

“When it was here 4 years ago, all the athletes were excited to go and see what it was all about,” she adds. “It’s huge for them.”

“A lot of kids are visual and artistic, and just to see it, they can learn from it,” echoes Tumblers women’s program director Vanda Hadarean. “And it always provides motivation.”

An Olympic silver medallist herself in 1992 for her native Romania, Hadarean already owns a great view of the top level of the sport, but for many developing coaches, seeing an event like the Canadian Championships can have a transformative impact as well.

“I know as a young coach my idea of what children could do changed when I started to go and see the higher-level competitions,” explains Sureen Gosal, who was a long-time swim coach on the west coast before joining OGC as its general manager 2 years ago. “And it also helped us realize that that dream wasn’t as far away as some might think it is.”

The star local attraction at nationals promises to be Sam Zakutney, who is coming off a 5th-place team performance at September’s Pan Am Championships in Peru, and is now set to compete for Canada again at the Oct. 25-Nov. 3 World Championships in Qatar.

Based primarily at Penn State University nowadays, the Ottawa native remains affiliated with OGC, which hopes to have other athletes compete at nationals too.

Jenna Lalonde, who qualified for nationals last year but had to withdraw due to injury, is a top hope on the women’s side. The key qualifying event on the road to nationals will also be held in the region, with the Elite Canada meet set for Jan. 30-Feb. 3 in Gatineau.

Though they won’t be competing at nationals, the large local crew of provincial-level athletes will sure to be in the stands at Carleton, not to mention thousands more involved in gymnastics at all levels from as young as 6 months of age.

“They actually get to see what they’re working towards,” underlines Gosal, whose club will also host an Ontario Championships qualifier this season from Mar. 1-3, while Tumblers will do the same the previous weekend. “And to see the best, like Ellie Black – the World Championships silver medallist, an Olympian – come to your local area and see them compete, and also see that they’re available to the athletes – the best of the best are walking around and in the stands saying hi to people – it’s pretty neat.”

The nationals will also serve as a great rallying point for the local gymnastics community, the organizers add. A great team remains with experience from the 2013/2014 events (which also included the rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline disciplines – not the case on this occasion), while it also helps breed a new generation of leaders as well.

With somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 volunteers needed to put on the Championships over the course of a full week, many local gymnastics clubs beyond Tumblers and OGC will be collaborating hand-in-hand.

“With all the volunteers it takes, everybody has to get together,” highlights Groleau. “It’s a huge endeavour for the clubs to take on financially too, so we’re looking for as much support from the community as we possibly can.”

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