Gymnasts rise to winter’s challenge

With a small but enthusiastic crowd at one end of the hall, and great deal of flipping, spinning and jumping at the other, Yukon’s Arctic…

With a small but enthusiastic crowd at one end of the hall, and great deal of flipping, spinning and jumping at the other, Yukon’s Arctic Winter Games gymnastics team took shape on Friday.

Six young gymnasts from Whitehorse’s Polarettes Gymnastics Club were competing in four apparatus trials.

When the dust cleared, the team heading to Kenai in March was Anna Rivard, Brianne Levia, Corey Baxter and Emily Oettli.

All are Arctic Games rookies.

“It’s very exiting,” said Levia. “I like the team that we have, it will be great.”

“Overall, I think they’re going to do very well as a team, it’s kind of an inexperienced team, so this competition will be kind of like their Canada Games or their Olympics,” said coach Kelly Mock.

With just over a month until the Games, the team has much to do in preparation.

“I’ve got to practice hard, practice pointing my toes, straightening my legs,” said Rivard, who finished with the top score in vault, bars and floor.

The Games’ gymnastics competition presents team, all-around and individual apparatus categories.

Team and all around competitions are on the first day, and apparatus finals the next.

“Working as a team is going to be really hard,” added teammate Emily Oettli, whose best finish was a second place in the floor exercise.

“We’re going to work on consistency, and we’re going to try to get the start scores up,” Mock said after the competition. Meeting set requirements will determine the starting score.

“Anna has full start scores, in US rules, so she will be judged out of 10 in every event. A couple of the other girls have a 10 on certain events as well, and we hope to finish off the last of the gaps we have between now and the Games,” said Mock.

“It’s the score the routine starts from, and is deducted from. If your routine is missing certain skills, you start at a lesser point value.”

Because the gymnastics competition is restricted to level-two athletes, most get only one chance to attend.

Levels in gymnastics are based on skill level rather than age, said Mock.

“If you compete above level two, you’re ineligible. So if you competed at the last Arctic Winter Games, then you would have moved on, and this is the next generation of gymnasts, up and coming, ”

At the Games in Kenai, Alaska, the Canadian athletes will have to compete under American rules.

“It’s a little harder, actually; their requirements are just a little bit tougher than ours,” said Mock. In preparation, Friday’s judges used the US rules.

“I don’t know a lot about what the other contingents are doing; I’ve spoken with NWT, and they were struggling with the US rules a little bit as well,” said Mock.

“As far as Alaska goes, I’m really not sure, but they’ve been working under these rules for quite a while now and I’m sure they’re quite comfortable.”

Even without home gym advantage, Mock says he is confident that his team can accomplish their mission.

“I think we have the potential to medal for sure; there’s always the unknown of the other contingents, but I feel confident the team is going to do well,” said Mock.

While many other sports at the Arctic Games tend to be male dominated, the gymnastics competition is female only.

“I think there has to be a certain gender equity, and the Games have a pretty good balance right now, without re-introducing boys gymnastics.”

Mock says he isn’t sure that there would be enough interest from males, even if the event were offered to them.

He said, “1998, I think, was the last year, and I don’t know if they had enough boys to warrant it.”

With such a narrow window of eligibility, the Arctic Games is a concern for a minority of gymnasts in Whitehorse.

Many Polarettes are focused on other competitions, and that’s why Friday also included a mock meet for three of the top athletes competing in the women’s open category, Meghan Rodger, Aletta Leitch and Gina Sparling.

With the panel of judges on hand, including an international level judge from BC, the women’s open competition served as a warm-up for the Jurassic Classic, a major invitational meet in Calgary that runs February 9-12. 

“This is basically the kick-off to our season, and the Jurassic is our first invitational.

“After that, it’s going to be the Arctic Games. Then we go down to BC for Twisters in March, and in April it’s the Western Canadian Championships, in Saskatoon.”

Even with such a busy schedule, some are looking beyond this season.

“The girls in the mock meet are preparing for the Canada Winter Games in 2007, as well,” said Mock.

You’d think that would be enough for one club, but there’s much more going on with the Polarettes these days.

Recreational programs are going very well under Jackie Nicolas, the recreation program leader, said Mock.

“And we’re hosting a gym-nathon and silent auction on February 4.  

“It’s a fundraiser to get some new equipment, particularly for the recreational program.

“We get hundreds of kids that come through this facility through the course of a year, so the stuff gets a little wear and tear.”

Here are the final results of the Arctic Winter Games Trials:

Vault

1st (tie) Anna Rivard, Brianne Levia, 9.150

2nd Grayson Vanderbyl, 9.050

3rd Emily Oettli, 8.900

Bars

1st Anna Rivard, 9.050

2nd Brianne Levia, 8.100

3rd Corey Baxter, 7.450

Beam

1st Corey Baxter, 8.200

2nd Anna Rivard, 7.900

3rd Brianne Levia, 7.650

Floor

1st Anna Rivard, 8.800

2nd (tie) Brianne Levia, Emily Oettli, 8.600

3rd Corey Baxter, 8.400

All-Around

1st Anna Rivard, 34.900

2nd Brianne Levia, 33.500

3rd Corey Baxter, 32.850

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