While her gymnasts were twirling on the bars and flying off the vault, Catherine O’Donovan was doing emotional somersaults at a meet last weekend.
After more than three decades with Whitehorse’s Polarettes Gymnastics Club, O’Donovan has participated at her final competition as head coach.
“It was a bit of an emotional meet for me,” said O’Donovan. “I’ve been with the club for 31 years and it was my last meet as Polarettes head coach. I’ll be coaching hopefully until March or April, but I have (incoming head coach Kimberly Jones) training under me and will be passing the baton on to her.
“I’ll be having a baby the next time the kids compete and moving down to Abbotsford, (B.C.)”
O’Donovan began coaching at the club 22 years ago at the age of 12 and has been head coach since 2011. In that time she coached Yukon gymnasts at three Arctic Winter Games, two Canada Winter Games and one Western Canada Summer Games.
There have been plenty of high points along the way.
“Becoming head coach and really running a program I thought the community wanted. I really focused on making the club reach the community’s needs,” said O’Donovan. “Getting gymnastics out there and getting the schools to use us a lot more, helping with the sports school program, are all big highlights. And representing Yukon at many Canada Winter Games and Arctic Winter Games would be huge highlights.
“I’m a very proud Yukoner and I think the best thing I’ve got out of this is a great relationship with a whole lot of wonderful kids.”
Kimberly Jones has big shoes to fill as the new head coach, but seems up to the task. The Level 3 certified coach is coming in from the Calgary Gymnastics Centre where she was women’s developmental director and national novice coach for more than three years.
“I’m still familiarizing myself with Whitehorse, the gym and all the athletes, but it’s been really good, I’m really enjoying it,” said Jones.
“I’m coming from a very large club that focuses mainly on high performance gymnastics, so it’s a big change from me, a big change in culture. But I’m really enjoying it and I think the athletes here are working very hard for me and we’re all getting along. I think this club has a lot to offer and they are offering a lot and I’m excited to be working here.”
“I liked her right away. I think she’s going to be an excellent addition to the club … and the club is really lucky to have found her,” said O’Donovan.
Last weekend’s meet – Winterfest in Coquitlam, B.C. – was O’Donovan’s last as head coach, but the Polarettes club’s first of the season.
Polarettes’ Anna Gishler competed in Junior Olympic (JO) Level 6 for gymnasts born 1999-2003.
Gishler placed ninth all-around out of 12, and third for those born in 2003.
She took ninth on the bars and floor, and tied the first place finisher for seventh on the beam.
“Beam isn’t usually her best event – she’s more of a bars girl – so that was a really good success,” said O’Donovan. “Overall she had a really solid meet and I saw a big improvement from previous competitions.”
Teammate Sasha Kozmen placed ninth all-around out of 12, fifth for her age, in JO 6 2005-2007. Kozmen, who was the youngest on the team at the meet, claimed ninth in vault, bars and floor.
“She needs to work on her performance aspect, but I think she came out and gave really solid routines and did everything we asked of her,” said O’Donovan.
Polarettes’ Hailey Sherman finished sixth out of seven in JO 7 2002-2005. It was her first time competing in Level 7.
“She has fresh routines and new skills she needs to polish a bit,” said O’Donovan. “She had a really good meet, she just needs some time at that level to improve on it.”
Whitehorse’s Bianca Berko-Malvaso was also in a new division, two levels up from her last competition. She placed sixth on bars en route to seventh out of seven all-around in JO 8.
“She had a bit of a rough day,” said O’Donovan. “Bianca is usually a very solid competitor, but nerves got the best of her this meet and she fell on three of the four events, which isn’t typical of her, and I think that shook her confidence a little bit. But she competed on beam last and managed to get her confidence back and stayed on the beam, which helped her finish on a positive note.”
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