It’s been a long time coming, but the day has nearly arrived.
This year’s Canadian Artistic Gymnastics Championships will be held in-person for the first time since 2019 at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Richmond, BC, from May 26-31.
There has been an excitement building ahead of the event, with athletes finally being able to compete as they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know the athletes are super excited to get back on the competition floor with each other and also having judges there present,” Kyle Shewfelt, a Canadian gymnastics analyst and 2004 Olympic gold medalist, told CBC Sports. “Everything’s been virtual, so there’s an energy and excitement — [there’s] a bit of buzz around these championships.”
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Kyle Shewfelt previews championships in Richmond:
With the return of a handful of Olympians, especially on the women’s side, there will be plenty to watch as all the athletes begin their journey toward the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
The 26-year-old is seen as the favorite to stake her claim as Canada’s best.
“She is in her prime. She has figured out what routines work for her. I suspect that Ellie Black will run away with the title here,” Shewfelt said. “She’s such a professional. She just takes such good care of herself in her gymnastics and she just continues to improve.”
Joining her will be fellow Olympians Shallon Olsen, Ava Stewart, and Rose-Kaying Woo.
Olsen, a native of Surrey, BC, finished seventh at the Tokyo Games in the vault competition, following up a national title in the event in 2019 and a fourth-place finish at the world championships that year as well. The 21-year-old won silver at the 2018 world championships in the vault as well.
Currently competing for the University of Alabama, the 21-year-old has plenty of “veteran experience,” Shewfelt noted, as she aims to make her mark in Richmond.
Stewart, of Bowmanville, Ont., who made her Olympic debut in Tokyo, finished second to Black in the all-around at the virtual Elite Canada meet and at both Canadian Technical Trials in April and May of last year.
“[She] didn’t quite have the performance she was looking for; she’s had a few falls there. But I know that she’s learned from that experience and she’s actually looking really good this year,” Shewfelt said.
The 16-year-old benefited from the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics as she only became eligible for senior competition in 2021.
Woo, of Brossard, Que., last competed on the Olympic level at Rio 2016, with her best result being a ninth-place finish in the team event. The 22-year-old will look to build on her momentum after a personal best 18th-place finish at the 2021 world championships.
“There is a lot of depth on this team and there’s also a lot of athletes who’ve made world championship or World Cup teams. The Canadian women’s gymnastics team is in very good shape,” Shewfelt said.
Émard a rising star for men
On the men’s side, rising star William Émard will be joined by Félix Dolci and René Cournoyer as the headliners of a group generating international attention.
Émard, of Laval, Que., finished eighth in the all-around, seventh in the rings event, and eighth in the vault competition at last year’s worlds.
Saint-Eustache, Que., native Dolci, who is Émard’s training partner, finished 19th in the rings event and 24th on the high beam as he worked through an injury at the most recent world championships.
The 25-year-old Cournoyer made his Olympic debut in Tokyo and has been a mainstay within the Canadian program, having medaled at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 Pan Am Games.
On Thursday, the opening day of the event, there will be training sessions on the novice, junior and senior levels. Friday will consist of the same routine for the junior and senior levels, while the novice group on the women’s side will begin its competition. The first day of competition for both senior and junior competitors is scheduled for Saturday.
The competition will be a key event in building toward the Pan Am Games in Brazil in June, and the world championships in late October in Liverpool, United Kingdom.