Some additions to what was originally posted on Saturday:
1. Former AIS gymnast and elegant floor champ Monique Blount had signed on to compete at George Washington University but little was known about her prospects. Read the coach's take on her here.
2. Ash Brennan is photographed in today's (Sunday 01/06) Herald Sun doing a gorgeous leap. Why Sun photographers insist on capturing gymnasts on film in near darkness, I'll never know. It happened with G-Bo and it happened here. I don't much care for it. I like to see lovely faces! "Oooh... excessive shadow and no background... that'll look good!"
(ETA the image from the Sun website)
3. Queenslander Karina Brooks, a national junior medallist, scored a mention in her local paper.
4. Now down to the business of what I originally posted last night, now that the above additional bits have been tacked on:
I'm grateful for any and all readers I get at this little corner of the interweb, but of course I'm just as grateful for any and all contributors.
Secret agent, freelance writer and friendly AGB reader Brindabella [not her real name] sent me the following piece she wrote on WA squad member Tain Molendijk who trains the shadows of decorated senior national team members at the WAIS. It's an interesting read, a great effort for a first-timer, and Agent B asks that you be kind in reading. B is a fellow gym fan who is lucky to live near enough to catch WAIS athletes in action (but not in a creepy-Rear-Window kind of way of course...)
Pursuing perfection: Perth gymnast on the rise
An Olympic year is always crazy for those who have been labelled ‘hopefuls’ by the media and the general public. But in gymnastics, while the hopefuls are doing little but eating, sleeping, training and giving media interviews, the next crop of young stars are patiently waiting in the wings, waiting for their time to shine to come along at the next world championships, Commonwealth Games or Olympics. They are content to stand in the shadows of their more famous team mates for the time being, because they know that only determination and dedication will earn them equal attention.
While the world readies for Beijing and gets consumed by Olympic fever, one Perth gymnast is training for her big moment – a moment that, at the earliest, will not happen until next year. Fourteen year old Tain Molendijk is part of a bevy of gymnastics beauties the West Australian Institute of Sport has produced over the years and is one young athlete who is not at all deterred by the expectation placed upon her, nor by the attention her Beijing bound team mates Daria ‘Dasha’ Joura and Lauren Mitchell are getting in the lead up to the games.
No, this WAIS gymnast is driven, but not in an impossible dream kind of way. Demanding nothing less of herself than perfection, Molendijk still has the sense to set herself realistic, safe goals – not always easy in the race against time sport that gymnastics is - which can surely only help her to succeed. WAIS has a proud history of success in all of its programs. Founded in 1984, the institute began a fulltime program for promising gymnasts in 1988, with UWA graduate Liz Chetkovich, now head of gymnastics, at the helm. The program has produced some of Australia’s greatest gymnasts, and continues to do so to this day.
Eagerly waiting to follow in the footsteps of this country’s most decorated female gymnast, two time Olympian Allana Slater, WAIS senior elites Daria Joura, 18, and Lauren Mitchell, 16, practically already have their seats booked on the plane to China, destined to continue the institute’s fine tradition of Olympic calibre athletes. And while Joura and Mitchell, as well as eighteen year old team mate Olivia Vivian, have Beijing on the brain right now, pushing them through often twice daily training sessions six days a week, Molendijk is honing her skills to her own impeccable standards. Not age eligible for Beijing, the junior elite gymnast trains thirty four hours a week in the hope of making the 2010 Commonwealth Games team.
Molendijk began her career at six at the Star Mites Gym Sports club in Bayswater before moving to WAIS just two years later. “I love everything about gymnastics,” she says. “I just love it. I love everything about training.” Never giving a second thought to the 6:45am starts, Molendijk, who admits that nerves play a big part in competition for her, works on all four apparatus, as well as at conditioning, ballet and choreography under the eyes of coaches Martine George and Nikolai Lapchine. The work obviously paid off, because in 2007 Molendijk was selected to be part of the junior national squad, of which places are extremely limited.
Her refreshingly mellow but dedicated approach to gymnastics and life meant that the teenager didn’t know exactly what this selection entailed and had to ask her coaches what it meant for her. She is excited now at the prospects, even if 2008 hasn’t quite been the year she’d hoped it would be. Being on the junior national squad will give her more opportunity to travel and compete abroad she says, as well as opening more doors for her here at home.
The selection meant she travelled to California earlier this year to compete in the Golden State Classic, where she finished third all around behind team mates Emily Little and Britt Greeley, despite sustaining an ankle injury during the competition. Ever the perfectionist, she came away dissatisfied, describing the meet as disappointing by her own standards. But she remains positive, enthusiastically speaking about the wealth of experience she gained whilst in the US. The trip also included competition at the prestigious Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose, where Molendijk was forced to sit on the sidelines and cheer her team mates on due to the ankle injury.
With an unwavering eagerness, Molendijk looks to the future, demonstrating an athlete’s extraordinary understanding of the body. “If I make the 2009 world team I will be very happy,” she says. “But I don’t think I will have reached my full potential, skill wise, by 2009.” So instead her goal is to be in Delhi, India, with the Australian Commonwealth team come 2010.
She is modest enough to know her capabilities and limits, and not before their time. “I think by that time I will be of world class standards,” she explains. It is almost certain then that this young gymnast won’t come crashing down with unachievable dreams and walk away from the sport disheartened. It is a testament to the sport that even its youngest of prodigies understands what is required to reach the top. “I think that gymnastics disciplines and educates you,” Molendijk explains before going on to detail how nothing can come above gymnastics and school, not even a tempting late night at a party with friends. The sport, she says, has made her more mature, and able to make the right decision when elite sport clashes with teenage adventures.
Even when she is toughing it out with injury as she is right now, Molendijk continues to make the right decisions to drive her career forward. The ankle injury that occurred before the Pacific Rim Championships put her out of contention for the title at the junior national championships in Melbourne in May. The injury must be fully healed before she can get back on the competition floor she says, and in the meantime, she plans to work hard in other areas in the gym. There is no doubting gymnastics is one of the toughest sports out there, and even the strongest gymnast can struggle. After a thirteenth place finish at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in January last year, Molendijk announced her retirement from the sport. Whilst she was away, the WAIS team won huge accolades at the Australian Championships, and this was motivation enough for Molendijk to return. Inspired by this win, Lance Armstrong’s biography, and Li Cunxin’s Mao’s Last Dancer, she walked back into the gym extremely motivated.
She admits a certain level of frustration often creeps into her training regime though, even after this return. “I get most frustrated when a skill I am executing isn’t up to the standards I expect of myself,” she explains. This must be what the 34 hours a week are for, but the young gymnast is always pleased with the results. “I love the satisfaction I get from training really well,” she says.That satisfaction must have gone through the roof when, in December last year, Molendijk won the junior title at the National Clubs Championships at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, confirming that she made the right decision to return to gymnastics.
Back at home in Perth, the Churchlands Senior High School student speaks highly of the great atmosphere at WAIS, her respect for her coaches and for her team mates. “Our whole group is very close,” she explains, adding that she loves ‘training with Loz and Dash’ in the gym everyday. It is these friendships with her WAIS ‘family’ that mean she doesn’t worry about being a normal teenager, or about missing out on normal teenager things. “I never really feel bad,” she says. “I do sacrifice a lot for gymnastics, but I still go out with my friends on the weekends. I think the sacrifices are necessary to succeed.” She concludes that, when her career is over, she will have all the time in the world to do whatever she has missed out on.
Come Beijing, you can bet that this young gymnast will be watching every moment of the gymnastics coverage on television, thinking towards the day when the rest of us will be watching her on the television as she twists and pirouettes her way to glory.
See? Smashing stuff.
(Brindy, I hope I divided the paragraphs correctly. When I copied and pasted the article here, it all went into one massive chunk so I did my best to remember where the breaks were.)