By Dale Woodard on May 1, 2021.
The watchful eyes of four judges were replaced by one glass eye as members of the West Wind Gymnastics Club took part in their first competition since February of 2020 in the Battle at the Bridge.
Hitting the mat for their first meet a little over 14 months after the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc, 20 members of West Wind Gymnastics Club were back at the club for a virtual gymnastics competition — the first of its kind — held across Alberta.
But as the locals hit the bars, beams, vault and floor in front of a camera, which replaced the usual judges at the virtual event, there was another hurdle to overcome when the provincial government announced tighter COVID restrictions Thursday night, targeting hot spots around Alberta, including Lethbridge, and placing a ban on indoor fitness and sports.
That forced the West Wind Gymnastics Club to get all of their athletes in front of the camera at the last minute Thursday night to do their routines and get them shipped off to the provincial judges.
It took a bit of scrambling, said West Wind Gymnastics Club women’s head coach Katrina Brandt.
“We had 20 athletes from our club participate, only five of them normally train on Thursday nights,” she said. “So we had to call 15 families in and we just made it work. We said if they can get here I’ll stay until 11:59 p.m. to make sure their kid has the opportunity to compete. We got everybody done. I don’t know how we pulled it off, but we did. I hope they had fun. It was kind of chaotic, but we made it happen.
“They did amazing. Competition is competition and there are results that celebrate the top placing athletes, but with three shutdowns and private lessons and outdoor gymnastics for the month of June in 2020, everybody made it to the competition.”
As the club members moved their training outdoors to the Sugar Bowl on a warm, but windy, Friday afternoon, sixteen-year-old Tuscany Richards and nine-year-old Ayla Bach reflected on the experience.
Making the competition that much more unique for Bach was the fact it was her very first gymnastics competition.
“It was really chaotic because all of a sudden I got a call and I had to go straight to the gym and warm up really quick and do it,” said Bach. “But it was really quick. It was just an hour.”
For the most part, her four events went well.
“It was good, except for on the vault, my toes weren’t pointed,” said Bach.
Working in the nine-year-old gymnast’s favour was she didn’t have a prior point of reference about competing in front of a camera instead of a panel of judges.
“I didn’t really know because I had never been in front of judges,” said Bach. “It just felt like my mom was videotaping me or something.”
A four-year competitive gymnast, Richards brought a little more experience to Thursday’s competition.
Still, the slightly altered judging format and the last-minute rush to get everyone in for their routines was new.
“It went pretty fast, honestly,” said Richards. “It was pretty crazy and so last-minute that I didn’t have time to think. It was just like ‘Let’s do it and get it over with.’ It wasn’t too bad, just a bit chaotic because they were calling people to do their routines really quick. So there were a lot of people.”
While she’s used to performing in front of judges, doing her routine in front of a camera was hardly a stretch for Richards.
“We video our skills all the time in the gym. It wasn’t too bad. You just have to do what you’re going to do,” she said, adding some of her skills weren’t quite perfected in time for Thursday’s competition.
“But it was pretty good. On bars I hit everything. I fell on the beam, but that’s OK. I just got a new floor routine, so it’s kind of a debut for me.”
The provincial event featured clubs from Edmonton, Lloydminster, Medicine Hat, Olds and as far north as Fairview.
“I think we were lucky that with gymnastics being an individual sport with no other competitors you’re necessarily against, we set up a competition where they would be able to show their routines as if at a competition,” said Brandt “They held up a sign with their name, club and a sign with a special, unique code that was released right before the competition, so athletes could only film within a certain window.”
Brandt said the camera was in the same location a judge would be for a real competition.
“We videotaped the routines and we submitted those electronically. We submit those to the judging catalogue and the judges log in from wherever they are throughout Alberta, watch the routine, judge it and the scores get tabulated. After the judges have completed the judging round we mail the awards to each of the clubs and the clubs will do their own awards ceremony for their athletes.”
Judging will take place Tuesday.
The West Wind Gymnastics Club followed strict COVID protocol, said Brandt.
“When athletes enter the building we take their temperature. Because we’re an indoor sport we have to maintain three metres of distance throughout. Most of our athletes, through the safety of everybody, choose to wear their masks. Then right before, they would take off their masks, present to the camera, do their routine and put their masks back on.
“The COVID protocols have affected our club, but in terms of COVID our club hasn’t seen any. It’s thanks to our staff and our athletes who make sure they follow the guidelines.”
It’s been a tough year for the club with the many COVID announcements and different protocols.
“June of last year was a beautiful month,” said Brandt. “We hauled the gymnastics equipment outside and they trained. We trained as normal throughout the summer and into the fall and then it was no indoor sports unless it was private lessons. So we pivoted again and made a private lessons schedule. Then we shut down and reopened private lessons, but group training was allowed with only so many kids.”
Thursday’s announcement has cancelled two events scheduled for this month.
Brandt said conditioning sessions with the athletes will continue throughout the city to keep their strength up so when they do return it impacts them as little as possible.
“May is a little bit odd in terms of weather,” she said. “So now we’re crossing our fingers for the two weeks to only be two weeks. But we’ve made some backup plans if that’s not the case moving forward into June.”
Richards has rolled with the challenges of the past year presented by the pandemic.
“You just take it day-by-day. When you’re off you keep conditioning and working on strength and you’re grateful for every day you’re back in the gym.”
Richards also took part in Zoom classes and rented a beam from the gym.
“I live out in the country, so I have lots of space to go run outside and work out.”
No matter what the judges scores are, Brandt gave her club members the thumbs-up.
“Our kids did phenomenal,” she said. “I don’t know if anybody fell, which as a gymnastics coach, that’s the best news.”
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