Meaghan Smith. Photo provided
By Martin Boyce
While several local gymnasts were chasing national prizes at the Canadian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Montreal last month, another was doing the same across the pond.
In her very first trip to Ireland, Meaghan Smith of the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre became the Irish senior women’s all-around national champion on May 13 in Dublin.
“It was a great experience,” recounts the 18-year-old who became an Irish citizen last year. “Probably the highlight of my gymnastics career so far.”
Never having stepped foot in the country didn’t stop Smith and her coach, Alfredo Solis, from exploring the idea.
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OGC athlete Morgan Lloyd, who represented the Cayman Islands at the 2015 Pan Am Games and World Gymnastics Championships, was the model that inspired them to pursue the goal.
Smith was eligible for Irish citizenship since her grandfather was born in Ireland. The process began as she affiliated herself with the Rathgael Gymnastics Club in Northern Ireland in order to compete.
Within a year, she found herself at the top of the Irish gymnastics scene, eager to keep increasing the difficulty of her skills in some events to become competitively at the top international level.
“With the bars, I have a lot of big skills I haven’t competed yet,” highlights the 2015 Canadian champion in the national open team category. “We’re in the process of working on those skills getting them ready to compete.”
Over the course of the recent months, Smith says she’s felt a “totally different motivation” level.
“I can really see it now, things are real,” she explains. “I’m actually competing, I’m actually going and I actually have opportunities there.”
Smith will make her second trip to her new second home at the end of June to compete in the Irish National Series. She’ll then stay to train at the new National Indoor Athletics Centre in Dublin.
Competing internationally is her goal for the upcoming season, with desired appearances at the European and World Championships on her wish list for either this year or next. The 2017 worlds will be held Sept. 27-Oct. 9 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
Canadian crowns for OGC mates
Two OGC counterparts on the men’s side earned podium finishes at the May 23-28 Canadian Championships in Montreal.
Eric Gauthier won the national open all-around title, while Sam Zakutney placed 3rd in the senior high-performance division.
“I was relatively pleased with my performances in general,” says Zakutney, who made the trip back north after completing his first NCAA season with the Penn State Nittany Lions. “I didn’t have too many major mistakes, especially considering I hadn’t competed in a good month.”
The 19-year-old was selected for the Canadian FISU team that will compete in the Aug. 19-30 world student games in Taiwan.
“I’m totally stoked,” he says of the FISU opportunity, though he’s not expecting to be on the Canadian worlds team. “It may be a little disappointing because these worlds are in Canada, but then again, they aren’t necessarily important in terms of qualifying a team to the Olympics.”
Zakutney says making it to the Olympics in 3 years’ time is his major long-term objective at present.
“Nothing would make me happier than to head into the Olympics with the maple leaf on my chest,” underlines the NCAA Championships 15th-place finisher and Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year, “Even if I study down in the States, I always want that maple leaf.”
From alternate to champ for Ontario at Easterns
A number of local gymnasts powered Team Ontario to the top at the May 5-7 Eastern Canadian Championships in Sackville, N.S.
Amongst them was Mackenzie Capretta, who went from initially being only a team alternate into a double silver medallist, recording team-best scores on vault and floor in the Level 10, Age 12-15 competition.
“I was extremely happy to even be an alternate on the team and have a chance to go to Easterns. Then to my surprise, I was able to get 2 silver medals and contribute to the team and we were able to get gold overall,” Capretta says by e-mail. “I was really super happy for me, but I think even more than that, I was even happier I didn’t let my teammates down since I came in as an alternate.”
The Kanata GymnoSphere athlete was thrilled for the opportunity to compete for her province and travel by airplane to a competition the moment she got word she’d be going.
“I always look at gymsuit colours,” Capretta adds. “The colours and the idea that they were for Ontario was very exciting for me.”
Other local athletes on Team Ontario included OGC’s Micky Geller, Max Parker, Andy Fast, Justin Khalil, Philopateer Faltas, Jaiman Lawrence and Rideau’s Aidan Li in men’s artistic, Les Sittelles’ Eric Marinho, Karl Pilon, Sébastien Haché, OGC’s Aidan McCann, Aiden Downie-Cheetham, James Doucette, Leyla Atallah, Spring Action’s Elizabeth Vonshoenberg and Gabriel Riendeau in trampoline, and OGC’s Jenna Lalonde and Elizabeth McKee in women’s artistic.