By Dan Plouffe
Freya Cope earned a groundbreaking 10th-place finish in her debut national high-performance competition at the Feb. 5-9 Elite Canada women’s artistic gymnastics competition in Calgary.
Rewind 4 years to her first season at the new Kanata GymnoSphere club and it would have seemed impossible that she’d win a top-8 ribbon for balance beam amongst the very best of her novice age group in the country.
“I remember when I first started with Freya when she was 9 years old, she had a major fear on beam,” recalls Kanata coach Lauren Mooney. “She was really hesitant and scared, but I would say to her, ‘You know, one day you’re gonna do front tuck, and one day you’re gonna do this other big skill, and she would always argue with me and say ‘No, no. I’m never gonna do it.’
“It’s kind of funny now. After spending four seasons working with her and getting her to the point to be able to go to Elite Canada and do the beam routine she did over 2 days (with the second-highest degree of difficulty in the field) – that was amazing.”
Cope’s performance represented a milestone moment for the young Kanata club – their first competitor to attend Elite Canada, and qualify for the national championships in a high-performance stream to boot.
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“To be honest, that was my plan with her from Day 1,” indicates Mooney, who spotted “the natural power that not every athlete has” in Cope, despite the missing confidence.
It was a long road to build Cope up for the pinnacle moment – a 25-hour per week training commitment. The final decision to make the trek to Calgary came fairly close to competition day, since small injuries and inconsistencies were a concern.
“She surpassed the expectations,” notes Cope’s co-coach Fiodor Martea. “I think she competed super well – basically the best she could do.”
That the breakthrough came in what was the biggest meet of Cope’s life – when she was competing in the same gym as world silver medallist Ellie Black (in the senior division) – wasn’t entirely anticipated.
“I was really proud of her. She was really brave,” adds Martea, noting that they modified some of Cope’s routines to remove more difficult elements that were inconsistent in practice. “Every single event was approached with a difficulty that she would be confident that she’d be able to perform. She felt a bit more relieved and had a little bit less pressure.”
Cope says she definitely did feel the nerves at Elite Canada.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” signals the athlete who’s jumped up from the Level 7 provincial category just 2 seasons ago. “My goal was to make it to nationals (with a top-24 finish), so I was really excited.”
Getting the chance to compete in her backyard for the May 19-24 Canadian Championships in Gatineau will be a big treat, she adds.
“It’s really cool,” says Cope, who’s hoping some of her teammates will qualify for nationals in other streams as well.
That, of course, is all part of the plan for her coaches.
“Freya’s kind of setting the path, but we’re definitely going to have more coming up in the next year and for years after,” signals Mooney.
“I want to thank my coaches,” the soft-spoken Cope underlines. “They helped me get to where I am now. They’re supported me so much, and they’re always giving me positive feedback.”
Jenna Lalonde of the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre also competed at Elite Canada, earning a 13th-place finish all-around in the junior event and a bronze medal for uneven bars.
Piles of podiums at provincial qualifiers
Back at home, piles of local gymnasts leapt towards the April’s Ontario Championships with strong performances at Les Sittelles’ Jan. 24-26 Envol meet and the Feb. 7-8 Tumblers Classic.
Posting standout scores at Championships qualifiers to rank themselves in the top-8 of their provincial categories were TRYumph’s Myra Fauchon (Level 6 Age 15+), Avery Carriere (L7 A13), Stacy Lelei (L8 A16+) and Annika Magneron (L9 A11-13+), Kanata’s Mila Dwivedi (L7 A12), Ottawa’s Kiera Vered (L7 A14), Danica Henriksen (L8 A11-12) and Lucie Robert (L8 A15), and Corona’s Jane Vo (L8 A13) and Ella Martel (L9 A14-15).
The Ottawa Gymnastics Centre will mark its 60th anniversary as the club hosts its annual Tulip Classic provincial qualifier Feb. 28-Mar. 1.