By Mark Colley & Dan Plouffe
It was a “wild weekend in a number of ways” as the long-awaited Ontario Artistic Gymnastics Championships made its triumphant return for the first time since 2019, only to be cut short by the big storm that hit Ottawa Saturday afternoon.
Some divisions were unable to finish midway through their competitions, and Sunday’s schedule had to be cancelled completely when the EY Centre lost power.
“Our hearts go out to all the athletes who will make up their Provincials elsewhere, but you can weather this storm too!” the host Ottawa Gymnastics Centre wrote on its Facebook page, underlining the “amazing achievement” it was for all athletes to have reached the championships after COVID cancelled competitions for two years.
Roughly 1,000 athletes were revved up for the event that was scheduled for May 19-22, and Erica Melanson got the party started by claiming the first of several provincial titles for the host club during the competition’s opening session on Thursday morning.
The Grade 12 Paul-Desmarais high school student closed the curtain on her gymnastics career with a victory in the women’s level 6, age 15+ floor event.
“I finished with a bang,” smiled Melanson, who also collected silver medals for vault and beam in her session. “I’m happy with all the memories I have from all my other competitions and I’m happy that (provincials) went well.
“I’m happy it ended the way it did.”
COVID robbed Melanson of a sizeable chunk of her competition career – the 2019 provincials were her first. She plans to remain involved with the sport as a coach once she begins studying human kinetics at the University of Ottawa in the fall, inspired in part by her passion for gymnastics.
“I’m really grateful for the people, mostly,” reflected Melanson, noting her gymnastics friends felt like family. “They’re the reason I stayed this year and I came back, especially because it wasn’t very motivating with all the COVID lockdowns. But coming back and seeing all the friends and coaches that I’ve known for so long is nice.”
Local gymnasts won three of the four events in the women’s level 6, age 15+ division, which featured a total of 110 entrants across its four sessions.
Alongside Melanson’s floor win, a pair of Nepean-Corona School of Gymnastics athletes also claimed provincial titles.
All-around silver medallist Lori Peters won the uneven bars, while Leeanne King topped the vault.
Similar to Melanson, it could be the final provincials for King, who would like to continue competing, but is unsure if she’ll be able to keep up the pace once she enters her second year of computer science studies at Carleton University this coming fall.
“Getting back into doing gymnastics so often” was the biggest challenge King said she faced during the long layoffs and intermittent shutdowns imposed by the pandemic.
“It’s a hard sport to get back to where you can do the skills well,” added King, who was pleased to get the chance to get back to a provincial championships at home. “I felt kind of nervous, because it’s the first time in quite awhile, but it was great.”
There were a few more local gymnasts who earned the title of Ontario champions before the lights went black.
TRYumph’s Annika Magneron was the winner of the women’s level 9, age 14-15 floor event, while three more OGC athletes claimed provincial event crowns – Dalia Weisz (women’s level 7, age 13-14 balance beam), Yasir El Sakka (men’s level 4, age 13+ parallel bars) and Valdemar Coveny (men’s level 1, age 12-15 pommel horse champion).
Two local athletes warmed up for the May 26-30 Canadian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Richmond, B.C. by claiming provincial titles in national-level categories.
Pommel horse event winner James Doucette was the Ontario all-around champion in the men’s national open division, while fellow OGC gymnast Cléante Théorêt won both the vault and balance beam events in the women’s level 10, age 16+ category.
The artistic nationals came on the heels of the Canadian Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships, which were also held this past weekend at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
And mirroring their provincial artistic counterparts, there were a pair of local competitors from the Kanata Rhythmic Gymnastics Club who claimed national titles.
Second-place all-around finisher Serena Nie was the senior open hoop champion, while KRSG teammate Keira Agnew won the junior open ball event en route to an eighth-place all-around finish.
KRSG’s Maria Sokolova was 11th all-around and Stella Li of the Ottawa Rhythmic Gymnastics Club placed 23rd in junior open, while KRSG’s Cynthia Zhang and Selena Pang were 12th and 13th respectively in the senior high-performance division.
Ottawa’s Leonda Chow, Hannah Liao, Katelyn Stead, Katie Wang, Claire Sun and Gabriella Santini also placed first of three teams in the senior development group event.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.