Elite Amateur Sport Gymnastics

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Focusing on a single word helps 16-yr-old Commonwealth Games gymnast Jenna Lalonde stay calm

Ottawa Gymnastics Centre coach Melanie Major and athlete Jenna Lalonde. Photo: Facebook

By Martin Cleary


Our lives are filled with words every day, whether spoken, written or read.

It’s the same for Jenna Lalonde, a first-year Canadian senior women’s artistic gymnastics team member, and her Ottawa Gymnastics Centre coach Melanie Major.

In the moments before she performs her intricate and well-rehearsed routines on the beam, uneven bars, vault and floor, she’ll focus on a carefully selected, single word. That mind game allows her to clear all her thoughts and concentrate on the lightning-fast elements of her routines.

She’ll use this approach at her first Commonwealth Games, set to take place July 28 to Aug. 8 in Birmingham, England. At 16, Lalonde will be one of the youngest to be seen by the judges (that’s the earliest age an athlete can enter women’s artistic gymnastics at the Games).

Lalonde, who will enter Grade 11 at Nepean High School in September, will pick a word that will be a soothing remedy for her and steady the competitive nerves.

“It could be ‘trust,’ or ‘look.’ Nothing extravagant. Nothing negative. She must think positive,” Major explained.

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“You must keep on a (proper) path so you don’t run away with your thoughts. An event like the bars goes so fast. If you think past (one skill too quickly), it can affect your next skill. You must be concentrating in the moment.”

Lalonde has found that mental strategy helped her during an unusually busy return to in-person competitions this season, after the struggles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years – extended gym lockdowns, training on her own, a broken hand and nose in training and virtual competitions.

“It helps me calm down and prevent my heart from racing,” she explained. “Certain words calm me down. It helps me know what I can do and trust.”

Major and Lalonde avoid thinking about the outcome of each apparatus routine and prefer to pinpoint their thoughts on the elements she is about to execute.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible, so it’s not overwhelming,” Major added. “I want her in 20 years to say that: ‘I loved my Commonwealth Games.’”

Jenna Lalonde. Photo provided

May’s Canadian artistic gymnastics championships in Richmond, B.C. played a large role in her selection as one of five women on the artistic gymnastics team for the Commonwealth Games. Lalonde placed sixth in the all-around competition on Day 1, but rose to second overall after her four apparatus routines on Day 2. Her second-day, all-around score of 50.95 points was highlighted by placing second in the balance beam final with 13.45 points.

Lalonde also had an opportunity to present her routines to international judges at competitions over the past eight months in France, Belgium, Germany and Italy. She said she had mixed results, but they were all learning experiences.

As a member of the national junior team last November, Lalonde was third in the vault final and helped Canada to a third-place team result at a meet in Belgium. She reached the bars final at a meet in France and was fourth in team for Canada.

During the virtual Elite Canada meet in February, Lalonde was fourth all-around based on a fourth on floor, a sixth on beam, a tie for sixth on bars and a seventh in vault.

As a senior at the DTB Pokal Team Challenge in Stuttgart, Canada was fourth in the team competition and Lalonde had the second highest beam score in the Day 2 mixed team event. She also was 21st all-around in the Jesolo Trophy competition in Venice.

“This season is not what I expected,” Lalonde explained. “There has been a lot more competition than I expected. But I feel all (the meets) have helped in different ways.”

At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Canada won three gold, two silver and one bronze medals in women’s artistic gymnastics. Lalonde would like Canada to duplicate that result in Birmingham.

“I hadn’t heard much about the Commonwealth Games so I looked into the results. I saw a lot of results in 2018 and would like to keep Canada on the same path,” she said.

As Lalonde spends this week with the Canadian artistic gymnastics team preparing at the Olympic training centre in Paris, she feels ready for her first multi-sport competition.

“Every meet is different. I can adapt to most situations. Whatever happens, I’m ready for it. I’ll enjoy it, be confident and trust myself,” she said.

Major, who will co-coach the Canadian women’s artistic gymnastics team with Lisa Cowan of Mississauga, is hoping Lalonde can simply do her best at the Games.

“I really hope she performs in a calm and confident way,” Major said. “I’m not putting any expectations on her to make (individual event) finals. I want to see how she does with that and learn. Go and simply do your best. And being your best is OK over there.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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