By Mark Colley
Jenna Lalonde is 17 years old, she attends Nepean High School, but she’s only at school for two and a half hours each day — if she’s even in town at all. That’s because she’s also a world-class gymnast.
Lalonde has already competed at the Commonwealth Games and last month added two more competitions to her already impressive career resume, attending the Senior Pan Am Championships in Colombia and the Canadian artistic gymnastics championships in Richmond, B.C.
She placed third all-around in Richmond. With the national championship serving as a qualifier for opportunities to compete with Team Canada internationally, the pressure was on.
“I was really hoping to do well there and it was a big priority for me to just show what I can do,” Lalonde signals.
She came away from day one of the competition with a steady performance, putting up serviceable efforts in bars and beam but feeling there was lots to improve on. On day two, Lalonde improved everything but vault and claimed her third-place finish.
She also won the artistry award for her floor routine.
“A lot of people always comment on my artistry, and I feel like I really just wanted to show what I could do,” Lalonde highlights. “It was just a nice surprise at the end of the meet.”
For Mélanie Major, one of Lalonde’s coaches at the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre, it came as less of a surprise. She says Lalonde has been working hard on her floor routine and now has an international reputation as an artistic athlete.
Major has coached Lalonde since she was six. Lalonde started in the developmental program at OGC and did a tryout for Major, where the coach was immediately “very, very excited about her potential as a gymnast.”
Now, with a string of strong national and international showings, Lalonde is on the way up.
Following her Commonwealth Games bronze medal with the Canadian women’s team last summer, Lalonde added another team bronze at the Pan Am Championships, where she also placed 10th in the individual all-around standings.
“She’s showing that she can be on the podium with the best in Canada,” Major indicates. “She’s showing that she’s a contender for not just international cups or international meets, but … worlds and the next Pan Am Games.”
Despite all this experience under her belt before her 18th birthday, Lalonde says she still gets nervous at competitions.
Sometimes, it’s the feeling that she hasn’t competed in awhile. Other times, it’s the anxiety of trying to improve off her previous results.
It’s also a little intimidating competing against athletes who have been at the top level for many more years.
“Sometimes, it’s a little like, ‘Oh, I’m not gonna be good enough for this,’” Lalonde explains. “But I think in the end, everyone supports each other and whatever happens, happens and we’re all working towards the same thing.”
The next focus for Lalonde is a competition in Montreal in August, which will serve as trials for the Sept. 30-Oct. 8 World Championships in Belgium and the Oct. 20-Nov. 5 Pan Am Games in Chile. In the meantime, she’s maintaining and trying to add to her routines.
A year away, there’s talk of the 2024 Olympics in Paris, too. But you won’t see Lalonde focusing on that just yet.
“She’s able to motivate herself with the next thing, which I find has really helped her still find the joy and love of the sport,” Major underlines. “Instead of this huge, ‘Olympics is everything.’ That’s not why she’s doing it.”
A couple of Lalonde’s OGC teammates also landed on the podium at the Canadian Championships. James Doucette was fifth overall and the men’s national open champion on pommel horse, while Addison Graham won a balance beam silver medal en route to a seventh-place finish overall in the novice women’s competition. Kanata Gymnosphere’s Mackenzie Grant and Julia Read were ninth and 13th all-around respectively in the novice women’s event as well.
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