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2001 Elite Canada
Abby Pearson has long pushed the envelope of difficulty on the Canadian women's gymnastics scene. From becoming the first Canadian to perform a Rulfova on the balance beam at age 11, to being the first Canadian woman to master the Yurchenko 1 1/2 on vault in the 1997-2000 cycle, Pearson's willingness to strive towards new levels of difficulty has earned her plenty of respect. Coached by Dave and Liz Brubaker at Sarnia's Bluewater Gymnastics from the very beginning of her career, Abby followed the Brubakers to Burlington in 2000. Gymn.ca's and Christopher Scott had the opportunity to interview Abby during a visit to Burlington Gymnastics Club in October 2001. In this exclusive interview, Abby discusses her beginnings in gymnastics, success in the sport, and plans for the next phase of her gymnastics career.
Gymn.ca: Abby, thanks for joining us today for this interview. How did you get started in gymnastics?
AP: My mom was a coach at a high school in Forrest, Ontario. She heard about the Bluewater Gymnastics Club in Sarnia. My great-grandmother said, "Why donít you put the girls in?" My sister joined the club and my mom started coaching there. I joined shortly after and it has been a family affair ever since.
Gymn.ca: And your sister?
AP: She was four. But sheís all done now.
Gymn.ca: Iíve seen your sister compete. Amy?
AP: Yes. She competed at Nationals in 1994. She was a great High Performance junior. She opened with a full in on floor and had a great front front Pike. She was a powerful and graceful athlete. Very petite, and very clean.
Gymn.ca: And whatís she doing now?
AP: Actually sheís in college. She was coaching [in Burlington] last year, and then she went off to college.
Gymn.ca: You really push the envelope of difficulty for Canadian gymnastics when it comes to vaulting. Is this an event that comes especially easy for you?
AP: I donít know about easy, but itís one of my favourites. Ever since I was little, we always studied the Yurchenko. [First] with the mats, and then eventually it just progressed. It is something that my coaches took very seriously and we were required to do a large volume of turns on vault. I think thatís why it came a bit easier to me, because I was allowed to progress slowly and I never felt unsure of myself. When I had trouble I was given some leeway to find myself again. I remember  Nationals in Vancouver [Burnaby]. I lost a feel for all events. I was screwy on twisting and my coaches allowed me to do a layout. Dave had a way of helping me find a way to develop the vault so I could perform it safely each time. If I wasnít prepared, I wasnít allowed to do it.
Gymn.ca: And what vaults are you doing now?
AP: A one-and-a-half [twisting Yurchenko]. A half, full and one-and-a-half. I can also do a layout Phelps, but I donít really like it that much. I guess I am really a specialist with the Yurchenko. I have done the double twist before, but it was never really worth the risk. I always seemed to do much better with the vault outside of Canada.
Gymn.ca: I always really respected you for doing that [Yurchenko one-and-a-half] vault when no one else in the country was doing it. Youíre definitely on your own level there! Now your former club, Bluewater Gymnastics, hosted a series of successful International Invitationals. What was it like to compete for the host club at these meets?
1998 Bluewater Invitational
AP: That was a great experience! I loved that meet. Now they have Spring Cup here, and weíre turning that into an International Invitational. Itís going to be even bigger than Bluewater! My coaches share a real love for gymnastics. Their main motivation for bringing these events to Canada was to help develop our skills and give us an education and experience we would not get otherwise. The events were great and really an enriching opportunity for me and my own family. It takes a while for people to understand, but it will catch on.
Gymn.ca: Great work on their part! Now I understand that the Spring Cup will also feature double mini tramp and rhythmic, in addition to womenís artistic?
AP: Actually Rhythmic and Sport Aerobics now. Iím looking forward to that.
Gymn.ca: The Bluewater Invitationals managed to attract athletes from traditional gymnastics powerhouses like Russia and the Ukraine. What was it like to train with these girls?
AP: It was an excellent experience, especially when youíre younger. You look at the girls and theyíre your idols! And they live with you too, during the week. Itís good to see what theyíre doing compared to what we were doing. Itís really good for the younger athletes. The younger athletes, they need that kind of experience! Instead of always giving it to the older athletes, they need that experience.
Itís also good for the parents to see that the other countries take gymnastics very seriously. It is not about fun for them. Gymnastics at that level is very serious and the athletes are very tough.
I had Victoria Karpenko and Olga Kozlova, then I had Elena Shapornaya stay with us one year. Kate [Richardson] stayed with us one year. Olga Teslenko and Tatiana Yarosh, they both stayed with me. So we had mostly Ukrainians. I remember one day, we had all of the international athletes over at our house between practices. It was fun!
Gymn.ca: Youíve had other opportunities to compete against international athletes too.
AP: [The 1996 Top Gym]...that was my first International, well first overseas! Oh, it was amazing! Really good! I was really young and I got to see the girls. It was a great experience, a great meet. I went back with Dave and some of the younger athletes, two or three years ago. I watched them go through that same experience that I got to go through. I got to train there - a beautiful gym! I really enjoy the opportunity to help athletes who are coming up now, like my best friend Melanie Rocca.
Gymn.ca: In 1998 you went to the China Cup. Was that your first senior International abroad?
AP: No, I went to France before that, for the Trophee Massilia. The China Cup, well I didnít do too well at that one but that was an experience! Just China itself was...well I couldnít get over it! I think that was probably the first time Iíd competed with the Chinese girls. We went to a training club to see what it was like. Not one of the main ones, it was one of the ones where little girls would start. The conditions of where they live and that, we couldnít get over that. It was definitely an experience Iíll never forget.
Gymn.ca: Just a month before Olympic trials you followed your long time coaches Dave and Liz Brubaker to Burlington Gymnastics. How was this transition?
AP: It was a very easy transition! Itís tough because youíre moving away from home, but I think it was a very good stepping-stone for me. Tough because I was in Sarnia for so long, and now competing for some other club at Olympic trials. We were taught to respect our club and coaches. Coaches and volunteers have to do so much in the club system to help athletes get to the highest level. Always, in the back of my mind, I thought Iíd be competing for my club one day [at trials]. Unfortunately there was a financial situation that could not be resolved in Sarnia, and my coaches were laid off after coaching there for 16 years. The move was easy for me. It was exciting at first.
I donít know how it could have gone better. I lived with the Gibsons for a year. They were great! This year Iím living with Dave and Liz, their two boys Nate and Jake, and Melanie Rocca.
In a funny way it [the move] has made me much closer to my family. I am really proud to have had their support through the whole ordeal. My coaches made this move to put me in a more positive environment to improve my chances to make Olympics.
[Although] people here have a hard time understanding my level of commitment to the sport. It is part of how I have been raised. I have been in the gym since I was 2 and here they donít see that. I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to meet my commitment to the national team and I am proud to fulfill all my sport obligations. That seems very hard for some of the athletes here. Dave and Liz are trying to change that. I was training 25 hours a week since I was seven. Doing two trainings per day seems normal to me. I have accepted my difference as an athlete, and donít feel a need to do what "normal" teenagers are doing. Donít get me wrong, I really like to have fun, but there will be a lot of time to be an adult later.
2000 Olympic Trials
Gymn.ca: How do you feel about your performance at the Olympic trials?
AP: I made a few mistakes, but thatís okay. I am very pleased. I experienced it, most people donít. Unfortunately I didnít make it. But whatever the consequences were, I was ready so I think thatís why I didnít really freak out. Itís tough to watch the Olympics and say, "Oh, I wish I were there," but Iím pleased. I tried my best. Thatís all I could do, the rest was up to them! I was proud of my level of preparation and my program content.
Gymn.ca: What are your goals for the next gymnastics season?
AP: This year just competing. Itíll be a fun year. Nationals will be hard because itíll be my last one, but Iím looking forward to it. I think Iím at that stage where Iím ready to move on. Itís hard because I am in a state of transition. I donít seem to have any purpose anymore for the Canadian program. I am really setting my sites on the US colleges. I will continue to have the same goals that got me to this level: Be at training everyday, control the things I have control over, have respect for my sport, coaches and my teammates. I want to develop routines that will be stable for my college career out of 10 that will be easy to perform everyday.
Gymn.ca: Are you going to be at Elite Canada?
AP: Yes, Elite Canada and Nationals and that.
Gymn.ca: I understand that some US schools have been very interested in recruiting you to the NCAA.
AP: Iíve gone to Central Michigan and University of Arizona. My last recruiting trip is October 18, to the University of Iowa because Larissa [Libby (nee Lowing)] is there. She was one of the best Canadian gymnasts and my coaches have a lot of respect for Larissa and her coaches Debbie Vidmar and Leonid Grakovsky. We used to visit there all the time when we were little.
Gymn.ca: When do you have to make your decision?
AP: Thereís a signing date in November.
[Abby signed with the University of Arizona a few weeks after this interview was conducted. She later reflected on her choice to Gymn.ca.] I decided to sign with University of Arizona. It was a hard decision but we went through an exercise where I had to rank the schools on about 23 different criteria on a scale from 1-5. After "doing the Math" Arizona was the best choice for me. It really didnít have anything to do with the weather, as some might think.
Gymn.ca: Aside from vault, which weíve already talked about, are you hoping to debut any new skills at Elite Canada?
AP: Iím working a front somi to back handspring layout on beam. Iíve been doing punch front to two-and-a-half and punch front to triples on floor. Bars - working free hip into eagle and Jaeger, whether itís half full or whatever. Not really new stuff. At my age, I am proud to be able to maintain a certain level of skill and I want to keep healthy for my collegiate career. I am a little set in my ways now. Dave gets a little frustrated with me because he would like me to do more, but it is up to me now. Itís not as easy as when I was little.
Gymn.ca: Best of luck with your upcoming competitions!