Pelletier with Amelie Plante
at the 2004 Olympic Trials. Photo by Leslie Foster
The 2006 World Championships are fewer than two weeks away, and preparations are at full steam. Whereas some countries have yet to announce their definitive teams, Canada announced their Womenís Artistic Gymnastics team hours after trials. The team consists of Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, Crystal Gilmore, Alyssa Brown, Brittnee Habbib, Gael Mackie, and Marci Bernholtz. Between them, the girls have enjoyed success at such competitions as the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, 1998 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, 2006 Pacific Alliance Championships, and various World Cup competitions. National team coach Claude Pelletier recently spoke with Gymn.ca, sharing the decisions that went into selecting this yearís team and his hopes for their performance in Aarhus, Denmark.
Gymn.ca: How did you select the team? Did you take into account past competitions as well as trials? If so, did you use a formula?
C. Pelletier: Selection was based on the performances at trials, and past experience in competition. From trials, the top two AA were selected [named to the team], and after that a working group made decisions about the best athletes to complete a team. Our objective is the team, so we had to place more emphasis on the contribution of each athlete to the team, rather than selecting six athletes who are all-arounders. By balancing everyone's contribution we will improve our ranking!
Gymn.ca: The field of contenders for these Worlds was quite small. Can you comment?
C. Pelletier: Yes, this year the number of athletes is not there, but we have an interesting group of athletes; Athletes with good routine content, athletes with experience, and strong cohesion amongst the coaches. I think those are many good things!
Gymn.ca: Many people are shocked by Aisha Gerberís absence from the team. Can you share with us, some of her recent struggles?
C. Pelletier: We need to be patient with some athletes. She worked so hard, but with her recent growth spurt she had problems adjusting some skills. There wasn't enough time for her recover everything in time [for trials and for Worlds]. I think Aisha is an amazing athlete, and when the time comes for her to step in she will do it! I trust Aisha and [coach] Elvira to do this challenge. We'll see Aisha in 2007 if she's capable of competing at her potential.
Gymn.ca: Cynthia Lemieux qualified to World Trials but did not compete. Can you comment?
C. Pelletier: She was not ready to compete on each event, and her potential contribution would have been only on beam. It's better for her to work on her program and be ready for Elite Canada.
Gymn.ca: Are the girls training together now? Where in Europe will the team train before Worlds?
C. Pelletier: The training camp will be in Laval, Quebec. The Laval Excellence gym club is able to provide us with Gymnova on which to train [the same equipment being used at the World Championships]. Specifically, Gymnova-Quebec will provide us with the same boards (very important to adjust for mounts on beam and takeoff on vault), 2 good beams with mats, 1 vault on hard landing and one into the pit. To do training camp and/or team competition in Europe would have been good preparation, but this year I think it's best for this team's preparation to do a short training camp [on the proper equipment]. After this, athletes from Ontario will go back home for one day and then we'll meet up in Aarhus.
Gymn.ca: What goals have you set for the gymnasts, in terms of team placement and individual results?
C. Pelletier: The target is 8th as a team - to do team final. Some people will say itís unrealistic, but I still believe this team could do that.
Elyse is our leader. Last year, she was the number one in the country. She is someone who the team will count on. Sheís the strongest contender [we have] for the AA, but it's the beam final that is the target for her! She can do it...and very well! Carol-Angela Orchard and the coaches at Seneca are doing an amazing job with their athletes.
Alyssa has a very good work ethic. We can count on her when itís important. Her consistency will help the team build on scores and give confidence to the other athletes. Her coach, Alex Bard, will support the team as usual. His past experience will help the team to find the good solutions.
Gael knows the game. She has solved many aspects of her gymnastics in the last year. Her success at the selection camp was not improvisation [luck], rather she arrived better prepared than ever. I trust her best results are yest to come....
Marci is coming back from a tough year, but she is a survivor! Paula Johnson, her coach, decided to take Marci to California last summer to give her a new environment in which to train and recover. It worked - her program has improved. I see her contributing on bars and beam. If she's healthy and ready, also on vault and floor.
It's going to be a great experience for Brittnee, and I see her helping the team on floor and beam. To have [her coach] Elena Davidova on the team will be a great support!
Crystal brings maturity to the team. We can count on her on each event; sheís consistent and upgrades the quality of her routines everyday. Itís a welcome comeback!
Gymn.ca: Looking ahead to Stuttgart 2007, what gymnasts do you anticipate contributing to the team?
C. Pelletier: I hope the current team will be healthy. They will have experience and already know the expectation to qualify a team for the Olympics (top 12). If Aisha is healthy it'll help the team. After that we have Damianova, Vaculik, Willis, Sawa, and many more. We have many who could change the look of Canadian gymnastics next year. If they are healthy and work hard, the 2007 Worlds team will make team finals...again!