During his preparations for this week's Canadian Artistic Gymnastics Championships, 2000 Olympian Kyle Shewfelt took a few moments to discuss his gymnastics career with Gymn.ca.
After removing himself from contention for the 2001 World Championships, Shewfelt has spent the past year preparing new routines for the updated Code of Points.
In this Gymn.ca exclusive interview, Shewfelt discusses the highlights of his young, but highly successful career, his future goals and aspirations, and the secrets behind his success.
Personal Facts:Club: Altadore Gymnastics Club
Coach: Kelly Manjack
Age: 20 (DOB: May 6/82)
2002 Cottbus Cup Grand Prix: 3rd V, 3rd FX;
2000 World Cup Finals: 2nd FX
2000 Olympics: 12th FX, 26th V (prelim)
2000 Glasgow Grand Prix: 3rd FX
2000 Pacific Alliance Championships: 3rd FX, 1st V
Favourite Event: Floor Exercise, Vault
Gymn.ca: Tell us a little bit about your family. Who do you get your behaviours and personality traits from? What role has your family played in your gymnastics success?
Kyle Shewfelt: I have a great family. My mom, Nola, is a secretary at an elementary school. My dad, Wes, works at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. I also have one brother, Scott, who is 22 and works as a sprinkler fitter. My family has played a very important role in my gymnastics career. It wouldn't have been possible to accomplish anything without their financial and moral support. I have been very lucky because my parents have always left my gymnastic decisions up to me. It has always been my choice to be a gymnast and I was never pressured into doing anything that I didn't want to do. They are very involved with the gym and the community and they are the kind of people that you can count on when you need help. They helped me in every way that I needed when I was younger. They paid for my training, they paid for my traveling and they did countless hours of fundraising and volunteer work for the gym. Now that I am carded the financial burden on them has been lifted. I think that they are happy for this! Not only has my immediate family been supportive, but all of my aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends have been very supportive in my pursuit of success.
It is hard for me to pin-point where I get my personality and behaviour traits from. I think that both of my parents have instilled in me how important it is to work hard and be a good person. They have taught me to look on my experiences with a positive attitude and to make sure that I give something back to my sport. I think that I am a role model of sorts now and I hope that I am reflecting a good image towards the younger gymnasts in my club and even across the country. I think when it all comes down to it, it is the most important to appreciate your success, look at all opportunities in a positive light and to not take anything for granted.
Gymn.ca: You and your coach, Kelly Manjack at the Altadore club in Calgary, have a unique coach-athlete relationship. Tell us a little bit about Kelly as a coach and a person. How much of your success do you attribute to him?
KS: Me and Kelly do have a very unique coach-athlete relationship. I respect him as a coach, as a friend and also as a person. We have been working together since I was 6 so we know each other very well. He is like a second father to me. He knows how to deal with me when I am having a bad day and he is always looking out for what is in my best interest. He has supported every decision that I have made and he has always been there for me. I attribute much of my success to Kelly. It wouldn't have been possible without him. I actually don't think that I would be where I am today if Kelly wasn't my coach. He has let me progress at my own pace and we have a very good communication system. I value any advice that I receive from him and I think it is great that I have a coach whom I really trust. We both have made a lot of sacrifices for my gymnastics and I can't thank him enough.
Gymn.ca: You also have another coach, Uldi Hadju. What role does he play in the gym?
KS: Uldi is awesome. He is one of my best friends and almost like an older brother to me. I met him in 1996 at a competition in Hungary. He kept in contact with Kelly and my club hired him in April of 1998. He was in Canada for two years and then in the summer of 2000 he returned home to help his brother make a movie and to pursue other interests. He came back to Calgary this past summer and I am glad to have him back. Uldi is great with the younger boys because he has so much energy and great ideas. He is also very good with me because he knows how to push me. He somehow makes me realize that if I do that extra turn or extra exercise that it is going to make me better. Uldi was on the Hungarian National team and so he understands what it is like to be training at the top level. I am very lucky at my gym because I have two coaches who want the best for me and who are willing to do just about anything to help me and the other boys in the club accomplish our goals.
Gymn.ca: Let's talk a little bit about your career. You really started to make a name for yourself on the Canadian scene at a pretty young age (1st AA in the Tyro division at the 96 and 97 Canadian Championships, 2nd AA as a junior a year later, 1998 Elite Canada junior champion). When did you start to let yourself think that the Olympics could be a reality? Did you expect to be an Olympian before you had ever been to the world championships?
KS: I always thought that the Olympics were a possibility. I did a television interview when I was 9 and I said that I wanted to go to the Olympics and win! When I was younger I thought that 2000 was a definite possibility, but as I started getting older and 2000 came closer it didn't seem like it was actually going to happen. I had a really good year in 1999 though and this made me believe that Sydney was possible. I always thought that I would attend worlds before the Olympics because that just seems like the appropriate order, but in a way I did. The World Cup circuit is basically like worlds - or I am assuming because I actually have never competed in a world championships! There are many gymnasts from many different countries. Lots of the top names and contenders are there. You have to qualify in order to be in the final. It is kind of the same idea. Honestly though, if you were to ask me in 1998 if I thought that I would be traveling around the world competing in World Cups, eventually making it to the 2000 Olympics I probably would have said no way!
Gymn.ca: You went through a long and drawn-out process of becoming one of Canada's two Olympians in 2000 (Sasha Jeltkov was the other). What was that process like?
KS: The process was actually really exciting. I found out in December of 1999 that I was going to compete on the World Cup circuit. I knew that I needed to achieve a top 16 overall ranking on one event and then I would be considered by the COA [Canadian Olympic Association] to represent Canada at the Olympics. I ended up achieving an 8th place ranking on floor. I competed at World Cups in Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and Slovenia. I had a very busy year leading up to the Olympics and I think that I proved that I was worthy of my position on the Olympic team. I was consistently making finals and I won a couple of medals. I had to wait for a while to hear that I had officially made the team though. I eventually found out in July, about a month after the Slovenian World Cup. I was beginning to think that maybe I wouldn't get the opportunity to participate in the Games, but I was relieved when I received the official word!
Gymn.ca: At the Olympics you were inches away from making two event finals (floor and vault). Nonetheless, you performed remarkably for someone so young and relatively inexperienced. Do you look back on the Olympics with positive thoughts that you did so well in such tough circumstances, or does it frustrate you to have come so close?
KS: I am positive about my Olympic experience. I was never expected to make it and so just being there was a huge accomplishment in itself. Going into the competition I was very well prepared. I worked very hard on the little things such as my corner parts on floor and my overall presentation. I definitely wanted to make finals and that was my goal, but I was ok when I didn't qualify. The day after the competition I woke up and I thought to myself, 'I would be in floor finals if my one toe hadn't gone out of bounds'. This was a little bit hard to deal with because you work so hard for so long and you have one shot and sometimes it doesn't turn out the way you wanted it to. But then I thought that I had done the best routine I could have done and there was no way that I could change what had happened and so I just dealt with it. I learned from my mistake.
Overall I am very pleased with how I did. This was the first competition that I competed a double double for my dismount on floor. I sometimes go back and watch my floor routine and I am very proud of the way it looks. I looked like I belonged there. Also, I was the first male gymnast to compete a Yurchenko 2 ½ [twist] in world or Olympic competition and I landed it. I think I made a name for myself and I established a reputation as being someone who will challenge for the medals in the future.
Gymn.ca: Then came the breakthrough at the end of the year: a World Cup silver medal on the floor exercise, televised across the country on the CBC. Yet the media was strangely indifferent to the enormity of your success. Did that surprise you? What was the mood when you returned to Canada? How did you feel about your performance?
KS: I was not surprised at all that the media had basically ignored this accomplishment. Canada had earned two medals at this competition and I think there was a paragraph in the newspaper! The competition was in late December and the Olympics had passed. Hockey was in the spotlight and I think that the Canadian people had had enough of the summer sports by this time! The Canadian gymnastics community was ecstatic though. This was nice to come home to. It was nice to have done so well and it showed the international gymnastics community that I deserved to be up there. I was happy with how I did, but I was going into this competition with the intention of winning gold. I wasn't disappointed to come second, but in a way I felt that I deserved to be in first place. I stuck my dismount and I thought that my routine was very clean. Gervasio Deferr from Spain won and he had a very large hop on his dismount, but he was up later in the line up and that sometimes is an advantage. I am not complaining though, it was definitely a great way to end a very successful year!
Gymn.ca: The year 2001 was a difficult one for you. Your stock had really gone up since Sydney, and big things were expected from you leading up to the world championships. Yet you made a decision in June that surprised many and had consequences you never expected. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
KS: Yeah, 2001 was a hard year. I struggled at the beginning of the year because I was trying to put together routines that were fit for the new Code [of Points]. I think that the first year after the Olympics is always a hard one because everyone is just trying to figure out the new Code. I was happy with the way that I performed at nationals. I had worked very hard prior to this and I was ready. I placed seventh in the all-around and I won floor and vault. After nationals I had a hard time though. I felt a little bit vulnerable. I felt like I was on the bubble in terms of worlds and I didn't think that my level on the other four events was high enough. I decided that removing myself from the worlds selection process was the best decision for me. I was burnt out. I still wanted to participate in the Goodwill Games, though, because I had been personally invited and I would only compete on my best two events. I told GCG [Gymnastics Canada Gymnastique] and Edouard [Iarov, National Team Coach] this and they seemed to understand. Then in July I received a letter from GCG and it outlined the consequences of my decision. Basically I was removed from the Goodwill Games and I was going to be evaluated at Elite Canada on my progress. I was a little bit mad about GCG telling the Goodwill Games committee that I could not participate, because I could, and so I went to California to train for a couple of weeks. It was a great place to refocus and realize what I want out of gymnastics. Since this past summer I have learned a lot about myself and gymnastics and I am very motivated to contribute to the team in the future.
Gymn.ca: In hindsight, would you have done anything differently last year? How long did it take you to get your motivation back? How has the rest of the men's team reacted to your return?
KS: I wouldn't have done anything differently. I made my decision not to participate because it was the best thing for me at the time. I don't really like to look back and say 'what if'. While worlds was going on I thought about what it would be like if I was there, but you never know. I could have been injured in the training camps leading up to it or I could have been kicking [butt], but the thing is it could have easily been either one.
About my motivation, I never really did lose it. I was actually really motivated when I made my decision not to compete. I was motivated to learn new skills and get stronger though. I had zero motivation when it came to doing routines, but if I was conditioning or working a new skill I was working hard. Halfway through the summer, when I found out that I had been removed from Goodwill Games, my overall motivation really sunk. As I said, I went away for a couple of weeks to California to regroup and be away from things for a bit. When I returned home my love for gym was immediately back and I just continued where I had left off before things started to go downhill.
The rest of the team has been great. I think they understand why I decided not to go and I have told them that if they want to know anything then they can ask any questions because I am very comfortable with my decision. The team did so well in Ghent. I think that by me not going, it opened the door for some other guys to gain some international experience. It all worked out and I think that I have completely moved on from it.
Gymn.ca: The Canadian men had an enormously successful competition at the World Championships (12th as a team, Grant Golding finished 22nd AA). What did you think of their performance? How did it feel being at home during the World Championships?
KS: The Canadian men did have an extremely successful competition at worlds. I am very proud of them! I was keeping a close eye on the results and I was very excited when I found out the team had come 12th. This was a very good result because I think that it really motivated the entire team to work hard and really go for an Olympic qualification at the 2003 world championships.
Gymn.ca: Gradually, we have seen you come back to competition over the past months. First it was a pair of fourth place finishes at December's Glasgow Grand Prix, then a seventh place finish at Elite Canada, and more recently multiple medals at the Jurassic Classic and the recent Cottbus Cup. What have you taken from these results? How do you feel about your progress so far this year?
KS: I was a little bit nervous before competing at Elite Canada. This was my first competition after I decided not to compete in the world championships. I was excited too because I had worked very hard and I had quite a few new skills that I was going to show at the competition. I was in a couple of car accidents before Elite and this threw me for a bit of a loop, but I think I showed my progress and I was happy after the meet. After getting back into the World Cup circuit and having decent results I know that I am still up there and challenging. I think that the break I took from competition in 2001 has only been beneficial and I haven't lost my international reputation. I am pleased with my progress this year. I would like to be further along on parallel bars and rings, but these events will get better with time. I have really improved on pommel horse and high bar. I feel confident and I also feel better about my overall gymnastics. I am a harder worker. I am more mature. I am more focused and I don't think that I have ever wanted to succeed so badly. I am very excited about the possibilities that this year holds and I am really looking forward to Commonwealth Games and worlds.
Gymn.ca: You weren't named to the 2002 Pacific Alliance team, so the next big meet for you is May's national championships in Winnipeg. How do you assess your preparation for this meet? What are your goals?
KS: My preparation for nationals is going great. I am happy, healthy and very focused. I have a few little aches here and there, but I barely notice them right now because I am very determined. I am planning to score a 53.0-53.5 all-around and wherever this places me I will be happy with that. My main goals for nationals are to hit all of my routines and to show that I deserve to be on the Commonwealth Games team. Edouard has set out a plan for each senior team member and he has told us what he expects for our start values and scores. I am planning to start out of 9.9 on both vault and high bar and then 10.0 on floor. I have a little bit lower starts on the other three events, but my routines are very easy for me to hit and they will help me achieve my desired all-around score. I also want to show good character. By this I mean that I want to smile, fight and be positive no matter how everything turns out. I think that this is very important because it shows maturity and it provides the younger gymnasts with a positive influence to look up to.
Gymn.ca: You sound like you've got some serious tricks up your sleeve these days (so to speak). When do you plan on debuting some of these elements, such as your new vault that you won't tell anyone about!
KS: Well, I would love to debut these tricks at the upcoming World Championships. I can't guarantee anything though because they might not be ready. I am going to work really hard on changing my floor routine so that it is more unique. I also want to perform a new vault, but it is very complicated and I might not have it perfected by November. I don't want to perform any of my new skills until they are completely ready and perfected. I actually have a couple of vaults that I am working, but one of them is way too scary so I don't think I will ever compete it. I would love to tell you what they are, but I want people to be surprised when they see what I have been working on.
Gymn.ca: What are your longer-term goals right now? How about the individual World Championships in Hungary at the end of the year? I understand Debrecen, the host city of the world championships, is Uldi's hometown.
KS: My long-term goal right now is the 2003 worlds and 2004 Olympics. For 2002 I want to make the Commonwealth Games team and World Championships team. At the Commonwealths I would like to win the team competition and also get individual golds on floor and vault and also make finals on high bar. At worlds I would like to make finals on at least two events, possibly three. I would also like to bring home a medal. I think that worlds are going to be a great experience this year because they are in Uldi's hometown and that is good because I will have the "adoptive" hometown advantage, so to speak! Uldi is also hoping to make the Hungarian team and compete on rings. This will be a great experience if we get to share this competition together because we have both been putting in a lot of effort and it would be a great reward!
Gymn.ca: You took some high school courses this past semester, which you've recently finished. Now you're training full time, but on your website you said that might not be the best thing for you in the long run, and that you were looking for a job or some other outlet outside of the gym. Have you found anything yet? How many hours a day are you training?
KS: I took both physics 11 and 12 last semester. It was great! I never thought that I would like this course and I only took it because it was the only science that fit into my schedule! But in the end I understood everything and I actually liked physics. I am training full time right now and I think I will be doing this for a while. It is just really hard to go to all of the meets and training camps and still do well in school. I eventually want to attend university, but I am just going to wait right now and dedicate myself to gym. I haven't found a job yet, and honestly I haven't really been looking. I thought that it was going to be hard only training, but it isn't too bad. I took a year off of school before 2000 and I got a little frustrated because all of my friends were finishing school and working and I was just training. But now when I think about it, it is a pretty sweet deal. I get to do what I love and I don't really have any commitments outside of gymnastics. This allows me to see my physio[therapist], my sport psych[ologist], my massage therapist, etc., and I don't really have to worry about whether or not it will conflict with something. Sometimes it is difficult because I only have one major thing going on in my life, but training has been going so well right now that I am completely satisfied. I am able to be 100% focused and that is what I need right now.
A normal day for me consists of two trainings. I train once around 12 and then again at 5. I spend about 5 hours in the gym. I train everyday except Saturday and on Sundays I train with Scott Lang, Nathan Gafuik and Grant Golding at the University [of Calgary]. Uldi or Kelly comes with me and we do this because it is the National Training Centre and it is mportant to train with other athletes and receive feedback from other coaches. It is all in the pursuit of being the best that you can possibly be!
Gymn.ca: What are three characteristics - physical or mental - that you think have most contributed to your success in the sport? If you weren't in gymnastics, what would you be doing?
Three characteristics that have contributed to my success in gymnastics would have to be dedication, determination, and love.
I have been very dedicated to my sport. I can think of numerous summers where I didn't take a vacation because I thought that it was important to train. I remember one Christmas where my family went to Manitoba and I stayed home at my grandmas because I didn't want to miss gym. I take this sport very seriously and I don't think that you can get anywhere if you don't make sacrifices and you don't fully dedicate yourself to your goals. I think that determination has contributed to my success because it is very important to get up after you fall down. If you are not determined then you will settle for something less than you can really achieve.
Love has also contributed to my success because it is the one thing that has kept me going. I am a gymnastics fanatic and I love this sport. I love doing it, I love reading about it, I love watching it on TV. I'm pretty much obsessed! I think that this has helped me because when you really love something then it is easier to be involved in it. You care about it and you can't imagine a world without it.
If I wasn't in gymnastics then I have no clue what I would be doing. I can't even remember a time when I wasn't involved in gym. It has created so many opportunities for me and I have really enjoyed my entire experience thus far.
Gymn.ca: Do you have anything else that you would like to add?
KS: Sure. I have a really great quote that a friend wrote to me and I just want to share it. It is so true and it is really inspirational.
"The process of achieving your goals is what it's all about. That is life, not that one final moment. In that process is where you become who you are and where so many memories are made. So keep pushing yourself. And when you look back on your life in 30 years, you'll look back with a smile."
Gymn.ca: Thanks very much for your time, Kyle, and best of luck at the national championships!
KS: Thank you!