About Kyle Shewfelt:
Date of birth: May 6, 1982
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta
Coach/Club: Tony Smith/University of Calgary
Former Coach/Club: Kelly Manjak/Altadore
Kyle Shewfelt burst onto the senior international scene in the year 2000, where a string of impressive World Cup results on the floor exercise earned him the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in Sydney. However, fans of Canadian gymnastics had long been familiar with this talented and elegant gymnast who had been competing internationally since 1996 at the age of 14.
Gymn.ca first saw Shewfelt at the 1997 Canadian Championships in Ottawa, where he took first place in the men's tyro division at the age of 15. Despite his youth, the confidence and performance quality he displayed throughout the competition - particularly on his two best events, floor and vault - were well beyond his years. On floor exercise, his routine was already world class with a full-in opening, a whip-1 ½-rudi second pass and a triple twist dismount. On vault he made his Yurchenko 1 ½ twist with ease and even dismounted high bar with an immaculate layout double twisting double back.
In 1998, Shewfelt moved up to the junior division and placed second at the Canadian Championships. This finish earned him a chance to compete at the first ever World Youth Games to be held in Moscow, Russia. There, Shewfelt served notice that his mastery on floor and vault would make him a gymnast to watch on the international scene. He made event finals in both his specialties, taking 2nd on floor and 4th on vault. Shewfelt closed out his 1998 season with a first place all-around in the junior competition at Elite Canada - where he showed one of the hardest vaults of the meet, junior or senior: a layout Yurchenko with a double twist.
Shewfelt entered the 1999 Canadian Championships as a first year senior competitor even though he competed junior at the previous Elite Canada. Though he only finished 11th in the all-around competition in Burnaby, BC, he easily took first place on floor and vault - showing a new Yurchenko 2 ½ twist on the latter in the process, making him one of the few gymnasts in the world to actually perform this highly difficult vault in competition. Shewfelt was quickly establishing himself as one of the best two-event gymnasts in Canada, yet his lower start values in the other events prevented him from being named to the teams for the Pan American Games or World Championships in 1999.
Due to his young age, many would have considered Shewfelt as a prospect for the 2004 Olympic Games, especially after Canada only secured two men's spots for Sydney with its 18th place finish at the 1999 World Championships in Tianjin, China. Ironically, it was Canada's inability to qualify a full team for the Olympics that put Shewfelt in a position to realize his dream in 2000. Even though the International Gymnastics Federation allotted the Canadian men two berths, the tougher Canadian Olympic Association qualifying criteria meant that only a gymnast ranked in the top 16 in the world in either the all-around or an individual apparatus would be eligible to represent Canada in Sydney. World high bar silver medallist Alexander Jeltkov was the only Canadian man to have met these criteria, and in order for another man to accompany Jeltkov to Sydney, he would need to earn enough points on the World Cup circuit to rank in the top 16 on an individual event.
Not wanting to give up its second men's berth to the Olympic Games, Gymnastics Canada knew that Shewfelt represented one of their best shots to get a top 16 event ranking. He was not yet 18 years old when he was assigned to his first World Cup competition in Montreux, Switzerland. Seemingly unfazed by what must have been enormous pressure, Shewfelt qualified for the floor exercise final where he finished 7th. He also finished in 11th place on vault. He moved up to 6th place on floor at his next competition in Cottbus Germany, and followed this up with a bronze medal at the Glasgow Grand Prix - finishing only behind veteran international contenders Alexei Nemov from Russia and Jordan Jovtchev from Bulgaria! In addition to his world cup successes, Shewfelt also picked up a bronze medal on floor and a gold medal on vault at the Pacific Alliance Championships in New Zealand.
This impressive series of results allowed Shewfelt to acheive an 8th place FIG ranking on the floor exercise - 8 ranks above what was required by the C.O.A. However, Shewfelt had to wait several agonizing weeks before confirming his Olympic status. The decision was still pending when Shewfelt wowed the audience at the 2000 Women's Olympic Trials with his exhibition routine on the floor exercise. His routine included impressive tumbling, including a 0.7 bonus first pass of whip-1 ½-front-full-rudi - whereas most men in the world were using a 0.5 bonus pass with one fewer skill. He also performed a 2 ½ twist punch front immediate front-full and a full-in last pass. If Shewfelt needed any validation of his Olympic worthiness, he certainly got it from the crowd at those trials.
Once in Sydney, Shewfelt and his coach Kelly Manjack made the decision to only compete on his best two events, with the goal of making finals in both. On his first routine on the floor exercise, he made a gutsy move by ending with a double twisting double back tuck for the first time in his career. He made this pass, but previously in his routine he had gone out of bounds and lost one tenth off his score. Shewfelt seemed unaware of this error at the time, saying to his coach "what did I get a 0.1 deduction for?" when seeing his mark of 9.575 on the scoreboard with the 0.1 penalty showing. He went on to match this score on vault, with his difficult Yurchenko 2 ½ which went a bit off side on the landing. He may not have made any event finals this time, but he still served notice that he was one of the best vaulters and tumblers in the world of men's gymnastics.
In December of 2000, Shewfelt had a chance for some redemption at the World Cup finals, which were held in the same city where he took his first medal in the qualifying circuit: Glasgow, Scotland. Here he took home a silver medal on floor in a top class field - again confirming his status as one of the best on this event.
Shewfelt hoped to continue his international rise at the 2001 Goodwill Games
in Brisbaine, Australia, but a controversial decision not to participate at the World Championships that year cost him that opportunity. Shewfelt candidly spoke to Gymn.ca about this situation in a May 2002
interview. Shewfelt, who earlier that year finished seventh all-around at the Canadian championships (winning gold in both his specialty events), ended his season with strong results on the World Cup circuit, taking fourth place on both floor exercise and vault at the Glasgow Grand Prix.
Shewfelt enjoyed even more success in 2002, winning floor and vault at the Canadian championships, where he also finished a strong third place in the all-around. Shewfelt proved he was more than just a two-event gymnast, taking the highest all-around score during the second day of competition at nationals, as well as the top individual score on high bar. Internationally, Shewfelt continued to impress, taking bronze medals on vault and floor exercise at the Cottbus Cup, as well as winning gold on those same events at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. These victories earned Shewfelt more media attention in Canada, with the Games being broadcast nightly on CBC, with the network airing a profile on Shewfelt during their coverage. At the half way point of the quadrennium, Shewfelt had already proved his mastery of the new code of points on floor exercise, regularly scoring in the 9.7 range with his 10.0 start value set.
In November, Shewfelt got his first taste of world championship competition in Debrecen, Hungary, site of the 2002 World Individual Apparatus Championships. Shewfelt entered on his three best events, floor exercise, vault, and high bar. An unfortunate – and uncharacteristic – stumble on one of his combination passes took him out of the apparatus finals on floor exercise, but strong vaults (Yurchenko 2 ½ and Kasamatsu-full) sent him to vault finals, where he performed well, finishing fourth, .121 shy of bronze. Despite his mistake on floor exercise in the semi-final, Shewfelt still served notice on his best event, where a 9.687 had been the second best score on the event in preliminaries – a score that would have given him a medal in the final. Shewfelt’s best world championship result, however, was yet to come.
Vaulting to bronze in
Anaheim (2003 Worlds)
Photo by Grace
Shewfelt entered the 2003 season with both personal and team goals. The Canadian men’s team had not qualified outright for the Olympic Games since 1979, and it was their major objective to reach the top 12 at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, California. As one of the best in the world on his apparatus specialties, Shewfelt was in a position to help Canada achieve its objective, as well as being an individual medal contender. En route to the world championships, Shewfelt finished sixth all-around at the Canadian Championships in Saskatoon, winning vault and finishing second on floor exercise. A confident men’s team performed exceptionally well in Anaheim, finishing ninth and easily qualifying a full team for the 2004 Olympics. Shewfelt was no small part of this team effort, earning the highest score on floor exercise of all the competitors in preliminaries, sending him to apparatus finals there. Shewfelt also stuck his Yurchenko 2 ½ on vault as the last Canadian competitor on their last apparatus of the day – solidifying the team’s Olympic berth.
With Olympic team qualification assured, Shewfelt still had two days of competition left in Anaheim, and he made the most of it. On the first day of apparatus finals, Shewfelt hit a solid routine, opening with his trademark four salto pass (whip-1 ½-front-full-rudi), and ending with a tucked double twisting double back. A small hop on the last pass was his only noticeable error, yet he still improved his preliminary score from a 9.687 to a 9.737 – good enough for the individual bronze medal – Canada’s first world championship medal in over 10 years. Shewfelt made history on the final day of the championships, performing his two 9.9 start value vaults (Yurchenko 2 ½ and Kasamatsu 1 ½) well enough to earn another bronze medal – making him the first Canadian to ever win two medals at the same world championships.
Shewfelt’s 2003 successes made him a definite medal contender for the 2004 Olympics, and the CBC recognized that by choosing Shewfelt as one of the athletes to do an online diary leading up to the Athens Games. Unfortunately, Shewfelt’s Olympic training plan hit a road block after injuring his foot on vault at the 2004 Cottbus Cup in Germany in early March. At first, Shewfelt hoped the injury would heal within a few weeks, but an MRI confirmed that he had suffered a talon bone contusion – which doctors told him would normally take between three and nine months to heal. Shewfelt remained as diligent in his rehab as he is in his gymnastics training, as as of the Canadian Championships in June, he had just began to vault and tumble on soft mats. “I never
thought I’d be so excited to do a double back or a Yurchenko,” he told Gymn.ca at the time. He made the decision to not participate at the Canadian championships, saving himself for the upcoming trials. "I am upset that I won't be competing at nationals, but it is the best thing for me at the moment. My goals are for August and I need to be smart right now,” Shewfelt added. “"I expect to be 95% by trials and then 100% by Olympics. I am also looking forward to competing in my second Olympic Games. I think that it is going to be awesome and I don't think that I will even remember having this stupid injury when Athens comes."
Shewfelt’s words that spring would prove to be prophetic. Shewfelt performed on four events at the Olympic Trials in July, showing most of his difficult elements (saving only his double-double on floor for Athens), confirming his position on the team. His Yurchenko 2 ½ on vault scored 9.8 on day one of the competition, and he also scored 9.5 out of 9.8 for his floor exercise, a score he
equaled on vault.
|En Route to Gold on Men's Floor at
the 2004 Olympic Games!
Photo by Grace
Once in Athens, Shewfelt showed no signs of having been injured, easily qualifying for apparatus finals on floor exercise and vault, finishing third in qualifying on the former. By the time the gymnastics apparatus finals began on August 22, team Canada had yet to secure a gold medal in any sport. With the pressure of an entire nation on his shoulders, Shewfelt delivered with what was without a doubt the best floor exercise routine of his career. Shewfelt stuck his trademark opening pass, and flowed effortlessly and stylishly on his second (2 ½ twist to front layout to front tuck 1 ¾). With rival Marian Dragulescu having already posted an impressive 9.787 earlier in the event, Shewfelt needed to stick his closing double-double to have a shot at gold, and he did, leaving little doubt as to who the new leader should be. Despite sticking every pass solidly, when the score came up, Shewfelt’s mark only equalled that of Dragulescu – but a complicated tie breaking system immediately went into effect, with Shewfelt appearing on the score board as number 1 – a position he would also hold at the end of the day. Canada’s gold medal drought in Athens was over, making Shewfelt’s win doubly significant, as no Canadian had ever won a medal of any colour in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games. After his victory, Shewfelt was interviewed on CBC by former Olympic speed skating champion Catriona Lemay-Doan. Shewfelt was overwhelmed by emotion, saying “I am Olympic champion: that sounds so good. This is a moment that I have dreamed of since I was a young kid. It doesn’t quite feel real because it just happened…but this is something that means the world to me.” When asked about what it meant to have his coach Kelly Manjak with him, he noted: “Kelly is like one of my best friends…for him to be here with me to share this moment…this isn’t just my medal, it’s mine and Kelly’s medal.”
Shewfelt captured Canada's
first gold medal in Athens
Photo by Grace
Shewfelt did not have a long time to celebrate his gold medal, with the men’s vault final taking place the next day. Shewfelt entered the final as one of the few competitors not to have at least one 10.0 start value on vault. When Shewfelt took the runway, the door was open after two of the top medal contenders, Alexei Bondarenko of Russia (who actually scored a zero on his second vault and had to be taken away on a stretcher) and two time world vault champion Li Xiaopeng of China went down. Shewfelt took a small hop on his first vault, Yurchenko 2 ½, and then took a hop outside of the landing area on his Kasmatsu 1 ½. His average score of 9.599 left him in the bronze medal position with one competitor left. The final competitor was Dragulescu, whom Shewfelt had narrowly defeated for gold the day before. After sticking his double front ½ vault for a 9.9 score – the highest score given on any apparatus in Athens – Dragulescu needed to merely stay on his feet on his second vault to ensure a medal, but he didn’t – stepping out of the landing area and touching both hands to the mat on his Kasamatsu 1 ½. A second medal seemed almost assured for Shewfelt. Yet remarkably, the judges gave Dragulescu a 9.325 for his second vault, giving him the bronze medal. In one of the sport’s many judging controversies at those Olympics, two of the judges actually gave a higher score on Dragulescu’s second vault with a fall than to Shewfelt’s vault with only a small hop. Canada attempted to protest the result, but eventually decided not to pursue the matter further with the Court of Arbitration for Sport for financial reasons. Eventually, four of the vault judges were suspended by the FIG, but in the end, Shewfelt was still without the bronze medal most observers feel he rightfully earned that night. In a statement on March 11th 2005, Shewfelt said: "Throughout this process, my only concern has been what is best for the sport of gymnastics. While I would never personally take satisfaction in the fact that these judges were suspended, I am happy that the sport has identified the error and has taken an aggressive stance on correcting it. I commend FIG for respecting the hard work and dedication of our athletes and recognizing that we deserve to be judged fairly at the Olympic Games."
With his name in the history books as Canada’s first ever Olympic champion in artistic gymnastics, Shewfelt still has future competitive goals, including that of being world champion – a title he hopes to earn in the fall of 2005 at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia. Whether he attempts to defend his Olympic title in 2008 remains to be seen, with Shewfelt planning to take things one year at a time. Following the Olympics, Shewfelt’s long time coach moved to Ontario to be with his new wife and accepted a women’s coaching position at Gymnastics Mississauga. This left Shewfelt with the difficult decision of whether to move across the country to train or remain with his family and girlfriend in Calgary and find a new coach. He elected to stay at home, and train with Tony Smith at the University of Calgary.
In October of 2004, two months after his Olympic victory, Shewfelt made an appearance at Olympic Spirit Toronto, where he spoke with Gymn.ca in this exclusive interview.
2006 Updates: Shewfelt did not compete in 2005, making various appearances and meeting other obligations of an Olympic champion. But he committed to return to competition in 2006, which he has done with good results so far. He made two major teams – the Commonwealth Games (where he helped the Canadian team win gold in the team event as well as defending his vault title) and Pacific Alliance Championships – where he took gold on his best two events, floor and vault.
|Canada captures team gold at the 2006
Photo by Grace