|Karen (13), the youngest athlete|
competing at the Montreal Olympics
Karen Kelsall was born on December 11, 1962. At age two, Karen's family moved from Canada to Fresno, California. An active child, Karen's mother enrolled her daughter in dance lessons. Recognizing Karen's natural acrobatic ability, one of her dance instructors suggested that Karen take up gymnastics. At age 8, Karen began recreational gymnastics.
Within a year, Karen had switched from recreational to competitive gymnastics. A year after this, in 1972, Karen was the State champion on floor for her age group (Class II). Interestingly, this first gold medal lies at the bottom of a river. Soon after the meet, the family went camping. The gold medal was in Mrs. Kelsall's purse for safe keeping, but during a canoe ride the canoe tipped and Mrs. Kelsall's purse sank to the bottom of the river!
Karen's family eventually returned to Canada, settling in Surrey, BC. Karen joined North Vancouver's Flicka Gymnastics (incidentally, this is where Romanian's Celestina Popa now coaches and is also the home gym of Lise Leveille, who was recently named to Canada's Olympic gymnastics team). In 1975, at only 12 years of age, Karen took part in Canada's first pre-Olympic trial. She finished a disappointing 18th AA (out of 24) and believed that all hopes for the 1976 Montreal Olympics were gone. Karen considered giving up the sport.
Rather than quitting, Karen decided that a gym change was in order. Karen moved to Eugene, Oregon to train at the prestigious National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics under Dick Mulvihill and Linda Metheny Mulvihill. After having trained only one month with the Mulvihills, Karen was selected to represent Canada at the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico City. Karen placed 13th AA and 5th on FX - not bad for her first international competition!
With her confidence renewed, Karen decided to aim once again for the Montreal Olympics. Karen was still relatively new on the Canadian scene, so it was important for her to seize advantage of every possible opportunity to show her skills and make a name for herself among the judges. The Canadian Olympic trials process was obviously important, but so were Canadian Nationals and any invitationals leading up to the team's selection.
|Karen competing at|
the Montreal Olympics
Still technically a junior, Karen participated in the junior portion of the 1976 Canadian National Championships. She won the AA easily, and scooped up golds on three of four event finals. Successful performances at various invitationals (e.g., 12th AA at the 1976 Canada vs Romania dual meet) confirmed Karen as a potential Olympian. Indeed, by the time the final Olympic trials rolled around, Karen had improved enough to place third AA and earn a spot on Canada's 1976 Olympic women's gymnastics team.
At 13, Karen was the youngest competitor at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (although 14 was the minimum age, the Canadian Gymnastics Federation persuaded the F.I.G. to allow Karen to compete given that she turned 14 in the Olympic calendar year). Despite her tender age, Karen performed extremely well at the Olympics. She helped Canada to its 9th place team finish and individually was the top ranked Canadian going into the all-around competition.
For the All-around competition, Karen competed in the same group as Olga Korbut. Upon learning that Karen was the youngest Olympian, Korbut apparently took great care in guiding Karen to each new event! Individually, Karen placed 27th in the AA.
Karen continued to compete following the Montreal Olympics, enjoying top 10 finishes at such events as the 1976 Chunichi Cup, 1977 American Cup, and 1977 Moscow News. Karen was expected to win the Canadian National title that year, but a miss on her optional bar routine threatened her placement. She rushed her mount, breaking her rhythm. Although she had to count a fall on bars, her scores from compulsories and her remaining optional events were high even to keep Karen in first place. Karen topped off the meet with golds on vault, balance beam, and floor exercise. A fifth gold may have been within reach were it not for Karen withdrawing from bars final because of painful blisters on her hands.
On the heals of her 1977 success, a book about Karen and her gymnastics was written and released. The book, entitled The Making of a Gymnast: The Karen Kelsall Story, and published in 1978, is a treasure for all gymnastics fans.
That same year, Karen joined Elfi Schlegel (now a colour commentator for NBC Sports), Monica Goermann, and Sherry Hawko in representing Canada at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. The girls earned the gold medal in the team competition, and individually Karen placed 4th AA. Karen also competed in the World Championships and World Cup that year, placing a respectable 17th AA at Worlds and improving at the World Cup (10th AA). Karen also made two event finals at the World Cup, bars (placed 8th) and floor (placed 7th).
Karen experienced a quiet 1979, but returned to full strength in 1980. Indeed, 1980 was a big year for Karen with the 1980 Moscow Olympics just around the corner. A first place finish at the 1980 Canadian National Championships virtually guaranteed Karen a spot on Canada's Olympic women's gymnastics team. Sadly, Canada joined the 1980 Moscow Olympic boycott. Karen, and many other deserving athletes, were denied the Olympic experience.
College was looming for Karen, and she decided to continue her gymnastics at the NCAA level, competing for the University of California at Berkeley. Karen eventually graduated with two Bachelor of Arts degrees (physical education and dramatic art-dance), opting to pursue the dance route. She moved to New York City and performed as a modern dancer.
After a few years, Karen moved back West to Portland, Oregon. There she attend and graduate Cum Laude from the Western States Chiropractic College. Over the years Karen has supplemented her chiropractic education with massage therapy training (she is also a licensed massage therapist) and graduate training in trigger point therapy, NIMMO technique, Craniosacral therapy, active muscle stretching, and deep tissue techniques. She now owns Kelsall Chiropractic.