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Kate Richardson

Kate became Canada's first-ever
women's Olympic event finalist when she
made FX finals in Athens

Kate Richardson, born June 27 1984, is undoubtedly one of Canada's greatest gymnastic talents ever - and she has the results to back it up. Richardson's initial 16th place all-around finish at the 2000 Olympic Games tied her for the all time highest ranking for a Canadian, at a non-boycotted Olympics, with Stella Umeh, who also finished 16th in the 1992 Olympics. However after the disqualification of Andreea Raducan due to a positive drug test, Richardson was officially ranked 15th, giving her - on paper at least - the highest-ever Canadian Olympic finish in artistic gymnastics.

Although only competing on the senior international circuit for just over two years, Richardson had been turning heads on the Canadian gymnastics scene since 1995, where she first competed at the national championships in Victoria, B.C., as a novice competitor, when she was not yet 11 years old. Richardson delighted the home-province crowd with her medal winning performance in the all-around, a result which proved she had the ability for future greatness.

When she competed at her first nationals, Richardson was coached at the time by Doug Odin at the Omega Gymnastics Club in Coquitlam, B.C. Shortly after the 1995 nationals, Odin left Omega for another gym and David Kenwright took over as the head coach at Omega. Kenwright took a different approach to coaching gymnastics, with an emphasis on clean form, body line, and basics before high levels of difficulty. This approach, combined with Richardson's natural ability and work ethic, certainly was a winning combination. Under Kenwright, Richardson easily won the novice national title at the 1996 Canadian championships in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. Richardson already displayed poise, grace, and elegance beyond her years, especially on her best event, the balance beam. On the beam, Richardson displayed precise choreography combined with difficult skills, including an ff-layout-ff-layout series and ff-ff-double tuck dismount pass. As a result of her nationals victory, Richardson was named to the Canadian team for the prestigious Junior Pan American Championships in Guatemala. At this competition, Richardson finished third with her team and 10th in the all-around, an impressive result for her international debut!

Kate made her second Olympic team
by finishing 5th at the '04 Trials

Richardson entered the 1997 season as one of the top contenders to win the Canadian junior women's title. Previous strong showings at the Bluewater International and the Wild Rose Invitational (where she finished second in the all-around) gave her both momentum and confidence as the Canadian championships, held in Ottawa, Ontario, approached. Richardson did in fact lead after day one of the junior women's competition, but problems on vault and floor on the second day dropped her to second place. Still, Richardson left her mark on the competition, especially on the beam, where she performed a beautiful switch ring leap, a two-footed layout, and a switch side leap immediate straddle jump ˝. Much credit for Richardson's strong beam work must be given to Cathy Chapell, who has been her primary beam coach for much of her career. Richardson finished 1997 with another second place all-around finish, this time at the Elite Canada competition. Richardson was clearly the best gymnast among the juniors, but one disastrous routine each on bars and floor was enough to drop her down.

Richardson began her 1998 competitive season with a solid showing at the Coupe de la Cité des Papes competition in Avignon, France. There she finished 9th in the all-around and 4th on the balance beam. She followed this up with another second place finish in the all-around at the Wild Rose Invitational. Richardson entered the 1998 national championships in Hamilton, Ontario, as the clear favourite in the women's competition, and she did not disappoint. Despite a fluke fall off the balance beam (on a straddle jump) during day two of the competition, Richardson was still able to win the all-around event by nearly two points. She also took first place in the uneven bars and floor exercise. She continued to increase the difficulty in her routines, showing for the first time in her career four tumbling passes on floor: a front through to a double pike; a whip-double twist; a front-full to piked-front; and a double tuck. Her uneven bar winning routine was highlighted by a nice giant-full Tkatchev combo and her signature straight body double layout dismount.

Richardson's win in Hamilton meant another trip to the Junior Pan American Championships, this time to be held in Houston, Texas. While problems with consistency hindered her all-around performance, Richardson rebounded in fine style by winning the gold medal on the balance beam in the event finals. A few months later in November of 1998, Richardson would make her senior international debut at the China Motor Cup in Taipei. This meet was a breakthrough performance for her: competing in a field that included top international gymnasts from Ukraine, Australia, Romania, and Belarus, Richardson took second place in the all-around behind Ukrainian star Inga Shkarupa. Not only was her placement significant, Richardson used this competition as a chance to debut some new skills, including a piked front ˝ on vault, and an arabian double front and 2 ˝ twist to punch front on floor.

Richardson's showing in Taipei made her a favourite to do well at the Elite Canada competition one month later. Perhaps due to the pressure of competing against the top Canadian seniors for the first time, Richardson had a few major errors on different routines and found herself in 7th place overall.

Richardson showed confidence in her first big 1999 competition, the Bluewater International. There, she finished a solid 2nd place in the all-around competition, while in the process earning 10.0 start values on three events. On bars, she showed a new combination of giant 1 ˝ facing in to Tkatchev, and on floor showed four solid passes (arabian double front, 2 ˝ twist to punch front, front-full to piked-front, and double pike) en route to first place on this event in the event finals.

Kate finished 5th at the
'04 Canadian Championships

Richardson's next international competition was supposed to the Romanian International, but Gymnastics Canada chose not to send her (and teammate Abby Pearson) due to problems in nearby Bosnia. This gave Richardson the chance to compete instead at the 1999 USA versus Canada Team Challenge in Toronto. While she did not compete during the team portion (where the Canadians defeated a young team from the United States), she did participate in the apparatus finals, finishing 4th on beam and floor and 3rd on the vault.

Richardson's early 1999 successes meant that she was one of the favourites to win the senior women's title at the national championships in Burnaby, B.C. However, an error-filled uneven bar routine on day two of the competition dropped her to 4th place - over a point out of winning an all-around medal. Still, Richardson's performance was more than good enough to secure her a spot at the Pan American Games team training camp. Richardson went on to make the Canadian team that made history at the 1999 Pan American Games, defeating the United States team for the first time ever. Richardson, who described the team victory as "so fun", made her biggest contribution on the event which had caused her so much grief at nationals: the uneven bars. A revamped routine, including difficult elgrip giants that she had never competed before, contributed to the "best bars routine she has ever competed", according to CBC commentator Carol-Angela Orchard. Unfortunately, a fall from the balance beam - traditionally her strongest event - meant that Richardson did not qualify for the all-around finals (only three per country could advance, and Richardson was 4th among the Canadians). An over rotated Hristakieva vault left her in first alternate position for vault finals, meaning Richardson was unable to take home an individual medal. If anything, this gave Richardson something to prove in future competitions, which she eventually more than did.

The next big test for Richardson and her Canadian teammates was the 1999 world championships in Tianjin, China. This was the team's only chance to qualify a full team for the 2000 Olympic Games. Aside from a couple of falls off the balance beam (including one from Richardson herself), the team reached its goal with a 10th place finish. Richardson earned her highest score on what had previous been her worst event, the uneven bars, an event where she said it had been "so hard for me to get difficulty. It's taken so long to get this far." Richardson ended up as the highest all-around scorer among the Canadians in the team competition - a feat she matched in the individual all-around finals where she ranked 19th in the world, despite another fall off beam. As a testament to her mental strength, Richardson followed her beam fall with a 9.562 showing in the floor exercise in the final rotation to move up the rankings.

Kate marched the Canadian team in at the '03 world championships;
it was here she decided to make a comeback for the '04 Olympics

Richardson was quickly gaining the respect of international gymnastics fans and judges. In an effort to continue their positive momentum in 2000, national coach Andrei Rodionenko made sure all of the potential Olympic team members got more international exposure early in the year. As a result, Richardson was sent with teammate Crystal Gilmore to the very prestigious Moscow Stars competition in March. Richardson made finals in vault and floor, but mistakes on the other events dropped her down in the all-around standings. Seemingly undaunted, Richardson returned home to Canada and took home another 2nd place all-around finish at the Bluewater International, in what has to be considered the strongest-ever field of competitors in that event. She partnered up with national team veteran Yvonne Tousek to take first place in the team competition as well.

Kate won gold in the AA
at the '02 Commonwealth Games

Richardson's showing at the Bluewater meet earned her a spot on the ill-fated Pacific Alliance team. The team was hoping for a possible breakthrough at this competition, held in New Zealand, in its quest of moving up to the top 8 at the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, they had to compete without team leader Tousek who aggravated an ankle injury prior to the competition. Although Richardson herself was able to qualify for the vault finals, mistakes elsewhere (combined with those of her teammates) led to a disappointing 5th place finish in the team event.

Richardson's next competition, the 2000 Canadian championships in Montreal, would be a chance for her to reaffirm her status at the top Canadian gymnast based on her showing the previous year in China. However the Canadian senior title would elude her yet again after some problems on beam and floor. She did leave the competition with a first place win in the vault competition - and fueled with desire to do better at her next competition, which would be one of the most important in her career: the Olympic Team Trials.

The 2000 Canadian Olympic Trials at Seneca College in Toronto would decide the team to represent Canada at the Olympic Games - the first full Canadian women's team at the Games in 8 years. Despite what must have been enormous pressure, Richardson had what must be considered the best competition of her career. Seemingly unfazed, Richardson went 8 for 8, easily winning the competition and scoring over 38 points each day. Richardson was particularly proud of her performance on beam, saying "I've had a lot of problems on beam...this year. I haven't really stuck it." Richardson's finish guaranteed her a spot on the Olympic team, and perhaps more importantly, confirmed her status as the country's number one gymnast. In fact, this competition was the first since the 1998 Elite Canada two years earlier where all of Canada's top gymnasts were competing in the same meet (injuries had prevented this from happening on other occasions).

Over a month of intense training followed - first in Calgary and then in New Zealand - before Richardson and her teammates finally had the chance to live out their Olympic dream in Sydney, Australia. Despite losing key team member Emilie Fournier to an injury in podium training ("After Emilie got injured during podium training was probably the hardest part of the Olympics for us," she would say later), Richardson and her teammates delivered with a superb 9th place showing. Once again, she showed us her mental fortitude during the team event. In her second rotation on the balance beam, she went down on her double pike dismount - her face said it all as she walked off the podium after her routine (her four previous teammates had hit cold). The next rotation was floor exercise, and Richardson had to compete following two falls by the previous two gymnasts. Seemingly undaunted, Richardson saved every landing, thereby getting her Canadian team back on track. Richardson again qualified to the all-around finals, making Canadian Olympic gymnastics history with her result.

Kate finished 16th in AA
finals at the '01 world

As the youngest member of the Olympic team, Richardson knew she still had a lot of gymnastics left in her, and she proved this early in the 2001 season with a strong 4th place finish at the American Cup competition in Orlando, Florida. At this competition - her first using the new Code of Points - she also took the gold medal in the balance beam and debuted a new floor routine that mesmerized the audience. Richardson's new music to "Deep-Night Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" by Terry Snyder, and striking choreography combined to create a completely new look - a sophisticated style that she pulled of beautifully. Less than a month later, Richardson would lead her Canadian team to victory against France at the Jurassic Classic competition in Calgary. Richardson herself took first place in the all-around and three of the individual events.

In May of 2001, Richardson achieved a long time goal by winning her first senior all-around title at the Canadian Gymnastics Championships in St. John, New Brunswick. At this competition, Richardson performed a Yurchenko 1 1/2 on vault for the first time, and despite a minor knee injury she sustained there, she finished the event in fine style, winning the all-around by over two full points. She went on to nearly sweep the event finals, taking first place in vault, beam, and floor and finishing second on the uneven bars.

Richardson approached the 2001 world championships with the goal of "(improving her) ranking from (the) Olympics", and she hoped that her team would "perform well and keep the momentum going (they) have gained." However, the road to the world championships in Ghent, Belgium would not be easy. Richardson began to have some back spasms shortly following the world team selection activity in Hamilton, Ontario. As a result, when the world team demonstrated their routines at a model training session on Thanksgiving in Burlington, Richardson was only able to do a complete exercise on the uneven bars (where she had added a difficult giant 1 1/2 to elgrip to layout Jaeger, and a Tkatchev directly connected to a Pak salto). She slowly began to add skills back into her routines, and at a pre-worlds quad meet against the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Germany held in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, she performed maximum difficulty on uneven bars and balance beam.

Once in Ghent, Richardson was ready to throw her full repertoire of skills (though on vault she was limited to competing a piked front 1/2 and a Yurchenko-full). A team leader on a relatively inexperienced team, Richardson performed exceptionally well on vault and floor (where she showed a difficult opening of two whips through to an arabian double front), but suffered unfortunate errors on bars and beam. This must have been disappointing for her, as many had pegged her as a possible event finallist on the balance beam. Nonetheless, Richardson's performances were instrumental in helping the Canadian team maintain its 10th place ranking from the previous world championships.

Kate showed off her popular floor routine
at the '01 Elite Ontario

Richardson advanced to the individual all-around finals, where she valiantly avoided falls (albeit with a few minor errors) to earn a respectable 16th place finish - one rank lower than the Sydney Olympics. After the all-around finals, she confessed that her nerves affected her, yet considering the limited training after her back injury, she should be commended for performing as well as she did under the circumstances.

In January 2002, Richardson underwent back surgery. She had been dealing with back problems for the latter part of 2001, and after much medical examination it was determined that she needed to have her T12 and L1 vertebrae fused. The surgery "could not have gone better," said Dr. Bill Mackie, father of 2002 junior national champion Gael Mackie. Bill assisted chief surgeon Dr. Marcel Dvorak in the operating room.

Richardson remained determined in her recovery, proving naysayers wrong by coming back to lead Canada to the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Eight years before, Richardson and her father travelled to Victoria, where they watched Canadian Stella Umeh win the all-around gold at those Commonwealth Games. Inspired by Stella's win, Richardson devoted herself to elite gymnastics. In a fitting end, Kate won the all-around gold in Manchester.

Richardson returned home to Canada for only a short while, moving down to Los Angeles in August to begin her collegiate career for UCLA. In her freshman year she helped her team to a first place win at the 2003 NCAA Championships, taking bronze in the all-around, gold on beam, and tying teammate Jamie Dantzscher for first on bars.

That summer, Richardson was faced with an important decision. The 2003 world championships were being held in Anaheim, California, just a short drive from UCLA. Still in top shape, but a year removed from the demands of international competition, Richardson considered a return to the Canadian team in the hopes of helping her country finish in the top 12 and qualify a full team for the 2004 Olympics. While previously a rare occurrence, collegiate gymnasts were returning to elite competition with increasing frequency. In fact, one of Richardson's former Canadian national team members, Richelle Simpson had already declared her intention to try for Canada's world team, a goal she went on to achieve.

Despite the lure of competing in a world championships in her own backyard, Richardson decided to forgo a return to international competition, and focused instead on her role as a volunteer in Anaheim. There, she not only was part of the medal presentations, but also marched the Canadian women's team into the competition. It was at this moment, while sitting on the sidelines, that she realized her desire to compete on the world stage once again, and made the decision to train for the 2004 Olympics while completing her sophomore year at UCLA.

In many ways, Richardson used her 2004 NCAA season as a warm-up to the upcoming Olympic year. She dedicated herself to extra conditioning, and began composing FIG-calibre routines once again. At the 2004 NCAA Championships, Richardson again helped UCLA win the team title, and also took third on the uneven bars, while finishing fourth all-around.

Within weeks of finishing her NCAA season, Richardson was back in competition at the 2004 Canadian championships. Between the two meets, she moved back to British Columbia to work with Kenwright once again. On the floor at the national championships, the 20 year-old received coaching from both Kenwright and her UCLA coach (and choreographer of her 2004 routine), Valorie Kondos-Field.

At the national championships, Richardson began on beam, an event where she had seen great success in her career. Unfortunately for Richardson, her comeback started poorly with a fall on a difficult (and new) switch ring leap, aerial walkover, ring jump, to immediate split-jump full combination. Nonetheless, she came back strong on floor exercise with a very difficult routine (double layout; piked full-in; tour jete ˝ to cat leap double to switch ring leap; triple turn; double turn to tuck jump double; two whips to a double pike), that was well received by the audience and judges alike. On vault, she showed an Omelianchik (RO 1/2-on, piked front off), and debuted a new Shushunova (full-twisting Tkatchev) release on bars. It was on bars, however, that Richardson's shortened amount of preparation time showed: she was only capable of a 9.4 start value, after competing a much easier - and shorter - routine in college.

Richardson's competitive debut proved to be good enough for fifth place behind four members of the 2003 world championship team. She also qualified for floor finals, but withdrew after suffering a minor foot injury during her floor routine in the all-around.

With less than six weeks until the Olympic trials, Richardson and coach Kenwright worked on overdrive to continue to prepare her routines, and her physical conditioning, for Athens. By the time of the trials, which were held at end of July at Sport Seneca - also the site of her breakthrough victory at the 2000 trials - she had modified several elements, and was better able to handle her longer and more strenuous elite routines. She ultimately finished fifth after two days of trials, suffering two falls from balance beam on her first day of competition. While the result was not enough to earn Richardson an automatic berth to the Olympic team, the selection committee immediately added her to the team shortly after the conclusion of the trials. It was then official: Kate Richardson was to be a two-time Olympian.

Richardson's performance in Athens was quite remarkable. During the women's preliminary round on day one, she not only helped the Canadian team to a tenth-place showing, but she also finished an impressive 14th all-around in preliminary qualifying (12th with the two-per-country rule). Most remarkable, however, was her sixth-place showing on floor exercise, good enough to earn her Canada's first-ever event final berth in women's competition at a fully contested Olympic Games (Kelly Brown qualified for the vault final in 1984). Her original and intricate routine was popular with the crowd, and was good enough for a 9.562, Canada's highest score on any event.

In the all-around final, Richardson went on to finish 18th all-around after troubles on the uneven bars, but she came back with a strong performance with the eyes of Canada on her, finishing seventh in the floor final. With that, Richardson joined the ranks of Brown, Larissa Lowing, Stella Umeh, and Yvonne Tousek as the only Canadian women to compete in an event final at a world championships or Olympic Games.

Kate's Competitive Results
1996 Canadian Championships, Novice: 1st AA
1996 Junior Pan American Games: 3rd Team, 10th AA
1997 Bluewater International, Junior: 5th AA
1997 Canadian Championships, Junior: 2nd AA, 4th UB, 6th BB
1997 Wild Rose International, Junior: 2nd AA
1997 Elite Canada, Junior: 2nd AA, 1st VT, 6th UB, 2nd BB, 6th FX
1998 Wild Rose International, Junior: 2nd AA, 2nd VT, 6th UB, 2nd BB, 2nd FX,
1998 Canadian Championships, Junior: 1st AA, 3rd V, 1st UB, 1st BB, 1st FX
1998 China Motor Cup: 2nd AA, 5th V, 8th UB, 4th BB, 7th FX
1998 Junior Pan Am Championships: 12th AA, 1st BB
1998 Coupe de la Cité des Papes: 9th AA, 4th BB
1998 Elite Canada, Senior: 7th AA, 4th V, 5th BB
1999 Bluewater International, Senior: 2nd AA, 2nd V, 7th UB, 5th BB, 1st FX
1999 Canadian Championships, Senior: 4th AA, 5th V, 2nd BB, 3rd FX
1999 Canada vs. USA Challenge: 3rd V, 4th BB, 4th FX
1999 Pan American Games: 1st Team, 10th AA (prelim)
1999 World Championships: 10th Team, 19th AA
2000 Bluewater International, Senior: 1st T, 2nd AA, 3rd V, 2nd UB, 2nd BB
2000 Moscow World Stars: 20th AA, 6th V, 7th FX
2000 Canadian Championships, Senior: 4th AA, 1st V, 3rd UB, 7th BB, 8th FX
2000 Pacific Alliance Championships: 5th T, 12th AA, 4th V
2000 Olympic Trials: 1st AA
2000 Olympic Games: 9th T, 15th AA
2000 Elite Canada, Senior: 3rd V, 1st BB (Did not compete AA)
2001 American Cup: 4th AA, 1st BB
2001 Elite Ontario: exhibition
2001 Canada vs France: 1st T, 1st AA, 1st V, 1st UB, 1st BB
2001 Canadian Championships, Senior: 1st AA, 1st V, 2nd UB, 1st BB, 1st FX
2001 NED-CAN-CZE-GER: 3rd T, 4th AA (tie)
2001 World Championships: 10th T, 16th AA
2002 Commonwealth Games: 3rd T, 1st AA
2003 NCAA Championships: 1st T, 3rd AA, 1st UB (tie), 1st BB
2004 NCAA Championships: 1st T, 4th AA (tie), 9th V, 3rd UB
2004 Canadian Championships, Senior: 5th AA, withdrew from EF
2004 Olympic Trials: 5th AA
2004 Olympic Games: 10th Team, 18th AA, 25th BB (prelim), 7th FX

Written by: Christopher Scott
Last updated on 2004.10.12

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