|Richelle at the |
2003 Pan Ams
Club: University of Nebraska
Coaches: Dan Kendig, Adrian Burde
Former Club: Winstonettes
Former Coaches: Leonid Grakovsky, Debbie Vidmar
Date of Birth: November 16, 1982
Simpson enjoyed success as a provincial level athlete, qualifying for the provincial championships in 1994 while still training at the Gyros club in North York. She later moved to the Winstonettes Gymnastics Association and began working with coaches Leonid Grakovsky and Debbie Vidmar. Under their direction, she won the provincial level 3 all-around title in the spring of 1996. She proved how quickly she was progressing by making the rare jump from the provincial stream to the High Performance stream, easily making the junior list at her first Elite Canada in December.
At the 1997 Canadian Championships in Ottawa, Simpson was in a strong medal position after one day of competition, where she was tied for third with future Olympian Lise Leveille. An injury sustained during warm-ups on the second day of competition took her out of the meet, an unfortunate ending to her first nationals appearance. She finished out her year with a 13th place ranking at Elite Canada – her first attempt at the senior level – thus qualifying herself for the senior High Performance list for the next season.
Simpson equaled her Elite Canada ranking at the 1998 Canadian Championships in Hamilton, finishing 13th. At the end of the year, she returned to Elite Canada, showing many top level skills (including a handspring piked front on vault, Gienger and giant 1 ½ to overshoot on bars, 2 ½ punch front and double pike on floor, ff-layout-ff on beam). She finished the competition solidly in ninth place, stamping herself as a future contender.
At the 1999 Canadian Championships in Burnaby, B.C., Simpson delivered another solid performance, earning her best nationals finish to date by finishing fifth. This strong ranking put her in contention for the Pan American Games and World Championship teams, but with several contenders missing the national championships that year due to illness and injury, Simpson was passed over when the teams were finally named. In 2000, Simpson continued to compete well, finishing sixth at the Canadian Championships and earning an automatic berth to the Olympic Trials. She chose not to compete at the trials however, focusing on her upcoming collegiate career, having signed to compete for Penn State University for the 2000-2001 season.
Simpson began her NCAA career in fine style, scoring above 9.9 many times during her freshman season with Penn State, including a 9.975 on balance beam against Pittsburgh. The following year, she transferred to the University of Nebraska where she enjoyed even more success. She led her team all the way to the NCAA championships where she was their top scorer in both the team prelims and the super six finals (where they finished fifth). She also added new skills to her repertoire, including an impressive double layout on floor exercise and a full twisting Tsukahara on vault.
|At the 2003|
World Team Trials
2003 Highlights: 2003 was the watershed year for Simpson. In her second year of competition with Nebraska, Simpson fluorished, developing into one of the premier NCAA athletes in the country. Her season culminated with the performance of a lifetime in front of a home crowd at teh NCAA Championships in May. There, Simpson led her Nebraska teammates to first place in their preliminary session, while capturing the NCAA all-around title as an individual. Simpson also won the floor exercise title, and took the silver on beam, behind fellow Canadian Kate Richardson. The only disappointment for Simpson and her teammates was Nebraska's fourth-place finish in the Super Six team final, an event the Huskers had set their sights on winning. Nonetheless, Simpson hit all 11 of her routines at NCAAs, and became the first Canadian ever to win the NCAA all-around title in the process.
After a long NCAA season, Simpson surprised many by making the decision to head back into the gym for the summer months. It was Simpson's hope that she could revise and upgrade her routines in time to make a run at making the Canadian world championship team in August. The decision was a tough one for the college junior, as it meant training every day without the company of her teammates, whom she had spent virtually ever day with for almost a year. In a conversation with Gymn.ca in July 2003, Simpson spoke highly of the support she received from her team in her quest to return to world class competition. She even received financial support from the University, who paid for her trip to Saskatoon for the national championships.
Just three weeks after claiming the NCAA title, Simpson returned to Canada to compete in her first national championships since 2000. Since she was not a member of the High Performance program, Simpson had to compete as a non-ranking athlete, and her routines, though scored by the judges, were not counted into the official results. There, Simpson performed well enough for fourth place overall, showing several new elements in the process (double-twisting front and two whips to double pike on floor, 1 1/2 twisting Yurchenko on vault, ff layout layout on beam).
Two months later, Simpson suited up in official competition for the first time at the Pan
Am and World Team Trials in her hometown of Toronto. There, Simpson had mixed results, showing flashes of brilliance, coupled with several errors on uneven bars on both days, and a low landing on her last pass on floor on her last event of the meet. Simpson's performances were good enough for sixth place overall, however, and she showed the ability to contribute strong scores to the Canadian team on vault and floor exercise, as well as a stable lead-off routine on beam.
The day after the trials concluded, Simpson was named to the Pan American Games team, as well as the seven-woman training roster for the world championships. Five years after her debut at the senior national championships, the 21 year-old Simpson was finally ready to represent Canada in international competition for the first time.
At the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, Simpson helped the Canadian team to an upset silver medal result over the Brazilian women. The team from the United States won the gold. The Canadians performed admirably, despite difficult conditions and illness that spread across the entire team, ultimately knocking Gael Mackie out of the competition. Individually, Simpson finished ninth overall in the preliminary competition, qualifying to the floor exercise final in the process. In finals, Simpson finished sixth with a 9.225 score, less than a tenth away from the bronze.
|Simpson just missed |
qualifying to FX finals at the
Just days later, Simpson and the Canadian team arrived in Anaheim for the final preparations for the world championships. With four years of preparation on the line, the Canadian team was reliant on six athletes, only one of whom (Amelie Plante) had previous world championships experience. Simpson's years of experience competing every weekend in NCAA competition was a critical stabilizing factor for the team, both on the floor and off. In competition, she contributed the team's highest score on vault, and hit her lead-off routine on beam. Much to the disappointment of Simpson, her coaches, and the appreciative audience, however, she faltered on the last pass of her dynamic floor routine, missing a berth in the event finals as a result. In the end, however, the primary goal of the Canadian team was achieved: the women qualified to the Athens Olympics in 10th place by a margin of just three tenths of a point.
With one more year of NCAA eligibility, Simpson now had the opportunity to return to Nebraska to defend her NCAA title. She already held numerous Nebraska scoring records, including the highest all-around score in the school's history (39.825), and it was expected that 2004 would offer the international studies and French major a chance to pad her already superb resume.
Unfortunately, an untimely knee injury derailed her season, and dashed any chance of the veteran making a run at the Canadian Olympic team. "There was no way [I could try for the Olympics]," she told Gymn.ca at the 2004 Olympic trials. "I tried training, but it just wasn't going to happen. I'm hopeful for a full recovery, though."
Nonethless, Simpson remained upbeat about the great success she had already achieved in the sport. "It's not like it [missing out on the Olympics] happened all of a sudden. My goal was never to go to the Olympics. It was just that I wanted to be in an international competition, and I got to do that last year."