Joanna Hughes (AUS)

It was unbelievable. We were sitting there with our fingers crossed. And then when the rotation was finished and we saw Australia up in 12th place we were just jumping around and screaming. I mean, we felt sorry for the other team...- Hughes (in International Gymnast), on the Australian team making the top 12 at the 1995 Worlds (Sabae) and qualifying a team to the 1996 Olympics.

Photo by Matthew Barber

1991 Australian Grand Prix: 5th AA, 4th A, 2nd FX
1991 Australian National Championships: 3rd AA, 1st V, UB 7th, BB 3rd, FX 2nd
1991 World Championships: 6th T, 19th AA
1993 Australian National Championships: 2nd AA, 3rd V, 1st UB, 5th BB, 1st FX
1993 Nikon International: 5th AA, 3rd BB, 2nd FX
1994 World Championships: 65th AA (competed only BB due to injury)
1994 Australian National Championships: 1st AA, 2nd V, 1st UB, 2nd FX
1994 Commonwealth Games: 3rd T
1995 Australian National Championships: 1st T (VIC), 3rd AA, 2nd BB, 2nd FX
1995 (?) Aussie Worlds Trials: 5th AA
1995 World Championships: 12th T, 32nd AA
1996 American Cup: 14th AA
1996 Olympic Games: 10th T, 34th AA

Hailed as one of the best gymnasts in Australian gymnastics history, Joanna Hughes is often credited with bringing Australia to the world gymnastics map. Most amazing of all perhaps, is the knowledge that Joanna won such praise in the face of several untimely injuries - injuries which prevented this highly decorated athlete from performing up to potential.

Joanna burst onto the scene in 1991, winning numerous medals at that year's Australian Nationals and winning a silver medal on floor at her first international meet (the 1991 Australian Grand Prix). That same year, the Australian team was the talk of Indianapolis, jumping up numerous spots from their finish at the 1989 World Championships to place 6th at the 1991 World Championships - comfortably earning a berth to the team competition at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Just 13 at the time, Joanna explained (to IG magazine) that she "didn't really understand what coming in the top 12 take a team to the Olympics."

As the top Australian at the 1991 Worlds (19th AA), Hughes was Australia's shining hope for the 1992 Olympics. Sadly, these aspirations were dashed just prior to the Olympics, when she injured her elbow. Age-eligible for the Barcelona by a mere 8 days, Joanna and her long-time coach felt positive about Joanna's chances for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

The next few years looked promising for Joanna. She continued to win medals, most notably on FX - an event that was quickly becoming a favourite and specialty for her. At the 1994 World Championships in Brisbane, Joanna even qualified to the floor exercise finals - the first Australian to make a floor final and only the second to make an event final of any kind. But then, another untimely injury struck...during the AA portion, Joanna rolled her ankle and had to withdraw from competition altogether.

Although the ankle continued to bother her during competitions throughout the year (e.g., 1994 Commonwealth Games), the "tide turned" in 1995, when she triumphed as the top Australian at the 1995 World Championships in Sabae. Escaping further untimely injuries, Joanna led her Australian team to a 10th place finish at the 1996 Olympics and individually was the top Australian finisher in Atlanta (34th AA).

Interestingly, Joanna's success was accomplished in the face of much pressure and disapproval from various national coaches and officials. At the time, virtually all Australian elites trained at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra under the national coach, Ju Ping Tian. Joanna was asked at least three times to move from her home in Sandringham to the AIS and at least three times she refused. Joanna had spent six weeks at the AIS prior to injuring her elbow prior to the 1992 Olympics, and did not enjoy the atmosphere. As a result, she insisted that she continue her training with her long-time coach, Fiona Bird.

Interesting, Fiona Bird, the head gymnastics coach at the Victorian Institute of Sport and 1994 Victorian "Coach of the Year," was herself a talented gymnast. Fiona trained in Melbourne under a Japanese coach, Mr. Kazuya Honda, until he moved to the AIS in 1981. At 14, Fiona followed Hondo, but after an uphappy year away from home, she quit gymnastics. With this in mind, Fiona fought hard to allow Joanna to stay at home to train (and train very successfully!).

Joanna retired from elite competitive career following her successful and satisfying performance at the 1996 Olympics.  She began working in the sports section of Melbourne's Myer department store and was elected to serve as Athlete Representative on the Australian Gymnastics Board of Directors. Joanna very much enjoys watching Australia's current group of elite gymnasts (indeed she was spotted in the stands at the 1998 Australian Commonwealth Games trials). 

 After a few years off, Joanna resumed light training. In July 1999, she represented Australia at the 1999 World University Games in Spain. Also representing Australia was Jenny Smith (who has since returned to elite gymnastics) and Louise Cashmere (former Australian National team member who is now a gymnast at a university in Idaho, USA).

In 1999, Joanna received a scholarship to Cal-State Fullerton University. She moved to the USA in December and will begin competing NCAA this January. Joanna plans on studying Criminal Justice (investigating crime scenes, etc.).

For more information about Joanna, please visit The Official Website of Joanna Hughes.

Joanna Hughes was born on December 22, 1977.

. This page was created on June 1, 1999 and last updated on January 1, 2000.


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