Nikki Jenkins (NZL)

Nikki Jenkins never did make it to the Olympic Games or a to a World Championships, but not for lack of lack of talent or ability....

In 1990, New Zealand hosted the XIV Commonwealth Games. The New Zealand media was hungry for a hero, and their own Nikki Jenkins delivered. Nikki performed well during the gymnastics portion of these Games and qualified to vault finals. Included in the line up were some strong vaulters who had proven themselves internationally, most notably Canadians Lori Strong and Stella Umeh. On paper, Nikki was unproven and therefore was not expected to medal.

The Canadians suffered some uncharacteristic flaws that evening: Lori Strong experienced some bent legs on her first vault and was off-center on her second vault, meanwhile Stella Umeh missed one o her hands on her second vault and scrapped it. The gold went to Nikki Jenkins, and nobody was more surprised than Nikki herself. Nikki's win was a landmark for New Zealand gymnastics - the first time in international gymnastics competition that the New Zealand flag was raised (and raised on first place)!

Nikki experienced an enormous amount of fame and popularity following her win. This "Queen" of the Commonwealth Games was in demand for modelling New Zealand fashions, Pert shampoo commercials, and numerous public appearances. The prospects were exciting of course, but at the same time Nikki faced greater expectations and time commitments in the gym - Her success at the Commonwealth Games had earned her an invitation to the upcoming Moscow News competition and she wanted to represent New Zealand well at this important meet. No other New Zealander had ever been invited.

With competitors from the Soviet Union, Romania, China, and the USA, the level of gymnastics at the Moscow News competitions is higher than that at the Commonwealth Games. Recognizing this, Nikki and her coach, Lynn Johnston, decided to include several new skills in her routines for this competition. A wonderful New Zealand documentary ("Nikki: A Young Champion") chronicles Nikki's struggle to prepare and compete these skills. An especially interesting element of this documentary is the focus on the added pressures faced by gymnasts from non-gymnastic powerhouse nations.

Whereas countries like the Soviet Union and Romania placed great importance on gymnastics and therefore had no lack of funding for facilities and travel expenses, the funds were not in place in New Zealand to support this level of training. In fact, Nikki did not even train in a proper gymnastics facility. Her club, the North Shore Gym Club, rented space from a school. Whenever the school hall was not in use, the club would set up their equipment and practice.

Nikki experienced some jitters at the Moscow News, falling off the beam three times. Towards the end of the competition though, Nikki regained her confidence and performed well on her specialty (vault). Nikki had gained valuable experience in Moscow, experience which she hoped would help her at the 1991 World Championships in Indianapolis, USA.

At the 1991 World Championships, Nikki hoped to qualify to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as an individual. Nikki would have had no problem at all qualifying, except that she broke out in measles (!) near the start of the competition and was quarantined. Because of this, all of the competitors had to be inoculated prior to the competition. Some countries (including Romania and the Soviet Union) were suspicious that their gymnasts would be unable to compete properly and tried to refuse the injections. New Zealand certainly got more publicity at these World Championships than they ever dreamed, but of course it was not the kind of attention one would hope for....

Unable to compete in the 1991 World Championships, Nikki was unable to qualify to Barcelona. She tried to continue in gymnastics, but the disappointment and dream of going to the Olympics was shattered and she quit. She enrolled in Phys. Ed. at the university in Otago, New Zealand and spent some free time coaching some of juniors at a club near the university.

Nikki graduated from university in 1998 and is now living in Australia where she is involved in performing arts.

Many thanks to Avril Enslow, a New Zealand brevet judge, for providing me with information about Nikki.

. This page was created on November 14, 1999 and last updated on February 21, 2000.

 

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