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