If you’re a gymnast with lofty ambitions, Canada’s national sport organizations (NSOs) are looking for you. RBC Training Ground, a talent identification and athlete-funding program that looks for up-and-coming Olympians, says gymnasts are sought after by many NSOs.
Evan MacInnis, national technical director of RBC Training Ground says the work ethic and skills acquired by gymnasts at a young age are unmatched. “The level and type of training that gymnasts do, their body awareness, agility, balance, co-ordination and speed, is really unparalleled to any other sport at that young age, so whether they continue on in gymnastics or transfer to another sport, that base athletic ability is incredible,” said MacInnis.
Sabrina Guérin, manager of sport development with Freestyle Skiing Canada, says that it’s both the physical and mental attributes of gymnasts that make them ideal for new sport pathways, like aerials, also known as freestyle skiing. “They’re comfortable in the air – they know how to flip and twist, they’re strong and fit, and they’re used to the impact of landing, which helps prevent injury. Mentally, the two sports look alike with managing fears, work ethic and dedication. These skills are transferable to aerials,” Guérin explained.
When Guérin attends RBC Training Ground events to scout out new talent, she deliberately stands at the high jump station, watching for athletes who have intense power in their legs and an obvious acrobatic background.
This is how Guérin found Marion Thénault, a former gymnast who participated in the program in 2017 and just five years later won a Freestyle Ski Bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics.
MacInnis says that while gymnasts don’t often fare well at the aerobic testing stations, like the beep test, they are miles ahead in the jumping tests. “You can tell who a gymnast is right away. It’s like they have springs in their feet,” he said.
Kylar Rathwell, a 16-year-old former gymnast from Carleton Place, Ont., was named an RBC ‘Future Olympian’ in 2021, receiving funding from RBC Training Ground to pursue freestyle skiing – a sport that was unknown to her prior to the competition. She says many skills from gymnastics have carried over. “Definitely the flipping aspect of gymnastics is really important going into freestyle skiing, because it gives you the body awareness when you’re flipping. Core strength in gymnastics is really important, too. You have to be strong, which transfers over to freestyle skiing where you have to stay super straight and tight. And lots of balance is needed in both sports,” Rathwell explained.
Aside from the similar physical requirements between the two sports, Guérin says there are shared mental requirements as well. “Dealing with fear is the main one. You learn to control it when you’re doing new tricks in gymnastics – you have to fight that fear. It’s the same thing in aerials,” Guérin noted.
For Madison Dempster, a 19-year-old former gymnast from Milton, Ont., her gymnastics training helped her successfully cross over into the sport of cycling. In 2017, at the age of 14, Dempster was able to save herself from a near-certain post-race crash by summoning her balance and core strength to stay upright and steer herself through it. “Gymnastics gave me the base for everything. Knowing and understanding your body movements and being able to control them is important. Even in high school when I played volleyball and basketball, I was very coachable, so it was easy for me to adapt to different disciplines and was a big reason why I moved into cycling,” explained Dempster.
After attending RBC Training Ground events in 2019, she too was chosen as an RBC Future Olympian, which helped support her training with Cycling Canada. “It definitely gave me a lot of great connections right off the bat,” said Dempster. “The funding gave me clarity in the area of finances, so I could focus more on training and I didn’t have to worry as much about financing my own training.”
Rathwell is currently settling into freestyle skiing well, learning the ropes and aiming for a future Olympic run. She says the funding she received from RBC Training Ground has provided a foundation for her to build on. “It’s really given me a boost of confidence towards a new sport. I feel comfortable and the funding will help out a lot for travelling purposes,” said Rathwell.
Registration for RBC Training Ground events across Canada is free and open to athletes aged 14 to 25, with both in-person qualifying events and virtual testing options available.