Monday, September 29, 2008

Cartwheels in.......


For years now the same handful of countries have been vying for the team spots in the Worlds and the tops spots at the Olympics, meaning we see the same group of countries competing over and over again. There are surprising surges of talent of course, like Spain, and Australia and Brazil over the years, and sudden demises like Russia and Romania, but generally it has been a fairly consistent bunch competing for those team podium spots in every major international comp.
It is not that surprising really. Gymnastics is an expensive sport, and only countries that have have the money to fund any effective kind of national gymnastics program can really have a chance at producing enough talent and depth to become a powerful competitive force. Some countries can't even afford to send one or two gymnasts to Worlds each year.
But that is not to say Gymnastics isn't being practiced all over the world. It is. We just don't get to see it That is why i have decided to introduce this segment, looking at gymnastics in some lesser known countries. Because i don't know about you guys, but i am curious about the other places we might find our favorite sport.......places that one day might have a chance at the podium.
So, today I am starting with Namibia, a country in the south of Africa. And yes, there is plenty of gymnastics in Namibia!

Having become a German colony in the nineteenth century, gymnastics came very early to Namibia, (when it was still called South-West Africa).  The sport was first practiced there as early as 1889. It died off a little during the First World War, then flourished again, culminating in a major gymnastics festival being held in 1929 in a town called Luderitz. Namibia officially became competitive and joined the FIG in 1991

Gymnastics is both a recreational and educational sport in Namibia, being taught widely in schools all over the country. Children learn tumbling skills, rhythmic gymnastics skills, and apparatus where the apparatus are available. These kids are learning rope skills at their school.

While many promising and talented young gymnasts have been discovered country wide, it seems that funding is the major problem, limiting the availability of training for potential gymnasts and restricting opportunities for traveling to international competition for the more advanced gymnasts.
Things are looking up, though. Earlier this year, a French ex-aerobic gymnastics champion, Gregory Alcan and a businessman, Victor Da Cruz Gomes announced that he had decided to invest in Namibian and all southern African gymnastics future by building a national training centre in Walvis Bay. It will be double the size of the old one and be large enough for international meets to be held there. This signals a huge improvement for Namibian gymnastics.
There has also been more emphasis on educating training technique in the country in an effort to make Namibian gymnasts more competitive and coaches more effective. The Namibian federation held a course for dedicated coaches and gymnasts to improve teaching and learning techniques countrywide this month.

Namibia’s most successful gymnast was Gharde Geldenhuys, who participated in the 2000 Sydney Olympic games as a wild card entry.  She also entered two World Championships and the 1998 Commonwealth Games where Namibia came in eighth in the team competition.
As an individual competitor in the Sydney 2000 games, Geldenhuys came in 64th all around in the preliminary rounds and was the sole representative of all of Africa in gymnastics. 
Due to the financial situation of the sport, she had to train for the Olympics in a makeshift gym built in an old mechanics garage in Swakopmund with next to no facilities. She claimed it was "difficult, but worth it" because of attending the opening ceremony and the events.
She moved to the U.S.A to attend college, competing for the Washington University gymnastics team, the Huskies mainly on vault and floor. She told a British newspaper
“Most people I tell I'm from Namibia think its somewhere in Asia while hardly anyone's heard of the Commonwealth Games!” She studied psychology and physical therapy while at college.

More recently, Ramona Beukes (centre) became one of Namibia’s most decorated gymnasts, earning a vaulting medal at an international meet between South Africa, Namibia and Wales, and three medals at last years All-African Championships. She is also the first and only Namibian gymnast to successfully perform a double piked back somersault on floor.

Ramona Beukes and Kimberley-Ann Van Zyl received funding to go to Stuttgart for the World Championships, hoping to earn an Olympic berth. Ramona Beukes came 148th in the AA, while Van Zyl (left) placed 179th. Unfortunately, they were not successful in getting to Beijing.

There is still hope of an Olympics for Namibia as there is also some junior talent sprouting in the country. One of them is Michel’le Solomons, a fourteen-year-old gymnast. She competes in trampoline and tumbling sports as well as Artistic gymnastics. Her coaches are Vesselin Kostin and Dongina Risser. She trains for three hours a day and believes that gymnastics takes lots of practice and discipline as well as talent. In her federation profile, she encourages other kids in her country to turn to sport instead of drugs and alcohol.
Her idol is her mother, and she wants to become the best junior gymnast in Namibia. Starting on her endeavour, she has been named to the Namibian National team for the Artistic discipline for the All- African games this year.

On a less positive note, according to an editorial complaining about discrimination in sport in the country, a sixteen year old gymnast who had one an international medal (probably Beukes) was not qualified to win a Namibian sports award because of their age. An older gymnast who had won a bronze at a regional meet took the prize instead.  The writer was upset about that, and also of having been a victim of racial violence by a man who once worked for the Namibian Gymnastics Federation.
Despite these issues, it seems that with new training and finance the state of the sport in Namibia is about to improve vastly. Hopefully in the future we may see some Namibian gymnasts becoming competitive on an international stage. 

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog a little while ago and wanted to say I really enjoy it. Today's entry was particularly interesting and refreshing. It's nice to be reminded that gymnasts live in more than six countries and even better to learn about them in detail.