Monday, October 6, 2008

Cartwheels in......


“Gymnastics is so young in this country. Every time we do something, we’re breaking new ground. There’s nothing for us to follow. Everything is a first step for us. We have to pave the way.”
Annette Telfer.

Trinidad and Tobago is an island archipelago in the Southern Carribean Ocean. It was formerly a British Colony, but gained independence from Britain in 1962. Gymnastics only came recently to Trinidad and Tobago as a formalised sport. The now national coach Clifton McDowell can remember when he and his friends were boys, that teaching themselves gymnastics tricks outside, or looking for schools with actual mats on which to practice was the only way to do gymnastics for acrobatic enthusiasts back then.

Now Clifton (left) is taking more teams of gymnasts to international meets every year! 
The largest and most successful competition Trinidad and Tobago has competed internationally in was the 2002 Commomwealth Games in Manchester, England, where the team placed eighth, and two gymnasts placed 21st and 22nd in the All Around finals.

The 1992 Trinidad National Champion Jessica Pouchet is one of the country’s most well known gymnasts and was part of that 2002 Commonwealth games team. She was born in Trinidad, but had dual citizenship with the U.S. As a teenager, she would train at her home gym in Miami, then visit Port of Spain of to train with her team mates at Tots and Tumblers throughout the year.
Despite her dual citizenship, and the advantages of being part of the more financially supported U.S gymnastics world, Pouchet made the decision that no matter wether she was offered to compete for America in any way, that she would compete for Trinidad and Tobago because she wanted to take part in the growth and progress of the sport in her country. She told a journalist that she thought that would be a more significant and important achievement than mere personal gain.
When she finished in high school in Trinidad, she went on to study journalism at Brown University where she competed in varsity gymnastics. As a freshman she was Brown’s top vaulter, and in 2004, she won the team spirit award.

Over the last few years, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most promising young gymnasts has been Thema Williams. At nine-years-old, she came fourth in the junior levels Pan-Ams in 2004, losing the bronze by .017 of a point. Her coach, Annette Telfer described her back then as a “little diamond” who possessed all the requisite qualities of a great gymnast. At the age of eight, she had travelled overseas to a Pan-Ams qualifier and apparently shocked everyone with her calm, mature and measured performance.

By 2006, Thema seemed to be the only gymnast competing in a regional inter-club competition listed as high as a level 8 gymnast.
This year in a friendship classic in Pennsylvania, Thema beat out Russian and French competitors to take the AA gold, as well as a gold or silver medal in each apparatus.
Having qualified for the Junior Olympics in 2010, Thema’s coaches are concerned that Trinidad and Tobago’s gymnastics system hasn’t the resources for the training and competitive opportunities Thema needs. But, as her coach Annette Telfer says, “I if don’t go the extra mile for this uniquely talented gymnast, I would not be doing my job.”

Apparently, the first formalized gymnastics  program in Trinidad and Tobago began with Tot and Tumblers gymnastics academy, the first permanent gymnastics facility of it’s kind in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago’s capital in 1999.

It began as a club in St Andrews school in 1985, where, according to the website,  Annette Telfer (left) and school principal, Angela Aggarat started the club with “eight gymnasts, very little equipment, not much experience and no coaches” but with enough “vision and passion” to supply everything that was needed to begin. It is now a teeming, successful club that runs recreational class, meets with other clubs and takes small groups of gymnasts to compete internationally every year.

Also, in a lovely blog about volunteering in the Carribean, I found an account of a volunteer’s work at a gymnastics club called Akron, in St Augustine in Trinidad. She worked with the young gymnasts at the club, teaching them dance as well so they could put on shows combining their gym and dance skills. She also trained them to compete in gymnastics meets. This was a picture of some of the girls before they did a dancing show.

It seems that there is no lack of natural gymnastics talent in the country. There is just a lack of resources to use teaching them. The National Team’s gymnasts are still training on less than suitable equipment. In 2005 the gymnasts were learning their floor routines on a mat one quarter of the size of a competition mat, and the set of uneven bars they used did not meet width standards. The gym had neither the money, nor the space to install the equipment. Telfer dreams of opening a new gym one day when there is enough money.
The gymnasts are improving every year however, and with the ever-increasing international exposure, the use of international brevet judges to assess the girls, the finances that are slowly being invested and the passion of coaches like Telfer and McDowell in the sport, Trinidad and Tobago’s gymnasts might have the means to match their prodigious talent yet. 
According to their coaches, in an interview with The Trinidad Guardian, the length they have come, in this short while, considering the struggle, has to be considered nothing short of a miracle.

(This week's Cartwheels segment is for my mate, Mon, who always wants to know if people in Trinidad and Tobago like gymnastics.  Apparently, Mon. They do!!)


  1. Wow, I check your blog regularly and I was pleasantly surprised to see an entry on Trinidad and Tobago (where I am from). Thanks for putting us out there.
    Another successful Trinidad athlete is Ananda Fraser. She was one of the athletes who competed at the 2002 Commonwealth games. She migrated to the US to train in 2005/6 I think at CATS Academy and currently competes for the University of Rhode Island. More info on her can be found here:
    You should also check out gymnastics in Jamaica. They have some pretty good gymnasts. I remember some gymnasts came to compete in 2005/6 T&T Nationals and one in particular was Shanna Gentles. She performed a Yurchenko vault, Double layout off bars, I believe double pike and triple twist on our smaller floor and some neat tricks on beam.
    Keep up the great work.

  2. I remember coaching summer gymnastics camp in Houston in the late 80s and there was a team from Trinidad and Tobago there!

  3. Hi I'm a level 6 gymnast from Trinidad and Tobago, and this is a great article :)

  4. Thanks for showcasing Trinidad and Tobago's Tots and Tumblers gymnastics. I'm a level 6 gymnast and I am fortunate to have supportive team mates and helpful coaches at Tots and Tumblers. We train hard and we have fun doing so. I LOVE gymnastics !! ;) KTK