Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cartwheels in....


Irish gymnastics has come on in leaps and bounds the past few years.  Moving from being a volunteer-run program, the Irish Gymnastics Association has now modernised into a professionally run venture.  Headed by National Development Co-ordinator, Ciaran Gallagher, a training program with a national training center has been implemented in Dublin and many improvements have been made in coaching education.  According to Ciaran in an International Gymnast magazine interview, the modernisation of the sport has had huge benefits, but she also hopes that Irish good fortune will do its bit for the sport too!

"All at Irish gymnastics are hoping "luck of the Irish" will have a part to play!"

Gymnastics is clearly considered an important and popular sport in Ireland.  It was one of the few, key sports to be granted extra funding from the Irish government in 2009 to meet the rising costs concomitant with the global financial crisis.  Unfortunately for the Irish Gymnastics Association, which like most national gym associations, covers artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, tumbling and trampolining, will be suffering a cutback to funds usually granted towards international competition.  This has affected all Irish sports though, not just gymnastics.

Northern Ireland has its own own gymnastics association to which is also modernizing with a focus on the future of the sport and improvement on an international scale.  Their greatest champion was Holly Murdock, who took 14th place in the 2001 World Championships.  This was not only Northern Ireland's, but Great Britains greatest international result to date (it was of course, bested by Beth Tweddle's 4th place in 2005 but remains her country's best result).  She also nearly achieved a clean sweep of the medals at the Nothern European Games that year, only missing out on gold on floor.
Murdock then went on to compete for the UCLA Bruins where she competed off and on throughout 2003 and 2004.  
I think her greatest feat while there was beginning to learn a layout Yurchenko and being forced to perform it only two weeks later at the Pac-10 Championships (scoring a 9.625)!  Her best score with the Bruins was a 9.875 on beam.  She also took All- American (I know what this is now!) Academics Honours both years.  
Her favorite apparatus is beam.  She was planning on being a vet after college and kept a huge amount of pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, goats and horses at home!

There seems to be a confusing system (for the outside observer who is already easily confused such as myself)in the competing division between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Sometimes Irish gymnasts compete for Britain, while, then sometimes they compete separately as the Irish National Team(I think!).  Northern Ireland has sent its own its own athletes to the Commonwealth Games, but i am not sure if they always compete independently (perhaps a reader can help). 

In Melbourne in 2006, Northern Ireland's Katie Slader came 12th in the AA competition at. She also won the AA in the Northern European Championships in 2005. Northern Ireland and Ireland usually rank very closely as teams at that event, with Northern Ireland pipping Ireland (6th and 7th) in 2007, then vice versa (8th and 9th) the following year. 

At Irish Nationals last year in March the three top gymnasts in the senior and minor division (there was a junior section too so I assume minor is senior gymnastics level but not old enough to compete in major comps?) They were Emma Gorman, Aimee O' Driscoll and Sarah Wedell. These girls are oft described as Ireland greatest female gymnastics hopes.

Amy and Sarah both attend Douglas Gymnastics Club in County Cork, a club that has 300 attendees, mostly children. There are 36 coaches and over 25 qualified judges in the clubs midst. The club, though it has provided several members of regional and National teams over the years, places its emphasis on the fun side of the sport. The club is so popular, that many commute from all over the county just to attend it. The club rents a hall, despite its huge membership meaning the equipment has to be set up before and after each session! It is a club run voluntarily by a parents committee and has won awards for its contribution to the community.

Eugenia Popa, who won two team medals for Romania and competed for them in the eighties and nineties is now a coach for Salto in Northern Ireland.  Popa was known for competing a double back-punch front on floor and for her lovely extension on beam. On her retirement from the sport, she coached for three years in Bucharest, then moved to Northern Ireland, coaching there principally for the last 13 years (spent 3 years in Britain).  Eugenia loves her job, but told International Gymnast magazine that it was difficult to adjust to the laxer atmosphere of gyms outside of Romania where children are free to refuse to perform.  It frustrated her to see massively talented children not living up to potential because they are distracted by the social aspects of gymnastics.  

"The kids here tend to want more to be friends.  They think if they are competitive they will lose their friendship.  When we trained we were competitive, but we were friends at the end of the day"

When asked what she thought Northern Irish gymnastics needed to succeed in the international scene, Popa said it was inspiration and ways to develop a solid work ethic from a young age that was lacking. It is difficult, she claims, to suddenly introduce the concept of hard training to a kid who has spent the last few years jumping around and playing in the gym.
Popa said it was a pity that her girls didn't have idols like Nadia Comaneci or her senior team mates at Deva to look up to as she did when she was growing up which would help focus the girls on the future and the dream.
She also said that the problem was that the girls don't 'feel' gymnastics in the same way she did as a young athlete, so they don't learn to self-correct while performing. This, she said, would come with much more practice. 
Now, when little girls tell her they have Youtubed Eugenia to see her perform back in the day.  She asks them if they liked it. If they say yes, she reminds them first and foremost of the work it took for her to get there and what it will for them too!

(I hope that I have not been too confused in my presentation of the differences between Irish and Northern Irish gymnastics and who performs on what team.  I have done my best to check everything but apologise to any readers if i have gotten any facts wrong anywhere and understand that this is an important distinction.)


  1. At the commonwealth games England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all compete separately as they are recognised as different states in the commonwealth. Ireland is not part of the commonwealth and does not compete at the commonwealth games.

    At the Olympics and Worlds, team GB is really the team from the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. It should really be team UK as Ireland is not technically in Great Britain but competes for team GB (there has been a fair number of arguments on this subject).

    Ireland is a separate country and competes as such at the Olympics and other international competitions.

  2. Other than at the commonwealth games, Northern Ireland usually competes for GB, along with England, Scotland and Wales.

  3. Firstly good blog, v funny :)

    secondly you have the Ireland thing pretty much sorted.

    Ireland (The republic of Ireland) competes as, and is, a totally individual country.

    Northern Ireland competes individually in commonwealth events (as do scotalnd england and wales) but in the olympics, worlds and Europeans competes as part of Team GB (full counry name The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

    The distinction between the 2 evokes really strong emotions (there have been bombs etc etc) and it is only recently the two sides in northern ireland (those who want to join ireland-republicans and those who want to remain part of the UK)actually have much contact. the split is also on religious protestant v catholic grounds. Its a shame we cant all get on! but things are improving.

    Hope that helps


  4. love it.....glad to see Irelnad getting a the first pic of three, sarah wedel is not in that picture

  5. Thanks for your awesome blog and the great info about lesser known gymnasts/gymnastics teams. I love it! Can you tell me how you know when the NCAA (and elite) meets will be televised? I would love to watch more, but never know when they will be shown. Will the Gymnix and or European Championships be on TV? I live in the USA. Thanks!

  6. No idea about how to see meets mate. I'm Aussie. We get nothing here! I think next weeks UCLA and UGA NCAA meet is going to be shown live on cable. Readers?

  7. i love the leotards of te irish, especially when they have shamrocks. so so cool. you should add some to the leotard polls :)

  8. Nice to see a blog on Irish gymnastics :)
    I'm an irish gymnast and its good to see that Irish gymnastics is growing!

  9. Sorry Emily but you are wrong.
    Northern Irish athletes in any sport are technically part of "Team Ireland" along with Republic of Ireland athletes. They have the option of competing for Team GB but generally choose Ireland because its easier for them to qualify onto the team. This includes Northern Ireland gymnasts like Matthew Cosgrave & Katie Slader. The republic & northern ireland compete separately at small competitions like the Celtic Cup.

    Northern Irish gymnasts are funded by the UK, Northern Irish and Irish government and have much better facilities than the Republic who don't even have ONE full time training center, despite what Ciaran Gallagher has been going on about for the past 5 years. So basically they are a much higher standard than Republic of Ireland gymnasts have a monopoly on the funding and the spots at international competitions.

    Its good to see a mention of Irish Gymnasts online, but i think we have a lot of catching up to do, our top gymnast at National Championships compete with a Uneven bar difficulty (A score) of 1.8! Pretty far from international standard.

  10. Well said Jenni! A far more accurate account of the actual situation!!! :-)

  11. mmmm... love the fact that you have noticed us in Ireland - but what about the boys..... mens had 49th and 54th AA at worlds ..... getting there... NI Gymnasts have option, under the UK Irish Agreement to compete for both Ireland in Worlds, Euro's etc and for NI in Common Wealth games - or choosing GB ( actually UK) route - but have to define if UK or Ire ... we all love each other in Mens - and all work so hard and happily to see improvements and opportunity provided to our gymnasts ... thanks for your interest!!
    Names to watch out for in Men's : Luke Carson, Rohan Sebastian and Geoff Rellis ... and Mat Cosgrave when he finishes his Medical studies!! Jack Neil, Danny Fox, Chris O'Connor and Rhys McGlenaghan are all juniors doing great job!