Olympics: Gymnastics enjoys coming of age

By David Leggat

New Zealand Gymnastics enjoyed a coming of age yesterday.

Having languished in the sport's backwaters for years, it now has three athletes off to the Rio Olympics in August - and qualifying directly through the international quota system, rather than squeezing through a back door on a wing and a prayer, and a bit of luck here and there.

As one senior gymnastics official put it yesterday, the country's young gymnasts now have athletes to aspire to emulate. The spinoffs for the sport could be significant.

North Shore's American-based Misha Koudinov has been striving for an Olympic place without success since Beijing in 2008. The youngest member of the New Zealand team at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, he specialises in the parallel bars - where he finished 0.234 off making the finals at last year's world championships. He will compete in all six apparatus in Rio, although the parallel bars are his forte.

Hearing that he had achieved his ambition left him feeling like "I was 10 years old on Chrismas morning and Santa got me exactly what I've wanted.

"I felt it was my destiny to dedicate my life to it and reach as high as possible," he said.
Christchurch's Courtney McGregor, just 17, made the World Cup final in Doha two years ago, won a silver at the Pacific Rim championships and was 17th in the vault at last year's world champs. She's an uncommonly gifted gymnast who will be worth watching in Rio.

"It took a while to actually sink in," she said when told of her selection. "Then I did a handstand lap around the lounge." As you do.

Schmidt, 19, is the most interesting of the trio in one respect; he is the first New Zealander to make the Olympics in trampolining, which will be contested at its fifth successive Olympics.

The big turning point in his career came at his first world champs at age 12. He'd torn ligaments but ended up competing, and winning.

"That was a really big step for me. I put the rugby, tennis and hockey on hold and said 'this is the sport I want to do'. From that moment I was aiming for the Olympics," he said.
Schmidt is off to Europe in four weeks, likely heading to two World Cup event in Italy and Switzerland.

And if you're looking for a smoking gun for a medal, he could be the ticket.

Schmidt finished ninth at the world championships, .2 off the top eight final, and has made the podium twice this year - bronze at the Pac Rim event in the United States last month, then silver at the Olympic test event shortly after in Rio.

Gymnastics has tended to be one of those one-athlete sports which has spasmodic Olympic appearances. Not this time, and there's even the bonus of a genuine belief within the sports' community that something special could be achieved from within this trio.

Fact Box:

- New Zealand have three gymnasts going to the Rio Olympics, artistic athletes 17-year-old Courtney McGregor of Christchurch and North Shore's Misha Koudinov, and Auckland trampolinist Dylan Schmidt.

- It's the first time since 1964 that New Zealand have three gymnasts at a Games, and the first Olympics since 2000 that New Zealand have been represented in gymnastics.

- Schmidt is the first New Zealander to qualify in trampolining.

- All three won their places directly through the international quota system, at recent Olympic test events.

- NZ Herald

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