It seems as though Australia’s current women’s artistic A-team is lacking the edge to succeed in international competition. The cracks in the picture were reflected through Australia’s performance this year at the Commonwealth Games, the worst in 36 years.
Australian National Team Coordinator Peggy Liddick’s decision to leave off national champion Georgia Godwin was one that didn’t sit well with some Australian gym fans. Why send a team of specialists who weren’t even expected to medal in the team final, when you can send a new up and comer who can challenge for an all around medal? After all, Australia has used the Commonwealth Games as a learning experience for many gymnasts who are age eligible for the next Olympics.
The answer doesn’t lie entirely with Gymnastics Australia and Peggy Liddick, but with the Australian Government/Sports Commission’s ‘Winning Edge’ program, i.e Australia’s “game plan for moving from world class to world best.” In order to understand this reform of the sports program in Australia, one must understand that the main goal of this initiative is for Australia to be in the top 5 in the Olympic medal tally by putting $20 million (AUSD) into all sports within the Australian Institute of Sport (Olympic Training Centre).
So, where does gymnastics fit into all of this?
Due to the budget put in place, and the isolation of Australia relative to the rest of the world, traveling for international meets is limited only to those who can achieve at the very least top 5 placing. The program wants Australia to not only be top 5 overall at the Olympic Games, and 1st in the Commonwealth games, but to produce over 20 World Champions across sports every year.
This is where Peggy Liddick’s job comes in. Last year no Australians women attended World Championships due to not being able to meet the tough requirements Liddick set at trials. Though there has always been a push for Australia to increase their difficulty to remain competitive, the fact of the matter is there wasn’t anyone who could become a world champion. Australia is no longer sending athletes to overseas competitions for experience, but rather to instill fear in their competitors when Australia wins everything going. However, this isn’t always possible. If Australian gymnasts don’t meet the tough requirements set out by the government they simply won’t be sent to competitions.
This means there needs to be an entire reform of gymnastics in Australia, which has already begun to happen. Levels 1 and 2 are no longer competitive to encourage gymnasts to move up the ranks faster and become elites at younger ages. Levels 3 – 5 have compulsory routines and there will no longer be any bonus skills (where previously athletes made their own routines and chose their own music for all levels). Levels 6-10 will become optional levels with increasingly difficult set skills.
Although Gymnastics Australia does not have a centralised training program for young talent at the moment, each state nurtures members of the International Development Program (IDP – similar to TOPs in the US) at their states institutes of sport, which is where they will train in order to reach elite status. For example, Lauren Mitchell from Western Australia was spotted by talent scouts and has been training at the Western Australian Institute of Sport (where she was tested) since she was seven. This program is expanding and becoming more thorough as some coaches fear talented gymnasts are slipping through the cracks and are not being placed in the correct programs and/or not being tested at the correct times.
The main aim of Gymnastics Australia in recent years has been geared towards active encouragement of getting more children involved in the sport, especially while they are younger. The national broadcasting of the Australian Gymnastics Championships this year was one of the first steps in this process, as well as sending an entire team of fan favourites to compete at the Commonwealth Games this year – even if it meant leaving out the national all-around champion.
While Australian artistic gymnasts may be struggling on the elite scene at the moment, the Australian Sports Commission expects a complete turn around by 2024.
Article by Sam Minns