The Problem in Australian Gymnastics

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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

6 thoughts on “The Problem in Australian Gymnastics

    • Karina, I feel torn about it. Obviously, these funding requirements put HUGE pressure of the young gymnasts and Peggy herself and takes a lot of love of the sport away. I also understand that (particularly under this government) they are cost cutting EVERYWHERE… and honestly, if sports funding has to be cut so money can be channelled elsewhere that is useful for more people in the country, well, I can understand that.

      It seems that the problem goes beyond funding though. Morale seems to have been declining for years. Rumours and rumblings of rifts amongst coaches and Peggy, favouritism being rife (why are the ‘top’ girls basically only coming from WA and VIC these days?), low self-esteem amongst the gymnasts and little mental toughness, GA allegedly ignoring external audit reviews from years ago… It seems Peggy has to make some really tough decisions now in light of this funding/medalling requirement particularly when it doesn’t seem at all achievable. However, perhaps she wouldn’t be between a rock and a hard place (and making terrible excuses about Australia’s performance) if changes happened a long time ago.

      Honestly, I think it’s time for some new direction, but that’s just me.

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  1. Something about this is sad to me. I just am saddened by the mentality of the Australian sport federation that sending athletes to competitions if they aren’t expected to medal is a waste of time. It just seems that something has been lost.

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  2. Personally, as an Australian gymnast, we are kind of like… ew no why are you doing this. They’ve lost sight of the Australian sport spirit, where we go out and have the time of our life. Now it’s turned into a ‘you do well or don’t do anything at all’. But, keep in mind this is just the artistic side of gymnastics. We’ve never been strong in rhythmic or acrobatics but we’re always consistently competing in those international competitions! Hoping this improves 🙂

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  3. Coming off a horrible summer olympics for them, this makes Australia look like sour pusses which is unfair to their reputation as a sports nation but that’s is how it appears, sorry.

    They invested in all their sports programs when they were going to host an Olympic’s so of course by the time Sydney came around Straya was doing amazing. But then the gov’t stopped investing afterwards (because duh, no one makes a profit hosting an Olympics and the entire endeavor is a rabbit hole financially…and of course you should’ve just put that money into long term national improvements instead of on a 2 week games but anyways…). So after the Olympics many of their sports programs were still reaping the rewards, coming off of a decade of pre-Olympic investment and with all that “talent residue,” the country did well for years afterwards.

    But eventually, lack of money, initiatives, and central goals caught up to them and by 2009 many of their best programs, like swimming for example, were being beaten handily by the usual top countries but also newbies like China (on their own post-Olympic high). Simply put, a country should invest in a sport b/c its people genuinely believe that this sport is beneficial to their way of life- and that’s why countries like Canada and Italy and Germany are going to outlasts the 5 minute glories of Britain (presently) and Straya (past) because they don’t need an impending Olympic’s to suddenly want to do well in gymnastics. GB is rising to the top FASTER but the aforementioned countries will stay there LONGER. Their programs rests on firmer foundations and won’t crack after the high of the Olympics passes b/c their monetary support wasn’t tied to a need to impress the home crowd. For instance, GB already lost all its gymnastics funding from the bankrupt gov’t and now the best two WAG clubs in the country, which hosted 4/5 of the Olympic WAG squad, is facing threat of closure. Also,1/3 of GB gymnasts retired last year, and the new clubs the gov’t had promised to build before London? No longer planned. The national program that was upgrading gym equipment across GB? Done. The British government says they need to enforce cuts;Australia’s predicament will catch up to them as well.

    It might be the same for Brazil except they, like China, had a legacy in gymnastics before their Olympics so their programs might actually stabilize long term.

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  4. The new level system described is to replace the current National Levels Program, which is designed for girls who do not aim to compete internationally. The International Development Program is having a few superficial changes to the names of levels, but that’s about it. There’s been no major change.

    But I do agree the funding arrangement seems ill-conceived. Only giving funding to the sports/athletes who can win medals is only going to make the other sports worse, and it’s not actually going to increase Australia’s medal count if athletes who can’t win aren’t allowed to compete.
    I think it’s also in complete opposition to Australian sporting culture of giving it a go.

    I think Peggy’s made some good decisions given the position she’s been put in to maintain her funding, but I think the funding situation is ridiculous.

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