In honor of New Zealand’s selection of Courtney McGregor as the athlete set to represent the country at the Olympic Test Event in April, we’ve chosen the 17-year-old from Christchurch as this week’s elite we really think you should get to know.
Courtney began doing recreational gymnastics at Olympia Gymnastics Sports in Christchurch when she was six. She quickly rose through the competitive ranks and eventually moved to the prestigious Christchurch School of Gymnastics, made famous in the gym community when it was destroyed in the magnitude-6.3 earthquake that killed 185 people in 2011.
The gym almost shut down completely, but the gymnasts wouldn’t hear of it. Fully dedicated to their sport, Courtney – age 12 at the time – and her teammates trained at a temporary facility until their gym was repaired, building up from scratch to hopefully one day put New Zealand on the map.
A few months later, New Zealand traveled with an incredibly young team to the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships, one that included 13-year-old Courtney alongside teammates Hanna Malloch, Rebecca Morrison, Charlotte Sullivan, Millie Williamson, and Tara Purvis, none of whom were age-eligible for the London Games but that’s okay. They needed time to get their feet wet on a big international stage, and with Rio four years away, they had it.
At Pac Rims, New Zealand – working with no seniors on their squad when most other teams had three – placed seventh out of the nine teams there, showing their strongest work on vault and floor. All five gymnasts competed in the all-around with Courtney finishing at the bottom of the pile, earning a 42.1 thanks to the pesky uneven bars, where her score was just a 7.85.
Courtney on floor at Pac Rims in 2012
But everyone has to start somewhere, and her floor – shown above – was promising. Besides, this meet was all about the experience and having fun. I remember Courtney and her teammates during podium training with the American gymnasts, three of whom would go on to become medalists in London, gaping in awe at their skills and confidence. I also remember sitting near them at Denny’s – one of the only restaurants open late in Everett, Washington – following their long and exhausting day of competing, laughing and joking about starving to death during an hour wait because the restaurant hadn’t anticipated such a huge post-meet crowd. They were having a blast halfway around the world, learning how to become seasoned international competitors but still getting the chance to be kids.
I’m the opposite of a photographer, but here’s a shot I got of team New Zealand at podium training for Pac Rims. Courtney is on the right.
In 2013, Courtney and her team placed fifth at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival. She counted scores everywhere but vault there, and looked vastly improved compared to Pac Rims. But it was the Perth International where the young kiwis would shine, as they shocked the world taking the team title at Perth International, defeating junior teams from Australia, South Africa, and the Western Australia Institute of Sport. Courtney went on to get all-around bronze with a score of 48.9, a massive jump from her Pac Rims score less than a year earlier. She also won gold on floor with a personal best 13.25.
Courtney became a senior in 2014, and with her entry into a more challenging playing field came upgrades – including a DTY on vault. Not only was this a major addition to her all-around program, but when she unveiled it at the Doha World Cup that March, she became the first gymnast from her country to compete the skill and the first in her country to make a world cup final, placing fourth with a handspring front tuck half as her second vault.
The DTY really paid off. A few weeks after Doha, Courtney averaged a 14.312 at the Pacific Rim Championships to win an historic silver medal. New Zealand had big hopes for their gymnasts after this, especially when it came time for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later that year, but unfortunately a plague of mishaps, including an injury that forced Courtney to withdraw from the competition, led to a disappointing finish.
New Zealand’s 2014 Commonwealth Games team, from left: Mackenzie Slee, Courtney McGregor, Charlotte Sullivan, Brittany Robertson, and Anna Tempero
Courtney was a serious medal contender for a vault medal at the Games, but a knee injury sustained in training meant she was out completely. The team had already been limited by Mackenzie Slee’s foot injury as well as the strange infection Anna Tempero picked up just before she left New Zealand. The infection caused her leg to swell above the knee, and she required minor surgery upon arriving in Glasgow. Both Mackenzie and Anna forged on ahead to compete, albeit with major setbacks limiting them tremendously in the competition. But because Courtney’s injury was a season-ending one just days before the Games, without them the team would be left with only two members.
It was a strange and sad series of events that saw the promising young team finish 12th. In a four-up three-count team final format, New Zealand could field only three athletes on vault and bars and just two apiece on beam and floor. A full and healthy team would’ve made them contenders for a top five finish.
Disappointing as it was, the kiwis still had the 2014 World Championships to think about. They still weren’t back at a hundred percent, but they managed to field a full team of six athletes. Courtney was able to contribute on everything but floor, and though her knee wasn’t quite healed enough for her to be at her best, the young team performed with confidence and in their first major team test, they placed a respectable 32nd. It wasn’t enough to qualify them to the following worlds as a full team, but they had come an incredibly long way since they emerged as wee ones at Pac Rims only two years earlier, laying the foundation for a program that has tons of promise for its future.
Team New Zealand at the 2014 World Championships, from left: Mackenzie Slee, Charlotte Sullivan, Anna Tempero, Samara Maxwell, and Courtney McGregor
Courtney went on to make two world cup finals in 2015, placing eighth on vault in a stacked final at Doha and eighth on beam at Anadia. She worked hard to get her skills back on all four events, and by the time worlds rolled around in October, she was on fire, earning a humongous 55.2 in the all-around to become the senior national champion in New Zealand.
In Glasgow last year, Courtney represented her country alongside Charlotte Sullivan, who rose through the ranks side-by-side with Courtney and earned some fame of her own as she became the first New Zealand gymnast to bring home a world cup medal on beam at Anadia.
With her DTY back in action and looking close to her best on her remaining events, Courtney placed 71st in the all-around at worlds qualifications with a 51.932. She didn’t make any finals there, but her score was enough to earn a spot for her country at the 2016 Olympic Test Event, and hopefully, this year she’ll be able to qualify to the Olympic Games in Rio.
Courtney’s DTY in qualifications
Courtney’s excellent floor exercise – with a big piked full-in, 2.5 to punch front pike, double pike, and double tuck – earned a 12.766
Following her performance at worlds, GymSports New Zealand named Courtney as the gymnast that would represent the country at the test event, and a few weeks ago, named Courtney, Charlotte, and Mackenzie as the senior team for the Pacific Rim Championships back in Everett, Washington this April. For Courtney and Charlotte, they’ll be back where it all began four years earlier, but this time with bigger skills and much more experience.
The trip back to the Pacific Northwest is of another significance to Courtney as well. While competing at the Olympic Games is a possibility that looms in her near future, last fall Courtney earned a full ride scholarship to Boise State University, currently the 10th best collegiate gymnastics program in the country. She’ll compete alongside fellow international elite and 2015 worlds competitor Isabella Amado of Panama as freshmen in the 2016-2017 season, as well as former Peruvian elite Sandra Collantes, currently having a standout sophomore year for the Broncos.
We’ve loved seeing Courtney rise from one of the “kiwi babies” everyone adored back in 2012 to the successful Olympic contender she is today. If she makes it to the Olympic Games this summer, she will be New Zealand’s first female artistic gymnast to compete at the Games since Laura Robertson in 2000. Best of luck to Courtney, and we can’t wait to see what she can do in her future, both in elite and in the NCAA!
Article by Lauren Hopkins