Three members of the Polarettes Gymnastics Club are the first to compete in the Canadian Nationals in 20 years.
Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten all had excellent results at the nationals, finishing 12th, 11th, and 18th overall, respectively.
Berko-Malvasio, 17, has been competing since she was six years old.
She says it was definitely a different experience competing at the nationals, especially with COVID restrictions in effect. “It was definitely weird because we’ve never actually done that kind of virtual competition before, where everything was set, we had to have equipment measured, so it made it seem like kind of a big deal, but also we didn’t travel, so it was really different than what we usually do. I just feel to compete in a competition like that and to compete at the national level of gymnastics is kind of fun.”
Witten, 14, has been competing since she was seven or eight years old. She says there wasn’t as much pressure competing in your own gym. When asked if she thought the virtual competition was an advantage, she replied, “I think I do better under pressure so I felt like it didn’t help me as much.”
The two athletes were pleased with their results. Berko-Malvasio competed in the JO 10 16+ category. “I haven’t been training much this year. I kind of came back from quitting gymnastics. I took about a year and a half off, and then I’ve been training about six hours a week– not very much for the level of gymnastics I’ve been doing, so I could just be there and compete- that was honestly the goal for me.”
Overall, they felt good about their Nationals experience. “I had fun.”, said Berko-Malvasio. “It felt really good to like finally accomplish that, because I could have gone a couple years ago, after Canada Games, but I felt like it was my time to quit gymnastics, but apparently it wasn’t, so I’m glad that I could come back, and go to nationals, and just have that experience of being in the top one percent of gymnasts in Canada. I think that is a big achievement and I will definitely remember that for the rest of my life.”
Witten, who competed in the JO 9 14+ category, added, “It felt really good to go, even with like under COVID, to still be able to get to that level.”
As for the reasons for their success, mom and dad, plus Polarette executive director and head coach Kimberly Jones are high on Berko-Malvasio’s list.
“Definitely my mom and dad, because they just like….no matter what…I’d come home tired and they would be like… they would support me. They would help me with things I had to do around the house. They just fully supported me no matter what. Even if I didn’t want to go, they wouldn’t care. They’d be like, ‘it’s your choice.’ And if I wanted to go they would try to make it as easy as possible. And definitely Kim (Jones). She has pushed me and a month before nationals it was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this.’ I was struggling, routines were hard, and (she) told me, ‘Just try. Just do
your best. Go and try. You’re gonna regret it if you don’t.’ And I’m very glad that I did. I’m glad that she pushed me to do that.”
Witten agreed that coaching has been a big factor in their success.
“Also Kim and Stephanie (Coach Caron) because they’ve been there the whole time to help us get to that level.”
Kimberly Jones has been coaching since she was 12 years old.
Regarding having her girls competing in the Nationals, Jones said, “It was pretty exciting. It’s been a goal of mine. I’ve been in Whitehorse now for almost six years, I’m kind of at the five and a half year point of running the club, and I saw potential for the kids to be going to nationals, but Yukon never sent representation, so it was just…it was of course kind of a goal of mine, but you have to wait until your
athletes are ready, and are on board with that goal, and it was exciting that after such a weird year, this was a really motivating thing for all of these kids, and we were able to do it.”
But was she surprised by the results? “I don’t think surprised.”, replied Jones. “The girls did what they do in training, and I think that was exciting for them. We really didn’t know what was going to happen with these results, just because it is virtual, and lots of clubs kind of haven’t been training, and COVID’s…it’s been a weird year on a national level. So to be able to go out and represent, regardless, was the goal, and the results are kind of…excellent bonus. I was happy with the results. I think the girls did great.”
Jones said she felt like they were prepared to compete, even given the different circumstances this year. “I would say fairly prepared. If we had been traveling to nationals, I think how we prepared for that event probably would have been different. With COVID I think it was sort of halfway through the season we were finding out that a version of nationals was going to run. So then preparation sort of started, which in a normal year we would probably have a whole training plan that was preparing us to peak at a national level competition, so it was a weird kind of casual training toward a
national level of competition, so that felt a bit different than what we we’re used to. Given the circumstances they were as prepared as we could have been.”
Because of COVID, It was a very different competition this year. “It was a one day competition. Usually there would have been multiple days of competition, and in the east, it’s a very exhausting endeavour, so I hope in the future they can experience that too, and get the whole experience of nationals. But for this it was a Gymnastics Canada
representative, who’s a judge, was sitting on Zoom, verifying the routines, and we were filming at the same time, and then they were submitted for judging.”
The judging process resulted in a long wait for results. “We did our routines on the 14th of June, and basically clubs had a week to book a time with one of the judges that was available, and then have an event, and then at the end of all of the routines being submitted, that’s when all of the judges sat down together, and formally judged the routines, and they didn’t get access to those routines until they sat down together to judge. So that was a bit of a weird experience
as well. Competing and then two weeks later getting your results back.”
Jones feels like the results are a good reflection of how far the club has come over the years.
“I think it shows the progress and the direction we’re trying to go as a club in terms of our competitive stream. The club has grown a lot in the last five and a half years. We started with about an average of 300 members, and we now have 1100. So it’s really changing, and part of having more athletes in the program, and part of just getting a little bigger, is starting to see these athletes, these few athletes, want to take their gymnastics to the next level as well. So I think
that’s great to see, and from an athlete level, and from a coach level,
and from a club level, we’re seeing everyone want to be a little more involved, and a little more driven to a higher level of excellence, and that’s exciting across the board.”