Extra attention doesn't bother Ellie Black as gymnastics worlds approach
Halifax native remains in present, focuses on executing routine
Ellie Black's body has undergone its share of wear and tear over the years, but she says it's just a part of any athlete's lifestyle.
The Halifax native is still very much in love with gymnastics but knew she had to take a break after her fifth-place finish in the women's individual all-around competition at the Rio Olympics.
"You have to take some time to rest your body and mind and that's an important part about sport is finding those down times," Black says.
"It's been such a big part of my life for so long and so it's kind of hard to take breaks sometimes but I was ready to come back and start competing and training again."
Since her return, Black continued to rack up the hardware, winning three silver medals at the 2017 FIG World Challenge Cup, and adding four more medals at last month's Summer Universiade.
No such thing as 'time off'
But coming back after a long layoff is never an easy task for a gymnast.
Canada's Kyle Shewfelt, who won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, took up the sport at the age of six and missed prolonged periods during his career due to injury.
He says that even though a gymnast is taking "time off," the work continues and you never completely shut your mind off from the sport.
But it's also possible to lose that competitive edge, and once you do, it can be tough to regain.
"You're actually not out of the gym — you're just not training routines. Gymnastics is one of those sports that you're always having to maintain some sort of shape. Your brain gets in a certain mode — you turn into a competitor," says Shewfelt, who currently serves as a CBC Sports analyst.
"Each day you feel this pull towards the goal and purpose. So when you are out of the gym for a while or out of competition mode, it's difficult to continue to be motivated because you don't really have the taste to what's next."
Preparation for worlds
Going into next week's artistic gymnastics world championships in Montreal, Black isn't placing special emphasis on the event. (Live streaming begins on Thursday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, with CBC-TV coverage at 11:30 p.m. local time. Click here for a full schedule.)
The 22-year-old is focused on what she can control rather than the end result, and follows a process to best prepare herself for competition.
"I like to visualize my routines, just myself being out there competing. It really does help to walk yourself through your routine like you're doing it so it's not too overwhelming once you get there," Black says.
Shewfelt followed a similar routine over a career that included three Olympic Games and an Olympic gold medal.
He found that as a big meet approached, things start to come together and it becomes more about the details.
"When you're a kid, you dream of winning Olympic medals and worlds. But as you get closer to that, you dial it down to what the performance looks like. Rather than thinking of results, you're trying to visualize the routine that's going to be excellent," Shewfelt says.
"You're really trying to focus on your best performance and what do those routines look like? How do you catch the bar? How does your landing look? How are your feet on your twisting elements?"
Embracing extra attention
With this year's worlds being only an individual competition, more eyes will be on Black.
But after her five-medal showing at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, Black proved that she's more than capable of handling the extra attention.
"Competing in front of the hometown crowd — it's more exciting than nerve wracking. It's a chance to do the sport that you love in front of your friends and family — everyone who supported you — and to enjoy that the whole competition," recalls Black.
Being present in moment
Shewfelt won a pair of bronze medals at the 2003 worlds on floor and vault. He credits his breakthrough to blocking out all external factors and being present in the moment — focusing on executing the skills in his routine.
The Calgary native acknowledged that it took time to develop this and that learning to trust yourself in big moments comes with experience.
"The only thing you can control is your own performance. You can't control the expectations, the judges, the way other athletes perform. Ellie is someone that has really dialled in to just focusing on the controllables and that for her is the way she goes out there and performs," Shewfelt says.
"I think that comes with maturity. You learn through good times and bad times that you can't control the outcomes. She's had great success because she's been able to focus on what needs to happen on the day."
With a pair of Olympic Games of her own, it seems that Black has developed the same thought process.
"Simone [Biles] and Aly [Raisman] won't be there but there's other athletes. [I'm] trying not to think too much about that because at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who's competing. As long as you're going out and doing your best performance, that's what's going to matter," Black says.