Ellie Black is inspired by the gymnasts she inspires
2-time Olympian motivated by younger athletes who admire her
At 21, Ellie Black is one of Canada's most decorated gymnasts.
She has a medal of each colour from both the Pacific Rim Championships and the Commonwealth Games. At the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, no Canadian took home more hardware than Black, who won five medals — including three gold.
Earlier this week, the Halifax native added to her medal haul with a silver in the women's team competition and a bronze in the individual all-around event at the Summer Universiade in Taiwan.
Even more medals could be on the way as Black has qualified for each apparatus final.
But while she takes great pride in her accomplishments when wearing the maple leaf, Black is also driven by the younger gymnasts who look up to her and tell her she's their inspiration.
Even after two Olympic Games, hearing those words never gets old.
"Never," Black says. "Every time it's incredible to hear them say that and it's very special to be in that position and hopefully inspire those younger ones. "They inspire me everyday to keep working hard, follow my dreams and keep pushing [towards my goals]."
It wasn't long ago that Black was in their shoes.
She was one of the youngest and least-experienced members of Canada's artistic gymnastics team at London 2012.
Black admits there were a lot of nerves going into her first Olympics. But the leadership of the team's veterans gave her a sense of belonging and she says it made all the difference for her confidence.
"The older ones on the team — Kristina Vaculik, Dominique Pegg, Brittany Rodgers — brought me in, gave me tips and just made me feel like I was a part of it and meant to be there," she recalls.
Black and her teammates finished fifth in the team all-around competition — Canada's best finish at an Olympics. Now, having been the new kid on the scene, the two-time Olympian knows it's her responsibility as one of the leaders to do the same.
"That's something I try and do now — making sure that the younger ones on the team feel comfortable," Black says. "We can share our experiences with them to hopefully help them have the best performance possible because those girls were able to do that for me."
Black notes those 2012 Games as a turning point for herself and Canadian gymnastics.
It was a much-needed confidence boost for the squad to know that they were among the world's best, and the last few years have seen the country produce more new talent.
Black points to her Rio teammates — Rose-Kaying Woo, Shallen Olsen and Isabela Onyshko are all under the age of 20 — as evidence.
Onysko competed against Black in the all-around final and became the first Canadian gymnast to make a beam final at an Olympics.
"It keeps getting better year by year and it's cool to see the younger generation throwing a lot of high-level skills and having that confidence — really pushing the seniors to keep getting better," Black says.
Preparing for big stages
Black's second major international competition was the 2013 Universiade (also knows as the World University Games) in Russia.
It was an opportunity for the Halifax native to gain confidence competing in an Olympics-like environment.
She says the Universiade experience helped prepare her for future competitions — including Rio 2016.
"Just knowing what to expect in competition but also in the [athletes] village — where you stay, where you eat and how it all works," Black says. "Every competition — whether it's similar, [one] I've been to before, or different — there's always things that you can learn and take away from them."
And that's exactly why Black is participating in another Universiade.
She has competed only twice since Rio and knows every bit of experience and competition will go a long way.
"It's definitely a good stepping stone as I work towards the world championships that are coming up in the fall [in Montreal]," Black says. "Just to get back on that international stage, get back competing [for a spot] on the podium and just being back with the team."
How much longer Black will continue to compete is anyone's guess, but she hasn't ruled out a third Olympics in 2020.
"I'm doing gymnastics still because I enjoy doing it and I love it. It's tough as you get older — you have to be smart with your training and really take care of your body," Black says.
"It's fun to think about. But honestly, I'm just taking it day-by-day and seeing where that will just take me."