It's one of the most watched of the summer Olympic sports. But for Canadian women who compete in artistic gymnastics, it has meant generations of being an also-ran country.
With the qualification of the five-member Canadian squad to the team final at London 2012, there is a feeling that inclusion to the sports' inner circle has been achieved. For a long, long time gymnastics for women has been dominated by Eastern European nations as well as the Chinese and the Americans.
Canada's sixth-place qualification to the select group of eight who will vie for team gold is a signal that progression has been made.
"The team has clearly demonstrated that it is possible to perform at this level in women's artistic gymnastics," reflected Jean Paul Caron, the head of Gymnastics Canada. "They have definitely created a 'Buzz Effect' and the best is yet to come with three finals."
Indeed, the Canadians have qualified not only the team but also two gymnasts, Ellie Black of Halifax and Brittany Rogers of Coquitlam, B.C., to the vault final. It's a landmark result and a watershed moment for a gymnastics nation that has long struggled in the wilderness.
And the team did it without its acknowledged star Peng Peng Lee, who tore her ACL while preparing for the Olympic Trials in Regina. Lee, however, was invited to London as the honourary captain and was in the arena as the gymnasts achieved their goal of getting to the final.
"I felt a little bummed out. Every bone in your body wants to compete and you want to be out there," Lee said afterwards. "But it made me realize I have the best teammates in the world and I feel so honoured they were thinking of me throughout their Olympic experience."
Star Canadian gymnasts of the past were ecstatic with the current generation's accomplishment. "It's an amazing result," wrote Kyle Shewfelt, who won Canada's only artistic gymnastics medal in Olympic history ... a floor exercise gold in Athens in 2004.
"It's so wonderful to see the Canadian women back on the international stage in the big show of team finals," said Elfi Schlegel. Schlegel was a Commonwealth Games champion and favoured to win an Olympic medal until the 1980 boycott robbed her of the chance at the Moscow Games. She is now one of the premier commentators on gymnastics working for NBC Sports.
"Hopefully they will keep the momentum going to put in another historic performance," she said of the Canadian women.
But there is more to this than a heartwarming effort by dark horse athletes. This ascension to the inner circle in a sport which has produced Olympic icons like Olga Korbut, Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton means something very tangible.
"They were not an Own the Podium targeted sport which created financial challenges not only for Gymnastics Canada but for the entire high performance /national team delivery system," pointed out Caron. "We hope that this result will secure additional and sustainable funding in the future."
In other words, the Canadian women gymnasts have done much of the heavy lifting to get to where they are with only limited support from the Canadian sports machine. Now because they have demonstrated they can tumble and work the uneven bars with the very best on the planet they are deserving of a bigger piece of the OTP pie.
The news gets better for gymnastics at London 2012.
Trampoline has produced medals in the three previous Games in which it has appeared. The same scenario is expected to develop here with Karen Cockburn looking to hit the podium at a fourth consecutive Olympics. Add to that a historic first time qualification for the rhythmic gymnasts in the group event.
It's not a gold medal yet but Canadian gymnastics appears to be headed in the right direction as it discovers the limelight in one of the world's most popular sports.
You might say the Maple Leaf women have vaulted ahead and are clearly on the beam at London 2012.
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