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Elfi Schlegel: ‘A hole in my life’

The Story

Elfi Schlegel, Canada's most successful gymnast, has no regrets about devoting her life to sport. In this CBC Radio clip, the 19-year-old looks back on seven years of international competition. She sees no sacrifices, only incredible experiences that most other teens will never have. But her childhood dream of being an Olympian was frustrated by the 1980 Moscow Olympic boycott. "I guess it's like there's a hole in my life and I just sort of want to fill it," she says. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Metro Morning
Broadcast Date: June 29, 1983
Guest(s): Elfi Schlegel
Reporter: Fred Walker
Duration: 3:05

Did You know?

• Elfi Schlegel was born in Toronto to Swiss immigrants on March 17, 1964. She grew up in Etobicoke, a Toronto suburb. During her 12-year gymnastics career, Schlegel was known as a disciplined competitor with a physical and mental toughness that was belied her by pixie-ish blonde looks and cheerful manner. She was a crowd and media favourite.

• Schlegel started gymnastics at age seven in the Xoces-Eagles Gymnastics Club. Her parents tried to interest her in other activities. But, she told Maclean's magazine in 1999, "I would always sneak into a gymnastics class and start stretching with the other kids." She made her international debut at age 12, commanding instant attention by placing fourth at a meet behind three Olympians.

• While she moved up the ranks internationally, Schlegel came a close second to established star Karen Kelso at the 1977 Canadian senior National Championships. She became national champion in 1978. At that year's Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, she vaulted from gymnastics star to household name. Schlegel grabbed headlines by winning the individual gold medal and by leading Canada to team gold. During the floor exercise, she landed a double back somersault and was rewarded with a 9.70 score.

• In 1980, the year Canada and other Western nations boycotted the Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Schlegel was in her prime. At a World Cup event in Toronto in 1980, she dislocated a toe during her uneven bars performance. She put ice on it and continued with the other events. Schlegel won bronze in the vault - becoming the first Canadian to ever win a medal at a World Cup gymnastics event - but broke her toe.

• Schlegel's dream of finally getting to compete in an Olympics in 1984 was never realized. By then competing for the University of Florida, where she also studied broadcasting and communications, Schlegel was left off the Olympic team by Canadian gymnastics officials. They said at age 19 she was past her prime. The team was built around more youthful competitors.

• Schlegel retired from competition after graduating. She has since made it to several Olympics - as a broadcaster. Schlegel has worked as a sports commentator for CBC and CTV as well as American network NBC. In 2001, Schlegel and Claire Ross Dunn co-wrote The Gymnastics Book: The Young Performer's Guide to Gymnastics. As of June 2004, Schlegel operated Schlegel's Gymnastics Centre in Oakville, Ont., with her husband Marc Dunn, a firefighter who represented Canada at the 1996 Olympics in beach volleyball.


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