Manitoba gymnast Isabela Onyshko secures spot on team Canada for Rio Olympics

Minnedosa-born Isabela Onyshko is still reeling after team Canada announced Thursday she and two of her counterparts had secured three of five spots on the national artistic gymnastics team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Onyshko becomes first Manitoban to make gymnastics Olympic team in nearly 30 years

Isabela Onyshko competes in the uneven bars event at the women's artistic gymnastics competition during the Pan American Games in Toronto in July 2015. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Minnedosa-born Isabela Onyshko is still reeling after team Canada announced Thursday she and two of her counterparts had secured three of five spots on the national artistic gymnastics team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Onyshko is the first Manitoban to make the Olympic gymnastics team in almost three decades, and she can't wait to compete on the world stage.

The 18-year-old is confident in her capabilities but still, she remains a little stunned by the news.

"It's sort of surreal. You dream about it … it's still hard to believe," Onyshko said Friday.

To Brandon and back, again and again

Onyshko was born in Minnedosa but moved to Brandon, Man., about two years ago after commuting to and from Brandon twice a day for practice, before and after school, became too much.

"That was work. My mom was spending a lot of time in the car, so we moved and that helped a lot," she said, adding her family has always been supportive of her passion for gymnastics.

Onyshko's mom signed her up for non-competitive "just for fun" gymnastic classes when she was young. After the first year or two of twists and tumbling, Onyshko was hooked.
Isabela Onyshko flips above the balance beam at the women's artistic all-around gymnastics competition during the Pan American Games in Toronto in May 2015. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"I can always remember wanting to go far in this sport," she said.

Her earliest memory watching gymnastics dates back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when Russian-American gymnast Anastasia Valeryevna "Nastia" Liukin wowed crowds and won gold in the individual all-around competition for Team USA.

Eight years on, Onyshko hopes to compete in the all-around category, which means being scored in all four women's gymnastics events, including the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

Setting a high bar

Her favourite is the balance beam. Onyshko has spent so much time suspended in the air that it "just feels like second nature."

"You just don't really think about it," she said.

Onyshko recently set a high bar for herself with the incorporation of a few new moves into her routine that she still hasn't quite perfected.

"I have one connection that's still pretty scary: a backhand spring and a full twisting back tuck connected to it."

(Which looks something like the practice video below, only without the reassuring blue safety mats at beam-level.)

She hopes to stick the landing and has the Americans, the "best team in the world," in her crosshairs.

"We just have to go out there and focus on the process and train hard before we get there, and then just go out there and show what we can do," she said.

And Onyshko has a bit of advice to young Manitoba gymnasts trying to make a name for themselves in the sport.

"People always view people from Ontario or Quebec as being the stronger athletes, because of course there's more competition, which does develop strong athletes. But just because you're from a smaller province doesn't mean you can't succeed or do well in the sport you choose," she said.

"Always work hard and believe in yourself."

The Rio Olympics get underway Aug. 5.