Ellie Black’s Pan Ams ‘a great stepping stone’ on the road to Rio2016

Ellie Black’s Pan Ams ‘a great stepping stone’ on the road to Rio2016


The 5 medals I won were just one part of a bigger story

By Ellie Black for CBC Sports
August 18, 2015
Ellie Black is no stranger to international competition. Here she is on her way to a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. (Julian Finney/Getty Images) Ellie Black is no stranger to international competition. Here she is on her way to a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Ellie Black recently competing at the artistic gymnastics world championships in Glasgow, Scotland, where helped the Canadian women’s team secure a berth at 2016 Rio Olympics. Shortly after winning five medals, including three gold, during this past summer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto, Black wrote a Player’s Own Voice piece for CBCSports.ca, detailing her experience.

As an athlete I have travelled to many different competitions around the world. I have competed at individual, team and multi-sport competitions such as the Olympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games and University Games.

But to be able to experience my first Pan Am Games in my home country was very special. The experiences that my team and I had blew us away.

As the Games approached, our team came together for a preparation camp in Sarnia, Ont., at the Bluewater Gymnastics Club.

Our team consisted of five girls: Madison Copiak of Calgary, Isabela Onysko of Brandon, Man.; Victoria Woo of Montreal, Maegan Chant of Waterdown, Ont., and me. But we weren’t alone. Our individual coaches, national judges, therapists, support staff and Dave Brubaker, the national team coach were a huge part of the team.

They were there to help the athletes be as prepared and healthy as possible. Without their handwork and help, our job as athletes would be very tough. Teamwork and support is No. 1.

Next stop: Toronto.

Ellie Black, second from right, poses with teammates outside Canada House at the Pan Am Games. (Instagram/@ellieblack_) Ellie Black, second from right, poses with teammates outside Canada House at the Pan Am Games. (Instagram/@ellieblack_)

Canadian support staff

Moving into the Pan Am Athletes’ Village was one of the most exciting days for everyone. Once we arrived and settled into the Canada building, we got together for a team briefing to meet and learn about the Canadian support staff and amenities available to us.

Team Canada did a fantastic job of making sure we had everything we needed to be at our best when competition day came. But one of the most exciting parts of move in day was the outfitting, when we received the Canada gear we would wear proudly at the Games.

After moving into the village, our team headed to the Toronto Coliseum for final preparations in the training venue for artistic gymnastics there. In the days leading up to the competition, we had a chance to train, which gave the athletes a chance to adjust to the equipment on podium.

The next day was the opening ceremony.

Walking into the Rogers Centre with the whole Team Canada delegation sent chills through my body.  The energy was electric. To have the stadium cheering for all the Canadian athletes gave us so much excitement ahead of the events on the competition floor. The Games kickoff was phenomenal, highlighted by the Cirque du Soleil performance and fireworks from the CN Tower.

 
 

Hard to sleep

It was hard to sleep after such an exciting night but we were ready to rest up and cheer on our men’s gymnastics team in the morning.

Sitting in the stands and taking in the charged atmosphere in the arena gave our whole team goose bumps. The men’s team had so much fun competing in front of the home crowd, and this inspired the rest of us to go out and give it our all.

Our day finally arrived.

Day 1 included team finals and individual qualification. The atmosphere was like nothing we had experienced before. It exceeded our expectations by far when the whole crowd was cheering at the top of their lungs for our team – Team Canada.

From left, Ellie Black, Meagan Chant, Madison Copiak, Isabela Onyshko and Victoria Woo celebrate their silver medal in the team event on July 12. (Gregory Bull/Canadian Press) From left, Ellie Black, Meagan Chant, Madison Copiak, Isabela Onyshko and Victoria Woo celebrate their silver medal in the team event on July 12. (Gregory Bull/Canadian Press)

The team competition is my favourite. You get to share these moments with your teammates knowing they are supporting you as you do them. Standing on the podium for the first time with my whole team receiving our silver medals for Canada was very special. I am so lucky to have had the chance to share that experience with such an incredible group of girls.

As soon as we stepped off that podium, recovery and preparations for the all-around finals began. We needed to refocus and prepare for the second day of competition. Going into the all-around finals, I was beyond excited to get back into the arena and compete with my teammate Isabella.

There were a couple mistakes from the opening day that I need to improve and fix on Day 2. My mindset for my routines was to be aggressive and go for every skill the best way I knew how to.

Throughout the competition, I was taking it one event at a time, resetting and refocusing before moving to the next routine. I didn't know any of the scores or standings by the last event, I just wanted to go out on the floor and enjoy the last performance of the night as much as I could. I put everything I had into that final routine, and as soon as I landed my last tumbling pass on my feet the crowd went insane.

I couldn't hear the end of my music because the applause and cheering filled the stadium. Standing up to see the crowd on its feet while giving me a standing ovation was one of the most special moments I have ever experienced. It made me very proud and lucky to represent Canada.

With a gold medal around my neck, I sang along with the entire stadium to our national anthem as the Canadian flag was hoisted into the air. It was an unbelievable moment.

I could not believe I had won gold at the Pan Am Games.

To have my personal best competition in front of the hometown crowd, my family and friends is something I will remember forever.

 

 
Black, 19, scored 15.05 in the balance-beam event at the highest difficulty level. (Harry How/Getty Images) Black, 19, scored 15.05 in the balance-beam event at the highest difficulty level. (Harry How/Getty Images)

'Icing on the cake'

I was tired going into event finals – mentally and physically. But that is where you have to be at your best and keep pushing until the end. Competing four days straight is a tough challenge, and I wanted to give it my best shot.

Finals were split over two days; first, the vault, and then beam and floor together.

I tried to keep the same aggressive mindset of hitting my skills attempts; my vaults weren’t easy and I pushed through them, ultimately winning a bronze medal.

The beam final was the most exciting event for me because I had the chance to share the podium with my teammate Victoria Woo. I was so proud of her for going up first in the competition and coming away with bronze. My beam routine was one of my best, which set me up for my second gold-medal position.

The floor event was my last routine of the competition. The only expectation I had for myself was to go out and give it my all. To perform my routine the best I could and to put everything I had left into that final routine.

Hitting three of my top floor routines all in the same week of competition was fantastic. And to finish with another gold medal for Canada was icing on the cake. No matter how the finals had gone I was very proud of my team and all we accomplished that week of competition.

Ellie Black celebrates her gold medal  after the artistic gymnastics floor routine at the Pan Am Games on July 15, 2015. It was her fifth medal of the Games. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press) Ellie Black celebrates her gold medal after the artistic gymnastics floor routine at the Pan Am Games on July 15, 2015. It was her fifth medal of the Games. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Thank you, Canada!

More than anything, my whole Pan Am experience was made by my teammates, our coaches, the amazing fans and all the people who organized, volunteered, and came out to support us.

And a huge thanks to the Canadian fans.

The atmosphere was the best I have ever experienced and the crowd support has inspired me more to keep pushing to be the best athlete I can be. We met so many great young athletes and fans and hopefully we can help inspire them never to give up and go for their dreams.

The Pan Ams were a great stepping stone for our team as we move forward and prepare for the world championships this fall in Glasgow. This is where we have our first chance to qualify a full team for the 2016 Olympic Games next summer in Rio.

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