Road To The Olympic Games

Artistic-Gymnastics

Ellie Black ready to take on leadership role at Rio 2016

When Ellie Black went to the London 2012 games, she was 16 years old and a long shot to make the team. Heading into Rio 2016, she's 20 and has the leadership position she so heavily depended on four years ago.

Halifax native helped Canada to 5th-place finish in team event in London 2012

Despite being one of the least experienced on the London 2012 team, Halifax-native Ellie Black was the leading scorer on vault and beam while helping Canada to a best-ever fifth-place finish in the team event. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

Jacqueline Doorey, CBC Sports

From being a virtual unknown to becoming an undeniable team leader, artistic gymnast Ellie Black is the perfect example of how much an athlete can change in a quadrennial. 

London 2012 was Black's first Olympic Games. At 16-years-old, she had no idea what to expect: it was her first year on the senior team and she'd only ever competed internationally a handful of times. Despite being one of the least experienced of the team, Black was the leading scorer on vault and beam while helping Canada to a best-ever fifth-place finish in the team event.

Now at 20, and with Rio 2016 around the corner, Black is no stranger to international competition. Since London she's competed in three world championships, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the 2015 Pan Am Games, where her five medals made her one of Canada's most decorated athletes. Black also helped qualify Canada for Rio, something she didn't do in 2012.

Black has earned her new role as Olympic team leader, and has steadily adapted to the pressure that brings.

Different kind of Olympic pressure 

"This Olympics is very different to the last Olympics for me," Black told CBC Sports. "I think it definitely has its own new pressure because you've done so well [and] because you've competed at lots of competitions, but I try not to look at it like that."

Black admits she has more thoughts going through her head this time around; she knows her own strengths better, she knows what to expect, she knows what the Canadian team is capable of. But to keep her mind clear, she not only focuses on what's controllable, but takes comfort in the depth of her team.

"The team has gotten so strong over the past couple years," Black says of Britanny Rogers, Isabela Onyshko, Rose-Kaying Woo and Shallon Olsen. "It's not just falling on one person's shoulders and just really thinking about it as a team competition because that's our main priority going into the Olympics.

"Just like the last Olympics, I'm going there to do the best I can for Team Canada."

Inclusive leadership

Black attributes her ability to do well in London to the the atmosphere her older teammates created. They immediately made her feel like part of the team, and that support lessened the inevitable pressure.

Black plans to replicate that leadership strategy with Rogers to help ease teammates Onyshko, Woo, and Olsen into their first Games.

"It's tough when you're on a team and you don't feel like you're on the team," Black said. "I feel looking back, if we weren't as close and they hadn't of brought me in, I feel like I would have been a lot more nervous and I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. 

"All we really had to focus on was going out and doing our routines and we knew if there was a mistake, the team had your back – no matter what."

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