Gymnastics

Humble, loyal and better than ever, Ellie Black is a national treasure

Ellie Black is still going strong. The 27-year-old gymnast is defying the march of time and continues to lift Canada to new heights on the international stage in a pursuit which is tailored to athletes much younger than herself.

Haligonian continues to lift Canada to new heights on the international stage

Canada's Ellie Black is shown walking into the arena at the 2022 Gymnastics World Championships on Nov. 1, in Liverpool, England. Black has long been a star for Canadian gymnastics, and her longevity and talent may be rivalled only by her humility. (Getty Images)

There she is, tumbling and twisting her way into the stratosphere in what is arguably the world's most impossible sport.

At 27 years of age gymnast Ellie Black is still going strong. 

She's defying the march of time and some say she is better than ever. More importantly, she's taking this country to new heights on the international stage in a pursuit which is tailored to athletes much younger than herself.

"She's not afraid to be so great," exclaimed the effervescent Elfi Schlegel, a Commonwealth Games champion for Canada in 1978. "I feel youthful when I watch her. She's not afraid to be Canadian and to belong where she is. She really needs to be applauded for all that she's done and continues to do."

What Black has done since making her major international debut at the London 2012 Olympic Games is nothing short of remarkable.

As a 16-year-old, she helped lead the Canadian women to the team final at those Games for the first time in history. They wound up finishing fifth, which is unheard of when you consider the depth of competition.

As an individual performer, Black is a two-time Pan American Games champion, Commonwealth Games champion, and world championship silver medallist in the all-around category which requires every gymnastics skill in the book. To list all of her international medals would be an exhausting exercise, as there are almost too many to count.

Longevity is rare in women's gymnastics. Black has already competed at three Olympics and in each has recorded landmark Canadian results. There was the team breakthrough in London. In Rio in 2016, she was fifth in the all-around and in Tokyo she just missed a medal by finishing fourth in the balance beam final on a badly sprained ankle.

All of these results are best ever by a Canadian woman.

WATCH | Black wins silver at artistic gymnastics worlds:

Canada's Ellie Black wins silver at artistic gymnastics worlds

29 days ago
Duration 5:19
The Halifax native takes the women’s balance beam silver medal in Liverpool.

Most recently, while competing at her seventh world championships in Liverpool, England, she anchored the current squad full of rookies to historic bronze and qualified for what could potentially be her fourth Olympics. She followed that up with a silver medal in the balance beam.

This is rarified air for a female gymnast.

"What makes Ellie so special is her complete desire and motivation to put the team at the forefront of success," said Brittany Rogers who was Black's teammate at two Olympics. "She is the perfect description of a team player. She is a tremendous leader for not only her fellow team members and national team athletes, but an incredible example of hard work and dedication for the entirety of gymnastics in Canada."

WATCH | Ellie Black secures historic world championship medal for Canada:

Ellie Black secures historic team medal for Canada at world gymnastics championships

1 month ago
Duration 3:43
Ellie Black's beam routine secured Canada's bronze medal, their first ever world medal in the team event, and a berth in that event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The emotion Black allowed herself following the team result in Liverpool bears this out. There was the joyous lasso move as she got off the balance beam. Then the outpouring of tears and hugs when she became aware of the medal.

In a sport which has always highlighted and rewarded individual performers, it's the team result that has been paramount for Black.

"For over a decade, Ellie has led the Canadian women's gymnastics team to overwhelming success, but that is just part of the story," Olympic champion and CBC Sports analyst Kyle Shewfelt said. "She exemplifies Canadian values – she is focused and determined, she always sees the bright side, she treats others with kindness and respect, and she is a fierce competitor on the competition floor.

"Ellie is exactly the type of ambassador you want representing your country on the world stage." 

Her enormous success and sparkling international reputation led Black to a starring role with U.S. Olympic champion Simone Biles' 35 city post-Tokyo tour called "Gold Over America" which was meant to inspire the next generation of female athletes.

U.S. gymnastics icon Simone Biles, rear, hugs Ellie Black during the women's balance beam final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (File/Getty Images)

She was one of only two non-American athletes featured in a showcase which blended gymnastics and a pop concert, the result being a spectacle putting powerful women front and centre before an adoring audience.

It was all proof positive of the status Black has earned as an enduring superstar of gymnastics. That said, she is distinguished as much by her humility as by her unquestionable talent.

'Finest ambassador' for the sport

"It makes us so proud in this province to think that the greatest gymnast in Canadian history lives in Halifax and continues to train at the Alta Gymnastics Club," said Bruce Rainnie, the president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.

In 2018, that organization declared Black as one of the top 15 greatest athletes in the history of the province along with the likes of hockey icon Sidney Crosby.

"Ellie is so kind and patient with the younger kids who clearly idolize her. She answers every question with a smile, never breaks eye contact, never forgets a name, and never rushes a conversation. She is one of the finest ambassadors for a sport, and a province, that I have ever seen," Rainnie said.

"She clearly knows where she wants to go in her career, but just as clearly has never forgotten where it all began."

Ellie Black, right, consoles teammate Brittany Rogers after the Canadians did not qualify for the team final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Black is idolized by many young gymnasts, and is considered one of the finest ambassadors for the sport in Canada. (File/Getty Images)

There may be more medals to come in Black's incredible gymnastics journey. But as things stand there can be no denying that she has put Canadian women on the map in one of the foundation sports of the Olympic Games. 

She has legions of devoted followers and has re-defined the boundaries of what females can aspire to in this demanding endeavour. In short, Black's aura has staying power and she has become an inspiration not only to countless young people but also to generations of athletes who preceded her.

'I want to be on her team'

In the modern age, as sports women and men are increasingly pre-occupied with marketing themselves and building their brands, Ellie Black seems at peace with letting what she does, and who she is, do the talking.

"Every time I'm around her I find myself feeling that I want to be on her team," Schlegel said. 

"This is not an easy sport and she would not subject her body to this if she did not continue to find joy in her gymnastics. She has an honest and pure outlook on life. Gymnastics has become her life. I like her as a human being, plain and simple.

"The fact she's an exceptional athlete is a bonus and I think we need more athletes like her who aren't just after a pay cheque."

She is a Canadian original, a credit to her home community, and a standard bearer for women in sport all over the world.

Ellie Black is still in the game but is already that rare jewel of gymnastics who is bound to be admired for many years to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Russell has worked for the CBC for more than 30 years and covered 14 editions of the Olympics. He is a winner of the Gemini Award, Canadian Screen Award and CBC President's Award. Scott is the host of Olympic Games Prime Time and the co-Host with Andi Petrillo of Road to the Olympic Games. He is also the author of three books: The Rink, Ice-Time and Open House."

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