Time for Canadian gymnasts to inspire next 'super fan'

With this week's world artistic gymnastics championships being held in Canada for the first time since 1985, there is a tremendous opportunity for its athletes to interact with aspiring gymnasts, says 2004 Olympic gold medallist Kyle Shewfelt.

Retired Olympic champ Kyle Shewfelt recalls 'chasing dream' at '94 Commonwealth Games

Retired Canadian gymnast Kyle Shewfelt is pictured showing off his 2004 Olympic gold medal after returing home to Calgary. Shewfelt says this week's world artistic gymnastics championships in Montreal, the first time the event has been held in Canada since 1985, is an opportunity for Team Canada members to inspire young and aspiring gymnasts. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press/File)

Kyle Shewfelt could hardly contain his excitement in the lead-up to this week's rare sporting event in Canada: The 47th world artistic gymnastics championships at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

Talk of the city first being awarded worlds in 1985 — marking the first time Canada had hosted since it began in 1903 at Antwerp, Belgium — took the retired three-time Olympian down memory lane.

Shewfelt was 12 when the 1994 Commonwealth Games were held at Centennial Stadium in Victoria. When the stadium doors opened two hours before the start of competition, his eyes were fixated on any move by a Canadian athlete.

"I was the kid who watched the warmup and everything the athletes were doing," says Shewfelt, a CBC Sports analyst at this week's event. "I had a sign with a maple leaf and the names of every [Canadian] athlete that was competing inside it.

"I was waving my sign trying to get on CBC. After the competition, I would stay until they kicked me out, just to watch everything unfold. I would get autographs, pictures and try to meet athletes outside the door. I was pretty much a super fan."

Canadian gymnast Stella Umeh caught Shewfelt's eye in Victoria, where she ended her gymnastics career by winning the all-around gold medal and received the award from her peers as outstanding ambassador of her sport.

'She really inspired me'

Umeh later attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a scholarship and was a 10-time All-American at the NCAA Championships.

"Being a young man chasing this dream," remembers Shewfelt, "she was the best Canadian and most recognizable name at the time. She really inspired me."

Ten years later, Shewfelt made a breakthrough at the 2004 Athens Olympics, winning a gold medal in the floor exercise. Multiple medals at the world championships, Commonwealth Games and World Cup followed for the Calgary native before he retired in 2009.

With the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics cycle in full swing, Shewfelt noted, there is a tremendous opportunity for the current Team Canada members to interact with aspiring gymnasts in Montreal.

I think they'll use it as motivation and inspiration to be a little bit better than they've ever been in competition.— Retired gymnast Kyle Shewfelt on Canadians competing on home soil this week at the artistic world championships

Considered of the more popular world championship events in Olympic sports, an estimated 660 million viewers are expected worldwide as more than 500 athletes from 80 countries compete with incredible speed, power and precision.

Seating at the 56,000-seat Olympic Stadium, site of the 1976 Summer Games, is restricted to 10,000 per day, through Sunday.

"It's not often Canadian gymnasts get to compete at home in front of a big crowd. I think they'll use it as motivation and inspiration to be a little bit better than they've ever been in competition," said Shewfelt.

Canada has won eight medals at the world artistic gymnastics championships (three silver and five bronze) but has never won gold. The country's last two medals came in 2006 when Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (balance beam) and Shewfelt (floor) each won bronze.

Following Sunday's final day of competition, equipment used during the championships will be donated to local artistic gymnastics clubs.


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