Patricia Bezzoubenko finds courage to salvage silver

Canada's rhythmic gymnast Patricia Bezzoubenko won the silver medal in the clubs event at the Pan Am Games on Monday.

Canada also wins bronze in women's group clubs & hoops event

Canada's Patricia Bezzoubenko, won the silver medal in the rhythmic gymnastics clubs event at the Pan Am Games on Monday. ((Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press))

In the end it was fight, not flight, that Patricia Bezzoubenko chose as the way to finish her difficult debut at the Pan Am Games.

As the Canadian rhythmic gymnast walked up to the mixed zone on Monday at the Coliseum, one day after ducking the media following a mistake-filled ball routine, she showed there was iron in her teenaged soul.

Bezzoubenko won a silver in clubs event on this day, adding a disputed and somewhat surprising fourth in ribbon (many thought it should have been higher and a protest only changed her mark slightly), to finish a tough weekend on a positive note.

The 18-year-old, who also won a bronze in the all-around, stepped up and stood up.

"These first few days, I felt like a little bit shaky, but nervous that I should show for all the people my best," said Bezzoubenko, who was born in North Vancouver but now calls Thornhill, Ont., home while spending at least half of the year in Moscow working at the world's top rhythmic club.

"I was trying so hard, the try maybe was too much. Today, I just did what I love to do."

And you could see it from the moment Bezzoubenko and coach Svetlana Joukova walked through the high corner arch of this historic building on Monday morning to start the clubs routine.

There was calmness now. Back to the Patricia she herself knew best.

"I didn't do something special [today]," she said. "I was just enjoying myself, the crowd and I was glad to see all of these people, all of this atmosphere."

It's sometimes difficult for Bezzoubenko, from a Russian background and with English as a second language, to find words in the latter language that describe the complex emotions she's been feeling at the Pan Am Games.

Saturday had started with an awful (for her) ninth in the hoop routine that took away a chance to win gold in the individual all-around (she would win bronze). Sunday featured another mistake in ball finals, where she settled for seventh.

All too much, so through the exit she went leaving the answer to "why?" hanging in the air.

Alone time

Joukova, a long-time coach who worked with former Canadian star Alexandra Orlando, spent the rest of that day preparing her athlete for what was to come.

"Of course I gave her some time to be alone, then after we just talked and I said … 'there are a lot of Canadians behind you, and you have to find the confidence,'" said the coach. "I said, 'I love you more and more' and we said 'you have to come down and show everyone what you worked so hard at.'"

Bezzoubenko had swept the Commonwealth Games last year with four individual wins and a team gold, along with a bronze in ribbon, but the Pan Ams were a step up in competition.

Still, the Canadian had set high goals and wasn't happy when they weren't reached.

Was she upset with herself?

"Yes."

Did she feel better about herself?

"Yes, I feel better about myself, that's important."

Especially since Canada's team now goes to a training camp before two World Cups, and the world championships in September. Then there is the Rio Olympic qualification to worry about.

This is where Jouvoka's own philosophy about handling adversity comes in.

"You have to go through [it], only strong athletes can go through it, the weak give up," she said. "The strong have the possibility to challenge themselves, and you have to prove you are strong."

To that end, the coach wants Bezzoubenko to work with the team's available sports psychologists — an essential step for any international athlete these days — so the young gymnast can understand what happened this weekend and how to conquer it.

Young and happy

Canada's Carmen Whelan, just 16, had a happy weekend, making all four individual finals with a best of fourth in ball and fifth in hoop, plus sixth in all-around.

An Aurora, Ont. resident, she comes from the right genes as grandfather Ray Collyer was the national gymnastics champion.

And the group [six clubs, two hoops] competition turned up a bronze medal for Canada on Monday.

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