There is much hope that the development of Jamaica’s junior gymnastics will spring to another level with the inaugural Mayberry Gymnastics Strength & Skill Testing Series.

More than 100 youngsters, aged five years and older, are participating in the first event in the series, which is scheduled to begin today (Friday, May 14) at 5:00 p.m. and run through to Sunday, May 16, at the National Gymnastics Training Centre, at 1 Slipe Road in Kingston.

The series will take place quarterly for the next four years, courtesy of a joint effort by Mayberry Investments, which have invested one million dollars, the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) and the National Gymnastics Federation of Jamaica.

“This event is the first in a series to aid in the national junior development process and will continuously test the readiness of our athletes, as part of a four-year cycle, for the Olympic programme. In other words, this series is critical to the success and growth of our budding gymnasts,” remarked Gary Peart, CEO, Mayberry Investments.

“Mayberry wants to witness the honing of this sort of talent on the local stage so that we can make a big impact on the world stage. Jamaicans are known for being ‘likkle but tallawah’ and this is just another shining example that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

As the main feature, all participants in the training event will be awarded a medal.

“Mayberry is particularly happy that all the athletes involved will be awarded medals at the end of the testing series, because we believe that all efforts are valid, from the smallest to biggest,” Peart said.

Ryan Foster, Secretary General/CEO of the JOA, expressed his delight at the partnership that will bring yet another sport to the forefront of Jamaican athletics.

“The JOA is pleased to have brokered this deal under our JOA/Mayberry partnership that was established in 2019. The sport of gymnastics will be one of the sport that will be representing Jamaica at this summer’s Olympics and we are pleased with the trendsetting work done by President Grant-Brown and her team.

“The synergies between Mayberry and the Jamaica Gymnastics Federation was seamless and one built on developing the next generation of athletes. The JOA is extremely proud of one of our key partners, Mayberry, who has truly bought into our vision of building now for the future,” Foster shared. “They have demonstrated that they are good corporate citizens whose philanthropy has no bounds. We will continue to find avenues for our athletes and members to develop."

All told there will be five sessions, which includes the first that ended at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, followed by a 30-minute awards ceremony. Sessions two, three and four are slated for 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m, 12:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m. and 3:00-5:30 p.m., respectively, on Saturday; while Session five will run from 9:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Sunday. The final half-hour in each session is reserved for awards presentations. 

Former national hockey president and now President of Gymnastics Nicole Grant-Brown praised the effort of their partners and noted the impact of their support.

“Mayberry Investments is shining a light on us that is certainly helping us to have hope. Jamaica Gymnastics is in its growth stage and like any child, we need help to grow and with a good support system we can grow big and strong,” she said.

“We are happy and elated that the vision of the Jamaica Olympic Association is wide enough to recognize that gymnastics, which is seen in Jamaica as a minor sport, requires partnerships of this nature to make it major and will one day be placed in its rightful position as one of Jamaica’s most consistent Olympic sport and most participated by our youth in this country.

“Already we have made two consecutive Olympic Games, 2016 and 2021, and the sport has not yet reached its maturity stage.”

She also noted the strategies involved in carving out this series, which marks the beginning of Jamaica’s junior Olympic programme.

“The skills and strength testing is two to three times per year, which is the base for their development. This program compares to that of the United States’ USA TOPS program, which they use to draft gymnasts as young as six years old in their National Gymnastics program. If we want to be the best, we have to adopt what works from the best while developing our own strategies based on our unique culture and natural athletics abilities,” she said.

Ten-year-old gymnast, Rihanna Williams, endorsed the series, saying: “We are the future of gymnastics. We train 5-6 hours, five days per week and it’s very hard. We do this because we love gymnastics and at the end of the day, we want to make Jamaica proud.

“We hope you will not leave us but stay with us and help us grow as we will be Olympians in the future. Thank you again Mayberry Investments, we will make you proud to be part of our family.”

 Jamaica gymnast Danusia Francis believes the option of allowing full-length bodysuits to be worn in competition will empower the sport’s female athletes.

Last week, German gymnast Sarah Voss grabbed headlines after wearing a full-body suit at the European Gymnastic Championships.  She was later joined in wearing the type of outfit at the event by two teammates.  Voss described a part of the motive as taking a stand against ‘sexualisation in gymnastics’ an issue that has come to the fore in recent years following the conviction of former USA national team doctor, Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison for several counts of sexual abuse two years ago.

Typically, female athletes compete in leotards, however, the international gymnastics federation (FIG) rules state that competitors are allowed to wear a "one-piece leotard with full-length legs - hip to ankle", provided it is of elegant design.

Francis admitted that she did not know the uniforms were allowed but was pleased with the choice that is offered.

 "I think it's amazing," Francis told BBC.

"I feel empowered that we've got this option where we can choose to cover up," she added.

Francis also believes the ability of female athletes to speak out on issues that affect them is in part due to people staying in the sport for longer.

"I think as people are staying the sport longer, obviously they're not young girls and they've got voices, they are women, so to see them making a statement, and on an international stage... I think it was great to see," Francis said.

Olympics great Mark Spitz believes politically active athletes are unlikely to heed demands for them not to protest during Tokyo 2020.

United States swimming superstar Spitz won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games to establish himself as an all-time legend of the pool.

He recalled the Black Power salute from American track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Games four years earlier as a prime example of Olympians using their platform to take a powerful stance in front of the watching world.

On the podium in Mexico City, after Smith won gold in the 200 metres and Carlos took bronze, the American sprinters each stood with a black-gloved hand raised and head bowed, an immortal protest against racism in the United States.

Spitz acknowledged the determined efforts of current sporting superstars such as LeBron James and Lewis Hamilton to draw attention to similar matters of racial prejudice.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said last year that the Olympics "are not and must never be a platform to advance political or any other divisive ends".

Bach added: "Our political neutrality is undermined whenever organisations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be."

In an interview with Stats Perform, Spitz said of the IOC's intentions: "I know they have had some campaigns at a political level not to make it a platform for people to speak out against things that are obviously a concern to them, and they use when they stand on the podium and win a medal to voice their opinion.

"I am on the fence in how I feel about it. An example was Tommie Smith and John Carlos who held their hands up in the 1968 Olympic Games in track and field. And that still resonates to this day.

"And the issues they spoke loud and clear about are still happening here in America and worldwide. So I don't think people's rightful opportunity to speak out will be eradicated."

Speaking courtesy of Laureus, Spitz added: "I think there's a proper place and a proper time and in most people's opinion the proper place and time are when the most people in the world are listening to you.

"And certainly that provokes those sort of things to happen at the Olympics, or other events for that matter."

Formula One champion Hamilton and NBA superstar James have used their global fame as a means to call for equality in society and sport.

Spitz stressed he remained "down the middle of the line" on political protests in sport, but he added: "I think morally if they feel they need to speak out then they should. And there's a way to do that in a polite and politically correct and accurate way. I think those two gentlemen [Hamilton and James] have done so."

Spitz, now 71, no longer holds the record for the most gold medals in a single Games after fellow swimming great Michael Phelps won eight at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

He predicted organisers of the delayed Tokyo Olympics - set back a year by the COVID-19 pandemic - will go the extra mile to deliver a standout entertainment experience for the worldwide audience.

International spectators have been banned from travelling to watch the Games, in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

"I suspect and hope they will go off without a hitch, but in keeping with tradition I'm not sure how they'll do an opening ceremony with all those people, or an opening ceremony show," Spitz said.

"It is a big revenue generator for the television networks to have those part of the festivities. It's a shame if it's not done as we're accustomed to seeing, but I think it will be modified and we'll be happy with what the presentation will be I hope."

The Jamaican government will provide more than JMD$45 million in direct financial support to athletes preparing for this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

Tokyo 2020 organisers have announced spectators will not be allowed to travel from overseas to watch the Olympic Games this year.

The measure has been taken as part of an effort to reduce the risks of COVID-19 spreading at the delayed Games.

The Games will run from July 23 to August 8, having been set back by a year due to the global health crisis.

Also affected will be the Paralympics, which runs from August 24 to September 5, with travelling spectators also barred from attending.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have been advised of Tokyo's decision and are said by Games chiefs to "respect and accept this conclusion".

In a statement issued on Twitter, Tokyo 2020 said: "Today, on March 20, we reported to the IOC and IPC that we would not accept overseas spectators to Japan in order to realise a safe and secure event.

"We will continue to do our utmost to make this summer's event a safe and secure event so that it will be a light of hope for people all over the world."

In a further statement, Tokyo 2020 organisers said tickets purchased by those planning to travel from abroad would be refunded.

They said the coronavirus situation within and beyond Japan "remains very challenging" and pointed to travel across borders being "severely restricted", meaning entry to Japan could not be guaranteed.

"In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games," said the Tokyo 2020 statement.

"This conclusion will further contribute to ensure safe and secure Games for all participants and the Japanese public."

Jamaica’s Olympic-bound gymnast Danusia Francis believes her inclusion in Simone Biles’ Gold Over America Tour is another opportunity for her to highlight Jamaica’s gymnastics on an international stage.

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