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Teamwork to Make the Dream Work: How Rhythmic Gymnastics and CSIO are Leveraging the 2019 Pan Am Games to Strengthen a New Relationship

November 2018 was the beginning of a new chapter for the Canadian Rhythmic Gymnastics Team. Gymnastics Canada selected the athletes for their 2019 Group and Individual spots on the Canadian National Team, this selection of athletes would compete at the 2019 Pan Am Games and 2019 World Championships. Having successfully qualified the maximum number of spots – 2 Individuals and 5 Group athlete spots, for the 2019 Pan Am Games, the Group team centralized and went to work training at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC), the home of Gymnastics Canada’s Rhythmic Senior Group since 2014. The Individual athletes train out of their respective clubs.

The athletes are:

Carmel Kallemaa (Glimmer) Group
Diana Noskova (Jusco) Group
Vanessa Panov  (Finesse) Group
Carmen Whelan (Silhouettes of York) Group
Alexandra Zilyuk (Salut) Group
Katherine Uchida (Jusco RG Club) Individual
Natalie Garcia (Mississauga Newnorth RG Club) Individual

Note: Alexandra Udachina is also part of the centralized group and has been trained in all five positions of both group routines in case of replacement for the Pan Am Games. Participating countries are only allowed to send five gymnasts.

Also top of mind, these athletes would be leading Gymnastics Canada’s Rhythmic Program in qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. With big goals on the horizon, Gymnastics Canada was ready to do everything possible to close the gaps and have stronger, fitter, and healthier athletes than ever before.

Enter Canadian Sport Institute Ontario. Rhythmic Gymnastics had previous experience working with CSIO in Summer 2018 through the delivery of nutrition and mental performance workshops to their athletes. Rhythmic Gymnastics’ daily training environment is in the fieldhouse of the TPASC, the same facility that houses CSIO’s world-class sport institute. It only made sense that a formalized partnership emerged.

Fast forward to February 2019 and the inception of Rhythmic Gymnastics’ CSIO Integrated Support Team (IST), with the focus to support rhythmic gymnasts and optimize performance. Athlete focused and coach led, ISTs provide sport science and sport medicine services and support to targeted groups of National Team athletes as identified by their National Sport Organizations. This new partnership offers support from CSIO expert practitioners in a way that this team had not experienced before.

With the Pan Am Games quickly approaching, Rhythmic Gymnastics and CSIO IST members worked tirelessly to develop a more synergistic plan for engagement centered around an integrated model of support. CSIO’s Game Plan Advisor and Mental Performance Consultant Rolf Wagschal, Sport Nutritionist Melissa Kazan, Strength and Conditioning Coach Gary McGrath, and Stephanie Jameson, Manager, Performance Services, comprise the CSIO portion of the IST staff. They work in tandem with Gymnastics Canada Physiotherapist Agnes Makowski, who provides therapy support for the athletes, and the Rhythmic Gymnastics coaching staff of Mira Filipova (Coach, Group), Mimi Masleva (Assistant, Group), and Stefka Moutafchieva (Coach, Individual).

With any new partnership, there are always challenges and obstacles to face. Specifically, there were many adjustments needed for the athletes, coaches, CSIO IST staff, and existing Gymnastics Canada IST members, to create processes that were efficient and effective. To tackle these challenges, it was imperative to ensure everyone was on the same page from the start, including developing and understanding collective objectives. To streamline progression, IST members spent time in the Rhythmic Gymnastics daily training environment at TPASC, observing the athletes and coaches closely.

A key focus of the new strategy is communication, which has allowed the team to create great strides towards enhancing sport performance. The real work involved building new relationships to ensure everyone was comfortable. Both Gymnastics Canada staff and coaches played a crucial role in promoting the importance of sport science and sport medicine, which allowed the athletes to be open and honest with IST members. Since Rhythmic Gymnastics is a resident sport at TPASCIST members can continue to monitor progression and interact with coaches and athletes on a regular basis. Behind the scenes, there is an ongoing process that entails numerous follow-up meetings, which allows IST members to connect and share notes and observations. IST members are also in frequent communication with Rhythmic Gymnastics National Team Director, Teresa Orr, and the coaching staff.

CSIO staff have worked persistently to support these athletes and coaches to get the most out of their training, with the group training 23-30 hours per week on the carpet. The CSIO team has provided recommendations to maximize the output at training, including optimizing the work to rest ratio, and ensuring optimal fuelling to sustain energy and focus during their long training sessions.

Strength and conditioning support has been the biggest shift for the athletes – for many this is the first time they have formally engaged in it. Gary has tailored the strength and conditioning strategy to focus on supporting fitness outcomes which will allow the rhythmic gymnasts to perform optimally throughout full routines. This strategy has a strong focus on muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and injury.

Each athlete receives individual mental performance support from Rolf, which is an integral component to their preparation both for training and competition.

“We are very pleased with how the team has progressed this year,” said Rhythmic Gymnastics National Team Director, Teresa Orr. “With the support of CSIO staff, we have been able to build a program that has improved and optimized the team’s health and performance during training, on the road and at competitions. The involvement and encouragement from the CSIO staff has helped create a stronger and more confident rhythmic team heading into the Pan American Games. It validates the teamwork of the athletes, coaches, CSIO and Gymnastics Canada.”

“We are very grateful for the support we have received this year from the CSIO team in assisting in our preparation leading up to the Pan American Games and World Championships in September,” said Group Captain Vanessa Panov.  “The encouragement and continuous effort in developing our mental performance, nutritional needs as well as physical strength has helped us be the best we can be.”

While the partnership between CSIO and Rhythmic Gymnastics is still new, the 2019 Pan Am Games have been a catalyst for establishing the integrated teamwork needed to support and prepare the team as they work towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification process.

About Canadian Sport Institute Ontario

Located at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, the largest legacy facility of the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is committed to the pursuit of excellence by providing world-class programs, services, and leadership to high performance athletes and coaches to enhance their ability to achieve international podium performances. CSIO offers athletes a range of sport science and sport medicine services including nutrition, physiology, biomechanics, strength & conditioning, mental performance and sport therapy; as well as life services and assistance with transitioning in to and out of sport. CSIO also delivers programming and services to National and Provincial Sport Organizations and coaches to work towards building a stronger sport system in Ontario.

As a key partner in the sport systems of both Ontario and Canada, CSIO services approximately 700 high performance athletes and 250 coaches and is part of a larger network of 4 institutes and 3 multi-sport centres across the country. CSIO is supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Sport Canada, Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and the Coaching Association of Canada, along with the National and Provincial Sport Organizations within the sector.


Media Contacts:
Laura Albright, Manager, Communications & Events
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Tel: 416.596.1240 ex 238
Email: [email protected]

Photo: Antoine Saito