Time to break medal drought in gymnastics

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 11/07/2014
Gymnastics
Fairfax NZ

BEAMING: Members of the Commonwealth Games women’s artistic team, from left, Charlotte Sullivan, Anna Tempero, Courtney McGregor, Mackenzie Slee and Brittany Robertson.

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Not too many sports in New Zealand have to wind the clock back 16 years to talk about their last medal at Commonwealth Games level but there's a quiet confidence within gymnastics circles that the drought will be broken in Glasgow this month.

Current men's team coach David Phillips was the last Kiwi gymnast to stand on the podium at the Games - essentially the pinnacle event for the sport in New Zealand - when he claimed bronze in the men's floor in 1998.

You have to go a further four years back, to Victoria, for the last medal by a New Zealand woman - Sarah Thompson in the uneven bars - and a further four years back again, to Auckland, for New Zealand's only two gold medals - Nikki Jenkins in the vault and Angela Walker in the rope.

Slim pickings since but the sport is trending, to use a popular term, in the right direction these days. And there's a crop of talented women's artistic gymnasts based out of Christchurch who may hold the key to breaking that medal drought.

Leading the charge is Christchurch's Courtney McGregor, 15, who specialises in vault but is also strong in the all around. In the vault, McGregor this year became the first New Zealander to make a world cup final and backed that up by finishing second at the Pacific Rim Championships.

She's got a couple of heavy weapons up her sleeve - high difficulty vaults that most of her competitors are not even attempting - and if she's able to pull them off a medal is a definite prospect.

There's also hope that the New Zealand women's team, which includes allrounders Charlotte Sullivan, Mackenzie Slee, Brittany Robertson and Anna Tempero, can push for a team medal.

"The women's team has focused on increasing the difficulty of the routines and are now exhibiting skills that have been rarely seen in Oceania," GymSports NZ chief executive Sarah Ashmole said.

"Courtney, in particular, has two very difficult vaults which until 2014 had only been done by New Zealand male gymnasts.

"The competition at Glasgow will be tough, but we are expecting finals performances from the women with the possibility of a medal in an individual apparatus event."

There are 12 athletes - 10 artistic and two rhythmic - in the New Zealand team for Glasgow.

In addition to the full women's artistic team, there's a full men's artistic team led by Games veterans Matthew Palmer and Misha Koudinov.

Kelly McDonald joins five-time New Zealand champion Amelia Coleman in targeting finals spots in the rhythmic competition.

McDonald recently lost her mother to illness but has kept her focus and "is one of the strongest minded athletes GymSports New Zealand has seen", Ashmole said.

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