On one side of the room, media crushed in to interview the American women’s Olympic gymnastics team made up of teen starlets whose faces have made magazine covers all across the U.S., firing questions about hefty medal expectations and fan attention.
On the other side of the room at New Greenwich Arena, a small handful of Canadian reporters chatted with the five women on Canada’s team, all first-time Olympians. The wide-eyed Canucks excitedly shared their stories of seeing the Olympic village, and finally setting foot on the Olympic apparatus.
“Being here is unreal, I’ve never even imagined anything like this,” said 15-year-old Victoria Moors of Surrey, B.C., the youngest of all Canada’s Olympians. “I’m not sure this has even set in yet. I’m actually here, and I want to hold myself to the same standards as every other gymnast.”
The five Canadian teens make up the first women’s artistic team Canada has qualified for the Games since 2004. In the 12-team competition, these women might just do something rare for a Canadian women’s artistic squad – make it to the team final, always a premier event at any Olympics.
“The advice we’ve gotten is to keep your head in the game – we’re here because we love gymnastics and no one can take that from us,” Moors said. “At the end of the day, we have that same love of the sport as any gymnast does.”
The team is led by 19-year-old Kristina Vaculik of Whitby, Ont., a Stanford University student who is coached by 1980 Olympic all-around gold medalist Elena Davydova. She’s a bars and beam specialist.
Moors just made her senior international debut in January at the Olympic test event, where she was the youngest competitor in the field and garnered attention with her floor exercise. Brittany Rogers, from New Westminster, B.C. was the top Canadian at the 2009 world championships where she made the vault and all-around finals. She has since had a remarkable recovery from a broken ankle in 2010. Dominique Pegg of Sarnia, Ont. was a member of the Canadian team at the 2011 world championships but then broke a bone in her right hand at the Pan American Games. Halifax native Ellie Black has limited international experience but won gold medals in floor exercise and vault at a World Cup meet in April.
“We’re thrilled that Canada qualified a team; it’s so special to share this experience together rather than just qualifying one or two individuals,” Black said. “We share such support.”
Wednesday was the marquee training day before the competition, known as podium training day. It’s the only day when the women would do their routines on the actual Olympic equipment in the venue. They got 16 minutes on each apparatus, sharing the space with the Brits, French and Americans, who dazzled in pink gymsuits and had bloggers hanging on their every move.
The other buzz around the venue has been all about the eye-popping pink carpeting on the walls and the floors surrounding the apparatus inside the venue. The competition floor is awash in bright, Pepto Bismol-coloured pink. While some competitors have called it distracting, the Canadian teens liked it, some laughing that it’s reminiscent of their bedrooms at home.
“It’s a different atmosphere, that’s for sure. It’s hot pink and purple – I feel like Justin Bieber is going to walk out there,” Pegg said. “No, seriously, get that message out there will you? Justin Bieber, we’d love to have you here.”
They shared stories of the people they’ve met, the road hockey games they have watched in the Athlete’s Village, the moose statue that stands outside their building. But the teen bliss falls away when they discuss their firm decision not to march in the opening ceremony with the rest of Canada’s athletes.
“We did our research, we learned from others that it would be a lot of standing around for us and it does drain you, and we have to start competing on Sunday,” Black said. “It would have been great to go, but we’re here to do gymnastics, and we’ll have our own exciting moments.”