US vs. Canadian Gymnastics Programs

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At the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China, Canada placed 12th in the Team Qualification round which unfortunately did not advance them to Team Finals thereby ending their team competition at Worlds.  In the All-Around competition, the highest finisher for Canada was Elsabeth Black who finished in 9th place.

Recent at the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow, Canada showed a huge improvement from last year not only as a team but also individually.

Elsabeth Black Photo: fig-gymnastics.com
Elsabeth Black
Photo: fig-gymnastics.com

In the Team Qualification round the Canadian team placed 7th, not only qualifying them for Team Finals but also guaranteeing them a spot at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Then in Team Finals, Canada improved their team standing from the qualifying round by finishing the competition in 6th place.

In addition, Elsabeth Black improved her All-Around standing from the previous year in Nanning by finishing in 7th place in the All-Around.

Over the past few years, Canada has been making many changes to its competitive program structure with some of the biggest changes happening now which has definitely affected their standings in international competition.

Gym Blog Central interviewed Steve Arkell the former Technical Director of CGC, Calgary Gymnastics Center in Calgary, Canada regarding Canada’s improvements to their competitive program and how it compares to the US competitive program.

Q: What is the structure of the Canadian Women’s Program?

A: The Canadian structure is in flux at this point in time. With the hiring of new Head Coach Dave Brubaker and Program Director Karl Balisch. The Canadian program is making a switch to the USA Level 4-10 program, although Levels 9 & 10 are modified at this time. I believe they are trying to foster a deeper pool of FIG prepared athletes. With that in mind their 9/10 program is modeled to allow a bit more difficulty.

Q: Similarities / Differences between USAG Women’s JO Program & Canadian equivalent?

A: As I said Canada is switching to our (US) JO Program for the most part. The main similarities lay in their High Performance streams to include Aspire (TOPS), High performance Novice (HOPES) and modified Levels 9 and 10. In some ways these programs parallel our Tops and Hopes programs (i.e. a modified FIG code to foster international stream athletes).   

Q: Does Canada have State/Regional/National Championships at their JO Level?

A: Canada has Provincials, East West, and Nationals.  Most of their meets are three day meets with a qualification day and finals in AA and individual events. Much like our program years ago and similar to Europe in many ways.

Q: What is the qualifying process to the Elite Level in Canada?

A: The system would go Aspire, National Novice/Modified Levels 9/10, and High performance Novice to JR/SR Elite.

There are two main competitions used to qualify athletes through the Canadian system.  One being Elite Canada, usually early in the year in early February and National championships usually in late May. They also have a fantastic international meet, the International Gymnix competition in Montreal.  That meet is in early March and most of the top Canadians are showcased there.

Q: Do they have a program similar to the US TOPS Program?

A: Aspire = TOPS and High Performance Novice = HOPES. Similar in thought but with a different approach.

In a nut shell, the Canadian program is more competition oriented at these levels while our (US) system is more strength/flexibility and basic oriented at the younger levels. Our (US) program also includes compulsory and strength testing at those levels. The Canadians are starting a return to strength and physical ability testing as of last year. Quite a number of years ago when Andrey Rodionenko was the head coach they had a soviet based physical abilities program in place.

Q: Do they host National Team training camps like the US?

A: As of last year they were starting to host national camps a few times a year in Montreal. They have a beautiful new national team training center there to include WAG, MAG and T&T. I think they are trying to do more and also spreading it through the country more like in Montreal, Sarnia and Calgary or Vancouver. Canada is a very large country with less people than the state of California. I believe they will do more and more as their funding improves but it is very expensive and they do not have the funding that our program has here in the USA.

Q: Does Canada host training camps to choose their members/teams who compete internationally?  If not, how?

A: Yes, they do have training camps to test their athletes preparedness prior to major competitions. Usually one at home and then close to the host city in preparation for time change, etc.

Q: What are the strengths / weaknesses of the Canadian Program compared to USA Gymnastics?

A: The Canadians have a great group of coaches and athletes. They are improving rapidly in gymnastics terms. So they have come a long way in a few years. As the country is small population and funding is low in comparison to our numbers and budgets it is very hard to compare the two programs. I do believe they will be a top 8 contender in the future.

The USA has a very established program that is extremely deep with thousands of athletes testing for Tops and a large number of athletes in National Training Camps. All at a very young age and all under the watchful eye and programing of Valerie Liukin and an excellent national staff. All this prior to (athlete participation on the) JR and SR National Teams.

I believe we (US) will be number one for quite some time!

Q: Do you have any additional comments?

A: There are a few very small countries that have produced exceptional international athletes and teams. Romania comes to mind. The Japanese men are phenomenal right now. I believe that through coaches education, the current leadership and the development of a structured disciplined junior program, Canadian gymnastics can do great things. Just look at their hockey teams!

Sources: usagym.org

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