I believe the Support4Sport program is really the best thing to happen to sport in Nova Scotia in a very long time
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Gymnastics - Artistic
2012 Olympian, 2014 Commonwealth Games Beam Champion, 2015 Pan Am All Around Beam and Floor Champion, Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games
Figure Skating or Gymnastics? Ellie Black loved them both, but when she was eight-years-old she had to decide which one she loved more. She chose gymnastics, a decision that vaulted her to places many athletes aspire to go.
“It just felt right,” says the 19-year-old from Halifax. “I couldn’t do both sports if I wanted to reach a competitive level and I was excelling in gymnastics.”
A latecomer to the sport, Ellie didn’t enroll in gymnastics until she was six. Her parents, Tom and Kathy Black, thought it would help channel her energy.
“Ellie was a high energy, determined and competitive child,” Tom and Kathy say. “We registered her in gymnastics after a friend suggested she would be a good at it.”
The world of vault, beam, floor and bars was a great fit for Ellie. She learned each apparatus quickly and impressed Keiji Yamanaka, a head coach at the Halifax Alta Gymnastics Club where she practiced. A year before she was old enough to compete, Keiji asked her to train in the competitive stream of gymnasts.
“It was really special, but also tough at first,” says Ellie of her experience being one of the youngest gymnasts in the competitive stream. “I didn’t have too many friends and I didn’t realize how competitive the sport was.”
Ellie quickly went from training one day per week to five days per week for 4 ½ hours daily with the same group of gymnasts. She forged strong relationships with her teammates and earned the respect of the older girls.
Ellie also gained the admiration of Olympian, David Kikuchi, who trained in the same gym until he retired from competition in 2008. David is now Ellie’s coach.
“I noticed that she had the qualities of a high performance athlete. She was and still is driven and a perfectionist,” says Coach Kikuchi.
At the start of 2012, making it to the Olympics seemed impossible for Ellie. She was recovering from injuries that kept her from competing in major competitions the year before. But Coach Kikuchi encouraged her to push her limits. This is exactly what she did. Ellie’s ability to push hard to improve was exemplified when she qualified for London 2012.
“Between February and June 2012, I saw Ellie’s chances of making it to the Olympics go from one per cent to 100 per cent,” says Coach Kikuchi.
A series of strong performances resulted in Ellie being invited to compete in the final Olympic selection meet in Gatineau, Quebec. There she qualified for the fifth and final spot on the Canadian women’s gymnastics team. Ellie is the first female gymnast east of Montreal to ever make the Olympic team.
While her talent for the sport comes naturally, she feels lucky to have a supportive family and community to help motivate her. This includes the financial support she receives from Support4Sport to help her meet the financial demands of competitive gymnastics.
Support4Sportis a program introduced by the Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation in 2006. Support4Sport has raised more than $21 million through the sale of designated ticket lottery products, to provide funding to amateur and high performance athletes, coaches and community sport organizations.
“Support4Sport helps me pay for grips, equipment and cover some of the costs of competition,” says Ellie. “Just knowing that they are investing in me makes me really believe I can do it and pushes me to do better. Funding like this has the potential to help me come home with golds.”
Her determination and quest for excellence has put Ellie at the top of women’s gymnastics in Canada. She is currently the national women’s all-around gymnastics champion; however, her speed and power make her especially talented on the vault. She is among only a handful of female gymnasts in the world who have mastered the front vault.
Just recently, Ellie achieved her long-term goal to qualify for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. She’ll be working with Coach Kikuchi to increase the difficulty of her routines and to improve in the all-around division as she prepares to return to the world stage.
When she is not training, Ellie likes to lace up her skates and hit the Emera Oval with her older sister, who is a competitive figure skater. They have a friendly rivalry, but Ellie concedes that her sister has the edge on the ice.
“Yeah, she skates circles around me,” laughs Ellie. “But we have a lot of fun.”