The gymnasts who are preparing for the group exercise event at the 13th Junior Rhythmic Gymnastics Asian Championships (clockwise from bottom left): Chan Mei Tung, Adelina Theresa Mathews, Thew Yue Jia, Chan Xin Nong, Loh Xiao Tian and Yap Sin Lu.
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Gymnastics Federation (MGF) have managed to pull a rabbit out of their hat ahead of the upcoming 13th Junior Rhythmic Gymnastics Asian Championships next month.
Despite the group exercise event not being part of the rhythmic programme, the Federation have managed to pool their resources in just six months to form a team for the first time ever for the Championships which will be held at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil from Feb 18-25.
MGF vice-president and rhythmic gymnastics technical chairman Petrina Low feels that as hosts, it would be a waste not to field a team and take advantage of the high-level competition and exposure. More so, because the Championships will serve as the qualifiers for this year’s Nanjing Youth Olympic Games (Aug 16-28) and may also be included in the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games programme.
Federal Territory state coach Eriko Akebayashi, who spearheads the preparations, has had six gymnasts (three from FT and three from Selangor) under her wing since July last year – Thew Yue Jia, Chan Xin Nong, Yap Sin Lu, Adelina Theresa Mathews, Loh Xiao Tian and Chan Mei Tung.
“We’ve only had half a year of training compared to other countries who have had at least two years to prepare. So it was a very tough challenge for me, especially since the girls are at very different levels,” said Akebayashi, a former national gymnast for Japan who used to compete in group exercise competitions.
Akebayashi has had help from her former coach Misako Gomei as well as national ballet instructors Tatyana Nikova and Ildar Kolesyanov from the elite and development squad respectively to help with the choreography.
“It was hard to get all six gymnasts on the same page as all of them had varying levels of skills and experience. They’re all 15 years old, but only half of them have experience with group exercise. I also have some girls who are very green with no big tournament experience ... they’ve never competed in MSSM (Malaysian Schools Sports Council) or even Sukma (Malaysia Games). So, to get a routine down in such a short time ... they’ve really come a long way,” she added.
And with the competition three weeks away, Akebayashi is upping the ante with the girls already undergoing full-day training three days a week.
“We still have not decided on the final team and who will be the reserve. The girls are constantly improving and there are a lot of elements to perfect so that decision will come later. Now, we’ve got to make the final push count.”