It’s been three years since the Yellowknife Gymnastics Club has had anyone traversing around the country to compete in anything.

So imagine how good it must have felt for four athletes from the club to get back to doing what they do best late last month. One of them even came home with a new accessory.

Tai Leathem was that lucky gymnast as he scored a bronze medal on the vault at the Western Canadian Gymnastics Championships in Winnipeg. Leathem, competing in boys Provincial Level 4, scored 12.150 on his one and only attempt, a mere 0.5 away from gold and .05 away from silver.

“It was a pretty tight squeeze for third,” said Leathem. “It was the landing that was the difference. My step was a little too big — a smaller step and we could be talking about something better.”

The other gymnasts who made the trip were Emma Leathem, Tai’s sister and the only female; Zefer Jordison; and Shea Escalante. The other two boys competed in the same division as Tai while his sister was in Canadian Competitive Program 9.

Going into the meet, Tai said he was nervous because he had taken some time off from the sport to focus on school.

“I had about six months to train and get back into it (before Winnipeg) and, yeah, I was nervous,” he said. “I wanted to do really well and I trained as hard as I could. I got some new skills and it paid off for me. I wasn’t there to win a medal — I wanted to go and have fun — but I did and I’m really proud.”

Tai’s vault was a Tsuk layout, named after Japanese gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara. It involves a gymnast performing a quarter-turn on the horse and transitioning into a layout flip.

He watched his competition carefully as they took their turns.

“I was looking at the other guys and thinking pretty good, pretty good and I was thinking I was somewhere near the middle of the pack,” he said. “I didn’t know I was that close.”

The result was music to the ears of coach Jose Esteban, who said having a medallist from the NWT shows that missing competitions due to Covid-19 didn’t affect too much.

“We talked with the boys before (the competition) and we talked about what our goals were,” he said. “It’s great that athletes from communities like ours can get a medal like that against the big provinces like Alberta and B.C. They brought down teams of 12 and we had three boys and one girl. It’s nice to show off what we have here.”

Was there any worry about the gymnasts being out of shape competitively? Esteban said maybe a little, but nothing a bit of extra work couldn’t fix.

“These kids are great to coach and they’re like sponges,” he said. “Anything we say, they just focus in and hone in on it and try to improve. Training for Westerns this year, they really zoned in and pushed themselves and outdid themselves, I think.”

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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