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World Games for Jersey gymnasts
By John Grady
Two gymnasts from Jersey's Special Gymnastics Club were chosen to represent Great Britain at the Special Olympics World Games. Head coach of the GB squad, John Grady, reports on how they got on...
In September 2006, 16 gymnasts who had been selected for the artistic squad of the Special Olympics Great Britain Team began training hard at a series of training camps. These were in preparation for the Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai.
This is a short report of the experiences of the Jersey gymnasts Samantha Godel and Harry Smale and Head Coach John Grady as they competed as part of that squad in China.
Welcome to China
On Thursday 27th September after 24 hours in transit a very tired GB team landed at Shanghai International Airport to a well organised and warm welcome.
The 207 athletes and coaches were efficiently processed through immigration, customs and the Games Accreditation System,then whisked off to the team accommodation with a full police escort.
When the team arrived at the Wu Gong Hotel the whole staff had turned out to greet them, traffic and pedestrians were stopped and all the athletes felt like celebrities as, with lots of cheering and waving from the locals, they entered what was to be home for the next 18 days.
Sam and Harry managed the demanding travel and settling in period in style and both continued to conduct themselves in a very mature manner throughout the Games, which for Harry, were to be challenging in a different way.
The security for the event was extremely tight and sometimes just a little intimidating. When John Grady tried to leave the hotel on the first day to visit an e-mail café he was almost arrested by the security guards.
It was only after a great deal of checking and double-checking that he was allowed out and then only with a volunteer escort. Nevertheless, the Chinese people were charming, hospitable and very kind. Lovely hosts.
'Fantastic cultural experiences'
The first five days were in the host town of the Huangpu District who looked after Team GB brilliantly with lots of fantastic cultural experiences including exhibitions, music, dance, dinners, games, shopping and the Chinese State Circus (amazing). Harry and Samantha had a ball.
The Opening Ceremony on Tuesday 2nd October, was outstanding. 80,000 people, the magnificent Shanghai Stadium, noise, celebrities, fireworks, entertainment, spectacle, everything you think an Opening Ceremony should have was present.
This occasion just confirmed how efficient the Chinese are at organisation. Throughout the first week everything worked like clock work and on this occasion the way they moved over 80,000 people around a very busy city and in and out of the event was remarkable to say the least.
'The down side'
The down side of the first week was that there was no training facility available and the gymnasts were left cooling their heels for the first eight days.
Not good and perhaps showed that the Chinese organisers, whilst acknowledging the needs of people with disabilities, did not realise how seriously the athletes take sport and the need to prepare just like their mainstream counterparts.
Also Harry fell ill with what was thought to be de-hydration and pulled a back muscle during the little gymnastics activity the squad had.
The gymnasts did a short and limited workshop to a local primary school, at the close Harry had pulled up with a strained back muscle and was feeling quite poorly. Just the start of what was to prove a disappointing competition experience for him and his coaches.
On the Wednesday the competition began. This started with Podium Training when the coaches, gymnasts and judges were given the opportunity to experience the venue and the equipment.
It was the time for people to familiarise themselves with everything and to note the different settings that are required for each individual athlete. The men’s went extremely well and Harry was performing competently in the new environment.
The women had problems, the Podium Training was poorly organised and with no floor manager it became a free for all.
The uneven bars were old and difficult to adjust and delayed everything. They proved to be a major obstacle to the smooth running throughout the women’s competition.
Over the next two days there were opportunities to train in the warm up gym where the bars for the women again caused problems as they could not be adjusted and at once point collapsed.
Despite these short comings, the venue, the Shanghai Institute of Gymnastics, was first class for gymnasts and spectators, even more the pity they had not sorted the women’s bars situation before the event.
Classification began on the third day. Harry had experienced a second bout of sickness and was still showing the effects of illness.
Those who knew him remarked that his gymnastics lacked the spark he usually shows. However, he managed to hold his performances together and to qualify in all top groups except the pommel.
Next day the women entered classification. Samantha experienced a disaster on vault when she fell quite badly in warm up but literally bounced back to qualify for the top groups in all pieces but the bars.
'Finals and medal places'
During the two days between classification and the finals Harry had been training hard and was quite remarkably back to his old self yet his experience still ended as unfinished business.
At his best, Harry would have been equal to the task and it is almost certain that he would have come away with some top medals, but it was not to be.
On the morning of the finals he awoke feeling queasy and by the time the squad was ready to leave the hotel he had become very sick.
Health the biggest problem
By now, the gymnastics squad was also a coach down as a member of the coaching staff had been hospitalised the day before. Two other gymnasts had also attended the hospital with sickness and diarrhoea, a third fell ill after the competition was over.
The health of the team proved to be a great problem. In actual fact, nearly 2,000 of the visitors to Shanghai for the World Games were hospitalised through sickness.
One judge spent the whole of the period in hospital, another had to be repatriated with a medical escort, the sick gymnastics coach only just recovered to make the plane home and missed all the finals and the Closing Ceremony.
Many of the gymnasts’ families had flown out to support the team and they also reported similar problems.
Most of the difficulties were put down to the drastic change of diet, the heat and the humidity. Add to this the poor air quality, it was no wonder so many people found staying healthy difficult.
The team doctor took care of Harry at the Hotel whilst the rest of the squad travelled to the gym in the hope that he would recover to take part in at least some of the competition, but unfortunately he did not make it.
He did take two bronze medals as he had qualified for two top groups where the scores were such that only three gymnasts had made this standard. A small consolation.
'Job well done'
For Samantha, it ended as a job well done against some very strong competition; an excellent gymnast from Hong Kong, 4 years her senior and another from Russia. She matched the Russian but the gymnast from Hong Kong proved too strong in the end.
Samantha took the bronze in the vault where the memories of her fall in classification were completely forgotten. She produced a 9.50 to match the girl from Hong Kong but lost on the carry over from the classification.
On the bars a slight fault cost her dearly and she slipped from gold to silver position. When she reached the beam, the nerves of performing at such a big event were eventually getting to her, but you could see the determination go through her body as she held on to make the more difficult moves with no mistakes.
Samantha took another bronze medal. On the floor she produced a sparkling performance and entertained the large crowd to take the silver medal.
The Great Britain Artistic Squad gave a good account of themselves at the Games with some great performances. The final medal tally was 17 gold medals, 34 silver and 18 bronze.
The next day the GB Team attended a glorious Closing Ceremony, the same mixture of spectacle, music and dance as the Opening but with much more of a party atmosphere.
The athletes mixing together lots of them singing, dancing and making noise. A truly enjoyable celebration of what had been a memorable and successful World Games. Full marks must go to the Chinese.
The squad then enjoyed a few days relaxing in Shanghai, chilling out and sight seeing as the Team GB dwindled with different contingents leaving.
Lots of tears as goodbyes were said to people who had become very good friends, almost a new family. The squad had jelled so well over the eighteen months that they had been together.
The Jersey members were part of the last Great Britain group to leave Shanghai. This was organised with the same smoothness of our arrival and we were soon on the long journey home, all three itching to get back.
Jersey can be proud
Acknowledgements and thanks must go to the people who have supported the Jersey campaign.
Major funding has come from the Carousel School of Dancing, Help a Jersey Child and the James Roberts Memorial Trust.
Help was also received from Jersey Mencap, the JSAD, Education Sport and Culture, the Sports Advisory Council, AC Mauger and Surfing for Seb.
It would not have happened without the help received.
Samantha Godel and Harry Smale did a magnificent job. They prepared and trained hard throughout.
They represented people with learning difficulties in an extremely positive manner and their parents, Jersey and Team GB can be very proud of their performance.
last updated: 20/11/07
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