“It’s actually done more good to me than bad at this point,” said Stewart of Bowmanville, Ont., who trains with Elena Davydova and Valery Yahchybekov at Gemini Gymnastics in Oshawa, Ont. “I’m excited because technically it was not supposed to happen.”
Had the Games been held last year, Stewart, who was born Sept. 30, 2005, would not have turned 16 during the Olympic year. When the Games were delayed due to COVID-19, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) changed the required birth year for female gymnasts to 2005.
“It’s my first year being a senior and only my second year on the national team,” she said. “I’m pretty excited about it.”
Stewart earned a spot on the team Gymnastics Canada is sending to Tokyo through a series of virtual competitions. Instead of competing in front of a crowd, Stewart performed her routines before a judge and an iPad that recorded her performance.
Stewart’s coach and some other athletes were in attendance but not her parents.
“It was definitely strange and different,” said Stewart. “I went in with my proper gym suit and hair done.
“The warms-ups were exactly the same. The gym was set up for competition and all the requirements were met.”
The experience gave Stewart a preview of what the Olympics may be like. It’s possible there will be no fans in attendance when the women’s artistic gymnastics qualifiers begin July 25th at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre. The artistic gymnastics competition will run until August 3rd.
“I’m still new to the bigger competitions,” she said. “I’m still used to small crowds or not having crowds, so what we’ve done this year is going to make it easier than if I was used to the bigger crowds.”
Stewart was born in Lebanon, Tenn., to an American mother and Canadian father. The family moved to Ontario when she was young.
Even as a child Stewart was drawn to gymnastics.
“I don’t actually know what I liked about it,” she said. “There was something pulling me to the gym, making me want to be there, wanting to do stuff, making me want to learn something new, get better.
“(There is) something about the sport that makes me just want to be there and doing things.”
The sport has always made Stewart feel welcome.
“I’ve had very helpful teammates,” she said. “Any team I’ve been on has been really positive and really excited to compete. I’ve never felt like an outcast ever in the gym, which is nice.”
This year’s Games will be different than other Olympics, but the experience will help Stewart prepare for Paris in 2024.
Stewart knows she’s walking onto a big stage but plans to remain focused on herself and not be intimidated by the veterans around her.
“Just compete against yourself,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how what other people do because you can’t control that.
“As long as I know I did the best I could with what I was given I’ll be happy with it.”
READ AVA’S BIO WITH FULL RESULTS HERE: http://gymcan.org/disciplines/womens-artistic-gymnastics/national-teams/ava-stewar