Photos by Antoine Saito/Gymnastics Canada)
Ellie Black on what it takes to win world silver
— By Monty Mosher
Ellie Black is good enough to make everything she does look easy.
Rest assured it isn’t. And it gets harder by the year.
Halifax’s Black, a three-time Olympian in artistic gymnastics, added to her coast-to-coast fame by placing second in the all-around at the recent world championships in Montreal.
She bettered her own standard for the best finish by a Canadian gymnast at a world competition or Olympics. Her fifth place in the all-around at the Rio Olympics in 2016 was the previous best.
It wasn’t so long ago that a 16-year-old Black was considered an outsider to make the Canadian team for the London Olympics in 2012, taking the last spot available after the Canadian trials.
Even then, her young body had taken a number of hard knocks and the time on the injury list was adding up.
Six years has raced past and Black is a relative senior in her sport at 22, making no promises about the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
She’ll rely on her body to tell her when enough is enough. Her mind likely won’t because her passion for her sport will always drive her onward.
She won a fourth Canadian women’s all-around championship in 2017 and dazzled at the world university games in Taipei, but it was all just preparation for the worlds, where Black would have the rare opportunity to command the stage before a home audience.
“At the beginning of the year I had an ankle injury, so it wasn’t the greatest way to start off,” Black said in a recent interview from the Alta Gymnastics Club, her home gym in Halifax.
“But we started getting back into training and just trying to build as much as we possibly could, working towards the summer. The university games was a really good opportunity. It had almost been a year since I’d been in an international competition.”
The world silver medal is the tangible reminder of the hours spent in the shadows, working and reworking, building and rebuilding. Black is a workhorse by habit.
“It was just coming into the gym everyday and going through those hard days, where it’s not exactly where you want it to be but you have to keep pushing. You have a few weeks that are really hard, lots of conditioning, making sure you are strong and you’re building your routines.
“As you get closer to the competition, you taper down a bit. You do a little less training, a little less conditioning. It’s a little easier for your body. It’s a little easier to recover.”
Montreal made for a fixed target on the calendar.
“You are focusing on the fine details. Coming into the worlds we wanted to be in the best shape possible. You want to give yourself the best chance. Preparations are never perfect. It’s working through those little things and when you get there to trust in the training and the process.”
Then there is the entire mental side. She’s not a kid anymore and her lofty status in the sport only adds to the expectations placed upon her.
She’s the face of Canadian gymnastics. She accepts that she’s role model and embraces it, knowing that she was encouraged by older gymnasts on her way up.
“I love gym and at the end of the day that’s why I’m still here and I still do it. I know the commitment and the time that it takes. As you get older, you figure out a little bit more what you need to do to be at your best and the best possible way to get there.
“It’s finding a balance of what you need to do in the gym, knowing if you are really tired some days that you need to back off and let your body recover a little more. It’s healthy to have other things outside the gym as well, making sure you have time to spend with family and friends. It’s sometimes hard when one thing is consuming your life.”
Her international success hasn’t changed her. She’s back in the gym already. It’s just her way.
She won’t compete again until Elite Canada in February. The Commonwealth Games are in 2018 and the Pan Am Games in 2019. None of that will occupy her mind for now.
“It’s very important to take some time for your body and your mind to rest and recuperate and then start to build up again. While you are resting, you can do some public events and try to give back to the community and help the next generation of athletes.”