Artistic gymnast Ewan McAteer competed at Gold Coast’s Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland in the Men’s Individual All-Around final in 2018 and more recently he could be seen as a guest gymnast at the British Championships this month. Ewan became British Senior Masters Champion on Vault in 2017 and is hoping to make the Irish team for more senior competitions this year. Chatting after the recent Championships, Ewan tells us about his experience at Gold Coast, his charity work and his upcoming competitions.
Having recently returned from competing at the British Championships, how did you find this competition?
British Championships is always a really enjoyable competition with an awesome atmosphere. Unfortunately, I picked up an injury during podium training and so decided to withdraw from the All-Around to concentrate on Vault as I knew I had a potential final on this piece. I feel this was a sensible decision as I placed second in the senior Vault category and qualified for the Masters Final. I went for perfection with my vaults in the final and unfortunately this didn’t pay off, but I was still happy with my performance as a whole.
You were at the Championships as a guest, can you tell us about this?
As I have a registered FIG license with Ireland, which is a separate gymnastics federation to Britain, I am allowed to compete in the British Championships, but not medal on any apparatus or in the All-Around. I am, however, allowed to make any Masters Finals and medal in those.
What was your experience like at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games?
This has definitely been the highlight of my career so far. This was my first senior multi-sport event and the whole experience was exciting on so many levels. Living in the village for a start was really great. It was perfect for competition preparation, allowing me to have optimal nutrition and recovery, but also kept me entertained throughout my whole time there having loads of activities to do and athletes from all over the world to talk to. Competing was the highlight of the Games for me. Everything from the atmosphere that the crowd created to the standard of gymnastics made the event really special. Even a year on now, I still get waves of feeling like I want to go back and relive the whole experience.
How did it feel making the Northern Irish team and being in the All-Around final?
Finding out that I had been selected for Team NI was an immensely proud moment for me, as this had been a huge goal for me for such a long time. The day of the All-Around final was very emotive for me. After qualifications, I had finished in the reserve spot for the All-Around final. I had damaged ligaments in my foot two months before the Games and was unable to compete my full difficulty on Floor and Vault. Considering this, I was quite happy with my performance in qualifications. In keeping with the competition rules, I warmed up for the All-Around final as I was reserve. When warm up had finished, I took my kit off and was getting ready to go and watch the competition. Three minutes before march on, a volunteer came running up to me and told me that a gymnast had pulled out and that I was competing. I don’t think I have ever felt more shock run through my body! Ultimately though, I had a blast competing in the final and gained some really valuable experience from doing so.
Were your family able to watch you compete?
My mum was able to fly out to Australia to watch me compete. It was a real confidence booster knowing that I had someone in the crowd that was rooting for me. The rest of my family were able to watch the competition from home. I was amazed when I came home as to the amount of people that had told me they had stayed up to 2am to watch me compete!
Can you say how it feels when you win competitions, such as when you were British Men’s Senior Master Vault Champion and Ireland National Vault Champion?
For me, my favourite part of competitions like these are landing on my feet having finished a clean routine. You feel as if everything has gone to plan, and there’s almost a rush of relief and happiness that comes over you. I’m always striving to win competitions I compete in, but if I finish a routine knowing that I have produced the best gymnastics I could, then I will be delighted with my performance regardless of the result.
How does it feel standing on the podium collecting a medal?
It’s a special feeling, especially when the standard of gymnastics at competitions such as the British and Irish Championships is so high. I think the immense sense of pride comes from what the medal represents rather than the actual medal itself. You don’t feel accomplished because you have just been given this piece of metal that looks impressive, but rather because the medal reminds you of all of the work and dedication that went into achieving it. It really feels that all that work has paid off when you are standing on that podium and your name is announced.
What would you say has been the hardest competition for you so far?
The All-Around final at the Commonwealth Games was an extremely challenging competition for me. Not only was this the biggest competition that I had competed in, but the fact that I was called in three minutes before the competition started really added to the pressure. I had completely switched off after warm up for the competition as I thought that I was definitely not competing. Getting my mind back in the zone and dealing with the extra nerves was a tough task for me, but ultimately I had a good competition and hit six out of six clean routines.
How do you feel on the day of a competition and how do you stay motivated?
I look forward to competition days, as I enjoy competing. In any athlete, there is going to be some level of nerves present, but I feel a heightened sense of focus on the day more than anything. Motivation to compete is never really an issue as I know I have done all the preparation in the gym. I just look forward to going out on a competition floor and performing the best gymnastics that I can on the day.
Have you always enjoyed gymnastics?
Yes, gymnastics has been a huge part of my life since I was eight years old. I have always really enjoyed the sport, but it was when I turned fourteen that I really fell in love with it. This was when I started to comprehend the opportunities gymnastics could give me, and so I decided to drop all other sports I was doing to concentrate on my gymnastics. Of course, there have been challenging times when injury and disappointments have caused me frustration, but there has never really been a time where I have stopped enjoying the sport. I think you’d have to be crazy to train twenty-six hours a week and not enjoy the sport!
How do you like to spend your time away from competing and training?
I am currently in my first year of studying dentistry at Queen’s University Belfast, so revising and attending lectures five days a week takes up most of my time outside of the gym. In the free time that I do have, I love watching rugby as I am a massive rugby fan. I also enjoy trying to teach myself languages. I’m currently developing my Spanish and learning how to write in Japanese.
Can you tell us about your work with the ASHA Charity and visiting India?
In October 2016, I visited the the slums of Kalkaji in New Delhi with my school, Methodist College Belfast working in collaboration with the ASHA Charity. We were in India for a total of two weeks. During those two weeks, our time was spent working with children living within the slums. The children attended classes everyday, in which we helped to teach speaking and reading in English, maths and geography. We also played sports and did arts and crafts with the children, and helped to build a library and decorate the ASHA centre within the slum. It was an extremely humbling and eye-opening experience and I really felt as though I was making a difference in the lives of others.
Are you still involved with any charities?
Yes, I am still involved with the Mary Peters Trust. This is a charity set up by Dame Mary Peters which supports the top young athletes across Northern Ireland, by helping to finance their training. They have been extremely helpful in my career and I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without them. I support the trust by helping out at fundraising events they organise, and by promoting them through my gymnastics.
Are you in training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and when will you find out if you’ve made the team?
Making Tokyo 2020 is a target of mine, although as I am still a young senior, qualifying for this is a really big challenge for me. I feel my best route to qualifying for the Games is through an All-Around spot, which can be achieved at the European Championships in 2020, so my first step in qualification is to make the Irish team being sent to this competition. Although my chances of qualifying for the Olympics are slim, the fact that there is an opportunity there really motivates me to push myself in the gym. I am going to do everything I can to try and qualify for the games, but have no massive expectations or pressure on myself and will not be disappointed if things don’t work out.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you are in training for?
My next competition is the Irish National Championships at the end of May, where I hope to defend my Vault title and post the highest All-Around score that I can. I also hope to push to qualify for the European Games being hosted in Minsk this July, and the World Championships in Stuttgart.
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