This year, Emma Spence made her Commonwealth Games debut competing for Team Canada in Birmingham, where she won Bronze in the Team, All-Around and Balance Beam, having also qualified for the Finals of Vault, Floor and Uneven Bars. Team Canada’s first in person competition since the pandemic was this year’s Canadian Championships, with Emma placing 4th in the All-Around, 3rd on Uneven Bars and 2nd on Vault, and she competed virtually at Elite Canada, where she placed 3rd on Balance Beam. Emma made history when she won the first gymnastics medal for Canada at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, winning Bronze on the Vault, which saw her be named as the Canadian flag bearer for the closing ceremony, and she was one of the Alternate gymnasts at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In September, Emma will be competing at the World trials where she hopes to make the team for the World Championships in Liverpool later this year, and as a student at the University of Nebraska, for which she competes for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, she is focusing on their NCAA season starting in January. We found out from Emma about her experience at her debut Commonwealth Games in Birmingham for Team Canada, making history at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and attending the University of Nebraska.
How has the experience been competing at your first Commonwealth Games this year and being part of Team Canada?
It was such an incredible experience. The atmosphere and energy generated by other athletes and fans was great and kept me motivated throughout the long days of competition. I love being able to represent Canada on the international stage and was honoured to be at such a big event. I also had the opportunity to walk with Team Canada during the opening ceremonies and that was an amazing start to the games. It was such a surreal experience and I was proud and felt lucky to do that with all of Team Canada by my side.
You won Bronze in the Women’s Team, All-Around, and Balance Beam, how did it feel competing and winning in the competitions?
Competing at the Commonwealth Games was a big honour in itself and I felt so grateful to have the opportunity to just be there competing. I went into the competition with my main goals of enjoying the experience and trying my best. I honestly wasn’t really focusing on the scores, but more on taking my routines one skill at a time and one event at a time. I was so excited when I saw that I got those medals and was proud of my performances. I was glad I didn’t let the pressure of being at such a big competition get to me and instead I focused on enjoying the experience. Standing on the podium was an amazing feeling, it felt as if all the years of training had paid off and I was so happy to watch the Canadian flag be raised during the ceremony and add some medals for Team Canada.
You also qualified for the Finals of Vault, Floor, and Uneven Bars, what were they like to compete in?
Every time I was out there competing, I had so much fun. I soaked up the experience and loved every moment I was out there. Even if I didn’t medal in all of the events, I was proud of how I did and how I kept a positive attitude throughout the whole competition. I loved being able to compete alongside so many other incredible gymnasts and I was proud of how I also was 0.033 away from medalling on Vault and Floor.
How did you prepare for the Games and what was it like staying in the athletes village?
Leading up to the Games, I did a lot of strength training with my strength and conditioning coach in Nebraska (Jon Pfeifer) and trained my gymnastics with my coaches at Nebraska and Burlington Gymnastics Club in Canada. I also worked a lot on taking care of my mental health and recovery leading up to the competition. Team Canada went to France for a few days before going to England to get used to the Gymnova equipment and we had a mock meet there that helped us prepare. The athletes village was so much fun! I loved having the opportunity to meet other athletes from different sports and countries. We all got to play games with each other in the village, which was a great way to keep our minds off competing and decompress in between the days of competition.
What was the atmosphere like at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and at the opening ceremony?
The atmosphere from the crowd and the athletes was always amazing. The crowd was so supportive and cheered everyone on, even if you weren’t from the home country, which was really nice. The athletes were excited and happy, which was really motivating and made the experience more fun. The opening ceremonies were an incredible experience. The energy was high, and everyone was excited to be there, it was a great start to the Games.
Can you tell us about competing at the Canadian Championships and Elite Canada earlier this year?
Elite Canada this year was virtual, and I competed those routines at my NCAA school (Nebraska). The competition was held during the middle of our NCAA competition season, so I wasn’t really able to prepare much for that. I practiced the routines a few times before competing them and had to do that in between my weekend competitions in the NCAA. Getting 3rd on Beam was my highlight of that competition.
Competing at the Canadian Championships was a pretty good experience. It was Canada’s first in person competition in two years, and it was nice to see everyone in person again. Since I hadn’t had a real competition against everyone in a long time, I didn’t know what to expect score-wise, so my goal was to try my best and have fun, which I did! I finished 4th AA, 3rd on Bars, and 2nd on Vault.
How was it being one of the Alternate gymnasts for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?
Being an Alternate for Tokyo was a tough position to be in but also a great opportunity. I am proud of how I did all year leading up to Tokyo, I was 4th AA at Elite Canada and 4th at Nationals 2021. Even though I didn’t get to travel to the Games, I trained with the team at all the Olympic camps leading up to the Games and was in touch with the team the whole time they were away competing. It was a big accomplishment for me and motivated me for other competitions moving forward.
We understand you competed at the Youth Olympic Games, what was this like and how was it being the Canadian flag bearer at the closing ceremony?
The Youth Olympics were an amazing experience. I loved competing in Argentina, the crowd had such a special, unique energy, and the atmosphere was incredible. I had so much fun competing there. The Youth Olympics were my first Games, which makes the competition so special to me and my parents came to watch me compete. I made history for my country by getting the first medal for Canada in gymnastics at the Youth Olympic Games by winning the Bronze medal on Vault. Being named the flag bearer for the closing ceremonies was a huge honour. I was so happy and excited when I was given the news by our Chef de Mission Bruny Surin, and I was so proud walking in the ceremonies carrying the Canadian flag.
Was there anything that encouraged you to attend the University of Nebraska and how is your time going as part of the Nebraska Cornhuskers?
I was recruited by the coaches and officially committed in the fall of 2020. I had a great connection with the coaches from the start and had a good feeling about working with them. Because I was recruited during COVID, I couldn’t fly out and visit the school in person, so they gave me FaceTime tours of the school and facilities. I loved everything about it, so I committed to the school. My time there so far has been amazing. I love the school, the staff, the academics, the athletics, and all the people there. They have astounding facilities and programs. I’ve grown so much as a person and as an athlete already in the short time that I have been there. I love competing in the NCAA and representing Nebraska. It is such a fun-loving and happy environment, I have found my love for gymnastics again by being with them in my first year, and I can’t wait to see where my next few years there will take me.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from your gymnastics career so far?
I would say that some stand-out highlights in gymnastics for me would be the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Those competitions are the biggest ones that I have competed in, and they have been very successful for me. The experiences have been pretty similar, such as staying in an athletes village, having opening/closing ceremonies, and having huge crowds and media attention. Those are also my top two favourite competitions. Being a 2020 Olympic alternate is also a highlight for me because I worked hard to earn that position and it is a big achievement.
Is there anything you enjoy most about being an elite gymnast and do you remember how you felt representing Team Canada for the first time?
One of my favourite parts of being an elite gymnast is being able to travel the world to compete for my country. I love how I am able to explore new places and become friends with other international athletes. When I represented Canada for the first time, it was at the Junior Japan competition in 2017, and I was 14 years old. It was my first time travelling without my parents to a competition and my first time being that far from home. I remember being so nervous but I had great people by my side, which made it easier for me. I felt so lucky and excited to compete for Canada and loved meeting all of the other athletes. I couldn’t believe I had that opportunity, and I was so proud to wear a Canada leotard for the first time and represent the maple leaf.
Where does your love of gymnastics come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I started gymnastics when I was seven years old. My younger sister started classes before me and would do flips around the house when she got home. I thought it was super cool, so I started gymnastics because I wanted to be able to do that too. I’ve always done gymnastics because I love it. I enjoy competing and working hard to learn new skills. I went through a period of time where I lost my love for the sport because of a toxic environment, but once I got out of that environment and started training in the NCAA, I was able to find my passion again, and now I am happier than ever doing gymnastics.
Can you tell us about a typical training day and how different do you find it competing at senior/college level to junior?
I think there is a big difference between the two levels. Now I don’t need to train for as many hours since my body already knows how to do the skills. I can focus more on strength and mental training and spend less time doing actual gymnastics skills training than I used to. That has helped my body stay healthier and my mental health stronger since I am now able to balance a social life and do things other than just gymnastics. A typical training day for me is about three hours long of training gymnastics, I usually do two to three events a day and then an hour of strength and conditioning in the weight room.
How do you like to spend your time away from gymnastics?
I like to spend time with my friends and family when I am not doing gymnastics. I enjoy listening to music and going to concerts. I also have been really enjoying my studies lately. I am studying speech-language pathology and have been passionate about learning more about that.
Do you have any upcoming competitions you are competing at or are targeting that you can tell us about?
I am going to attend the 2022 World trials in September this year, and hopefully make the Worlds team this year for Canada. After that, my main goal is to focus on my NCAA season starting in January with my college team.
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