At the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year, Gemma Frizelle became the Commonwealth champion after winning Gold in the Hoop final for Team Wales, also qualifying for the Ball final, and she had previously competed at the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast in 2018 and was the reserve for Glasgow in 2014. Gemma won all four apparatus Gold medals at this year’s Welsh Rhythmic Open & Closed Championships in the Ball, Ribbon, Hoop and Clubs, and she retained her title in the All-Around, and at the 2022 British Championships, she won Silver in the Hoop and Bronze in Ball. Amongst Gemma’s other competitions, she has competed at the 2018 World Championships, and she had her first competition back since the pandemic closed gyms when she competed at the European Championships, and she trains and competes with Llanelli RGA. We chatted to Gemma about becoming the Commonwealth Games champion in Hoop at Birmingham with Team Wales, her success at the Welsh Rhythmic Open & Closed Championships and competing at the British Championships this year.
How did you find the experience at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and what was it like competing in front of the Arena Birmingham crowd?
I had an incredible time at the Games. The Commonwealth Games truly are the ‘friendly games’. The positive energy from everyone around you in the village is so contagious, athletes you’ve never even spoken to before will be rooting for you, and to have your whole country behind you is just a feeling like no other.
Going into it, Birmingham was definitely the hardest competition I’ve ever had to do mentally, but to say that the crowd in Arena Birmingham helped to push me through would be an understatement. I felt the energy of the fans elevate me as soon as I entered the arena. I’ve really never experienced such overwhelming support, it was very surreal.
What was it like winning the Gold medal in the Hoop final and becoming the Commonwealth Games champion?
I still find it difficult to describe how it felt because, even over a month later, it hasn’t really sunk in. I knew that if I hit my routine in the Hoop final, I had the potential to place in the top three, but I never really imagined that I would win Gold at the Commonwealth Games. The final itself was therefore extremely nerve-racking. It was the third and final day of competition so emotions and nerves were running very high. When I finished my routine I didn’t really know what to think of my score because there were still five competitors to go after me, I just knew that I had done a clean routine and my coach was crying happy tears. Waiting for the final to end was the longest wait of my life. While everyone was still competing in the Hoop final, I was warming up for Ball, but I couldn’t help but stand and stare at the TV in the training hall as each gymnast’s score was announced. I was overjoyed to learn that I would be standing on the podium, and I broke down in tears when I realised it would be for the Gold. After a tough journey to the Games, it just felt as though everything had paid off, and I was so proud to stand on the podium and see the Welsh flag raised.
Having also qualified for the Ball final, how did you stay focused throughout the Games and what did you enjoy most about competing there?
The routine I most enjoyed performing during the competition was my Ball routine in the apparatus final. As my final routine of the competition, I really just wanted to enjoy myself and soak up the atmosphere. After my performance in the Hoop, I did feel like a lot of the pressure I had placed on myself had been lifted, making it much easier to enjoy Ball. I was so pleased with my routine and really felt that I showed everyone what I was capable of. Undoubtedly, the crowd in the arena were my favourite part of the competition. It was unlike any competition I had ever done, and even today, when I see videos of the Games, I get chills. I am so grateful to all the supporters for creating such a wonderful atmosphere.
How did you feel being selected to represent Team Wales in Birmingham after representing them in 2018 at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and how different were they both to compete at?
When I learned that we were allocated a team spot at Birmingham, I was overjoyed and incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to represent Wales once again.
At Gold Coast, I was a lot younger, more inexperienced and I didn’t have many expectations. This time round, I knew I was capable of a lot more and with that came a lot of added pressure that I placed on myself. However, I felt equally honoured both times to be one of the three persons representing my country in my discipline at the Commonwealth Games.
Although the experience on the Gold Coast was truly incredible, having so many more family members and friends at the competition in Birmingham was amazing and really wholesome. I didn’t realise the impact a home crowd could have on an athlete, but it was so surreal and a memory I will always treasure.
This year, you won Gold in the All-Around at the Welsh Rhythmic Open & Closed Championships, what was it like retaining your Welsh senior title?
It was a great feeling to retain my Welsh title. I had a clean competition, which helped boost my confidence before Birmingham, and it was also my last chance to compete in front of a crowd prior to the Games, so was really crucial in my preparation. It was also wonderful to have my club there to support; I don’t frequently get to perform for my club, so it was wonderful to do that and also to watch the younger gymnasts compete.
At the same Championships, you won Gold in the Ball, Ribbon, Hoop and Clubs, what was it like winning Gold on all apparatus?
Winning all four apparatus finals was a great feeling, especially ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth Games. However, in this competition, I actually made significant progress with my Clubs routine, which I had been having trouble doing consistently in competitions prior. As a result, for me, hitting this routine was more rewarding than winning any medals.
How did you stay focused throughout the competition and is there anything you enjoy most about competing in front of a home crowd?
I actually find it much easier to maintain my focus during competitions at home. I suppose it’s because I compete in the same gym where I also train, making it a very comfortable environment for me. When I compete, my aim is to replicate what I do in training on the competition floor, so doing this feels much easier in a familiar setting. I always try to focus on one element at a time during my routines, so that I am always thinking about the process rather than getting distracted by the outcome.
You won Silver in the Hoop and Bronze in the Ball at the 2022 British Championships, can you tell us about your time competing there?
The British Championships this year were tough for me. I had been having trouble with consistency in the previous competitions, so I had no idea what to expect going into British. It’s easy to get distracted by wanting to perform my best in every competition, but I tried to remember that the major objective of this year was to reach my peak at the Commonwealth Games. I made a few mistakes on the first day of qualifying, but I still managed to win two medals by doing two good routines in the final. The second day of the competition was essentially a loss for me. I let my anxiety control me so much throughout the tournament that it hugely affected how I performed. Although it was hard at the time, I learnt a lot from this competition, and it actually really helped me to better prepare for the Games.
Can you say what it was like returning to gymnastics after the pandemic closed gyms and competitions around the world?
It was a huge relief to be permitted to go back to the gym after the pandemic. Being banned from the gyms for such a long time was very strange because, before COVID, I would be at the gym for 35+ hours a week. During the pandemic, we trained remotely via Zoom. After a while, I found it difficult to stay motivated, so when athletes were allowed to go back to the gym, it was incredibly comforting.
However, I can imagine that many athletes would agree, returning to competitions was mentally very challanging. Because of COVID, my first competition after a (almost) two-year gap was Europeans, a huge competition after such a lengthy break. My competition anxiety really peaked there and it really affected my competition.
What are some of your other highlights from your time as a rhythmic gymnast over your career so far?
After Birmingham, of course, Gold Coast ranks among my career’s biggest highlights. It was my first Commonwealth Games, and it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I loved the entire experience from start to finish and I couldn’t wait to do another Games.
The 2018 World Championships are undoubtedly another one of my career highlights. It was just an incredible experience to be competing alongside the best in the world and I was so happy with how I performed.
Being selected as a reserve for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is probably another career highlight of mine. At the time, I was still relatively new to the sport compared to the rest of my squad, so being selected as the reserve was a huge accomplishment for me. Although I would have loved to compete in Glasgow, witnessing my team win a Silver medal and seeing Frankie (Jones) win six medals for Wales was such a proud moment for me, and inspired me more than anything to make sure I made the next Games.
Do you remember how you felt being selected to represent Team Wales and Team GB for the first time?
Yes, I still vividly remember how excited I was to be selected for my first Welsh international. Being a latecomer to the sport, I remember being surprised to be selected because I was much less experienced than the rest of the squad, but I was ecstatic to go to an international competition, see the standard of gymnastics, and just be away with my friends.
It was equally exciting to make my first GB selection. I knew what to expect by this point because I had travelled with Wales several times, but it felt incredibly special to compete while wearing the GB flag on my leotard.
Where does your love of rhythmic gymnastics come from and how did you get into it?
Compared to other gymnasts I compete with, I actually started my rhythmic career quite late. For a large part of my upbringing, I lived in Thailand, where I did artistic gymnastics as an after-school activity a couple of days a week. When I was 11 years old, my family relocated to Wales, and I joined an artistic club in Cardiff. When the Welsh national choreographer at the time saw me, she told me that I would be much better suited for rhythmic. I then joined a rhythmic club and initially trained in both disciplines, but I quickly made the decision to focus on just one, and I went with rhythmic.
I would say that a number of things contribute to my love of the sport. I love the challenge of gymnastics, the feeling of learning a new skill and the sense of accomplishment that the sport brings me. I also love the people I am surrounded by daily and the sense of belonging to a team.
What is a typical training day for you and can you tell us about training and competing with Llanelli Rhythmic Gymnastics Academy?
On a typical training day, I train from around 8:30am until around 3 or 4pm. This session will consist of ballet, body preparation and skills and routine work. Depending on the day we will sometimes follow the session up with S&C or cardio, and then will see our physios. Our training sessions vary slightly from day to day, but on average we typically train for 35+ hours per week, six days per week.
Since I started rhythmic, I have been training at Llanelli RGA, and I cannot imagine training anywhere else. Llanelli RGA isn’t really a club to me; it feels more like a family. Even though the club is small, it has produced some amazing gymnasts, including numerous British champions. I am so proud to be a part of the club, and I am also very grateful of the work the coaches put in to get where I am now.
How do you like to spend your time away from sports?
When I’m not at the gym, I generally spend my time resting, recovering, or catching up with friends and family. I don’t get to spend a lot of time at home during peak competition season because our competitions take place all over the world, so when I am home it’s nice to see friends who I haven’t been able to see in a while.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
Right now, all of my attention is on my physical and mental recovery after the Games. Before the Games, I sustained a back injury, so the priority right now is getting that sorted before I can start preparing for competition again.
Since all of the remaining national rhythmic events have been cancelled, I won’t be missing anything in the meantime and will just have to wait and see what the new year brings.
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