Gymnast calls Olympic experience ‘unreal’
A crowd of screaming girls flaunting brightly coloured gymnastics bodysuits impatiently waited inside the gym at the Langley Gymnastics Foundation on Saturday morning for their Olympic idol to emerge through the side door. Many were waving homemade signs that said “We love Brittany Rogers” or “Brittany you Rock.”
Dressed casually in jeans and a black “Canada” T-shirt, Canadian Olympic gymnast Brittany Rogers was all smiles when greeted by her adoring young fans.
Having just returned from the London Olympics with the best gymnastics finish in Canadian history, she has a lot to be excited about.
The 19-year-old Coquitlam resident was part of the team of gymnasts to finish fifth in the artistic gymnastics team competition finals in London. This is on top of being ranked eighth in the world on vault, winning a silver team medal at the Olympic test event in January, and winning silver on vault at the 2011 World Cup.
“It exceeded expectations I think. I didn’t really want to go into the Games with expectations, but the ones I did go in with were blown out of the water,” Rogers said, reflecting her whirlwind trip to London. “It was the little things that happened like going into the cafeteria and having people just stare at you. Just walking down the street was also unbelievable. I can’t really sum it up with one word, but it was amazing.”
The experience continues to live on as Rogers makes presentations to aspiring girls and boys hoping to one day make it to the big stage themselves. Her captive audience of close to 100 students and their parents at the Langley Gymnastics Foundation were in awe as Rogers recounted the lead up to making the Olympic team, from breaking her ankle two years ago at the Pacific Rim Championships, to having surgery and finally touching down in London.
“(The best moment) I think was the team final competition when we made history and came fifth, and that was obviously a major breakthrough moment for Team Canada,” she said. “I think the closing ceremonies, which we got to walk in, were amazing as well. You’re in an atmosphere of celebrities that you look up to. Basically the world is in your hands. Just walk around and stare at people, it’s really cool.”
Some of these celebrity sightings included American swimmer Michael Phelps and the entire American swim team, who Rogers made sure to get a photo with. She also spotted Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who won three gold medals in London, in the Athletes Village.
The Village alone was a very unique experience, Rogers said.
It had apartment buildings, shops, a spa, an arcade and hangout centre, green space where people played bocci, and even an area for the Canadians to play hockey in the street.
“It’s kind of like the Vancouver (2010 Winter Olympics) atmosphere, where everyone came all together as one nation. It was different because it wasn’t in Canada, it wasn’t in my home town, but you could tell everyone was so excited when you walk out on the street. If you had an accreditation you were basically royalty. You get smiles from everyone, it was such a happy experience.”
But when she first arrived it was a slightly different story. Being the only gymnastics team member from Western Canada, Rogers travelled there alone and was on her own for the first day in town.
“It was kind of a rough start when I got there,” she said. “The bus got lost on the way to the village, so it turned out to be a three hour bus ride when it was only supposed to be an hour bus ride. We were obviously tired and wanting to get to bed, but instead we got lost.
“So we eventually get to the village, and it’s all amazing. We’re touring around the village and then my purse gets stolen. I think I left it on a cafeteria table to go get food and it was gone. So that was something else I had to deal with. Luckily my passport was with me and not in my purse, but my credit card, my bank card, all of my money, my iPod, all of that was gone the first day. I had a lot to deal with, canceling the cards and ordering a new Visa.
“It was a little bit of a shaky start you could say. It turned around though. You’ve got to get through the bad to get to the good.”
Another one of the most memorable moments for Rogers was the closing ceremonies. All the athletes had to walk 20 minutes from the Olympic Village to the Olympic Stadium, then hover outside for half an hour until they were allowed in.
“We were all released out of every corner of the stadium, like a pile of ants,” Rogers said. “I was with Dominique, one of my teammates, and I’m pretty sure our mouths were open the entire time. We could not believe it.
“You don’t realize how big it is, and then you do realize how big it is. This is the Olympics, this is the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Oh my goodness, those are the Spice Girls. We were just in awe of everything. It was incredible.”
The closing ceremony was just the beginning of the night-long celebrations for the athletes.
“We walked back to the Olympic Village and there were policemen around and they asked us what we were doing, and they said ‘the party’s just started, you guys have to go wild this is the last night of the Olympics.’ The policemen were telling us this and we were just like ‘OK, if the policemen told us we might as well do this,’ Rogers said with a laugh.
“The Globe (the arcade) was just packed with DJs, and the athletes were all hanging out there. There was a huge dance party going on until god knows what hour in the morning. I had to leave on a 6 a.m. bus so I didn’t sleep that night, we just got on the bus and went to the airport. I think the party was still going by the time I left. That night we also ordered 100 Chicken McNuggets from McDonalds and handed them out, because obviously we couldn’t finish them all. It was just an explosion of celebrations.”
At one point in Rogers presentation to the young Langley gymnasts she held a Q&A session. Many asked her questions about the Olympics, but it wasn’t until about half way through that the audience brought Rogers to the real issue on their minds. “Can we give you a hug?” one girl shyly asked. At once Rogers was swarmed in a mob of five-year-olds, all cheering excitedly as they hugged her. Rogers was overcome as well, smiling and chatting to each girl.
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” she said. “I really hope to set the bar high for other athletes, and other gymnasts in Canada because we’ve worked hard for this and we can pursue them and encourage them to keep going.”
For those who aspire to go to the Olympics one day, Rogers says to “make sure you love the sport and stick with what you love and just have fun with it, because if you are not having fun with it, you’re always upset in the gym and there’s no point in pushing yourself.
“You just have to make sure that you always feel the love in what you’re doing and your heart will follow.”