Gym for all will build strong base

The Singapore national rhythmic gymnastics team showing off their moves at the 4th Asian Gymnaestrada.

The focus of the fourth Asian Gymnaestrada, a gymnastics event Singapore hosted for the first time over the weekend, was not on competition.

In fact, none of the 600 participants from 11 countries at the Bishan Sports Hall went home with any medals.

But non-competitive events like these are crucial to helping the sport maintain a strong base, said Singapore Gymnastics (SG) president Goh Hwee Cheng.

"To get to the top of the pyramid, we need the base, so we try to develop the base by having activities like these," said the 61-year-old, who was chief of SG from 2007 to 2011 and took up the post again in June this year.

Gymnaestrada events showcase Gymnastics for All, one of the seven disciplines under the sport's governing body, the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG). The non-competitive discipline aims to bring together gymnasts from all ages and abilities, and are group routines incorporating gymnastics and dance.

Other than men's and women's artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and gymnastics for all, the other disciplines are trampoline, aerobic and acrobatic gymnastics.

Singapore has organised GymFest, its own version of the Gymnaestrada, since 2006.

Goh, who is also organising chairman of the Asian Gymnaestrada, added: "Most people only know about artistic and rhythmic gymnastics even though there are seven disciplines.

"We need more exposure to get people to know about the sport. When they see what others can do, they will also want (to pick up the sport)."

In her two-year term as president, Goh hopes to double the number of local gymnasts from the current 600 and develop local coaches and judges.

One area she sees a big potential for is rhythmic gymnastics, a discipline that involves coordinated routines using apparatus like balls, hoops and ropes.

While it has long been seen as the poorer cousin of artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics has been growing in Singapore since the Republic fielded a team at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

In fact, SG has had to turn away about 70 hopefuls every year in its selection trials owing to a lack of facilities.

Goh sees the discipline, with its potential for growth and increasing popularity, as something Singapore can excel in.

A possible way to spur its growth, she said, is to partner community centres to build a base for rhythmic gymnastics. After all, this discipline does not require specialised equipment like artistic gymnastics, which features the use of the vault, pommel horse, horizontal bars and Roman rings. All that is needed is floor space.

At present, there are only two independent clubs that cater to rhythmic gymnastics, compared to 30 for artistic gymnastics.

With the sport now on a high following Lim Heem Wei's historic Olympic appearance last year, Goh intends to continue riding on that momentum.

She is aiming to have "one or two" gymnasts qualify for individual events at the 2016 Olympics, and wants the women's artistic team to finish among the world's top 24 by 2020.

Said Goh: "Ideally, we should do better at the 2015 SEA Games than the 2011 edition."

Singapore won a gold, two silvers and a bronze in Palembang but gymnastics will not feature at next month's SEA Games in Myanmar.

"For some of our disciplines (like women's artistic gymnastics), we're aiming for bigger events beyond the SEA Games, such as the Commonwealth and Asian Games," she added.

"There are some some very promising young ones coming up. It all comes down to good programmes and good guidance."

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