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Best in the West ready to put on a show

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Some of the country’s best up-and-coming gymnasts will be on display this week as Winnipeg plays host to the Western Canadian Gymnastics Championships.

More than 250 athletes, including 56 Manitoba gymnasts will be competing at the University of Manitoba’s Max Bell Centre from Thursday through Saturday.

"It’s a fairly significant event, because it offers competition amongst the best gymnasts in Western Canada and prepares them well for (nationals)," said Manitoba Gymnastics Association executive director Kathy Stoesz.

Many of the 23 Manitobans who will be headed to Ottawa later this month for the national championships will be using this week’s competition as their final chance to prepare.

Ian Kielly of the Winnipeg Gymnastics Centre, a contender in the national open division category, is one of them.

"The main thing I’m shooting for is to do everything that I’ve prepared and execute it cleanly," said Kielly, a 21-year-old U of M student who has been living in residence this year. "There’s a bit of added pressure that it’s in Winnipeg and you want to represent your province well."

Kielly won a gold medal on the parallel bars at last year’s Westerns, and has added a few new elements to his routine in the past 12 months. If he pulls it off cleanly, he’s expects to be back on the podium.

Longer-term, Kielly is trying to climb his way up to the very top level in the country: the high performance senior category.

"It’s a pretty big gap (between the two levels)," he said. "That’s something I’m working towards. If it happens, competing internationally is the goal. But there’s quite a bit of work needed until that happens."

The good news for Kielly is that male gymnasts often don’t peak until their late 20s, and he’s been showing steady improvement since relocating to Winnipeg from Saskatchewan.

Kielly isn’t the only Manitoban that could be standing on the podium on Saturday afternoon, when the apparatus finals will be held. Sydney Alexander from Panthers, Teagan Turner from Springers, Danika Duncan from Fantastic and Isabela Noyshko from Brandon all have solid medal chances.

Stoesz said you never know which gymnasts that are competing today in the Westerns will one day be on a much bigger stage.

"We’ve had athletes, like Gabrielle May, who competed in Westerns and then represented Canada at the Commonwealth Games," Stoesz said. "You can see that progression to international competition."

As for the overall health of Winnipeg’s gymnastics scene, Stoesz said membership is up at local clubs, something that is often the case following an Olympic year.

"It is cyclical based on the Olympics," she said. "Every year after an Olympics, the numbers go up."

Tickets for the championship are $10 per day or $18 for the full event, with reduced rates for students, seniors and families.

For a complete schedule of events, visit www.gymnastics.mb.ca

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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