It took a trip to France for Emily Blackner and Sydney Alexander to discover that they can hold their own in the world of international gymnastics.
The rising stars from Panthers Gymnastics Club were recently in Combs-la-Ville, a suburb of Paris, for the Combs Invitational from Nov. 9 to 11, and then travelled to Marseille to compete the next weekend in the Massilia Cup.
Both events featured international fields, with gymnasts from as far away as China and Russia competing.
Alexander, a 12-year-old from St. Vital, won a silver medal in the all-around competition for her age group at Combs-la-Ville.
Blackner, a 15-year-old St. Andrews resident who attends West Kildonan Collegiate, posted a fourth-place finish in on the balance beam in the junior competition.
In Marseille, Alexander was seventh all-around and Blackner was 39th in the much larger and more established event.
"I thought it was pretty cool being outside Canada," said Alexander, who was competing internationally for the first time. "I was really happy, and felt pretty proud."
Blackner had previously competed at meets in Austria and in Texas, so it wasn’t a completely new experience for her. Like Alexander, she was using the French meets as opportunities to prepare for February’s Elite Canada event, where they can qualify for the national high-performance category and possibly the national team.
"Just to get a competition before that, to practise all my events and get in the right mindset is important," Blackner said.
Blackner has been a high-performance athlete for three years and is hoping to make it a fourth time. Alexander is trying to make it for the first time.
Coach Robert Persechino said the club doesn’t just take anyone on a trip to Europe.
"You need to have special gymnasts to go there," he said. "It’s a lot of expense, so you need to make sure it fits the gymnast."
With her better-than-expected showing, Alexander said she’s had to rethink just how much she can accomplish in the sport.
"It for sure changes my goals," she said. "I’m thinking of higher things, adding new skills. It shows that I could do a little more."
Blackner views the trip as the next step toward her ultimate goal: making Team Canada.
"That is a possibility," she said. "I just want to go to nationals and have a good competition there."