Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rhythmic gymnasts face some of world's best

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FIVE young Winnipeg rhythmic gymnasts left today for the bright lights of Los Angeles, but it's doubtful they'll have time to shop Rodeo Drive or chase dreams along Hollywood Boulevard.The five -- Emily Richard (16), Kristi Nikkel (16), Danielle Stepnuk (15), Nadia Daoudi (14) and Genevieve Giesbrecht (12) -- are all members of the High Performance Training Centre International, and their mission is to claim medals at the LA Lights Invitational meet in Culver City.

Richard said that the group, which will be joined by their coach Shari Hebert and judge Zdravka Tchonkova, is excited at the opportunity. "We will be competing against gymnasts from all over the world. There are many Olympians confirmed to compete, including the top three from Beijing. Last year, when Kristi and I competed at the same competition, Kristi placed first in her clubs routine (senior), and I placed third for ribbon, and third all around (senior).

Provincially, last year Stepnuk won the all-round junior gold medal and Daoudi was third. Nikkel won senior gold and Richard silver. Giesbrecht was the novice bronze medallist.

"Genevieve is in her second year as a national stream gymnast," said Hebert, "and (only) her third year in the sport. She has so many qualities that are just made for rhythmic gymnastics. She has extremely good flexibility, which is so key to our sport, but she also has beautiful long lines and an elegance that she was born with."

"For me, this is just an experience of a lifetime," added Richard, "because we don't really get to see these gymnasts live, and there will be so many from all around the world. What we are trying to do is prepare ourselves for when we are going to be at bigger competitions."

"This is a tremendous experience for our girls," added Hebert. "It is a huge international competition, and it is also close to home. They can learn so much just from being around that calibre of athletes."

At last weekend's Rhythmic Royals Winter Challenge, Stepnuk was first in the national stream senior hoop, Nikkel second and Richard third. In ball, Nikkel placed first, Stepnuk second and Richard third. In the national stream junior, Daoudi was first in hoop and second in rope.

allan.besson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2009 C4

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