By Greg Price and Dale Woodward
Taber Times and Southern Alberta Newspapers – Lethbridge
When an athlete makes an elite- level competition for the first time, often it is just like the Academy Awards, one is happy to just be nominated.
But not for Barnwell’s Riley Johnson.
Competing at the Western Canadian Gymnastics Championships in Brandon, Manitoba recently, it was a first for Johnson who remained undaunted and took a bronze medal on rings, while also helping his Team Alberta gymnasts win the gold over British Columbia in the team event.
“I was just going to go there and do my best, see what happens and give it a good first try. I think I had some good routines. The first day was really good and I placed first in qualifications. On Day 2, I knew if I could just repeat what I did the first day, that maybe I could have a chance to medal and it happened,” said Johnson who trains at the West Wind Gymnastics Club. “I was sort of nervous right before Westerns, but after the first day of competition, I knew I had a chance and wasn’t that nervous. When I got into the final, I had the confidence. I compete in every event, but rings I would say is one of my stronger events along with floor and vault. On floor on Day 1 I fell so I didn’t make the final and on vault I made the final and got sixth.”
Johnson is 16 years old and is fairly new to gymnastics. His bronze medal at the highest level of competition he can be subjected to has proven he is handling the learning curve just fine.
“It really means I get better and improve my skills seeing what I’ve accomplished in the four years I’ve been doing gymnastics,” said Johnson. “It’s a big indicator for me that I can achieve higher than what I’m doing now.”
Johnson’s successful competitive season also included provincials at Fort McMurray with a bronze in rings, a fourth on floor and fifth in vault.
Joining gymnastics at a little more of an advanced age than most who first enter the sport, it proved a natural fit for Johnson with his agility, co-ordination, athleticism and the flair to be a daredevil around the house every once in awhile.
“As a kid I was always jumping around on the trampoline trying to do tricks, and in my house,” said Johnson, adding when he was 12, he found a way to have that energy focused from being inspired by watching the Olympics. “I was watching the high-bar final and watching the guys do all the crazy stuff and I decided I wanted to do that.”
Johnson would have his parents sign him up in a recreational class in which his coach quickly saw an advanced skill level for the rookie gymnast.
“My coach recommended I should try competitive gymnastics, I did rec for one session which lasted for three months,” said Johnson.
When Johnson is not winning provincial or Western Canadian medals, he can be found teaching young kids recreational gymnastics at the local Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club, which currently has only girls programs.
“It’s been interesting. I can share my knowledge and background with the kids, coming up with my own way of helping them understand the skills and drills,” said Johnson of the transition of pupil at the West Wind Gymnastics Club to teacher at the Taber Gymnastics Fitness Club. “It is really rewarding, it’s satisfying seeing the kids I’m coaching growing and learning, seeing that progression trying new stuff and new techniques.”
Johnson is now in full summer-training mode, putting aside work on routines and focusing on core skills to upgrade the difficulty level for next year. The competitive gymnastics season usually goes from December/January to April/May.