Our top aerobic gymnastics athletes are determined to keep training in isolation for their 1m 25s shot at glory on the world stage.

Preparing for world title events via video is one of the ingenious ways New Zealand’s top aerobic athletes will step up their training during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Like many sportspeople around the globe, Kiwi aerobic gymnasts Hannah Wilton and Brooke Davies have worked with their coach Amy Nield to come up with alternative ways to keep active, just in case their pinnacle sporting event goes ahead.

For Wilton and Davies, that’s the aerobic gymnastics world championship – an event held every two years for the gym sport. The May competition was postponed on Monday, after the Suzuki World Cup scheduled for April in Japan was cancelled earlier this month.

The double blow has been hard to handle. Imagine training day and night for two years, for the opportunity to perform a one minute and 25 second routine on centre-stage?

That’s all the time Wilton and Davies have to convince judges their creativity and strength are worthy of advancing beyond the heats and into the finals. But now all their hard work is up in the air.

Nield says it’s been stressful, but they’re forging ahead and putting things in place for the gymnasts to do at home.

“For the individual [competitors] it is pretty easy… it is possible to train them via video,” says Nield, who’s been involved in the sport for over 15 years as an athlete, coach and judge.  

What’s harder is figuring out a way for the three athletes in the trio – also bound for the worlds – to keep practising their routine together while in lockdown (Wilton is part of the trio, with Jennifer Groom and Kate Harvey). That’s where some artistic thinking has to come in.  

Hannah Wilton was a dancer and NZ gymnast before she took up aerobics for a new challenge. Photo: supplied.

It’s a conflicting time for all sporting codes and athletes. The health and well-being of people is paramount, but the sacrifices and investment of pursuing a sport at an international level are still felt with cancellations and postponements.

Especially when both Davies and Wilton decided to focus much of their time on aerobics this year.

Eighteen-year-old Davies works part-time coaching toddlers and children at Aspire Aerobix in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest aerobics club with 30 competitive athletes.

“We’re lucky to have these girls coach because the little ones idolise them. It’s awesome to see them being positive role models,” says Nield, who founded Aspire.

Wilton is in her fourth year studying sport science and human nutrition at Massey University at Albany. She’s studying part-time this year so she can concentrate on aerobics.

This would have been the first time Wilton has been to a world championship, where she will be competing as an individual and as part of the trio. But it’s not the first time she’s represented New Zealand – having done so in artistic gymnastics.

“I changed codes in 2016 because I wanted a new challenge. I was a dancer growing up as well so I can combine that and my strengths from gymnastics for aerobics,” says the 20-year-old, who won the national senior women’s title just two years after taking up the sport.

“It’s great because you’re always pushing your body to do new tricks. It’s interesting when you can master a move, and cool when you can showcase what you can do. Telling a story through your routine to get the crowd going is the best part.”

A career highlight for Davies was winning bronze for New Zealand in the 15-to-17 years category at the International Aerobic Championships in 2018. Now she’s looking forward to competing for the first time in the senior women’s division, once the event is rescheduled.

Brooke Davies has tasted success on the international aerobic stage before. Photo: supplied. 

There were meant to be over 350 gymnasts jumping into Azerbaijan for the world championships. Of the 98 individual competitors, only eight senior women go through to the finals.

For Davies and Wilton, winning is obviously a goal, but the experience of testing themselves against the best in the world also ranks high in motivation.

“I just want to put my best foot forward and improve on my last international performance,” says Davies, who’s competed in aerobics for over 10 years. “It’s a pretty big deal representing New Zealand especially with all the challenges we have in this sport. It means a lot showing up to the airport in your gear knowing what you’re about to do.”

Says Wilton: “I’m aiming for a personal best, so I want to go out there and enjoy the experience because it’s pretty cool to be among the top in the world.”

Aerobics comes under the umbrella of Gymnastics New Zealand as one of their five competitive gym sports. It’s by far the smallest in terms of numbers, but it’s steadily growing.  Internationally the sport is pushing to become part of the Olympics. 

“There’s ‘jump jam’ in schools which is similar, so we’re trying to encourage more participation at the grassroots level,” says Nield, who sits on the technical committee for Aerobics NZ as a coaching advisor. “But it is hard.

“Attending competitions is expensive and it’s all self-funded. We also don’t have proper aerobic floors in New Zealand, so when we’re at an international level, it feels quite different. It’s something we need to consider.”

It helps that the top athletes are good friends outside the aerobics arena, Nield says.

“They compete against each other but they’re also each other’s biggest cheer team. As a coach that’s one of the things I love watching and one of the reasons why I’ve stayed in the sport for so long,” she says.

“It’s been really cool to see these athletes stay in the sport over the last five years. We understand we need to be flexible – to work around uni, work and life – because we want them to stay.

“Even if they don’t want to compete at an international level, they could go into coaching, judging, or competing in a different area of the sport. In the end, we just want to keep young women in the sport.”

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