Young gymnastics team looks to the future

Results are good considering limited training resources

Gymnast Shanti Dias, 9, is Nunavut's youngest athlete at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games.

Aiming for personal bests instead of gold, Nunavut’s four-member gymnastics team from Rankin Inlet has come a long way since the 2010 Arctic Winter Games, coach Lisa Kresky said after the team competition Tuesday.

“Even other coaches have noticed it,” Kresky said.

“We know we are not in contention yet, but compared to where we were two years ago, we are way better. We almost doubled our scores on bars this week, so that’s a huge difference.”

The squad – Desiree Autut, Jayda Pilakapsi, Annette Paniyuk and Shanti Dias – finished fifth of five teams Tuesday in the team competition, but will have a second chance to show their hard work in  individual competition Thursday.

The team has two claims to fame this year: Autut, 16, and in her third Games, was Nunavut’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies; and Dias, 9, and in her first Games, is Nunavut’s youngest athlete.

Autut said she needs to work on “everything, be better on the floor.”

Kresky encouraged Autut to see that she had improved, and said it’s hard to compete with the more dominant teams that train 16 to 25 hours a week in permanent facilities. The Rankin Inlet girls train nine hours on a good week, and for only eight months of the year in a facility where they have to set up and tear down each practice, she said.

“I’m just hoping the girls reach their personal goals and get some practice on equipment we don’t have at our gym,” she said, “and most importantly have fun.”

That’s exactly the plan for Dias, who has only been doing gymnastics for two years.

“It’s pretty cool,” the nine-year-old said. “I’ve been doing vault, and I’ve never made it over before, but today and yesterday were my first time making it over.”

And as trading athletic gear is a big part of the Games experience, she has made a trade of her own.

“I traded a shirt with an Alaskan girl,” she said, noting she got one in return. Did it fit? “Not really, but I’m going to grow into it.”

And considering her age, it’s hoped she will grow into her sport and the Games to bring home the gold in a few years.