Olympian Ashleigh Brennan gives back to gymnastics
01 Sep 2015
The future of Australian gymnastics is bright should it reflect the spark in Ashleigh Brennan’s eyes when she talks about coaching the next generation of elite athletes.
It is the same competitive spark that took the 24-year-old to two Olympic Games and to the top of the podium at the Melbourne 2006 and the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Some 40 athletes received the opportunity to feed off that international experience when the Victorian was a guest coach at a Gymnastics Australia Open Camp at the AIS in August.
“Everyone always said to me to enjoy every experience you have and every opportunity that you’re given because it just flies by,” Brennan said.
“People always told me that and I’d say ‘yeah, yeah, whatever’, but now watching gymnastics and watching my friends competing, I feel that and I obviously appreciate it more now what I have achieved.
“I tell the girls that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. It depends on how hard you want to work.
“At this camp, we’ve had gymnasts from all around the country who are competing in the national stream and it’s just a really good opportunity to get all the girls together and experience what it is like to train like a high-performance athlete.
“We have the national team that comes to Canberra a lot and stays at the AIS, where they eat, sleep and train, so these girls get a bit of a feel of that as well, which is really exciting for them.”
Brennan, who retired from competition after the London 2012 Olympic Games, said the profile of gymnastics in Australia had increased through the success of athletes such as Lauren Mitchell.
“Over the years the standard of gymnastics in Australia has definitely been progressing,” the Masters in Clinical Exercise Physiology student said.
“Gymnastics is a really difficult sport and around the world it’s progressing all the time. So in order for us to stay competitive, we need to keep up with the rest of the world, which I think we’re really capable of.
“We’ve got quite a young team coming through, so this year’s World Championships will be a big test for them. It’s a qualification event for Rio next year, so it’s a really important competition.
“But the girls are definitely ready and it’s really about being healthy and preparing the best that they can. Athletes like Lauren have definitely put a great name out there for us and if we can continue to do that sort of job, that would be awesome. It’s exciting of what could be ahead.
“When I came through to Olympic level, I learnt a lot from gymnasts like Zeena McLaughlin, Trudy McIntosh, and Stephanie Moorhouse, and I hope I can give something back for gymnastics to become even stronger in this country.”
“At this camp, I’m also doing a presentation just speaking of my experience of being a high performance athlete. What that pretty much took and the 14 years of my life how it all sorted of panned out.
“So I’m excited to talk to the girls. I’m a guest coach here with a mentoring role and just sort of assisting the girls in small areas where I’ve been through before and I can give them a little bit of guidance. And I just hope that the girls will be able to take one thing that I’ve mentioned to them away back home, and hopefully motivate and inspire them.
“So it’s still nice to be involved with gymnastics now after being out of the sport for three years. I’m also starting a little bit of work in the talent identification area as well.
“My role has mainly been on beam, an area that I love working on and I feel like I’ve quite a lot to offer in that area.”
Brennan also hopes to continue her work teaching gymnastics to children through the Sporting Schools initiative.
“I’ve got a couple of schools at the moment that I’m visiting and bringing gymnastics to school kids,” she said. “That’s been really fun. There’s a new initiative called Sporting Schools which gymnastics is a part of, so I’m hoping to be more involved with that next year.
“It is something that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s a challenge working with kids who haven’t experienced gymnastics before, but I think it’s such an important part of their development. Gymnastics can really set you up for anything and it’s a really good base and fundamental skill program that kids are finding really enjoyable.
“It’s quite typical of gymnasts to go from gymnastics to diving or aerial skiing. But we’ve also found that there’s been a lot of success even in weightlifting. And it’s not only the physical capability with their upper body strength, but it’s also that these girls have been training for such a long time they have that dedication and the right mental approach to switch to other elite sports.”
Highlights of Brennan’s career:
• Commonwealth Games 2006 (team gold and floor silver) and 2010 (team gold and floor bronze)
• World Championships 2007, 2010 and 2011
• Olympic Games 2008 (sixth in team event) and 2012