Feature | Artistic Gymnastics

Ellie Black relishes role as Canadian team leader after unprecedented year

“I'm also struggling, but together we can get through it,” says 2017 world all-around silver medallist.

By Scott Bregman ·

In early March 2020, Canadian artistic gymnast Ellie Black made an unexpected appearance at the American Cup in Milwaukee.

Black had suffered an ankle injury during the final rotation of the all-around final just a few months previously at the Stuttgart World Championships.

Though she had competed on the uneven bars and balance beam a month before at Elite Canada, it was a quick return from surgery in October 2019.

“That was my first competition, like full all-around competition back since my ankle, and it was a bit of a rush to get there,” Black told Olympic Channel last month. “But it was great to be back on the competition floor.”

Ellie Black at the American Cup in Milwaukee (Photo: Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK)

Little did Black know that it would be her last event of 2020. After finishing fifth at the American Cup, Black went straight to a training camp in Montreal.

Then, the world shut down.

“Basically, right away, when we got home, everything shut down,” recalled Black. “And so I remember going to American Cup and kind of in the back of our head, we knew that things were starting with the coronavirus and we were not too concerned about it. But really just like being cautious and using hand sanitiser all the time... Not thinking about it as much.

“When we got home after the training camp, pretty much everything shut down and everyone was kind of in quarantine. It was a crazy time.”

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‘Together we can get through it’

As a veteran of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Black had already emerged as the team leader well before the COVID-19 pandemic shuddered sports.

She's taken that role a step further during the pandemic, helping her teammates deal with times no one could have predicted or prepared for.

“I've never been through anything like this before, but I've had a lot of ups and downs. I've had a lot of injuries, I've had a lot of unknowns happen,” said Black. “And I've had to deal with those and handle them. So, I've had a lot of experience in that department.”

Black says that one of the most important things she could do was be herself, to show that she – just like her teammates, whether veterans to the Canadian team or up-and-coming newbies – was not always having an easy time during the height of COVID-19 quarantine and time away from the gym.

“You're showing that you're also having a hard time. I'm also struggling, but together we can get through it and together we're going to work through it and come out stronger than we were before.”

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More time to heal

Being stronger than before means more time for Black to recover from the ankle injury sustained at the 2019 Worlds.

While she is confident she would have been ready to lead Team Canada had the Tokyo Games been held in 2020, she admits the extra time works in her favour.

“I try and look at it kind of as a silver lining of the whole thing… just having a bit of extra time for my ankle, not having to just push it that extra little bit and then hopefully give it that little cushion of time to really, really rest and be healed,” said Black. “ And then, also, give myself time to be as strong as I possibly can for my team.”

“80, 90 percent of the days are going to be hard.”

Black’s strength is something she had leaned into, often sharing videos on social media of intense strength workouts with the hashtag #grind.

“I think in sport, the audience sees us at competition at our very best. You see the best performances, of course, there are mistakes that happen, but you don't always see what goes on back at home throughout the year in the training,” said Black.

“My coach always says like 80, 90 percent of the days are going to be hard. They're going to be tough. They're not going to be glamorous. They're not going to be super enjoyable. But it's what you do on those days that make the good days.”

Black is no stranger to good days, having become one of Canada’s most successful ever gymnasts.

The Nova Scotia-native won silver in the all-around at the 2017 World Championships, giving the nation its first-ever world all-around medal.

She’s also twice claimed five medals at the Pan American Games, including back-to-back wins in the all-around, and is the reigning Commonwealth Games all-around champion.

Still, she wants the world to know it’s not always as easy as it looks on television.

“One of the main things for me is just kind of showing all the different sides of it and but still showing that you can enjoy it and you can have a good time as well,” said of sharing the work that goes into her day-to-day regime.

“That's a big thing for me in training is a high-level sport is gruelling. It's hard, it is a grind. But you can also enjoy that. You have to enjoy that process. So I try and make it fun as well.”