How Ellie Black envisions her swan song at Tokyo 2020

Canada's history-making gymnast says 'age is just a number'

Ellie Black didn’t come to Lima thinking about defending her 2015 Pan Am Games all-around gold medal.

That historic win four years ago came in front of a raucous home crowd in Toronto, the first by a woman not from the United States since 1983.

Instead, for Black the focus in Lima is what it has always been for the 23-year-old two-time Olympian: help Team Canada.

Campeones! Riley Mc Cusker of The United States, Elsabeth Black of Canada and Flavia Saraiva of Brazil stand in the podium of Women's gymnastics Individual All-Around on Day 3 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Campeones! Riley Mc Cusker of The United States, Elsabeth Black of Canada and Flavia Saraiva of Brazil stand in the podium of Women's gymnastics Individual All-Around on Day 3 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)Campeones! Riley Mc Cusker of The United States, Elsabeth Black of Canada and Flavia Saraiva of Brazil stand in the podium of Women's gymnastics Individual All-Around on Day 3 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“We go out there to fight for the team,” Black told Olympic Channel.

Though Black has long been reluctant to commit to any specific future plans, with the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo less than a year away, it seems nearly certain she will once again be out on the floor fighting for Team Canada.

Ticket to Tokyo

The first step for her third Olympics is qualifying as a team at October’s World Championships in Stuttgart.

“Our main goal is focusing on the team and preparing for World Championships,” Black said after the team competition in Lima. “We had a great performance. We had some mistakes, but we are going to learn from those mistakes, and move forward and get better.”

Getting better at the World Championships could mean Canada’s first-ever medal in the team competition. At the 2018 World Championships in Doha, they finished a historic fourth place, less than eight tenths back of traditional powerhouse China.

“Unbelievably proud. We came fourth, made history there,” Black told Olympic Channel last season at the Worlds.

Elsabeth Ann Black competes in the floor exercise during the gymnastics women's individual all-around competition on Day 3 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games at Villa El Salvador Sports Center on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru. Black won the gold medal. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Elsabeth Ann Black competes in the floor exercise during the gymnastics women's individual all-around competition on Day 3 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games at Villa El Salvador Sports Center on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru. Black won the gold medal. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)Elsabeth Ann Black competes in the floor exercise during the gymnastics women's individual all-around competition on Day 3 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games at Villa El Salvador Sports Center on July 29, 2019 in Lima, Peru. Black won the gold medal. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Nights to remember

Black has also etched her name in the history books individually. Her 2017 World all-around silver medal was the first – and still only – medal in the event for Canada.

It would have been easy for that magical evening in Montreal to have been her swan song, to have that night be her way to go out with a splash and in front of a home crowd but not for Black.

“That was an incredible experience and I’m never going to forget that,” she reflected. “That’s a result that you have, put in a box and put it on the shelf.”

View this post on Instagram

Thank you everyone. Thank you for coming out and cheering us on. This was a moment to remember forever. Thank you to all my amazing teammates, coaches, family, friends, club, fans and country. To the support team that kept us healthy throughout. To gymnastics Canada for all their hard work. The love and support everyone has show has been incredible. So thankful and lucky to have had the chance to represent such a beautiful country here in Montreal at the World Championships. Congrats to all the athletes who competed. We may fall sometimes but we always get back up and keep fighting. Much love to you all. You inspire me to keep pursuing the sport I love and to reach my dreams. Beyond blessed. Thank you! 💙

A post shared by Ellie Black (@ellieblack_) on

Another one of those incredible experiences came Monday in Lima as she grabbed her second straight Pan Am Games gold medal. She’s the first woman to repeat as all-around champion in gymnastics at the Games.

“I think it is something special to be able to come back and do it again for Canada,” she said.

But she's clearly not resting on her laurels. Instead, it's her love of gymnastics has brought her back, again and again. She’s not one to take much time off, she told Olympic Channel in Doha, even if she’s just playing around in the gym.

“I really do love gymnastics and I’m not ready to be done yet,” said Black.

How far she’ll go

Already a two-time Olympian and one of Canada’s best female gymnasts ever, it’s easy to wonder when she might be done.

And Black at just 23-years-old is used to facing questions about when she’ll hang up her grips.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow, basically,” Black said with a laugh Saturday.

She’s part of the women changing the face of a sport once thought to be dominated by teenagers. The world’s best gymnast, four-time Olympic champion and 14-time World gold medallist Simone Biles turned 22 in March. 2018 World all-around silver medalist Mai Murakami of Japan turns 23 next week.

And, then there’s seven-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina, who at 44 has represented the Unified Team (1992), Uzbekistan (1996, 2000, 2004) and Germany (2008, 2012) at the Olympic Games.

“I always say age is just a number,” said Black.

That’s something the Nova Scotia-native proved as she’s continued to get better, year-after-year.

“I think especially as you get older in this sport, you have a lot of experience and you learn a lot. You learn a lot more about yourself as a person and as an athlete and I think that can help you grow and get strong,” Black explained. “I joke that I’m old, but really there are so many athletes that are sticking around at this age. I think it’s awesome. I think we’re developing and growing, and I think that’s a great thing for the sport.

“As long as I’m enjoying gymnastics and I’m loving what I’m doing, why not keep doing it?”

Enjoyed this story? Share it with your friends!