Gymnasts’ gym opens doors Sunday in Saanich

Rowing, triathlon, swimming, cycling, field hockey come to mind among the many sports on the Island that have reliably produced Olympic athletes for Canada.

Not gymnastics, however, with Victoria and B.C. sports halls of fame inductee Phillip Delesalle being the last, at Montreal in 1976.

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That could change with the opening of the largest gymnastics facility in British Columbia. The Inspire Sports-Victoria Centre holds an open house today, from 1 to 4 p.m., at 601 Boleskine Road, Unit 2, in Saanich.

It is a 22,000-square-foot facility that will cater to all abilities and all ages, from elites to children and seniors. The large centre, a former freezer facility for food distributor Sysco, has had more than $1-million worth of renovations and state-of-the-art equipment installed.

That includes all disciplines — rings, balance beams, parallel, uneven and horizontal bars, pommel horses, trampolines, a vault run-up ramp leading to vault tables, a 42-foot by 42-foot sprung surface for floor exercises and a kids’ area with pared-down equipment.

The regular opening is Tuesday at 9 a.m. The ceremonial grand opening is planned for October with several former Olympians from Canada, the U.S. and China scheduled to be on hand.

It is the first Inspire Sports gymnastics complex in Canada and ninth in the world. There are seven in China, one in Japan and another opening in Australia in 2020. The chain was established by former Chinese national team gymnast and Canadian Olympic team coach Liang Cheng of Edmonton.

Victoria is a great sports city, but the company saw an underserved market in gymnastics, said national-certified coach Lucas Tiefenbach, manager of Inspire Sports-Victoria.

Tiefenbach is part of the centre’s five-member ownership group that includes Cheng and four local investors.

“Gymnastics is one of three foundational sports identified by Sport Canada, along with swimming and athletics [track and field],” said Tiefenbach, who added that cross-training for other sports is a key component of gymnastics.

“Gymnastics is for any athlete in any sport because it works all parts of your body and improves whatever you do as your main sport. Sport Canada recognizes seven basic body movements, and in gymnastics, you use all of them.”

Tiefenbach sees the new gym as an all-service centre, catering to kids’ birthday parties on up to Olympians-in-training.

“We believe in gymnastics for all levels, ages and abilities. At the top end of that, absolutely, we are going to see national teamers coming out of this facility and a national team presence here. I don’t think there’s any doubt.”

It has already been announced the 2019 International Cup featuring Canada, U.S., Australia and Japan will be held at Inspire Sport-Victoria from June 21 to 23. The Chinese national team, the gold standard in the sport, has expressed an interest in holding camps in Victoria ahead of North American competitions.

The B.C. team will hold its pre-Games training camp in the facility ahead of the 2019 Canada Games in Red Deer. With the 2020 Summer Olympics being trans-Pacific, Canadian national teams in most sports are expected to base their final training camps on the Island and Lower Mainland ahead of departing for Tokyo, opening up another strong possibility in gymnastics for the new Victoria facility.

Owen Magraken, 12, is just the sort of Island athlete the new gym is expected to boost as the hunt begins for the next Delesalle, one of Canada’s greatest gymnasts. The promising Magraken is good enough to continue in the sport at a high level, but would have had to move to Delta to do so, because there were previously few other such venues for elite young Island male gymnasts. “I’m excited for this. This will really help my development, especially in my specialities the pommel horse and rings,” Magraken said.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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