Although longtime Canadian women's coach Carol-Angela Orchard recently took on a unique assignment for the British junior men's team, she told IG she sees medal-winning potential in her former gymnast Christine (Peng Peng) Lee of Canada at this summer's London Olympic Games.
"Peng is right on top of her game," said Orchard of Lee, who placed third all-around at last week's Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash., and first all-around in the Challenge division at the Gymnix International in Montreal two weeks ago. "Looking at the Olympics, I think she's a medal shot, definitely, without question. The music and the choreography (of Lee's floor exercise routine) are superb, and then you add the quality of her tumbling, and it's a knockout."
With the London Games approaching, Orchard said she is gratified to see Lee perform as confidently as she is. Orchard was one of Lee's coaches at Sport Seneca in Toronto until she left to work in the U.K. after the 2008 Olympic Games. Lee now trains Oakville Gymnastics with coaches Kelly and Sue Manjak.
"It's perfect to see Peng there," said Orchard, referring to Lee's surge as one of Canada's top prospects for London. "Canada needs her desperately, so this will be a phenomenal Olympic Games for Canada."
Orchard was in California two weeks ago to watch another of her former gymnasts, 2008 Canadian Olympian Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, compete in the final home meet of her UCLA career. Other Olympians whom Orchard coached include Monica Covacci (Canada, 1988), Luisa Portocarrero (Guatemala, 1992) and Michelle Conway (Canada, 2000).
In late 2008 Orchard left Canada and joined the coaching staff of the British women's national team, a position she held through last fall's World Championships in Tokyo. She is now working as a freelance coach and consultant in Great Britain.
Orchard's recent assignment involves consulting for the British junior men's team that is being groomed for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"I'm just starting to work with them, 'packaging' them, which is pretty cool," Orchard said. "They are impressive young men with excellent routine content. They just needed that final touch to enhance what they do to create the 'complete' package. They're beautiful young gymnasts, and we're looking at just putting some artistic line into their work. They're really special, so I'm quite honored to be working with them. This is something quite new."
Orchard said she was asked to work with the young gymnasts by Barry Collie, the British junior national team coach.
"(Collie) is fun to work with, as he has a great attitude and is full of passion in his approach to coaching," she said. "Barry is such a hard worker and is totally committed to increasing the profile of the team."
Orchard said she first gave a multimedia demonstration to the gymnasts, emphasizing the importance of presentation and artistry as demonstrated in videos of former stars including 1992 Olympic all-around champion Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus, 2000 Olympic all-around champion Alexei Nemov of Russia and 2004 Olympic floor exercise champion Kyle Shewfelt of Canada. Also featured in was British gymnast Neil Thomas, who won the country's first world championships medal when he placed second on floor exercise at the 1993 Worlds.
Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee (Canada)
For a direct comparison, Orchard then showed each gymnast a video that she took of them at their last competition.
"It was an-eye opening experience, and then they really applied themselves when we did the one-on-one sessions going through their complete routines," Orchard said. "I was so impressed by their effort, focus and commitment to the team image. They are absolutely brilliant, and I had such fun assisting them. I'm already looking forward to the next session."
Orchard said she is equally enthusiastic about the potential of the British men's team that will compete this summer in London.
Among the top contenders for the five-gymnast British Olympic team are Daniel Keatings, second all-around at the 2009 World Championships in London; Louis Smith, the 2008 Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist; Daniel Purvis, fourth all-around at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo; Kristian Thomas, sixth all-around at the 2009 Worlds in London; Sam Hunter, ninth all-around at the 2010 Worlds in Rotterdam; and Sam Oldham and Max Whitlock, first and second all-around respectively, at the 2010 Junior Europeans in Birmingham.
At the Olympic test event in London in January, the British team of Purvis, Thomas, Keatings, Smith, Whitlock and Ruslan Panteleymonov combined to win the team competition and qualify for the London Games.
"The senior team looks absolutely amazing," Orchard said. "I just cheer them on from the sides. That's a beautiful team, as well. They're doing so well. That's going to be a virtually impossible team to quality for. Since (the Olympic team) is only five gymnasts, it's going to be a tough competition to make the team. They're all so good."
Most of all, though, Orchard said she looks forward to watching Lee compete at her best - in person - in London.
"I won't be at all surprised to see Peng standing on the podium," Orchard told IG. "My heart will be bursting, and it will be an amazing moment. I think she's ready."
International Gymnast magazine related features:
"Pure Purvis" – interview (March 2012)
"Backstage in Britain" - British national program feature, Purvis cover photo (November 2011)
"10 Questions with Carol-Angela Orchard" (June 2011)
Christine Lee interview (April 2011)
Sam Oldham interview (June 2010)
"British Invasion" – includes interview with Keating, profiles on Smith and Purvis, and Keatings center poster (June 2009)
"Royal Treatment" - Smith profile (December 2008)
"Quick Chat: Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (December 2008)
"All in a Day's Work" – Hopfner-Hibbs profile (March 2008)
"A Passion for Performing" – Lee profile (June 2006)
"Canada Can" – Canadian team feature including Orchard (January 2001)
"Comfort Zone" – Conway profile (June/July 1998)
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