With his competitive days behind him, Olympic gold medalist Kyle Shewfelt (Canada) is reflecting on his phenomenal career while seeking out new opportunities to promote gymnastics.
Kyle Shewfelt (Canada) waves after his gold medal-winning performance on floor exercise at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens
The three-time Olympian, 27, officially announced his retirement Thursday, drawing to a close the career of Canada's most successful gymnast of all time.
"I just knew it was time, both physically and psychologically," Shewfelt told IG of hanging up his grips. "I have accomplished everything I ever wanted to as a gymnast. I got to live my dream. I have always been very passionate about my goals and I really struggled to find competitive goals that were meaningful to me since Beijing. I don't want to be the kind of athlete who hangs on because they are scared to let go. I am excited about my future and I am ready to start creating it."
Twenty-one years ago, a 6-year-old Shewfelt began the sport at the Altadore Gymnastics Club in Calgary with coach Kelly Manjak.
Shewfelt dreamed of being an Olympic champion one day, a long shot for a Canadian gymnast. In 2000, Canada qualified two male gymnasts to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, but the Canadian Olympic Committee balked at sending athletes it felt had no chance of medals. In order to prove himself, Shewfelt competed in a series of international competitions before his silver medal on floor exercise at the 2000 Glasgow Grand Prix cemented his Olympic berth. In Sydney, he didn't reach any finals, but became the first male gymnast to compete a 2 1/2-twisting Yurchenko vault.
Shewfelt won bronze medals on floor exercise and vault at the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim. The next year he won Canada's only Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics to date — the gold on floor exercise at the Olympic Games in Athens.
At the 2006 Worlds, Shewfelt helped Canada place fifth in qualification, an all-time high, and won another bronze medal on floor exercise in the finals.
A year later, Shewfelt suffered a nearly career-ending injury days before the 2007 World Championships began in Stuttgart. A stiff landing on floor exercise left him with displaced fractures in both legs, as well as a chipped bone on his left knee and a stretched ligament.
Shewfelt underwent surgery within weeks. Doctors inserted a plate and screws and reattached ligaments in his left knee, and inserted a screw in his right knee. Through his blog, he invited fans to share his journey as he struggled with the painful recovery and against the clock to compete in the 2008 Olympics. He fought back to make his third Olympic team, and in Beijing finished .075 from qualifying for the floor exercise final.
That he made it to the floor in Beijing was victory in itself, he said. As with his first Olympics in Sydney, Shewfelt's achievement mirrored the Olympic creed, which reads, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle."
Shewfelt hopes his dedication will be remembered alongside his medals.
"I want gymnastics fans to remember me as someone who was passionate and determined," he said. "I hope everyone could tell how much I loved the sport. I paid attention to the small details and I always felt that those made the big difference. I tried to be unique, creative and do something that would make me stand out. I feel like the impression you leave on people speaks much louder than any accomplishment ever does, and I hope that gymnastics fans remember me as someone who was approachable, genuine and kind."
A training accident left Shewfelt in a wheelchair (at a press conference after surgery), months before the 2008 Olympics
As much inspiration as Shewfelt created on the mats, he now hopes to continue spreading via new roles. He is becoming an ambassador of the sport for Gymnastics Canada, to help promote and grow the sport in Canada.
"I am very excited about helping the next generation of Canadian gymnasts reach their highest potential," he said.
A passionate competitor on the floor, Shewfelt has also been known for being outspoken off of it, voicing criticism of judging, rules of media. Days after his golden victory on floor exercise in Athens, many — including Shewfelt — felt he was unjustly denied the bronze medal on vault.
Shewfelt was also a critic of the open-ended Code of Points that was introduced in 2006, which required more difficulty of the gymnasts.
Shewfelt may seek a position with the International Gymnastics Federation in order to bring change to the sport, he said.
"I have definitely considered becoming more involved in the FIG," he said. "I believe that some major changes need to take place within the organization and that the direction that gymnastics is heading in needs to be re-evaluated. It is becoming extreme gymnastics, not artistic gymnastics. It is very difficult to maintain the high level of gymnastics that is required with today's rules and I believe that the athletes and coaches need more say in its evolution. I sometimes feel like the FIG is playing a game of catch up and creating rules that do not entirely consider the athletes' best interests. It will be very interesting to see how the changes in the code are received and how many athletes can demonstrate artistry while performing the high level of difficulty that is required today.
"I would love to be an advocate for change and a voice for the athletes. It would be a pleasure to help the sport evolve into something that everyone is comfortable and confident with."
With Canadian Championships coming up in June, Shewfelt posted the news of his retirement on his blog and held a press conference Thursday. Memories have been flooding back as he reflects on his career, he said.
"I remember the little boy that could flip for hours and desperately wanted to become an Olympic champion," he said. "I remember competing in my first Olympics and not being able to feel my legs because I was so nervous. I remember falling on my butt in semi-finals at Worlds in 2002 because I was so focused on the outcome that I forgot to focus on the routine. I remember the amazing sense of accomplishment that I felt when I won two bronze medals at Worlds in Anaheim and how excited our team was when we qualified to the 2004 Games. I remember literally staring into the face of my dream right before I stepped onto the floor in Athens. I remember the overwhelming feeling of pride I felt when I stood on the podium and looked at that medal for the first time. I remember how exciting it was to come home and share my Olympic experience with my country.
"I remember competing at the 2006 Worlds and the buzz that surrounded our team when we placed fifth in the qualification. I remember the instant when my legs buckled under me in Stuttgart and the cracking sound that climbed up my spine. I remember hearing that my legs were both broken. I remember feeling the fire instantly light up inside of me when I knew that I would do everything I could to be in Beijing. I remember standing at the end of the vault runway in Beijing, running down and sticking the best vault in my life. I remember the millisecond of questioning that I had before I jumped up on high bar [thinking] 'Will I catch my Def?' I remember the sense of relief and joy I felt when I ran off of the floor after I competed my floor routine in Beijing."
"I tried my best to be present in all of my experiences, and I think these are all memories that will last for my entire lifetime."
External Link: KyleShewfelt.com