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Canada's top-ranked rhythmic gymnast may not go to Summer Olympics

01/17/2012 12:07 EST | Updated 03/18/2012 05:12 EDT
Canada's top-ranked rhythmic gymnast isn't currently part of the group that will be going to the London Olympics and both her mother and the national team coach want that to change.

"Her dream was to go to the Olympic Games and now she feels she was tricked by Gymnastics Canada," said Naida Chamilova, the mother of Mariam Chamilova.

Gymnastics Canada officials are reviewing the situation but say they cannot predict what may happen.

Mariam Chamilova, 18, was born in Moscow, grew up in Ottawa and now lives and trains in Toronto.

She initially qualified for the senior six-member rhythmic group in October 2010. Acting on the advice of her coaches, she declined her spot so she could continue to compete as an individual, with the understanding she could still make the group roster at a later date.

"There will be another selection in a year from now, why won't you compete as an individual?" Naida said her daughter was told.

"The original contracts that were sent out to join the group last year were for one year," said Mariam Chamilova. "I was told by sport officials there would be another selection process, otherwise I would have obviously joined the team because I knew my chances of qualifying were bigger with the group."

She said it was frustrating not to be in control, that it was no longer her athletic abilities or finish at an event that was determining her fate.

After failing to qualify as an individual, she learned Gymnastics Canada was not going ahead with the second group qualifying round set for last October. Instead, they were going with those who qualified in the first selection process.

"Either she joins the (group) or there is no Olympic Games for her," said her mother.

The Canadian group earned a wild-card spot in the Olympics this year for the first time because North America was not represented. At least three continents have to be represented at the Games.

Naida Chamilova says she was told she could appeal her daughter's case but she's afraid there isn't enough time to complete the process before the London Games.

However, Gymnastics Canada said it is promising a decision before the end of January.

"We are studying the situation," said program director Danielle Frattaroli.

"That's all I can tell you. I can't tell you what direction it's going to go because everything is under study. We are looking at it and we are studying everything that was done."

Mariam Chamilova was surprised to learn that this week. She said no one had been in touch with her.

"No, that's the first time I'm hearing about it," she said.

But her mother subsequently said they received an email late Monday night that included the comment that "There would be no changes in the composition of the group unless a gymnast is unable to compete for reasons of ..."

What followed was a list that included sickness, injury, decreased training and underperformance.

"The head national coach and I discussed (it) and found this humiliating towards Mariam," her mother said.

Chamilova's best international finishes include a silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a bronze at the 2011 Pan American Games and an eighth-place finish at the 2011 World Cup.

She's been on the national team since 2008.

"For the last three years she was the top (rhythmic) gymnast in the country," said her mother. "For the last two years, she was athlete of the year."

National coach Svetlana Joukova said she wants to take the best athletes to London, particularly since this is the first time Canada has been able to compete at the group level.

She also doesn't understand why the makeup of the group would not be adjusted to ensure it consists of the best athletes the country can offer.

Joukova said she was as surprised as Chamilova when the decision was made not to have another selection round last October. She was one of those in favour of Chamilova continuing to pursue her individual chances last year, something she would have had to give up if she had joined the group.

"She easily can fit on this group but at the same time she's No. 1 individual," said the coach, explaining the thinking at the time.

"If this is not happening, she still (would) have the chance to go to the second selection and as the strongest gymnast in the country, join our group."

She said the decision not to hold that second selection process was made by Gymnastics Canada technical officials without consultation with the coaching staff.

Joukova is also critical of the way Gymnastics Canada officials scheduled Chamilova to compete first at the recent world championships, when the best gymnasts are normally slotted last by their countries.

That decision cost her marks despite a strong performance, said the coach.

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