Australia’s finest junior rhythmic gymnast is fighting a lack of understanding, funding and her own body to make it to the top. But as Saskia Broedelet explains, the struggle is the most exciting part.
When Saskia marched into Moscow’s $61 million Irina Viner-Usmanova Gymnastics Palace in June, there was little evidence of the 15-year-old girl who enjoys reading on a Sunday afternoon and spending time with her non-gymnast friends.
In sharp makeup, with her blonde hair tied skin-tight behind her head, Saskia embodied the aura of a hardened professional.
She flowed around the pale white surface like an ice-skater, alternately tossing and catching a golden ball with her body contorted in near-impossible positions.
The dichotomy of gymnastics hides in plain sight beneath the mesmerising beauty of its choreography. Here, in front of a simultaneously enchanted and stupefied stadium, was a barely adolescent girl from the Brisbane suburbs, fresh from surgery that would shudder the burliest NRL prop.
Surrounding herself in a dazzling array of iridescent, swirling ribbons, she completed her routine, flashed the broad, forced smile that never left her face firmly at the judges and television cameras, then gracefully marched off stage, remembering not to exhale before she reached the exit.
“At the start I just did gymnastics after school,” she says. “But I really loved it.
“Then everyone started quitting and dropping out, but I stayed committed and it turned into this lifestyle.
“Now I do around an hour of warm-up, which involves strength and flexibility, then stretching and balance exercises. Then I’ll do routine training. I have four routines, with four apparatus and they go for a minute and 30 seconds each. I’ll do about 30 of those each day, per training session. Other than that, I just keep doing repetitions, I practice the last two hours and really push until the end.
“Afterwards I’ll have a bath with Epsom salts and a massage roughly every two weeks.”
Beyond regimenting her body, Saskia’s next challenge is transforming her success at junior level into adult competition.
The government and Olympics Committee offers little to no funding to rhythmic gymnasts, a sport with very little mainstream understanding in Australia. As Saskia says “If people think of gymnastics here, they think of beams and bars.”