'They're not replacements!'
Gymnastics boss says no pressure on youngsters to fill Danusia Francis void
Retired British-born Jamaican gymnast Danusia FrancisPhoto: Observer file

THERE has been much talk about the likely candidates to take over the mantle from Danusia Francis and push Jamaica's gymnastics forward, following the British-born athlete's recent retirement from the sport.

But Jamaica Gymnastics Association (JAGA) President Nicole Grant-Brown has never been one to entertain the thought of any gymnast replacing another, yet alone to say that individual is tasked with advancing the sport.

In fact, Grant-Brown insisted there is no one saviour in the country's gymnastic ranks and instead pointed to a host of talented athletes who have always done well and continue to fly the flag high on the international stage, thus taking the sport to new heights as a collective.

"We don't do that… we don't put pressure on our gymnasts like that. They will get mental breakdowns, plus we don't want anyone of our gymnast to feel that they are invincible," Grant-Brown told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.

"All are national gymnasts for the year until the next trial. They all have to compete at trials every year. We allow them to compete and make a name for themselves and so far all have been doing well in their own right. So we don't try to make predictions here or there [about who will be the next Olympian]," she added.

Francis, who switched allegiance to Jamaica after being a reserve athlete for Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics, became the island's second gymnast to compete at the Olympics when she braved an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury at the delayed Tokyo Games last year.

She followed the path of American-born Toni-Ann Williams, who made her appearance at the 2016 Games in Rio.

Prior to the Olympic qualifying feat, Francis became the first Jamaican gymnast to compete in a gymnastics final at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, in 2019.

For Grant-Brown, Francis's retirement is not a cause for concern or reason to speculate about replacements, but should be viewed as a window of opportunity for her to assist in the development of the sport in Jamaica and by extension, for the next generation of gymnasts to move up the ranks.

"Her retirement from competition for us only means that she will have more time to help develop the sport locally, through coaching and consultation. Because we have some gymnasts who train locally who are showing the world that they are just as good as their overseas counterparts and could do much more if the playing field was level," Grant-Brown said.

"Jamilia Duffus is our only senior girl who trains in Jamaica and she has been upgrading her skills and then there are several other senior athletes on the national team such as Danyella Richards and Celene Brown who are overseas-based.

"So we do have up and coming gymnasts. I just down want to give the impression that any of our athletes are replacing any because anything can happen at any given time. So they are all here to represent Jamaica not to replace Danusia," the president continued.

Interestingly, British-based sisters Tyesha and China Mattis recently visited the island to apply for naturalisation certificates to represent Jamaica at the Pan American Gymnastic Championships later this month, as well as the July 28 to August 8 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Both were accompanied by Lorraine Atkinson, an international performance coach also from Great Britain, for the visit which came shortly after Francis's retirement.

Still, Grant-Brown remained resolute in her stance that their addition to the national programme should not be viewed as replacing Francis.

"They are not here to replace anyone, once you fit the criteria you are a part of the team," Grant-Brown declared.

"They will be competing at the PanAm Championships, if we receive financial assistance through the Sports Development Foundation [SDF]. We are still waiting and hope our request will be approved because though the SDF has always supported us, our submission was a little late," she shared.

Once eligible, the Mattis sisters would be joined by Jamilia Duffus, Danyella Richards and Celena Brown, as well as Michael Reid and Caleb Faulk at the PanAm Championships, which serves a qualifier for the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games next year.

Additional, Grant-Brown revealed that Faulk, Reid, Richards and Tyesha Mattis, who have competed for Great Britain in the past, could take up the four spots to the Commonwealth Games.

This as other female gymnasts who were eligible, opted out for various reasons.

"Currently Chloe Seaga, who was supposed to represent us at the Commonwealth Games, has decided to focus on college instead. Likewise Kiara [Richmond] who just received a college scholarship at FISK University. Alana Walker, who was also scheduled to represent us at the Commonwealth Games, is injured," Grant-Brown explained.

"So, hopefully, Tyesha Mattis can make it, if we receive her naturalisation certificate in time to effect the change of nationality with the FIG since she competed for Great Britain in the past," she ended.

GRANT-BROWN... we have some gymnasts who train locally who are showing the world that they are just as good as their overseas counterparts.
British-born gymnast Tyesha Mattis (right) goes through her paces under the watchful eyes of international performance coach during their visit to Jamaica recently. .
Sherdon Cowan

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