Somersaulting to success! | Daily News


Somersaulting to success!

Anna-Marie Ondaatje is no ordinary 19 year-old; this Canadian born girl of Sri Lankan descent is the first rhythmic gymnast to compete for Sri Lanka at an international rhythmic gymnastics championship.

She represented Sri Lanka at the 2017 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships. She made her debut at the Commonwealth Games at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. She created history when she qualified as the first Sri Lankan gymnast to qualify for the final in a Gymnastic event at the Commonwealth Games.

“Rhythmic gymnastics is completely different from gymnastics. It involves more flexibility, working with apparatus and strength. It is elegant and is known to be one of the most beautiful in Olympic sports,” Anna-Marie unfurled her thoughts with Daily News TnC.

Each rhythmic dance performer has to master the use of five apparatuses on the floor – the ball, the hoop, the ribbon, the rope and the clubs. It is a full-body discipline and a demanding activity.

“I started off in ballet. A rhythmic gymnast’s parent saw the potential in me and adviced my parents to introduce me to the sport. We did research as we did not know that such a sport existed before hearing about it. I got into it when I was nine and fell in love with the sport,” she reflected adding that she still continues ballet because it is incorporated in rhythmic gymnastics. Apart from ballet, rhythmic gymnastics also combines elements of gymnastics and dance. Though it is dubbed as quite a complex sport, Anna-Marie has developed a passion for it, mastering aspects like the technicalities of the dance, moving to the music and training her expression.

Anna-Marie’s father, Alistair Ondaatje, saw the budding talents within his daughter and has been backing her throughout her journey. It has always been his dream to give back to the country he loves and he saw that there is a possibility through Anna-Marie’s feats.

Out of all her achievements Anna-Marie says that representing Sri Lanka in the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in 2017 is the most significant for her because it was the first time that a rhythmic gymnast represented the country.

“It was a great honour for me and I was really excited to see how far I can venture in this path,” she recalled with a smile.

Over the years rhythmic gymnastics has won her a stellar reputation as an athlete and has helped her put Sri Lankan on the world map. She first competed in Ontario, Canada, nationally as a junior gymnast. She soon became a member of the Canadian National Junior Group where she and her team clinched a bronze medal for Canada at the 2014 Pacific Rim Championships. She competed as an individual junior gymnast in 2015 and was placed third in Ontario, Canada. She ranked first place in the Canadian Senior National Group Selection and became a member of Team Canada in 2016.

She changed her nationality from a Canadian athlete to a Sri Lankan athlete in 2017, going down in history as Sri Lanka’s first rhythmic gymnastic athlete.

 Since then she has represented the nation in a number of internationally acclaimed tournaments from FIG World Cups, the 35th Rhythmic World championships 2017 in Pesaro, Italy, the 36th Rhythmic World championships 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia, where she made it to the finals and was placed sixth in the club apparatus finals and 11th all-around. She also qualified for the finals in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Some of her recent achievements are winning three gold medals and one silver at India’s 1st International Rhythmic Gymnastics cup 2019 in Hyderabad, two bronze medals at Canada’s biggest international Rhythmic Gymnastics competition 2019 Koop Cup and being ranked sixth place at the finals in the ball apparatus in the 11th Asian Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Pattaya, Thailand. She has her eyes on competing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Though she has many sources of inspiration in life, Anna-Marie says that seasoned Russian rhythmic gymnast Yevgenia Kanayeva is her idol in sports. However she is also motivated by the achievements of many sports athletes in various sectors.

“I would encourage anyone to try out rhythmic gymnastics because it has so much to offer. It is indescribable how much it has to offer not only to enhance your sports skills but for your daily life in general which you cannot learn in school. For example you gain leadership skills, sportsmanship, respect, team spirit, time management, build confidence and enhance the competitiveness within you. The healthy competitiveness that you develop in sports is a valuable life lesson,” she mused adding that her she is grateful to the guidance provided by her coach, Svetlana Joukova.

Besides engaging in the sport she loves, Anna-Marie’s heart also lies in social service activities. She is the goodwill ambassador of the A Quint Ondaatje Foundation.

“We are trying use my status as a Senior International Level Rhythmic Gymnast to do some good to Sri Lanka. We just started off on this new venture and I hope to create a bigger platform for the work we do,” she quipped.

“We want to partner with government, public and private sectors and foster greater public awareness of urgent issues. We hope to build partnerships that bring together resources, expertise and vision working with the best organizations in the world.”

Coming from a family of seven: parents, two older sisters, a younger sister and a younger brother, Anna-Marie says that they are her lifeline. Her father, Alistar, is a lithographer and an entrepreneur and her mother, Anne Suzanne, is a banker. All her siblings had tried their hand at rhythmic gymnastics but it had not stuck to them as it did for Anna-Marie.

“My younger sister is into singing and s working with a producer from the states,” she said.

Another goal that Anna-Marie aspires to achieve is to represent Sri Lanka in the Miss Universe pageant. She is inspired by her aunt, Maureen Hingert, who bagged the second-runners up title at Miss Universe 1955.

“I feel the urge to follow in her footsteps and bring glory to my country,” she said.

She also aspires to introduce rhythmic gymnastics to Sri Lankan schools, give her expertise and share her experiences to develop the beautiful sport. She got the opportunity to introduce rhythmic gymnastics at Carlton Pre-school recently when she was invited to as the Chief Guest at Prime Minister’s wife Shiranthi Wickremesinghe Rajapaksa’s birthday celebration.

Her next international competition is in Spain on March 8. She will also be facing the Asian Championships in May.

Her advice to other youth is to stay in sports and take into their hearts the fact that everyone is equal and here for a purpose.

“These are words I believe in life and have made me who I am today. Even if you do not have a purpose now you need to know that there is a passion waiting for you, ready for you to find it. Respect each other, love each other and be there for each other. That is something I thoroughly believe in,” she concluded. 

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