Wanaka's first and only female gymnast to make it to the New Zealand Gymnastics Championships has a running start to take her sport to the next level.
Thirteen-year-old Isabella (Bella) Soper just returned home after giving her greatest effort to the 2018 championships in Tauranga last week. She competed for the top national titles in a total field of 64 gymnasts, which were divided into two age groups.
"It was so awesome and such a different experience to a normal competition. There were so many people competing and watching. The gym was massive and the crowd was really supportive with their cheering and encouragement," Soper told the Wanaka Sun.
Soper is the first local gymnast to have completed the sport’s entire pathway from recreational to competitive. This is the second time she has qualified for the championships; she first qualified in STEP 5 (Striving Towards Excellence in Performance) in 2016.
To qualify for the Otago team, gymnasts must achieve a qualifying score of more than 50 on four apparatus: vault, bar, beam and floor.
Soper finished top in Otago for STEP 6 amongst her team of four. "My best result was 13th on vault, and if I hadn’t taken a step forward after my landing I would have placed third, so I know I can do better."
Soper is coached by Rae Paterson, Jess Warburton and Sarah Scott.
Paterson said, "She scored a 13.6 with a 0.5 deduction for a large step as she had so much flight. Third place was 14.05; this put her right up there in the medal hunt which is a huge achievement. Amazing seeing that we only have half the full length of a vault run up in our facility and that she trains a third of the hours compared to most of her fellow competitors."
The gymnastics superstar, who has been enrolled in Aspiring Gymsports Gymnastic Club’s programmes since she was a baby, now has her sights set on STEP 7 next year despite the gym training challenges. Soper said that without an inner sprung floor and due to the limited vault run up, her gym makes it difficult to complete one of the STEP 7 vault options. Paterson said Soper has used her time wisely in the small gym despite it being set up differently to gyms in which other gymnasts train.
Soper said she left the championships motivated as well as happy with her performance. "I loved to watch all the older girls and higher STEPs and they were all very inspiring."
Pictured: Bella Soper at 2018 New Zealand Gymnastics Championships.