Kyle Shewfelt shows off his gold medal.
Kyle Shewfelt celebrates gold in Athens. Postmedia files
Kyle Shewfelt at training in Calgary. Postmedia files
Kyle Shewfelt on the way to Commonwealth Games bronze.
As 2020 winds to a close, Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson profiles Calgary’s sporting icons of the 2000s so far …
You likely remember the near-flawless floor routine, the way he aced that final landing.
You might remember how he raised his arms in celebration, completely satisfied with his performance before the judges even revealed his 9.787 score.
Calgary’s Kyle Shewfelt, who made history that day in August 2004 as the first Canadian gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal, remembers … well … everything.
“When you bring it up, I still get chills thinking about that moment,” Shewfelt said. “I remember every sound, every smell. I remember the way the air felt touching my skin. I remember how the floor felt underneath my feet. I remember the thoughts. I remember the way my heart felt beating inside my chest. I remember the pasty mouth I had before I competed. I remember every word I said to myself during the routine …
“Because I was so present. There were no distractions. I was there to do a job, and I was fully immersed in that moment. It’s kind of wild that I can actually close my eyes and I can place myself right back into that moment. I hear from so many of my colleagues who have won an Olympic title or won a medal or had a phenomenal performance there, that ‘zone’ performance is so few and far between. But when you’re in it, you remember everything. It’s almost like you’re an observer and you’re watching yourself do it.
“It’s very surreal and very wild to look back and say I actually had one of those moments in my life.”
For Shewfelt, that magic moment came during the floor exercise final at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, countless hours of training and tumbling on brilliant display, all capped by a double-twisting double tuck.
“When he was eight or nine years old, he won a meet, won all the gold medals, and he went on the news for his first interview,” said Shewfelt’s longtime coach Kelly Manjak, chuckling as he recounted this memory. “And at the end of that interview, he said he was going to go to the Olympics and win.
“I’d never been on the national team. I didn’t know how to get to the Olympics. I was just a young guy wanting to coach gymnastics. When I saw that interview, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s so cute — he’s going to go the Olympics and win.’ I didn’t want to tell him he couldn’t do that. I just sort of kept his little dream alive.”
On this day, with his loved ones watching from the stands and with millions watching from home, that little dream became reality for the charismatic and talented Calgarian.
As he stepped on the floor, Shewfelt told himself, “Make it happen.” A minute and change later, he was pumping his fist and clapping his hands as he unleashed his emotions.
“My routine was 70 seconds long, and I trained 16 years for that,” said Shewfelt, who was robbed of a second medal in Athens when he finished fourth in vault due to a controversial bit of judging. “When I went into my final tumbling path, I remember the sense of urgency in my mind. My brain was telling me to stick the landing. It was like it was yelling at me: ‘STICK IT!’ Every ounce and every cell of my body was committed to that landing.
“I’ve heard over the years from a lot of people that they were yelling at their TVs for me to stick it, as I was yelling at myself in my mind to stick it. And that reaction I had, I heard a lot of people jumped off their couches in their own joyous moment.”
Shewfelt, now 38 and father of a pre-schooler, doesn’t only have his name in the Olympic history books.
He has his name on the side of a building.
Just off Deerfoot Trail, along 118 Ave. S.E., you’ll find Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics.
“I love kids coming in and, even if they didn’t know they liked gymnastics, they leave loving gymnastics,” said Krystal Wozny, an integral staff member since opening day — before that, actually — as program director. “That’s literally what we do here.”
Shewfelt’s current passion, in some ways, has roots in Athens.
He was then signed to the powerhouse agency IMG. They suggested that he scribble a list of everything he might dream of achieving after standing atop the podium.
“One of the things was to open a gymnastics centre,” Shewfelt said. “One big commitment that I made to myself was I wanted to impact the next generation of Canadian gymnasts and I wanted to make my community better if I could, in some way, with this accomplishment. Because it’s one thing to win the Olympics. It is a very selfish pursuit. It’s all about you. You have all these people around you, helping you towards your goal.
“I accomplished that and I quickly realized it was going to be more about how I could make a positive impact in my community and in other peoples’ lives. That’s where I was going to find the true value in that accomplishment.”
This entrepreneurial move was not immediate.
Shewfelt led Canada’s crew to team gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. His haul from that trip to Melbourne, Australia, also included an individual victory on vault and a bronze in floor exercise.
He represented his country once again at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, his third appearance at the summer spectacle after debuting as a teen in Sydney, and then moved to the broadcast booth for London 2012.
When he returned home from that analyst gig, he decided the time was right.
Wozny, a longtime friend, remembers the call.
“He said, ‘I want to build a place where anybody — anybody — can come do gymnastics.”
That place, an 11,000-square-foot smile-factory, just celebrated its seventh anniversary. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis and the capacity limitations that have come with it, their busiest session brought in nearly 1,400 students per week. (Kyle Shewfelt Gymnastics, like all indoor group fitness spaces, is temporarily closed due to provincial measures aimed to stop the spread of the virus.)
“Once he opened that gym, he put everything into it, just like he did into his gymnastics,” said Manjak, now operating his own facility in Ontario. “And I have to say, he probably has one of the most successful gyms in the country right now that is privately owned.
“He’s done a great job there and inspired a lot of kids — thousands and thousands of kids.”
Someday, one of those kids will likely have their own Olympic moment, whether that’s on the vault, bars or floor exercise or as a snowboarder, freestyle skier or diver.
Shewfelt certainly will be cheering them on. He’s not, however, driven to mine gold. In fact, his centre doesn’t even offer a competitive program.
“Sometimes, I’ll look around and I’ll see the six-year-old kids, and that’s when I started gymnastics,” beamed Shewfelt, an alumnus of Altadore Gymnastics Club. “I see their eyes wide and their faces plastered with a smile and you can just feel good energy, you know? And that’s how I fell in love with gymnastics.
“Our facility is focused solely on the foundation and the grassroots of the sport. I want to promote the sport at the recreational level, get more people involved and exposed to the sport. And if we have a child at our facility that shows that potential for a competitive path, then I’m proud and glad to send them to another facility that can better serve them.
“But my goal is not to produce an Olympian or produce an Olympic champion. To me, that’s something that is secondary. For me, it’s about creating a more active and healthy future for our city. That’s what feels right.”
Remember me for …
Shewfelt nailed his floor exercise at the 2004 Summer Olympics, becoming the first Canadian gymnast to win a gold medal on the biggest stage in sports.
Oh and another thing …
He returned from the 2006 Commonwealth Games with a hat-trick of medals — gold in the team competition and vault, plus bronze in floor exercise.
Staggering stat …
2 — That’s how many legs, yes both of them, Shewfelt fractured during a training session in 2007. Despite the devastating injury, he qualified for his third Olympics the following year.
These days …
Shewfelt, an inductee to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, owns and operates a gymnastics centre in Calgary, focusing on introductory and recreational programming.
He said it …
“I wanted to be a good role model and set an example and to show Canadian gymnasts that it is possible — that you can go to the Olympics and win a gold medal.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020