Spotlight on the Premier Senior International Group from Premier Gymnastics Academy

Trying to get 5 OIympic gymnasts in the same room for an interview was no easy feat! Between their hectic group training schedule, their appointments with health and medical teams, their jobs, and each of their other commitments, the GQ team were so lucky to have found a date and time where all 5 athletes of the Premier Senior Internation Group from Premier Gymnastics Academy were free to chat.

When we arrived at Premier Gymnastics Academy, Alannah Mathews, Emily Abbot, Himeka Onoda, Alexandra Aristoteli, and Felicity White were ready to show us two routines on different apparatus. 

Seeing our struggle to capture video content for social media, Premier Gymnastics’ Director, Nicki Robbins, commented, “It’s hard to capture on camera because it’s like watching 5 sports all at once,” adding to the awe we already felt, finally seeing their routines in person.
After a few tries with the camera, we sat down with the athletes for an interview. 

How was the Premier Senior International Group formed?

Alannah: This group that you see here now has been together for about 2 or 3 years. Himeka was the original member of the group and then us three [gesturing to herself, Felicity, and Alexandra] followed along because we all trained at the same club. All four of us had to search for the 5th member, Emily, and she moved up [from South Australia] at the end of 2018.

Representing your country and competing at the Olympics, has it always been a dream of yours?

Everyone: Yes!

Felicity: Representing Australia has always been a big goal of ours. We first did it at World Cups in 2018 and then we moved on to World Championships later that year, and in 2019 we were able to go to Pesaro and Bulgaria and compete in those two World Cups. Now our Olympic dream has come true and we get to represent Australia there!

Alannah: Representing Australia has been a goal for me since I was probably about 16. I think that’s the age where you kind of decide, “alright, I’m doing this for a reason,” and that’s kind of when it kicked in.

Me too. When you’re little, it’s obviously a dream that you want to represent Australia, but when you’re a bit older, you’re like “yeah, I’m going to do it!”

Emily: Yeah, that was the same for me. [The dream] started as soon as I started gymnastics. I have drawings from when I was 10 saying “I want to represent Australia at the Olympic Games for Rhythmic Gymnasts.” The dream has been there since the beginning, so yeah [this is all] very exciting.

After a disruptive and challenging year that was 2020, how have you kept yourself motivated and focussed?

Himeka: Yeah 2020 was a really tough year for everyone, and all the athletes around the world. So we all just did it through zoom for a while and to stay motivated we all just had each other. We’re lucky that it’s a group sport, we just had each others’ backs the whole time, and we just pushed each other and said, “if you’re feeling down, [remember] we’ve got the Olympics to work towards.”

We’re lucky we had each other to push us through because it was really tough mentally for all of us as well.

Emily: We had a lot going on and we’ve been through pretty much everything. Like we’ve had everything thrown at us, but we’ve got such a special bond and somehow we all got through it together. I think that’s something so special about our team, we’re so resilient and bounce back from every single obstacle that’s been thrown our way.

Who have been the biggest supporters in your journey to Tokyo?

All: Each other!

Our biggest supporters are literally us, each other.

And our families!

Our families are just amazing, they do everything for us, they’ve dropped so much for us.

All those times they’ve taken us to training, even since we were little.

Yeah, I’m 24 and my parents are still my biggest supporters so we’re very lucky.

And our coach Gina, of course. She has always believed in us, and I think that’s really comforting for us, because even when we’ve doubted or lost hope, she’s always there and tells us that we’ve got this in the bag.

What are you most looking forward to at the games?

Alannah: I’m really looking forward to the Australian tracksuit that we get![Everyone laughing]

Felicity: I’m really looking forward to the village and the atmosphere. I know it will be different this year because of COVID restrictions, but I reckon the atmosphere will be really inviting and really fun. And also just watching the other gymnastics as well, like artistic, tramp, rhythmic.

Guys, what about competing!
[Everyone laughing]

Alexandra: And competing as well! We’re really excited to compete.

What do you love most about competing?

Emily: I think my favourite thing about competing is coming off the floor after you’ve just given your absolute all.[Everyone agreeing]

Felicity: When we stand in a line, we walk off, we give each other a group hug, and we know that we’ve trained so hard for this and that we’ve done it. It’s the biggest relief to take a big breath and say “we’ve done it.”

Also when there’s a crowd there, I think that’s nice, but I don’t think that will happen this time.

No I think there’s going to be like ten thousand people, and it’s sold out already. It’s going to be good!

What do you love most about rhythmic gymnastics?

Alannah: Rhythmic gymnastics is beautiful and graceful.

You can never master the sport, there’s always new things. I love our leotards and getting our hair done, it’s really special.

I love getting ready together as well, like we do it as a team.

Emily: And you’re never done. Like you can always be better, and that’s the exciting thing about rhythmic. It’s forever evolving and lots of hard work, but that’s what I love about it.

What advice would you give young gymnasts that have the same aspiration of becoming an Olympian?

Himeka: Believe in yourself. I think that’s number one. And, I think, resilience. There’s always going to be set backs but you’ve just got to get back up.

And if you can, surround yourself with people who believe in you as well.

And have fun! Come into the training hall happy and try and make each training session as happy as you can. There’s nothing worse than training in a bad mood, and you don’t know when you’ll be back in lockdown.

Alannah: Yeah, have fun while you can, before it gets too serious!
[Everyone laughing]

Do you have any rituals before you compete?

Felicity: So before we compete, we all get in a little circle, and put our pinkies together.

[Then] we all close our eyes and we go through the routine in our head, and at the end, we do this.
[The group takes a deep breath in]

Felicity: Then we slap each other and make loud noises.

It’s so we can feel our fingers.

What’s your favourite pump up song?

Alexandra: Eminem! Any Eminem, any old school Eminem, old school hip hop, old school rap.

Lexi’s playlist is usually the one playing when we get ready, so we listen to her music.

What is the first thing you will do when you arrive back home after the Games?

Alannah: When we get back after quarantine, I want to have a big party.
[Everyone laughing]

Alexandra: And give our pets big cuddles.

Who are you excited to see compete at the Games?

Alexandra: I really want to watch the MAG and WAG finals, I think it would be really special to cheer them on.

It would be nice to watch other sports as well if we’re able to. We’re just not sure if we’ll be able to yet. Like the sprinting and stuff.

If we get the chance, we definitely will. Triathlon would be really cool.

Yeah, the swimming! The swimming will be really intense, but I don’t think we’re there [for that] though.

Past or present, who is your favourite gymnast?

Emily: We were just talking about this! Alina Maksymenko was the first gymnast I fell in love with, who I just watch over and over, and who just inspired me. She’s a Ukranian gymnast, and her performance is just amazing.

Allanah: It’s incredible to watch, it’s like a religious experience.

If I was to pick a favourite group, I would say Italy. Watching them at World’s was amazing.