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St. Albert junior gymnast set to take on world

Aila McKinley chosen to represent Canada at International Gymnix

A St. Albert junior high student will take on the world’s best gymnasts this Saturday, trying to win gold for Canada.

École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville Grade 8 gymnast Aila McKinley is in Montreal this week to compete in the 2024 International Gymnix Junior International Cup as a member of Team Canada. She is the only member of Team Canada’s junior squad from Alberta.

The competition will see athletes born in 2009 or 2010 from around the world compete to see who is the best gymnast.

Lifelong gymnast

McKinley, 13, said she has been doing gymnastics since her mom saw her doing flips in her home’s basement nine years ago. She was the provincial gymnastics champion in her age category for the last two years and came second at the Western Canadian Gymnastics Championship last year.

Coach Berrie Onishenko said she knew there was something special about McKinley when she first started coaching her five years ago.

“[McKinley is] always wanting to better herself,” she said, and not afraid to take on new moves.

Onishenko said Gymnastics Canada officials told her Feb. 23 that McKinley had been picked to represent Team Canada at the International Gymnix based on McKinley’s top-eight finish at the Élite Canada gymnastics tournament in Langley, B.C. earlier that month.

McKinley said she was surprised to hear she had been picked.

“I just came out of an [ankle] injury, so I wasn’t really thinking I would have made the team,” she said.

McKinley has been doing her usual four-to-five hours of training a day, five days a week at Edmonton’s YEG Gymnastics to prepare for this week’s competition, Onishenko said. The competition will see gymnasts compete in the bars, beam, floor, and vault events, with the top scorers advancing to the finals on March 10.

McKinley said each event will see gymnasts perform flips, twists, and other tricks in a roughly minute-long routine often set to music. She plans to do a double backflip and many aerial twirls for the floor event, and handstands, flying leaps, and a backwards double-tuck salto (where you roll backwards twice in midair with your legs tucked in) for the bars — her favourite event.

“There’s a lot of different skills to learn, and it’s fun to fly,” she said of the bars.

Onishenko said McKinley is one of the eight people on Team Canada competing in this week’s junior event.

“The best of the best in her age category from the entire world are coming to this,” Onishenko said, with athletes from Belgium, the U.S., Japan, and Romania all set to face off against Canada.

Onishenko said this competition is a stepping stone for future junior-level competitions. A strong finish here could earn McKinley federal support for her gymnastics career.

McKinley said she has yet to decide on what she wants to do after high school, but hopes to earn a scholarship through gymnastics. She was a little nervous headed into this weekend’s event, “but I’ll try my best, and whatever my best is, I’ll be happy with the outcome.”

The International Gymnix Junior International Cup will be held March 9 to 10 in the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex in Montreal. Visit for details.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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