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Interview: Carol-Angela Orchard (Canada)
(13 votes, average 4.69 out of 5)

Although Canadian coach Carol-Angela Orchard is only 48, she has decided to retire after this summer's Olympic Games — and more than three decades of coaching. Orchard and Brian McVey, her coaching partner at Toronto's Sport Seneca club, have produced numerous Olympic and World Championships competitors.

Orchard celebrates a hit routine with Luisa Portocarrero at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona

Sport Seneca's Olympians include Monica Covacci (1988), Luisa Portocarrero (1992, representing Guatemala) and Michelle Conway (2000). The club's World Championships participants include Koyuki Oka (1989), Leah Homma (22nd all-around in 1989), Lydia Williams (2003) and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (2005, 2006 and 2007).

At the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus, Denmark, Hopfner-Hibbs became the first Canadian woman to win a World Championships medal, when she placed third on balance beam.

In addition to Orchard's prolific coaching career, she worked as a commentator for Canadian television's coverage of major gymnastics competitions from 1994-2000.

Orchard, who was born in Hamilton, Ont, and raised in Burlington, was a provincial gymnastics champion before she enrolled York University in Toronto. "It was 10 miles away from Seneca, so I could coach in the morning 7 to 10:30 a.m., and then go back to York to cram in all my classes, and be back at Seneca to train from 3 to 6 p.m.," she recalls. Orchard graduated with an Honors degree in Physical Education and a Certificate in Advanced Coaching.

Earlier this year, Orchard and McVey announced their retirement from coaching, effective after the Olympics in August in Beijing, China. Orchard will be moving to England in the fall, where she will wed Ed Van Hoof. Van Hoof, who competed for Great Britain at the 1984 Olympics, is the technical director of the British men's team. McVey, who will begin teaching college classes in the fall, plans to relocate to Panama.

As the 2008 Olympics in Beijing approach, Orchard and McVey remain devoted to helping Hopfner-Hibbs realize her Olympic dream. They are also spending their remaining time at Sport Seneca preparing Peng-Peng Lee, one of the Canadian team's rising stars, for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Hopfner-Hibbs won the silver medal on balance beam and the bronze medal on uneven bars at the World Cup of Dohar, Qatar, in March; and the gold medal on uneven bars at the World Cup of Maribor, Slovenia, in late April.

Hopfner-Hibbs and Lee won team silver medals at the Pacific Rim Championships in San Jose, Calif., in March, where Lee finished fifth all-around and second on uneven bars in the junior division.

In this IG Online interview, Orchard outlines her commitment to seeing Hopfner-Hibbs through to Beijing, and the transition she is preparing to make in her own life.

IG: Canada will select its two female Olympians on a "points" system. What exactly does this system process entail, and where does Elyse stand right now?

CAO: The selection process only takes into consideration your best two events. Canada wants to send girls who have potential to rank among the top 8-12, in order to increase funding for our program. We don't have any girls that could do that All-Around, so we have been told to focus on our best two events. We have been told to have Elyse specialize on bars and beam, which, of course, we agree with. Athletes also receive points for their previous World Championships experience.

Orchard and Hopfner-Hibbs

A minimum standard has been set by Gymnastics Canada for each event: 13.600 on vault (average of two vaults); 15.300 on bars; 15.100 on beam; and 14.300 on floor.

The gymnasts are given Olympic Qualifying points when they hit the minimum standards in meets they are sent to around the world, plus Elite Canada and Nationals. The higher their score, the higher number of points they receive. The problem is this — some competitions have been judged more severely than others. Performances and rankings may have been good; however, the scores aren't high enough to attain qualification points. On Day 1 at the Qatar World Cup, Elyse placed second on beam with 15.000. This does not earn her any points because it must be a minimum of 15.100. The opposite has also happened with some competitions being scored high, thereby allowing weaker performances to hit the required score.

Elyse and Kristina (Vaculik of the Gemini club) have both scored over 15.000 several times on bars and beam. Close, but not close enough, and they therefore did not received any points for those performances. It is really challenging.

We have drastically changed tactics in order to get Elyse more points. She is now vaulting. She is not what we would consider to be a great vaulter, but it is easier to get vault points. We have had less time to spend on bars and beam in order to push vault; however, it is working. She has now learned a 1-1/2 twisting Yurchenko. Her second vault is Yurchenko half-on, front salto off. We are not under any illusion that this would qualify her for an Olympic final; however, it is enough to get points — and that has become our first priority right now. Her Yurchenko 1-1/2 is actually quite good, and everyone at our last training camp was excited to see it. More importantly, she earned points at Maribor last week by competing her new vault for the very first time, so we are on the right track!

Nansy (Damianova of the Gymnix club) is a strong vaulter and has attained the vault score 12 times now, and the floor score five times. Elyse has attained the beam score five times and the bars score only once - that is why we now have her vaulting. I don't think the vaults come even close in comparison to Elyse's bars at 6.8 and her beam at 6.6 ("A" scores). However, we are now doing whatever it takes to earn those valuable qualification points.

Nansy is currently first in the points system with 32 points. Elyse has 30 points. Kristina has 19 points. They have another opportunity to earn points at the China World Cup (May 14-15 in Tianjin). Elyse will do vault, bars and beam. Nansy will do vault and floor. Kristina will do bars, beam and floor. They will then attend the National Championships during the first week of June in Calgary. All three girls are committed and pushing very hard for Beijing.

IG: How do you plan to handle this challenging Olympic year — working to get Elyse to Beijing - with the same energy and focus as before, especially when you are planning your life after 2008?

CAO: My energy and passion are probably even greater knowing that my days are numbered! I absolutely love to coach. The competitions, trips, etc., are all very nice. However, it is the day-to-day work with the girls in the gym that I love the most.

Peng and Elyse know about our retirement, and we have all agreed to stay even more focused on the task at hand. This is an incredibly important year for both of them. We want to finish on top! So the hard work, passion and dedication continue, and are perhaps even more amplified knowing we have a deadline date. Elyse and I are both planning another aspect of our lives after Beijing. She will be heading to UCLA on a full scholarship when I move to Britain.

This being Elyse's last year before heading to UCLA, I wanted to select international assignments that would really be memorable for her. When the World Cup in Qatar came up, I jumped at the opportunity.

IG: How long had you been considering retirement?

CAO: I seem to think about retirement after every Olympic Games, and then there is another wonderful gymnast I feel committed to, and I continue on through another quadrennial cycle. I started coaching at this level when I was 17, and now I am 48 — so I have had a lot of good years!

There is no "good time" to retire. This time is much harder due to leaving Peng-Peng Lee behind. However, Brian and I have worked very hard on her program. She has virtually everything she needs for 2012 now. Vault — Yurchenko double twist. Bars — three releases, plus Pak-full and double layout full-out. Beam — you name it, she's got it! With the new triple twist dismount and a triple turn, she is well over 7.6 (in difficulty). Floor — double layout, full-in, Arabian double front, triple twist, etc. Now that she has learned all of her skills, she can take the time to grow into her program.

IG: When and why did you decide to retire from coaching?

CAO: When Ed (Van Hoof) and I became engaged last year, we knew we had to figure things out. I made my final decision over the Christmas holiday when we had two weeks away from the gym to just relax.

My relationship with Ed is the most incredible thing I have ever experienced. We seem to be absolutely perfect for each other. We first met at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. I was coaching Luisa Portocarrero and he had (1992 British Olympian) Neil Thomas. We ended up spending a lot of time together as a group. Ed and I were always fond of each other. However, that big "pond" between Canada and Britain kept us apart. It took us another 14 years to get us together. Now that I have what we have, it was definitely worth the wait.

If Ed lived here, I would definitely stay at Sport Seneca until 2012 for Peng. As the Technical Director of the (British) men's team, Ed is committed to Britain until at least London 2012. We have been doing the very long-distance relationship for two years now, and we don't want to spend another four years apart. So, I will be a spectator in the front row in London 2012, cheering Peng on every step of the way. It will be nice to be there when she wins her Olympic medal!

IG: Did you and Brian discuss retiring as the same time, together, or were these independent decisions?

CAO: Brian and I not only coach together; we are also the very best of friends. He has always been an important part of my life. We enhance each other's strengths, and the gymnasts benefit from our unique partnership. We wanted to retire together, and always planned to. Both of us have willingly given up so much for the sport that we love. It is now time to enjoy a completely different aspect of our lives.

IG: With Peng-Peng and other promising young gymnasts, how are planning to emotionally handle the transition from coaching — in other words, knowing you will not be seeing them through to 2012 or whatever their potential is?

CAO: I don't actually know how I will handle this when the time comes. Leaving Sport Seneca and Peng will be the hardest thing of all.

IG: Considering your coaching background, that the next Olympics after Beijing will be in London and that you will have connections with British clubs, how much thought are you giving to perhaps coaching in England in the future?

CAO: Currently, I do not have any plans, and I have not made any arrangements to coach in Britain. With the next Olympics in London, perhaps their coaching staff would consider using me to assist them as you suggested. This, however, has never been discussed. We are all very focused on Beijing right now.

I have known exactly what what I would be doing every day for the past 32 years. I have always known from one year to the next, from one quadrennial cycle to the next. So to suddenly not know what waits for me, gymnastically speaking, after Beijing, is a phenomenally strange feeling!

The only plan I have after the Olympic Games is to spend some time with Ed. We will be married on a private island (Turtle Island) in Fiji on Sept. 24. We will spend 10 glorious days there for the wedding and our honeymoon. Sounds like absolute heaven to me! After that? Anything is possible.

IG Magazine's features on Orchard and Sport Seneca gymnasts include:
"How to Deal with Adversity" - advice column by Orchard (September 2007)
"All in a Day's Work" - Hopfner-Hibbs profile (March 2007)
"A Passion for Performing" - Lee profile (June 2006)
"Canada Can" - Canadian team feature, including Orchard and Homma (January 2001)
"The Comfort Zone" - Conway profile (June/July 1998)
Portocarrero, Homma and UCLA team on cover (June/July 1997)
"Guatemala's Gift to Gymnastics" - Portocarrero interview (May 1993)
Portocarrero center poster (January 1993)
1990 Champions All coverage - features Homma (June 1990)
Covacci U-Frame-It mini poster (May 1988)
1987 Champions All coverage - features Covacci (June 1987)

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Comments (2)add comment

A.R. said:

It would be really good if she and her husband could coach the female
and male gymnastics team of Panama,they really need their help. There are
very talented gymnasts but if Mrs Orchard and her husband decide to stay
permanently in Panama they would definitely raise the level of gymnastics
over there. Their coaching will be a blessing for Panama.smilies/smiley.gif
October 15, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

A.R. said:

I wonder if MC Vey can train female gymnasts,but if he plans to relocate
to Panama he could definitely help the male gymnasts and he could help
a lot the female gymnasts as well. The only thing is that there aren't
many male gymnasts over there,but he could start his own private club
and motivate more boys to learn gymnastics. Hopefully he will not retire
as soon as he gets to Panama and will want to continue working. His coaching
will be a blessing to Panamanian gymnastics.

October 15, 2010 | url
Votes: +0

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