As the first South African male gymnast to compete at the Olympic Games in 50 years, Ryan Patterson aims to not only take part but to advance to one or more finals at the Games that begin Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro.
Born January 10, 1994, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Patterson moved to the U.S. when he was 4 years old. He holds dual citizenship with South Africa and the U.S. “My immediate family is the only family we have in the U.S., so it has been awesome to be able to compete for my home country and see my family when I go back,” he says.
Patterson trains at the University of California-Berkeley, under head coach and 2004 Olympic team silver medallist Brett McClure, and assistant coach JT Okada. “JT will be my coach in Rio, and he has been my coach on the international scene for the past two-plus years,” Patterson says. He earned his berth to the Rio Games through his 44th-place all-around finish at the Olympic test event in Rio in April.
In this IG Online interview, the ambitious Patterson details his plans for all-around and apparatus success in Rio.
IG: How satisfied were you with your performance at the test event, and, based on your performance there, what will be the focus of your training until the Games?
RP: I was extremely satisfied with my performance at the test event. I had been training for almost a full year, focusing solely on peaking at that competition, and I was able to do just that and hit all six routines. Since then, my coaches and I have put together a training plan that pushes my start value on floor and vault with sights set on event finals and the all-around final.
IG: How did you manage to coordinate your academic and gymnastics obligations to Cal with the travel and competition logistics of the test event?
RP: We knew almost one-and-a-half years in advance that I would need to narrow my focus to gymnastics in the months leading up to the test event. This allowed me to bulk up my course load in the spring of my junior year and the summer before my senior year. By really pushing academics in [those] semesters I was able to take a reduced course load of only two classes during my fall and spring semesters of senior year. This was not quite enough, and I chose to take the year off of NCAA competition and did not travel with the team to away competitions.
IG: What are your goals and expectations for the Rio Games?
RP: At the Games I am really focused on hitting all six of my routines. By doing this I will be in the best position to qualify into an event final and/or all-around final. The same focus and goals have been successful so far in my career, and I believe following through in the same way, once again, is the best bet.
IG: South Africa has not been represented often at the Olympic Games, so how are you managing the expectations that the national program has for you?
RP: It is true that a South African male gymnast has not been at the Olympic Games in 50 years, but instead of letting the expectations and stress consume my focus, I look at it as an opportunity to start a string of qualifiers into the coming Olympic cycles. Gymnastics has picked up steam in South Africa and the amount of talent rising to the top of the competitive field is impressive. Having any impact whatsoever in inspiring the next generation would give me great joy, and I don't believe we will see another 50 years before we have another men's Olympic gymnastics competitor.