‘Awkward’ background to gymnastics Games showdown

Murray Wenzel |

Heath Thorpe, controversially omitted from the world championships, is out to make the Olympics.
Heath Thorpe, controversially omitted from the world championships, is out to make the Olympics.

Heath Thorpe wanted to prove a point after his controversial world gymnastics championships omission last year.

But the reigning Australian all-round champion quickly realised that wasn’t helping, the emotional and financial exhaustion of a dramatic 2023 catching up to him after a move to Belgium.

Thorpe’s champion status had earlier counted for zilch when he was left out of the five-man worlds team. 

His appeal was heard by the National Sports Tribunal (NST) and those chosen ahead of him, as well as the injured 2022 all-round champion Jesse Moore, interested parties.

Thorpe the athlete
Thorpe in action at the Australian Championships at the Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre. (Jason O’BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS)

Lawyer fees to the tune of $19,000 helped Thorpe send Gymnastics Australia (GA) back to the selection table, where they upheld their initial decision.

“I had a choice to go back to that NST (again) but at that point, I was just so exhausted,” Thorpe said. 

“I was just like, ‘I want to put this behind me’. 

“It all happened very quickly. It was a lot. I wouldn’t do it again.

“I didn’t really get closure … I stuck to my values and I can move on knowing that I did everything in my power to get to that and there was a lot of affirmation and positive feedback from around the world.”

Thorpe now finds himself defending that all-round title on the Gold Coast against a fit-again Moore and those chosen ahead of him last year.

Preliminaries were held on Friday night, with the final on Sunday a chance to iron out any kinks before a Paris ticket goes on the line at the winner-takes-all Oceania Championships in New Zealand later this month.

“It was out of my hands and now it’s kind of all on me as an athlete,” Thorpe said of the high-stakes trans-Tasman showdown.

“It’s okay now (between the gymnasts); I reached out to them throughout the process and made it very clear that it wasn’t anything against them.

“It was definitely awkward from their end as well, anxiety-inducing, not knowing if your spot’s about to be taken away.”

Thorpe the gymnast
Thorpe has dreamed of reaching the Olympics since he was seven years old. (Jason O’BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS)

That’s why he’s continued to pressure GA to improve the clarity and tangibility of their selection criteria “to not put athletes in these positions”.

Thorpe continues to see a psychiatrist to help to deal with the crash and burn that meant he wasn’t enjoying the sport anymore.

“A lot of things resurfaced; I found I was wanting to prove an extra point, which didn’t really help me,” he said.

“I just reminded myself of my worth as an athlete, but more importantly, as a person. 

“And my team in Belgium knew that I was capable of contending for this ticket to Paris.

“When I was seven, I was like, ‘I’m going to the Olympics’. So it’s been a big thing on my mind. 

“But I’m trying to not put my self-worth to an Olympics. 

“There’s so many great athletes that get unlucky … it doesn’t devalue them as an athlete, nor their ability.”

AAP