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Yvonne Tousek

1994 Elite Canada: 11th AA
1995 Canadian Nationals: 12th AA
1995 Puerto Rico Cup: 2nd BB, 5th UB
1995 Subway World Gymnastics Challenge: 6th AA
1995 World Championships: 15th T
1996 American Cup: 5th AA , 2nd FX
1996 Canadian Olympic Trials: 1st AA
1996 DTB Pokal: 8th BB
1996 Elite Canada: 3rd AA, 1st V, 2nd UB, 4th FX
1996 Swiss Cup: 5th BB
1996 Arthur Gander Memorial: 5th V, 5th UB, 8th BB, 8th FX
1996 Olympic Games, Atlanta: 39th Prelim, 26th AA
1996 World Championships: 18th V qualification
1997 World Gymnastics Championships: 20th AA , 8th T,
1997 World Team Trials: 1st AA
1998 Canadian Nationals: 2nd UB, 3rd BB
1998 Sagit Cup: 4th UB
1998 Elite Canada: 1st AA, 2nd FX, 3rd UB, 7th V & BB

1999 Bluewater International: 9th AA, 4th T
1999 Canada vs. USA Challenge: 1st T, (1st AA), 2nd FX, 5th UB
1999 Canadian Championships: 3rd AA, 1st FX & V, 2nd UB, 7th BB
1999 Pan American Games: 1st T, UB, & FX, 1st AA (qual.), 4th AA, 5th BB
1999 World Championships: 10th T, 5th UB T, 23rd AA , 8th FX
2000 Bluewater Int'l: 1st T, 2nd FX, 4th AA, 6th V and UB
2000 Pacific Alliance Championships: (injured)
2000 Canadian Nationals: 1st AA, 1st UB and FX, 2nd V and BB
2000 Olympic Trials: 3rd AA
2000 Olympic Games: 9th T, 33rd AA
2001 NCAA Championships: 1st T, 3rd AA, 1st UB, 10th BB
2002 NCAA Championships: 3rd T, 5th AA, 1st UB
2003 NCAA Championships: 1st T, 5th AA
2004 NCAA Championships: 1st T, 5th BB

Showing her unique style at the
2000 Olympic Trials

One of Canada's most successful gymnasts, Yvonne Tousek was perhaps also its most creative. Known the world over by her avant garde floor routines, she qualified to the floor finals at the 1999 World Championships - one of a small group of Canadians to advance to an individual apparatus final at World or Olympic competition. The two-time Olympian went on to a stellar NCAA career at UCLA, capturing three team titles and three individual titles at National Championships. Yvonne joined Cirque du Soleil shortly after graduating, and has traveled the world with the show. Gymn.ca caught up with Yvonne, performing in Valencia, Spain with Cirque, to discuss her passion for the sport. 

Gymn.ca: People continue to talk about your creative choreography and style on floor. Can you take us through the process by which you received a new floor routine?  

Yvonne: Up until 1995 I had mostly done floor routines with classical music and classical choreography.  Throughout my gymnastics career, I did ballet at least a few times a week and even more often when I started working compulsories.  In 1995, our club competed at the Gym Energy Invitational where we watched a group dance choreographed by Antonia Markova, a coach and choreographer from the club.  Elvira loved her energy and her original and striking choreography.  She approached Antonia and the head coach to ask if she would like to work with me.  

From there, we developed a really wonderful friendship and she ended up creating three of my floor routines. Tonia was great fun to work with and she had this amazing passion for movement and music.  It was contagious.  I really can't say enough great things about her, but I have to admit there were also some challenging times in the beginning.  Getting used to breaking down my body and movements from a more classical style and pushing myself to be open enough to try different movements was not always easy.  Tonia always picked the music and then she let me listen and give my opinion.  I think that was the part of the process that took the longest, finding music that moved her and inspired her. 

Once we had the music, the choreography came pretty quickly.  She would play the music and move in a completely free way as I followed her.  Some things seemed off the wall at first, but I really wanted to be open to everything.  If there was a certain movement I couldnít feel or express, we simply moved on to something else.  She had an endless supply of ideas.  One of the most difficult things was finding places to breathe throughout the routines because even during the slow parts, the movements took a lot of energy to execute well.  One thing that I always found funny was that the last thing Antonia created in every routine was the very beginning. 

It's hard to pick my favorite routine because all three were very different.  I loved performing the one from 1995/96 to Havana Club because it was fun, upbeat, and it was my first time trying my hand at something so different.  I donít think anyone expected it from me.  I also loved the last routine from 1999/2000 to The Abyss/Trouble's Tango.  It may not have been as popular as the first, but the beginning of the music was so powerful that I couldnít help but feel fierce every time I stepped onto the floor.  Itís been a while since Iíve spoken to Antonia, but I believe she is currently the USA Gymnastics National Team Dance Coach and Choreographer.

Gymn.ca: Many gymnasts aren't aware of the skills their competitors are throwing or working on, and rarely watch gymnastics on TV. You were actually a big fan of the sport, and remember a CBC profile showing you haul out your video collection. Can you speak a bit about being a fan concurrently as an elite gymnast? To what extent have you kept up following the elite scene?

Cirque du Soleil photo shoot at Russia's Hermitage
Photo used with the expressed permission of Uzeyer Novruzov for Gymn.ca

Yvonne: I started gymnastics at four years old and I was hooked.  I was a gymnastics fanatic from the very first day.  I just loved the sport and that feeling never went away.  In the beginning I looked up to the other girls at my gym.  Later I discovered I could also learn a lot from the gymnasts on television.  At eight years old I remember asking my mom to wake me up early so I could watch the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games on television.  With the time difference, that meant is was very early, so she taped it for me instead. She woke up the next morning to find me eating cereal, VCR hooked up, and watching men's compulsories. 

I was never one to scope out what my competitors were doing.  I just couldnít get enough of gymnastics so I watched it for fun and I watched it to learn.  Iíve tried to keep up with the elite scene, but being on the road can make it difficult.  We donít always get the channels that air gymnastics, but the Internet is a great resource to keep up to date. 

Gymn.ca: Can you tell us a little about your career with Cirque?  

Yvonne: I started with Cirque in August of 2006 so Iím approaching five years as an artist/acrobat.  After finishing my university studies and sport, I still had the drive to do something physical and also something that would push me artistically.  Once I started the training with Cirque, I was reenergized.  So many of the things I missed about gymnastics I was able to find again with Cirque...the challenge, the artistry, the creativity, and the performance.  It was a new type of playground with unlimited options. 

The show I currently work in is called Corteo.  It is the first and only Cirque show Iíve worked in.  It is also my favorite, however Iím a little biased.  My main act is about little children playing on their parentís bed.  There are trampoline beds placed under the mattresses of the beds and we jump and flip from bed to bed and do tricks using the headboards and foot rails.

Since joining the show Iíve had the opportunity to take part in some fun experiences.  During our run in Los Angeles, we were asked to perform part of our act on the Jay Leno show.  As a teenager I remember watching Leno with my parents so it was a great time to be a part of that.  Also, being able to travel the world is one of the best parts of my work.  By spending 5-10 weeks in the cities we tour in, we really have a chance to get a feel for different cultures and what the people from different cities and countries are like.  Our show toured in Japan for 16 months and we were constantly surprised and entertained by the cultural differences.    

Gymn.ca: You were injured a lot during career. What were some of the biggest injuries you overcame? How did you handle the mental component of being injured? Did you ever think about quitting, and how did you motivate yourself to continue? How is your body handling the demands of Cirque? 

At the 1997 World Championships, Russian head coach Leonid Arkaev stood on podium to spot Yvonne on bars. It raised eyebrows, in the gymnastics community and fans debated the event. Some offered theories of soap-opera proportions, but Yvonne offered a more benign explanation: I didn't think much of it because I was focusing on my routine and I was just happy to have someone there to spot.  Normally, one of the Canadian coaches would have stood in for my releases, however at í97 Worlds all three of the Canadian girls who had qualified to the all-around final happened to be in different rotations so those coaches were all occupied with their own gymnasts.  I think Elvira asked Arkaev because they knew each other and he already had a gymnast in my rotation.  I think it also made it possible for her to stay with me on the competition floor instead of tagging in another Canadian coach and having to watch and try to coach from the stands.    

Yvonne: Some gymnasts have back pain, knee pain, or shoulder problems.  For me, it was always the ankles.  When I was younger, I sprained my ankles quite often.  After so many times, the ligaments had become so stretched that they continued to sprain very easily.  The best way I could cope was to tape well and to try not to take too many short landings.  I didnít have a lot of acute injuries.  It was more a nagging weakness and fragility where any short landing would bring on pain and swelling.  Unfortunately as gymnasts, short landings happen more often than weíd like.

The biggest injuries I sustained were a dislocated elbow in 1995 falling from a release move and a fracture in the top of my foot during the warm-up for the all-around final at the 1997 World Championships.  I finished that competition, but it was almost a year of rehabilitation afterwards.  I still consider myself quite fortunate with regards to injuries and how my body handled so many years of intense training.  I can honestly say that in my entire career, I never thought about quitting.  I loved to do gymnastics and I did everything I could to be able to train and to compete.

Currently with Corteo, I find my acts to be lower impact than gymnastics.  My primary number is trampoline and my secondary is high bar.  I still have to take care of my body, but my act is lighter on the acrobatics and heavier in the cardiovascular demand and the character play.

Gymn.ca: Congratulations on your recent engagement. Can you tell us about your fiancť and your wedding plans? 

Yvonne: Thank you!  My fiance is a former gymnast from France.  He is also on the show and works as a high bar artist and coach.  We met in Montreal in 2006 while I was training for Corteo and he was away from tour rehabbing a shoulder injury. We will be getting married in May 2012.

Gymn.ca: Your sister Chantelle was also an elite gymnast, who went on to compete at the University of Florida. What is she doing now?

Yvonne: After my sister graduated from university, she spent two years traveling abroad.  Currently she lives in Toronto and works for a healthcare communications agency downtown.  She is also a freelance writer for various fashion magazines and hosts social events around the city.

Some of the many places Tousek and fiancť Yohann Renee have visited with Cirque
Abu Simbel (Egypt), Nagano (Japan), Venice (Italy), and Moscow (Russia)

Photo used with the expressed permission of Yvonne Tousek for Gymn.ca

Gymn.ca: What advice do you have for up-and-coming gymnasts? 

Yvonne: Most importantly, love what you do and enjoy the process.  Enjoy the days spent in the gym working hard towards something with your coaches and teammates.  Have fun with the challenge of learning a new skill or perfecting an old one.  Savor the feeling of flying through the air during a release move or expressing yourself in a floor routine.  Find pleasure in all these little things because these are the things that will bring you back day after day and these are the things that you will remember when you leave the sport.  

For many, the Olympic Games is the ultimate goal, but if you happen to fall short of that, itís important that there was something in the process that made you happy, fulfilled, and that made it all worth it.  I can say that even in challenging times, each day that I spent in the gym there was a part of me that loved to be there.  And even if I had never made an Olympic Games or a World Championship, there was nowhere else I would have rather spent my time.  I think I was always seen as a very serious gymnast, but that didnít mean I didnít love every second of it.  I just happened to be extremely focused and extremely determined. :-)

And lastly, donít be afraid to be original, different, and innovative.  That is what makes gymnastics such a beautiful and artistic sport.  Some of the most memorable, exciting, and captivating gymnasts in history were the ones who were willing to push the envelope a little bit.  In this sport, the possibilities to be creative are endless.  Take the time to play and explore.  And when you perform, let people see who you are.

Please respect the copyright of this interview, and its photos. Provide a link to the interview, rather than copying and pasting elsewhere. Thank you!

Perhaps no one capture the essence of Yvonne's gymnastics quite like the late Lex Trotter, who produced this magnificent montage:

More videos:

 

Interview conducted July 2011


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