Harvey Humber from Counties Manukau Gymnastics was one of six selected to represent New Zealand at the International Junior Team Cup in Berlin in April. In Harvey’s own words, here is an insight into his experience…
On the 2nd of April I set off to Berlin, on a journey that would total 30 hours of travelling by airplane. Attending the trip were the other 5 members of Squad 360, my coach Adrian and myself. The competition we headed to was the International Junior Team Cup, an Under 18 event that is held annually in Germany. The New Zealand team was made up of 4 gymnasts, as well as taking 2 individual gymnasts also. I was fortunate enough to have been selected after several rounds of qualification and was to compete the 4 apparatus that my recovering knee can cope with. The excitement and anticipation of attending one of the most prestigious events a junior international gymnast can hope to compete at made the lengthy trip there bearable. My first observation of the city was that it was considerably colder than Auckland, which I noticed when I first stepped out of the airport in my shorts and t-shirt.
Upon arrival, we had a van to collect the team and take us to our accommodation. The ride from the airport to our hotel included travelling through the city, where we were able to see quite a bit of Berlin and even examine some of its history. My hotel that we stayed in was very nice, equipped with a restaurant and pub on the ground floor. It was also a five-minute walk from there to both the training venue and the arena itself. After finding our rooms on the 8th floor and unpacking we set off in search of food and eventually found a place to eat. Prior to the trip, I had never been to a country where the first language was not English – which came as a bit of a shock. Not being able to read any street signs or menus was a bit of a problem, but luckily most Germans speak a decent amount of English and could assist us. Jet lagged but ever enthusiastic, the boys went to bed early but remarkably slept through the whole night, which helped with jet lag a lot.
We had our first training on the Tuesday, which was held at a local gymnastics club. Luckily the club we trained in was equipped with identical equipment to what we would be competing on, which helped us become familiar with the apparatus. The European brands differ slightly from what we are all used to so it helped a lot with confidence to adjust so early before the competition. As we travelled from the furthest distance, Team NZ was the first to arrive and had the gym to ourselves. This allowed for a lot of freedom and room to get comfortable with the equipment.
On the Wednesday we had the opportunity to train twice. The first was in the morning and was quite a short session – again we had the gym to ourselves as no other countries had arrived yet. In that session we did a lot of physical preparation and conditioning, to get our bodies moving after all that travel. In the second session we were joined by team USA and got to talk to them a bit – a great group of lads with immense talent and potential especially from the younger boys. It was inspiring for me to see 12-year-olds performing skills that were way above the standard of everyone else in the gym, despite their age. As we walked to and from the gym we were able to observe how aspects of society and culture there differs to New Zealand.
Thursday marked the first day of serious gymnastics – it was podium training in the competition arena. This meant that we had the opportunity to do a run-through in the same gym we would be competing in the next day. We could adjust to the different surroundings and slight differences in gymnastic equipment. In our New Zealand gear, we trained alongside some of the world’s best Under 18-year-old gymnasts. The podium training ran smoothly and I felt suitably comfortable with the European brand of equipment, as well as having adjusted to my new surroundings and environment in the competition arena. The set up in the gym was fantastic for the event, it was very spacious and organised. That evening we had our food provided for all participating gymnasts in a separate room in the hotel, organised by the event. It was a great chance to mingle with other athletes and get some good food in before the big competition the next day. The competition was split into two subdivisions as there was a very high number of gymnasts. 2 members of Squad 360 that were travelling with our NZ team were in subdivision 1 and competed in the morning. The rest of us that made up the NZ team was in subdivision 2, which included the top teams such as Russia, USA and Switzerland.
After an early night sleep and a morning of rest, we began to prepare for the competition. We ate lunch, got into our NZ gear and headed for the arena. The warm-up process was unlike anything I had ever experienced before in my gymnastics career – which really helped me understand how high-calibre this event was. Competing in my subdivision were roughly 60 gymnasts, all having to share 6 apparatus. We had an allocated time of 1½ hours to warm up all our routines, but because of how busy the gym was that only allowed for one or two touches on each piece of equipment. In my own gym I normally have quite a relaxed warm-up that involves about 3 touches in the equipment – so it was a bit of a last minute shock. Luckily in my preparation, I had practiced doing routines after very little warm up and that came in handy. The warm up procedure in such a busy gym was different to anything I have experienced before as NZ don’t have nearly as many gymnasts – nor gymnasts at such a high level. I found that most gymnasts were quite rude and would push in line to get turns on the equipment, and in turn, we found ourselves being a bit pushy too. Either that, or we would never get a turn. So that was a big learning experience for me. After marching in for the opening ceremony, the competition commenced and my first apparatus was the P-Bars.
Being my first apparatus I had some nerves, but I have never previously had trouble dealing with them. In what I contribute to a massive surge of adrenaline, my hand slipped in my first skill of the routine and I had to work extremely hard to keep myself on the apparatus. This resulted in some large deductions, but I finished the routine off well. The next routine was high bar, one of my strongest apparatus. By then I was in the swing of things, and my high bar routine reflected the hard work I had put into it for months. Besides a small hop on landing, I was very happy with my routine. For the next two rotations of competition I was doing nothing – as our team had a bye and the other rotation was the floor – which I was exempt from competing due to injury. The next apparatus was the pommel horse, and by then I had been waiting for over an hour. I had one warm up on the apparatus and then had to compete. I was feeling quite confident with my routine, as I had been much more consistent in previous trainings than I had ever felt before on my weak apparatus. The first part of my routine went well, my swing was powerful and controlled. Then a handstand element came up and I overshot my speed, tilting my balance out of handstand and causing me to fall of the app. Regardless I remounted the pommel and repeated the skill to gain the points from it, and finished the rest of my routine strong. Although I did have a mistake in my routine, I managed to temporarily slip that out of my mind and finish it properly, which I was proud of. My last routine was rings, another of my favourites. I hit my routine as good as I could have done it, just like in training, and it was a very positive way to end the competition.
The results of the competition were quite promising but not exactly what I wanted. My main goal of the event was to qualify for a final on any apparatus, which you do by placing top 6 in the qualifications. My ranking on the rings and high bar after day 1 was 7th, making me first reserve for 2 finals. I could warm up my routines the next day, but unfortunately, no one pulled out due to injury and I could not compete. What was interesting to observe was that the margin between the gymnasts in the finals was quite close, and the scores they posted in the finals day were very similar to the scores I got in the first day. So – if I had qualified for the finals – I could have been competitive with the best juniors in the world and potentially have medalled. Unfortunately, it’s just a case of what happens on the day, and my performance wasn’t quite enough to make that final. But seeing that I was still up there in terms of performance with elite international juniors was very encouraging.
Following the competition, we got to explore the city of Berlin a bit, including a guided sightseeing tour and some shopping. After that, we bustled onto a small plane that took us to Birmingham, England. We arrived there at 10 pm and had no way of getting to our accommodation from the airport, so ended up taking a taxi. Squeezing 7 tired males into a small taxi with a suitcase and a carry-on each was a mission.
We had our first day of the training camp in Birmingham on Monday, in which we had 2 sessions. The first was to get our bodies moving again, just getting familiar with the gym and doing some physical conditioning. The second was to work new skills, and what better place to do it. Within the 4-hour training, I found myself doing new skills on high bar, floor, and pommel horse. This was very exciting. To make the day even better, I was able to see my Grandma who had travelled from London to see me. We met up in the morning for breakfast and then she came and watched me train. It was a very special thing to be able to do, and since I was on the other side of the world it seemed wrong to not see her. Not only was the trip full of experiences to enrich my gymnastics, but it allowed me to see a family member that I see very rarely.
The next day we caught an early morning train to Lilleshall, the British National Training Centre. This is the gym where all the Olympians meet up for their training camps – a meeting place for Britain’s top gymnasts. It is, therefore, one of the world’s best-equipped gymnasiums and had two gyms side by side. One was full of apparatus in a competition setting, with hard landing mats. The other was a pit gym, where all the new skills are learnt in a safer environment. We were very lucky to be allowed to train there for a few reasons. The first being that they are quite exclusive with who is allowed to use the facility, for the most part, they only allow gymnasts from Britain’s top squads. The second is that they currently had seniors in final preparation for the upcoming European Championships so they were using the competition gym. We had the amazing opportunity to train next to Olympian and World Championships competitors.
Our trip to the UK was just 4 days long, but in that short amount of time, we met some fantastic gymnasts and coaches – that gave us a lot of tips and helped me learn a lot. It was an extremely valuable experience, one that just cannot be replicated regionally. I am very thankful to be granted the experience of going to Germany to compete for my country, and then training in one of the world’s best equipped gyms in Britain with Olympians. This trip has brought me a great deal of confidence that I can apply in my own training back in the country. Placing 7th on rings and high bar in the world gives me a confidence boost and assures me that with further work, New Zealand gymnasts can catch up to those world class countries and be competitive. This trip ultimately helped me to realise that our final goal of competing at the 2024 Olympic Games is more achievable than ever, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I would like to thank everyone who generously contributed and donated toward this trip, as if it weren’t for that generosity I would not be able to gain some valuable experience. Special thanks to the club and the committee at Counties Manukau Gymnastics and to GSRC for the amazing facility to train in.