Zachary Clay

Zachary Clay

Three’s company: Trio of Twisters gymnasts off to China for World Championships

Canada’s seven-member men’s team features three members of Abbotsford's Twisters Gymnastics – Ken Ikeda, Robert Watson and Zachary Clay.

Discussing the composition of the Canadian men’s gymnastics team for the upcoming World Championships, Ken Ikeda beams like a proud papa.

And he’s grinning not just because he’s on the roster for the eighth time in his long and much-decorated international career.

Canada’s seven-member men’s team features three members of Abbotsford’s Twisters Gymnastics Club – veteran Ikeda, and World Championship rookies Robert Watson and Zachary Clay.

Twisters has sent multiple men to the World Championships before – Ikeda’s older brother Richard was a national-team mainstay during his competitive career, which overlapped with Ken’s – but this is the first time three locals have gone to the Worlds together. And it’s a phenomenal achievement.

“It’s huge,” Ikeda enthused. “Not a lot of clubs can do that – it’s pretty rare, especially with a seven-man team.

“I’m on my way out – I’m still doing good stuff, and I’m still going to be around for a few years. But to see the next generation coming up and doing well, that’s really nice for me to see.”

Ikeda, a 32-year-old former Olympian who attended the Summer Games in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing, as an alternate), is the oldest member of the Canadian team.

At the other end of the age spectrum is Clay, a 19-year-old Chilliwack native.

He cracked the roster thanks in large part to a solid showing at the Commonwealth Games, held in Edinburgh, Scotland in July, where he helped the Canadian men to a bronze medal in the team event. Clay also excelled at the 2014 Canadian Championships, finishing first on the pommel horse and second on parallel bars.

He was named to the Worlds team two weeks ago, following the Pan American Championships in Toronto, and he was utterly ecstatic.

“I want to place in an event (at Worlds) – probably pommel,” Clay said with a smile, acknowledging that he’ll probably battle some nerves in China. “I know it’ll be really hard to do, but if I can hit my routines, maybe I can come in the top 10.”

Watson, just one year older than Clay at age 20, will also be making his World Championship debut.

The Port Coquitlam native joined Twisters just over a year ago in order to train under Richard Ikeda, and he broke through onto the senior national team. He’s the reigning national all-around champion, and his 13th-place result in the all-around was the top Canadian finish at the Pan Am Championships.

“I was really excited to be chosen to be part of the (Worlds) team,” Watson said. “It’s definitely a big stepping stone towards higher goals in the future.

“I’ve been to a few big meets before, so I’ll be able to keep my composure. But it’s going to be really exciting to go out there and try to help the team.

“For me, it’s all about hitting all six of my routines, staying consistent and clean.”

While Clay and Watson will both compete in all six events at Worlds, Ken Ikeda’s program will be limited to the pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar. He would typically be competing on the vault as well, but he’s recovering from an ankle/foot injury suffered at the national championships.

On the vault, Ikeda landed off the mat and “pretty much destroyed” his right ankle and fractured a bone in his foot. But he’s recovered to the point where he should be able to stick his landings on the bar events at Worlds.

At this stage of his career, Ikeda is older than the average gymnast, but he noted that 30-somethings aren’t as much an anomaly on the international scene as they once were.

“There are a lot of guys internationally who are 36 – gymnasts are starting to last a lot longer than they used to,” he said.

“You definitely have to adjust your training style. I can’t train six days a week, the same way these guys (Clay and Watson) would be training. But at the same time, the skills that are in my routines, I already have a lot of experience in. I already have that good base to start from, so I don’t really need to be doing a lot of numbers, as many as, say, Zachary.”

Ikeda plans to continue competing at the highest level until after the completion of the current Olympic cycle, which culminates in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, that’s the same thing he said leading up to London 2012 – an event he didn’t end up attending because Canada didn’t qualify a full team for those Olympic Games.

“My plan is to finish this cycle, and then I’m almost certain – more certain than the last time – that will be it,” Ikeda said with a chuckle.

Ikeda’s continued presence on the national team is a boon to clubmates Clay and Watson, who have access to a tremendous source of wisdom as they head to their first Worlds.

“I’m actually really happy that Ken’s coming, because he can give me a few tips about what to expect and do and whatnot,” Clay said. “I’ve really looked up to him.”

For his part, Ikeda’s advice for the youngsters is not to approach the World Championship stage with any undue reverence.

“This is a big year for them, and I think they can handle it,” he said. “They’re training really hard every day, they’re doing good stuff, and they’re able to hit these routines like it’s nothing.

“They just have to do the exact same thing they do every day and not worry that this is the World Championships. It’s just another competition, like any other international meet they’ve done this year.”

While Ikeda is thrilled to watch the likes of Watson and Clay mature into national teamers, he said there’s plenty of terrific young talent still in the pipeline at Twisters.

“We have lots of other good young guys coming up,” he said. “It’s nice to see that the legacy of Twisters will continue.”