For the first time in recent memory Kyle Shewfelt is not the reigning monarch of Canadian gymnastics.

Recently retired, he is a notable absence at the national championships being held in Hamilton. Shewfelt was a master craftsman of what is arguably the world’s most difficult sport — the one that most kids couldn’t do in physical education class.

And he was good — no, he was fantastic — at what he did.

At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Shewfelt had a move on the vault named after him — a move too complicated to get into here. He was blazing a new trail for Canadians in his chosen sport.

In 2003 at the World championships in Anaheim, Calif., he won two medals — a rarity for a North American.

The next summer in Greece he claimed the Olympic gold medal in the men’s floor exercise — a breakthrough. His pose atop the podium with the laurel wreath adorning his head was classic. It became a signature image of the 2004 Games.

Afterwards, when Shewfelt was interviewed by Olympic speedskating champion Catriona Le May Doan, he embraced her.

“This means the world to me,” he told her with a look of wonder plastered on his face.

Watching and listening from the broadcast booth, I couldn’t tell if he meant the gold medal or the realization that he had finally been admitted to the circle of greatness he so admired.

In Stuttgart, at the world championships 11 months prior to Beijing, he broke both his legs. Speaking to reporters the day after the incident, with those battered limbs encased in splints and strapped into a wheelchair, Shewfelt said an astounding thing.

“I’ll make it back for the Olympics,” he beamed. “You can count on it.”

He was true to his word.

Now Kyle Shewfelt has withdrawn from the competitive part of his gymnastics life. But in making that difficult choice he must be assured that only so much polish can be applied to a shimmering career.

What is it that made Kyle Shewfelt shine?

He was truly exceptional — an original — a Canadian pioneer.

– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.

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