CALGARY – Kyle Shewfelt is ready to embrace the next phase of his life, whatever it may be.
Canada’s first Olympic medallist in artistic gymnastics announced his retirement Thursday.
The 27-year-old Calgarian won Olympic gold in the floor routine at the 2004 Games in Athens and was named The Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
“It’s a nice feeling to know my legacy will live on and I will forever be the first Canadian gymnast to win an Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics,” Shewfelt said after an emotional news conference.
“I’m not sad. I’m so excited and I have no regrets about my career at all. It was beautiful and I’m ready to move forward.”
Shewfelt also won three bronze medals at the world championships during his career in vault and floor. In Athens, he was fourth in the vault amid controversy as bronze medallist Marian Dragulescu of Romania fell on his second vault.
Canadian gymnastics officials protested the judging but the order of finish was not changed.
Less heralded than his Olympic gold, but still remarkable, was Shewfelt’s return to competition from two broken knees and ligament damage suffered during training just 11 months prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
While Shewfelt didn’t qualify for the floor final in Beijing, that he was able to compete at all was a testament to his determination. It was a comeback not unlike that of rower Silken Laumann, who raced to an Olympic bronze medal with a broken leg in 1992.
“Many athletes who have that significant or catastrophic of an injury, it can be career-ending,” said his physiotherapist Susan Massitti.
“What intensified Kyle’s situation was the timeline. There was such limited time. It wasn’t two years. It was 10 months. To not try was not an option.”
Instead of a tracksuit, Shewfelt wore a suit and tie to his news conference at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, signalling what the future may have in store for him.
“I might be wearing a suit and tie a little bit more,” he said.
While Shewfelt isn’t entirely sure what the future holds, he wants to be an ambassador for gymnastics. He’ll be a television commentator at the Canadian gymnastics championships in Hamilton next month.
He says he and a friend have an idea for television they’re shopping around and Shewfelt wants to open his own gymnastics centre sometime down the road.
Shewfelt had no Canadian man to follow to the top level of international gymnastics, but he has carved a path for his younger teammates. After his gold medal in Athens, teammates Brandon O’Neill and Nathan Gafuik began winning World Cup medals in floor and vault.
The Canadian men finished a best-ever sixth in the team event at the world championships in 2006.
“Kyle opened the door for Canadian boys in gymnastics to realize that ‘yeah, you can win,”‘ his coach Tony Smith said. “We are good enough, we have the facilities, we have the coaches, we have the support in this country to go out and win an Olympic medal.”
More importantly, Shewfelt’s results secured funding from Sport Canada and Road To Excellence for the men’s team from now until 2016, said Smith.
“We saw the women’s program this year lose all its funding,” Smith explained. “That gold medal from Kyle over the next years is probably going to be worth something in the range of five or six million dollars to men’s gymnastics in Canada.
“Without that medal, we’d be in the same situation as the women’s program right now.”
Shewfelt said he felt his mission was complete after Beijing, but it took time for him to embrace life without gymnastics.
“There was a moment that I knew, but it took me time to come to terms with it and to realize that was my new direction,” he said. “I struggled over the past few months trying to come up with new gymnastics goals and ones that were true to me.
“Something was missing. That fire just wasn’t there. As an athlete, that’s when you know it’s time.”