Roger Vaughan / AAP News
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The two-time Gold Coast 2018 bronze medallist is bound for Birmingham after a resilient road back to the Games motivated by her younger sister.
Whatever Haylee Whitehead does in her own gymnastics career, she can claim some credit for her older sister’s impressive achievements.
Artistic gymnast Emily Whitehead will compete at her second Commonwealth Games in Birmingham after a brutal four years during which, in her words, “there have been a lot more downs than ups”.
Among the many hard-earned lessons since the Gold Coast Games, the 22-year-old found out that Haylee was the ideal lockdown training partner.
After winning two bronze medals at the 2018 Games, Whitehead’s career shuddered to a halt the following year when she suffered two serious back fractures.
It meant three months in a back brace, at a time when she should have been preparing for the Tokyo Olympics.
Then, a week after Emily returned to full training, Melbourne went into its first COVID-19 lockdown.
“I am beyond proud. I know I couldn’t have done this without my support system – they really carried me through those challenging times,” Emily said.
Haylee, 10 years her junior and also a gymnast, proved Emily’s lockdown secret training weapon.
“She kept me going through lockdown. She was so excited to train at home with me,” Whitehead said.
“It was just nice to see someone so excited and push me.
“She’s pretty keen to achieve some of the things I’ve achieved.”
Whitehead went to her first Olympics in Tokyo and is among four members of the Birmingham gymnastics team, announced on Monday, who are going to their second Commonwealth Games.
“Looking back on it, I’m glad I made the decision to just stop, recover, get my body right and prepare for the future,” she said of her enforced break after the back fractures.
“It has been really tough – there have been a lot more downs than ups.
“I’ve grown a lot as a person and I’m grateful for those challenges – lockdown sure did not make it easy, but I’ve definitely become a much stronger person overall.
“I’m excited for the next chapter.”
It’s a lso a new era for gymnastics, with the national governing body in the midst of change after damning investigations into the sport’s culture and treatment of athletes.
“It’s extremely important as it’s setting the tone for the next cycle,” Whitehead said of the Birmingham team.
“There are a lot of changes that have been happening and there are still more that will happen over time, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.
“My goal is Paris (Olympics), but Paris is with the team. That’s key for me.”
Whitehead said the changes in the sport are already apparent.
“It’s funny, I went on another international trip and it was such a fun trip – it was run totally differently to any other trip I’d been on, so I’m excited for more,” she said.