Ellis O’Reilly made history at the Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, 17th April 2016 by becoming the first ever female gymnast to qualify to an Olympic Games for Ireland. The 18 year old, who trains at Europa Gymnastics Centre in London, England is a strong and powerful gymnast who shines on the Vault and Floor Exercise and will show off her skills this Summer in Rio. Get to know a little more about her with these 20 quick questions.
1) Firstly, congratulations on becoming an Olympian, how does it feel to reach the pinnacle of your sport?
It feels amazing to be the first ever Irish female gymnast to achieve this.
2) How and when did you get involved in gymnastics and what drives you to keep training at the elite level?
My mum put me into the sport at 6 years old, I had tried ballet and horseriding previously. I am driven to keep training at elite level because I enjoy it and I want to achieve my goals.
3) So, officially you earned the Olympic Test Event spot for Ireland at the 2015 World Championships, however the spot was non-nominative and was still not yours until March, following a selection process, what was that process like and did you know you had a good chance at being selected?
I had to do trials which were quite nerve wrecking but I thought I stood a good chance.
4) So you were born in England, however compete for Ireland. Can you tell me a little about why you made the decision to compete for Ireland, how did you ultimately come to that decision and did you ever think of representing Great Britain?
It was my mum’s idea. My sister spent some time with the Irish boxing squad so my mum investigated if I would be eligible through my grandad to compete for Ireland. I went ahead and did a trial for Gymnastics Ireland and made the squad.
5) Your siblings are boxers, with your sister also being an high level athlete, can you tell me a little about what the dynamic is like with them and what are their hopes for their athletic careers?
We are really competitive. Reggie (age 13) wants to box for Ireland and compete along side me in 2020! Jenna has won 5 ABA titles and she is going for her 6th one in May. She would love to represent Ireland as well.
6) Many British gymnasts and Irish gymnast, India McPeak are currently competing in the NCAA in the U.S., have you or would you ever consider that route?
I don’t think so, it’s not something that really interests me.
7) This ties in with my last question, you’re only 18 and still in school, what are your plans for the future? Do you hope to continue your gymnastics career after the Olympic Games or do you hope to stay involved in the gymnastics community through coaching or judging?
I am going to see how I do at the Olympics and I can think about my future after that.
8) How have your family and friends reacted to your success? Do they understand the gymnastics world or leave it all to you?
They are really pleased for me. They try to understand the gymnastics world!
9) Aside from becoming an Olympian, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Being a two time Irish Champion and then being selected for World Championships.
10) Tell me a little bit about your club and coaches, how important have your coaches been during this journey?
My club is Europa Gymnastics Centre. My coach is Sam James, she has coached me for 9 years. They support me and have helped me get to this stage.
11) How many hours do you train per week and do you have a regular school schedule?
I train 26 hours per week. I go to school Monday to Friday unless I am competing and then I bring my school work with me.
12) Growing up, did you think going to the Olympics was a possibility and when did you realise that you wanted to train at the elite level and try for the Olympics?
I didn’t think it was possible. It was in 2014 Worlds when I thought that it might be possible and started training with that goal in mind.
13) Your best events are the power events, you have strong and solid tumbling, which is what first stood out to me when I first saw you compete, has tumbling always come easy for you or what was easiest for you growing up?
Yes I’ve always been quite a powerful gymnast.
14) You obviously have to be very focused training at the elite level but what is your personality like outside of the gym. What do you like to do in your time off and how do you relax?
I am a quiet person and relaxed. I like to watch TV and go shopping. General stuff really.
15) Do you travel to Ireland regularly to compete/ train? What is the arrangement like between you, your club and Gymnastics Ireland?
I only really go over for competitions or training camps. My coach works very closely with Gymnastics Ireland regarding my weekly training.
16) Do you have any plans to upgrade/ change your routines before the Games or even after?
I would like to upgrade a little bit before the Games.
17) Do you have any gymnasts/athletes that have inspired you growing up or helped you during your elite career?
I’ve always admired Aliya Mustafina. Kieran’s experience from London 2012 has been a great guidance for me.*
*Kieran Behan was the first ever Irish gymnast, male or female to qualify outright to the Olympic Games in 2012 after Barry McDonald represented Ireland in Atlanta in 1996 via a wild card.
18) At the Test Event, Romania didn’t qualify to the Olympics which was huge news, are you much of a gym nerd and did you pay much attention to everything going on or were you completely focused on your competition?
I knew Romania didn’t qualify but before my competition I was just focused on my own performance.
19) Do you view Gymnastics as a career that you will continue into the future or just simply as a hobby that you hope to move on from in the future?
I think I will always see Gymnastics as part of my life.
20) And lastly, best of luck.