One of the most exciting visual sports is Gymnastics, and the gymnasts that perform in this support are truly amazing athletes. We were lucky enough to meet South Africa’s best, Michael Makings, and find out more about him and his sport. Gymnastics is unfortunately not given the coverage it deserves. Hopefully we’ll be attending a few more events this year and be able to update you on his journey to World Finals in Belgium in September.
Dirk: What are the challenges of being a Gymnast in South Africa?
Michael: One of the major challenges South African gymnasts face is we are not exposed to many international competitions. It is very costly to travel monthly around the world to compete in necessary competitions during competition season. Competing helps a gymnast grow both emotionally and mentally as an athlete. Every time I compete, I learn to control and handle my nerves, which helps me become consistent in both my skills and routines. Because gymnastics is not well-funded in this country, we are unable to promote gymnasts who have the potential to win international titles.
Dirk: You qualified for World Championships as SA’s top qualifier at last month’s SAGF (South African Gymnastics Federation) event, how is preparation going for this?
Michael: My coach and I are working (very hard) at preparing for this years World Championships. We are upgrading the level of difficulty in all of my routines in order to score higher and possibly become a medal Contender. This means I have to train twice as hard and learn twice as fast. I am very lucky to have a great team of fellow gymnasts and coaches who are helping me every step of the way.
Dirk: How do you handle the stress of competing at the highest levels? What are your coping mechanisms?
Michael: Everyone has their own formula of how they handle stress. Some Gymnasts are addicted to that feeling of uncertainty, whereas I, on the other hand, have had to learn over the years how to handle stress by either believing in my pre competition training preparation or “acting” out my routines as a performance for the audiences and judges.
Dirk: You recently had a shoulder injury that ruled you out of competition for a while. What was the biggest struggle in overcoming such an injury?
Michael: My biggest struggle was not spending months resting my shoulder and then training my butt off to get my strength back, but rather, the mental aspect of the injury. I was depressed for most of the recovery time and had to catch myself every time I spiraled downwards. It is tough to keep a positive attitude in the sporting game when your body is becoming weaker everyday. I was afraid that I would never have the same physical strength I once had which would prevent me to compete at the top of my ability again. During my injury, I worked with a sports psychologist who helped me train my mind in order to overcome my injury and improve my physical performance.
Dirk: What sparked your interest in Gymnastics when you were young?
Michael: I was always in the gymnastic club as a toddler because my older sister was doing gymnastic. My mother caught me mimicking other gymnasts and decided I should start gymnastics (I was 3 at the time). Gymnastics is all I have ever known. My passion and love for the sport has grown exponentially over the years.
Dirk: Who inspires you?
Michael: I look up to gymnasts who have had to overcome so much in order to reach their dreams. These athletes include Daniel Keatings, Epki Zonderland and Fabian Humbuchen. I too like to think that over coming the challenges and obstacles one faces in gym on a daily basis is an inspiration in itself.
Dirk: What do you love about your sport?
Michael: There is so much to love about gymnastics but I think what I love most is how it has helped me to become a man who is willing to pursue a dream no matter how many times I fail along the way. Do not be afraid to set your goals high! and do not stop fighting until you achieve them, in all aspects of your life.
Dirk: What is your training regime?
Michael: During competition season my day at the gym consists of conditioning in the morning to maintain my strength level and in the afternoon I do a number of routines on each apparatus to build consistency and confidence. Out of competition season it’s all about learning new skills, getting stronger and spending hours and hours perfecting new skills. I spend 4 hours a day in the gym during comp season, and 6 hours a day out of season.
Dirk: You also do stunts, how did this come about and what has been your favourite memory from doing this as a side line?
Michael: One of my friends who is in the stunt industry suggested I work with him on set. I got hooked straight away, stunting is another opportunity to learn a new set of skills. The people I work with in the stunting industry are the most memorable aspect of my times on set. We are all from different walks of life and express our stories through movement and performance. It is fascinating.
Dirk: Local gymnastics doesn’t get enough press or recognition, what more do you think could be done to give Gymnastics the lift it needs?
Michael: I think if the public knew more about competition dates and venues, it will allow them to see the gymnasts in action. Watching the human body move in such a powerful and creative way around the apparatus is a little like watching a circus act, it is thoroughly entertaining. If gymnasts in South Africa had a bigger audience, they would naturally get more press and recognition.
Dirk: Will we being seeing you at Rio 2016?
Michael: Rio 2016 is my ultimate goal. I have a few important stepping-stones towards Rio 2016 such as this World Championships and Common Wealth Games 2014 and perhaps a few World cup events. If all goes as planned Rio 2016 could be a very real possibility.
Dirk: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Michael: The World Championships in 2010 in Rotterdam. It was by far the biggest and most prominent competition I have yet to compete in. There are no words to describe the feeling of competing against the worlds best athletes in a world-class stadium which seats 25 000. Being able to represent South Africa at a World Championship on that scale is the ultimate dream.
Dirk: What are your interests outside of Gymnastics?
Michael: I really enjoy instrumental music. I play a little guitar and sing, but I am often told I should just stick to gymnastics. I enjoy a lot of local music, Jeremy Loops and Matthew Mole are two of my favourites. I’m a softy when it comes to love songs.
Dirk: I’ve heard you’re going to be doing some fund raising events to get yourself to World Finals, what events are happening and where can interested parties find out more?
Michael: I will be having a Go Karting event in August and perhaps a fun day event at my club Visions Gymnastics. You can contact me through my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.