Catching up with Hollie Dykes

17 min read
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TCG: How did you become involved in gymnastics, tell us about your beginnings in the sport where you started and your coaches.

Hollie Dykes: I become involved in Gymnastics around the age of 4.5 and started at my local club, Gold Coast Gymnastics Club. I started like most children do in a Kinder Gym program and by about 6 was part of the elite stream. Phil Hansen, head coach and manager of the program was one of my first coaches I started with; I also worked with Chinese coaches, Shu and Li for a few years before relocating to the AIS in Canberra.


TCG: Did you enjoy doing gymnastics right from the start?

Hollie Dykes: Yes, from what I remember, I loved it from the beginning. I never wanted to miss training and loved having fun in the gym and learning new things.


TCG:  Were you spotted at a young age and if so were you fast tracked to a higher level quite quickly?

Hollie Dykes: I was spotted at National clubs in 1998 at the AIS arena where I travelled with Gold Coast Gymnastics Club to compete in Stage 2 by memory. Ju Ping Tian, head coach of the AIS at the time, spoke with my coaches after this competition and from here I was asked to attend the AIS on a trial. From the trial I was asked to stay permanently in which my Mum relocated our family to Canberra, so I could pursue the elite path. My hours increased substantially and I moved up quite quickly from there.


TCG:  When you burst into the international scene in 2006 you surprised so many. You were very young but you competed with so much poise. You looked unreal almost, like a throwback to the 80s and 90s. Did you ever think that your style was reminiscent of the past when in your era the emphasis was very much on power?

Hollie Dykes: Honestly, I didn’t even really notice my unique quality and poise at the time. Our whole group under Ju-ping worked hard developing our quality and basics for years before we learnt a lot of our skills. I think we just thought it was normal to have that kind of quality as it was drilled into us from a young age.

Back to 2006, yes, it was definitely a big year for me and I achieved some great things, however, I actually believe 2005 was when I was at my absolute strongest and was really ready to jump into the international scene, with not only quality gymnastics but the difficulty to go with it. It wasn’t until I injured my back late in the year that I really took a huge step backwards and lost a lot of my difficulty. I think this really affected my gymnastics later on as it was probably the most crucial time, being a 15 year old teenager trying to build their program up, coaching changes, physical and emotional body changes and to top that off, sustaining a long term injury.


TCG: When did you start working with Valery Kaladzinski?

Hollie Dykes: From memory, I believe he started coaching at the AIS late 2004, early 2005 and took over the head coach position from Ju-Ping Tian mid 2005.


TCG:  How was your relationship as athlete and coach and did your gymnastics evolve when you trained with him, was it any different than what you did before?

Hollie Dykes: Everything was different from this point! I grew up mostly being coached by the Chinese on our main apparatus to changing over to Valery who had a certain way of how he liked things to be done. He had a background in Human Physiology I believe and he focused on a really different way of coaching; I guess it was more scientific. I know myself and my group struggled a lot with the change and it was like re learning all of our skills and technique all over again. I don’t even know if we ever fully got it! Ha-ha In saying that, there was a lot I did learn from Valery, it was just different.


TCG:  In 2006, your first year as a senior, you won a medal in the all-around at the Pacific Alliance Championships, you did extremely well on beam too. What do you remember from that competition, do you have a proudest moment?

Hollie Dykes: 2006 Pacific Alliance was a highlight in my career, it was an amazing experience and was also the first competition where the new code was introduced. My proudest moment was definitely finishing that dismount on beam, knowing I’d hit my routine to come away with the first 16.00 in the new code. Also finishing third all-round, standing up on the podium with Chelsea and Nastia, it really was a special competition for me. We also got to do some sightseeing in Hawaii for a few days after our competition, which was lots of fun, so, overall, this trip is a great memory for me!


TCG:  2006 looked like a mixed year for you, how did you feel about it at the time (say after returning from Worlds) and how do you see it now?

Hollie Dykes: It’s hard to think back, it seems like forever ago! I remember struggling with injuries in 2006 and after finishing Worlds in Denmark, Dasha and I headed over to DTB in Germany for a world cup, we came away with great results but I remember being completely exhausted, trying to manage new and existing injuries and actually quite homesick from all the travel. I even remember a few of us had come down with a bad flu whilst in Denmark so there was a lot we were dealing with behind the scenes. Overall, It was a huge year for me and now that I look back, it may have been a little too much for my first year on the International stage.


TCG:  You were a part of an extremely talented Australian team in 2006 and 2007. What was the atmosphere like when competing? Did you have a team joker, a team captain? What was your role within the team?

Hollie Dykes: We had the best team, all of us girls were super close during that time and even today, most of us still keep in touch. The atmosphere was quite strict when competing compared to what I see today, which seems a little more relaxed. I think a lot has changed! We all got along and over the years have had some amazing memories together. Monette (Netty) was our team captain for most of my time on the national team, she was amazing in and out of the gym and was a huge inspiration to me. Dasha took the team captain role after Netty’s retirement and was a great role model for us girls. Dash and I were room mates most of the time and we developed a strong friendship, which still stands today. I am grateful to Gymnastics for the friendships I’ve made! The role I played in the team, I think, would have been the one who was positive, encouraging and supportive and helped the girls when they were feeling off. I think keeping the team positive probably sums it up.


TCG:  Did you ever think that you could have done more as a team at Worlds (you finished 6th in 2006 and then dropped to 11th in 2007). What happened that was different between 2006 and 2007?

Hollie Dykes: 2006 Worlds, I believe we couldn’t have done much better as we were all prepared and mostly at our best, however, 2007 was definitely a different experience. There was an overwhelming amount of pressure on us in 2007 and I don’t remember it being a very positive environment. I’m not sure if we had been pushed a little too hard and peaked too early but all I remember is that we were exhausted and unrested going into competition.


TCG:  What were your expectations going into the competition at the 2007 Worlds and were they met?

Hollie Dykes: To be honest, I didn’t even know if I was going to make the team. I never fully returned to acceptable fitness after the end of 2006 and got stuck in a bit of a rut. I was poorly prepared and was having some issues mentally in my training. I was also struggling with fitness due to ongoing injuries. My main focus at Worlds was Beam and qualifying for finals, however, I was there to help the team with vault and bars as well. All of 2007 and the final year of my career, I didn’t compete floor.

I just remember there being an overwhelming amount of pressure on us to perform and I feel like we may have peaked a little too early as a team. By the time we got to competition, we were flat and falling on things we wouldn’t normally fall on. I don’t remember it being a positive atmosphere that’s for sure. It would be interesting to see what the girls from the team think now, as we’ve never spoken about it. I just remember us waiting in our rooms, for the final scores to come in to see if we had qualified a team for Beijing, it was very stressful!

In the end, I missed out on beam finals after an uncharacteristic fall in qualification, which was completely devastating. In my opinion, I think there were multiple factors as to why I did not perform. A few being that firstly, deep down I had wanted my beam coach, Shar Lee to travel with me as she knew what I needed, especially as my main focus that year was beam. I regret not speaking up about this, I think this really could of helped me and given me the confidence I needed. Secondly, I don’t think I did the numbers without mats. I remember using mats for a lot of my routines to save my injuries, however, landing with mats and landing on a hard beam is a different story, so again, managing injuries and numbers came into play.

On the plus, Lauren made her first beam finals where she placed 5th which was a fabulous result so all in all, it wasn’t disappointing for everyone!


TCG:  In December 2007, 8 months before the Olympics, you decided to retire from gymnastics. What contributed to this decision, how did you reach such a definitive decision?

Hollie Dykes: Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember exactly as I pushed a lot of it out to try and move forward, I was so negative about gymnastics and how everything had happened the way it did. I felt like I was trying to please everyone around me but couldn’t speak up about changes I wanted and needed to happen and things I wasn’t happy with. I didn’t want to be the one that was labelled a “complainer or a “princess”.

I remember getting back from Worlds in September and being given another international assignment for not long after we got home, I think it may have been a World Cup or something but I’m not 100% sure. I had been working on some major upgrades on beam like flip, flip, double pike dismount and some other connections but again, other than beam, I was not training much on the other apparatus. My head was not in it completely and I was letting negativity and fear crawl into my training, it was slowly taking over and my body and brain were not working together. I think deep down I was looking for an out! In the few weeks leading up to my next competition, all it took was a lack of concentration where I injured my ankle and that was all it took for me to find an out.


TCG:  You decided not train for the Olympics in 2008, would you change anything now, do you think you should have given it a shot?

Hollie Dykes: I definitely regret not finishing my career with an Olympics. I think every athlete would love to have all three major competitions (Worlds, Commonwealth Games & Olympics) on their resume, however, at the time, I know I did the right thing. I know that sounds confusing as I’ve said I regret it but I know for a fact I couldn’t continue the way I was going when I finished. I was completely burnt out and feared walking into the gym everyday. It wasn’t healthy. It’s also easy to say now that I wished I had continued and communicated what my concerns were but I’m looking from an adults point of view now not a child’s. I am a completely different person now too, I am stronger, more mature and actually have the confidence to speak up and be myself. When I was younger, I just wanted to please everyone.


TCG:  Did you remain in touch with any of your colleagues from the national team, or with the coaches after retirement?

Hollie Dykes: I struggled in 2008 with a lot of different things including transitioning into a normal life. As I’ve mentioned, I was negative towards gymnastics and most of the people in it. I have been and am in touch with most of the girls I trained and competed with and it took me a year or so after retirement to return to coaching at the AIS. I absolutely loved coaching but had to remove myself after the year as I felt like I had unfinished business and I kept wanting to try and make a comeback. I felt it was best for me to remove myself completely so I could move forward in life, opposed to going back for the wrong reason because it was all I knew.


TCG:  What is the achievement in gymnastics that you feel most proud of?

Hollie Dykes: It’s actually really hard to pin point a specific achievement. I would have to say 2006 Pacific Alliance, I think this competition was when my Gymnastics was really noticed internationally and scoring the first 16.00 in the new code on beam was definitely a highlight. Commonwealth Games in Melbourne was also one of the most amazing experiences in my career, there were some ups and downs but overall it was such a positive experience with so many wonderful memories, in and out of the gym. Lastly, 2006 Worlds in Denmark, I was so happy with my overall finish of 7th all around, I remember talking with Valery afterwards and discussing upgrades as my difficulty was the only thing keeping me off the podium.


TCG:  Would you change anything in your gymnastics if you were able to go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or to any young gymnast?

Hollie Dykes: There is a lot I would change but as we all know, we can’t go back, we just have to live in the present to move forward.  The advice I would give to my younger self or a young gymnast would be not to worry about what people think about you, just do what makes you happy, you will still be loved and accepted. We all make mistakes and that’s what makes you stronger. Life is about challenges and learning about yourself, make goals and work hard to reach them. Lastly, rather than aiming to be perfect, aim to be better than yesterday! Hard work pays off in the end.


TCG:  After a somewhat successful 2009-2012 quad and a less fortunate 2013-2016 quad, there have been changes in the coaching staff of the Australian team. What do you think about these changes?

Hollie Dykes: I can’t really comment on these changes, as I haven’t been following Gymnastics closely enough to even know what the changes are. I do, however, believe change is a good thing so I am hoping this will bring a fresh approach to Australian Gymnastics.


TCG:  Do you think Mihai Brestyan will be able to bring better results and bring the team back together over the next quad?

Hollie Dykes: Again, I think change is good.  We have so much talent out there, we just need the guidance, support and structure. We will have to wait and see but I think we will see some stronger results in time.


TCG:  Do you think it will be long until we see another Australian World Champion?

Hollie Dykes: I definitely think it is achievable, I think we are just going to have to wait and see what the new structure brings.


TCG:  If you had the power to influence Mihai what would you tell him to change and what would you advise him to keep as practices at the national camps (supposed same practices are in place today, compared to 2007).

Hollie Dykes: This is a tricky question. Back when I was training, we didn’t pay too much attention to the structure and practices of the national camps, we were just there to do one thing and that was our own job, so we were quite blinded by the inside logistics. From what I remember there are many things that would benefit from change and growth so I believe Mihai is going to be a busy man but I think in time we are going to see some great improvements.


TCG:  How do you think that things could be improved for the general mental health and well being of young gymnasts? We regularly hear from long retired gymnasts and how badly they were treated as an athlete by coaches and federations often by being verbal abused, having restrictive diets and ignoring injuries etc. As we’ve seen with Simone Bile’s it is possible to be the World’s greatest gymnast and have an amazing relationship with your coach. Referencing the Gymcastic Maroney interview, McKayla said that she was jealous that Simone was allowed to smile and that her coach often wouldn’t speak to her if she got injured.

Hollie Dykes: This is such a good point and it is a question that often rises within sport, not only gymnastics. I can definitely relate to a lot of what McKayla spoke about and I have seen it going on in the past, it does affect self-confidence and can really be difficult to understand, especially at the time. I certainly think that it is possible to have a positive and healthy relationship with your coach and the way in which goals are achieved. It takes a lot of trust, hard work and communication to build a relationship like that.

I think over time we are seeing a change, particularly in a gymnasts life span, there are a lot more gymnasts staying in the sport for longer and benefiting from the maturity and experience they have gained. I think that with enough education on building a healthy and sustainable career in the sport, things could get better and the environment will be a lot more positive as a whole.


TCG:  Did you ever have any gymnastics (sporting) heroes as child?

Hollie Dykes: I had a few sporting heroes growing up, in the Gymnastics world I loved Lilia Podkopayeva, her style of gymnastics was just beautiful. I also admired Michael Klim and Lleyton Hewitt.


TCG:  Do you have any favorite gymnasts on the current scene? Do you even watch any gymnastics?

Hollie Dykes: I don’t watch a lot but I do follow some on social media, which keeps me a little up to speed. I am really enjoying seeing Emily Little out there, she is looking the best I’ve seen her look. She has matured into a strong and fierce gymnast, I am so happy for her! It’s also great seeing Catalina Ponor back in action, I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do to help Romania. Lastly, I have come across a few of the new American seniors and Riley McCusker has caught my eye. Her style of Gymnastics is lovely to watch, reminds me a little of Nastia!


TCG:  What is life like for you now? What is your day to day life like?

Hollie Dykes: Life is great! I am grateful to have my two special boys, my son, Riley and fiancé, Jim in my life. Riley is nearly 2 and keeping me very busy! I am also currently coaching at the SCYC Gymnastics in Nowra, which I’m absolutely loving. I get to give back to the sport that has given me so much, it’s a great feeling. I am very lucky to be able to do what I enjoy and also have the flexibility for me to spend most days at home with Riley so it’s a nice balance.


TCG:  Would you encourage your son into a sport?

Hollie Dykes: Most definitely! My fiancé and I will be encouraging our children to join as many sporting activities as they can. My family have always been a sport driven family so I guess I have seen the benefits and values it teaches children and I would love to carry that on from generation to generation.


Interview: Emma Bailey and Bea Gheorghisor

Photo Cover: Getty Images and Hollie Dykes

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