Gymnast Anne-Marie determined to knockout detractors | Sunday Observer

Gymnast Anne-Marie determined to knockout detractors

30 July, 2022
Anna-Marie with her mother Anne Suzanne Ondaatje (left), her head coach Svetlana Joukova and her father Alistair Ondaatje
Anna-Marie with her mother Anne Suzanne Ondaatje (left), her head coach Svetlana Joukova and her father Alistair Ondaatje

Four years ago in Australia, Canadian-born Sri Lanka rhythmic gymnast Anna-Marie Ondaatje captured the imagination of a nation as a teenager with her graceful pyrotechnics with the hoop, ball, clubs, and ribbon to secure a place in the final of the all-around apparatus event at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

It was not her debut performance for her newly adopted country, having taken part in the 2017 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. But it was a game-changer as far as her career was concerned and she has done more than any other young athlete to put Sri Lanka on the world map as a global ambassador in artistic gymnastics.

Today the petite ballerina returns to the world stage once again, wiser by her experience to vie for a medal at the XXII Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Born ahead of her time and boasting the pedigree of a beauty queen, 21-year-old Anna-Marie is no ordinary gymnast but a multi-faceted personality who has created her own international brand to promote her ancestry in Sri Lanka.

Looked at with scorn by some narrow-minded people who refuse to appreciate her talent as a rhythmic gymnast, Anna-Marie has not deviated from her ambition of bringing glory to her mother country despite ruffling feathers by strutting around like a celebrity.

No one can deny her the stardom deserving of a world-class athlete from Sri Lanka. Her passion for the sport goes beyond boundaries but has her roots firmly on the ground, treading softly one step at a time to focus on her target with a steely resolve that belies her age and gentle character.

She had the perfect riposte for those who claim she is a vain model and not serious about gymnastics. Her track record of having competed in multiple World Cups, Asian Games, Asian championships, and several international competitions, speaks volumes of her dedication and energy to walk the talk in her pursuit of glory. She represented Sri Lanka at the Senior Asian Rythmic Gymnastic Championship in Thailand last month which served as ideal preparation for Birmingham 2022 and is on the brink of qualification for the World Championship in Bulgaria in September.

“I did a couple of competitions in Toronto. Asian was the first international after this Covid time. There were a lot of cancellations and postponements. Even till the last moment, we were not sure whether the Asian championship would be hosted but thankfully they had at the same time, and we were able to compete there,” she said. She is always looking to raise the bar during competition and is a great student of rhythmic gymnastics which has been her passion since becoming a child prodigy.

“I was happy with my performance but there is always room to improve. Being an international competition after quite some time, we still did quite well. Still, we can correct minor errors to mentally just be ready for the Commonwealth Games and just keep the same consistency,” said Anna-Marie who was accompanied by her assistant coach Anastasia who won’t be there in Birmingham. “I will have another coach beside me, either local or from England.”

Asked about her expectations in an interview before arriving in Birmingham, Anna-Marie replied instantly: “To win a medal for sure. Also like four years is a lot of time to improve and gain a lot of experience. I feel 2018 and 2022, it’s like two different people. I’m much older and much more mature. I know my schedule. I know what to do, what suits me, and what works for me. I have a really good mindset and good space.”

Unfazed by the challenges of facing competitors from Europe, Anna-Marie was proud to be the lone representative from Sri Lanka in rhythmic gymnastics. “It is always amazing to represent my mother country and also to set up rhythmic gymnastics in Sri Lanka. To gain more experience and knowledge, and continue to represent the sport and put Sri Lanka on the map and have a representative as well (in rhythmic gymnastics),” she said.

More significantly, she wants to attain success. “It is really important to be a successful competitor in the Games. When I step on the pulpit, I’m going to be thinking about everybody. It’s not just me there, my father (Alistair) who supported me and the whole country. I’m proud and honoured to be that representative,” she said nostalgically.

A goodwill ambassador for A Quint Ondaatje Foundation, Joint Managing Director of AQO Sports and Entertainment, and A Quint Ondaatje Holdings, she has created her own unique Anna Quinto brand in her portfolio. “I am doing modelling, things in fashion, working together to use as much as possible this experience and knowledge to share and put something that everyone can use,” she said.

“Being a gymnast creates such a platform. An area where I can also learn a lot about promotion aspects of sports and athlete exposure aspects as well. As an athlete myself, to create something like that would be very nice,” she added.

She performs a fine balancing act in sports and entertainment without losing sight of her priorities in rhythmic gymnastics.

“It’s a lot of things. It’s just all about managing your time. At the same time, I have my father helping me a lot. We work together as a team. I prioritise gymnastics always,” she affirmed when asked about how she balances work and play.

“What’s important that day, what’s the first goal, second goal, what needs your attention at that time? I like to kind of keep myself busy. I’m not the type to do nothing. I have a lot of space in my brain to roam. For me it’s not too much,” said Anna-Marie who basks in the following she has on social media.

“I used to feel more pressure than I do now. With experience and growing up, I have realised I always want to share something useful. To be entertaining, knowledgeable, or educational. I think you can get inspired by certain people in the way they live their lives. Just even showing the way of what you are doing in your life, showing something entertaining is also kind of motivational,” she said, shrugging off the pressures of social media.

“Social media is a great space to share and hopefully whoever likes to relate or can relate, to or enjoys your content. I try to find people that I can relate with a similar lifestyle like me. To gain something from them if it is interesting. I try to use that to share my steps in my life and hope that everyone can always use that to their advantage always,” said Anna-Marie, who belongs to the GenZ generation born in the year 2000.