Training For The Olympics

Gymnastics is one of those sports where you can’t help question the physics and aptitude of the human body. The shear strength and flexibility leave you wondering what these humans will be capable of in the years to come as the sport progresses. I had the honour of photographing Jackson Payne, a local Calgarian gymnast who is currently on the Canadian national team with hopes of qualifying for the next summer Olympics. I heard about Jackson through a friend, Kyle Shewfelt who if you don’t know, is a Gold medalist from the Athens games. The goal was to find an interesting way to photograph an athlete in their element; a moving portrait.

Jackson started gymnastics at the age of six and was something he did a few hours a week. At the age of nine, he started competing in the national championship competitions, with the intention of using these opportunities to experience a new level of competition, rather than eyes on a podium finish. Jackson, even laughing, admitting a couple last-place finishes, but reassures me of the constant support from his parents, coaches, and self-perseverance. Still trying to find his feet in the sport, he was just like any other kid, playing soccer, basketball, and volleyball on the school teams. Jackson admits there were some tough times while training, “Between the ages of fourteen and sixteen were the toughest. I was growing, there were injuries, I was trying to focus, and balance school all at the same time. Plus the added pressure of transitioning into the high-performance side of the sport. That decision alone was tough. The pivot happened in the 2008 nationals when I was competing in the junior category. I won and that gave me a huge confidence booster. After, I took my training and the sport more seriously”.

The motion component was important with this portrait and I wanted to highlight one of Jackson's strongest events; the pommel horse. Once we set the lighting and everything was in place, I had him warm up as I didn’t want to be responsible for a pre-competition injury as he was scheduled to leave for The World Cup in Hungary in a few weeks time. Watching gymnastics on a screen is one thing, seeing it ten feet in front of you is a whole different experience. You can see years of intense training right before your eyes, the body intuitively flexing, twisting, moving together in a beautifully uniformed movement. The sound alone is something incredible. Palms confidently placed to a thrumming metronome rhythm. The subtle whisper of his body gliding through the air. His speed increasing while centrifugal force pulling his torso and legs more and more perpendicular to the apparatus.

With the Canadian National team, athletes residing in different cities across Canada, I was surprised to find out training together happened as often as six to seven times a year, with the majority of them regularly traveling as one pack. Jackson now is twenty-seven years old, married, and recently had a daughter, Joan. “I couldn’t be happier and the advantages obviously outweigh the disadvantages in the sense of trying to juggle it all together. For me, it’s a good stress and pressure, and I really like the motivation. Right now, I feel comfortable and confident". With four world cup competitions between now and the Olympic qualifiers, I’m excited, like many, to see what Jackson is capable of.

If you would like to support Jackson on his journey to the next Olympic games, head to his website to find out more:

Huge shout out to my assistant Mike Hopkins for moving copious amounts of gymnastics equipment and Caitlin Boyle for her wizard re-touching. Also, a huge thank-you to the Calgary Gymnastics Centre.