Gymnastics the Cape Way

Elyane Boal debuts at her first Olympics, bringing family stories and dreams as luggage. Story sponsored by GE.

Rio de Janeiro— “Grandmas are moms with lots of sugar.” For Elyane Boal, 18, one of the most accomplished athletes from Cape Verde, this is more than a just popular saying – it is a crucial part of her life and career. 

And it is completely justified. Her grandmother took her to a gym for the first time when Boal was only 6 years old. Now, she is in Rio representing her country as the only rhythmic gymnast from Africa.  Selected for the Olympic Games through a wild card, an invitation granted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to athletes who do not make the cut through qualifiers, but are eligible to participate in the Games on the grounds of performance and regional relevance.  

From the USSR to Cape Verde

In the beginning, everything was new for Boal. The gym where she first started through her grandma’s urging was founded in 1980, 18 years before she was born.  The gym’s founder Elena Atmacheva was a former Soviet gymnast whose husband was stationed in the island's airbase. She began working with the young women from Cape Verde and passing on the training methods she had learned back in the Soviet Union.  After a few years and despite limited funding, Atmacheva helped Cape Verde become one of the first African nations to qualify gymnasts to compete at a World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship. 

With Vinicius, the official Rio 2016 mascot, Elyane brings brightness and colours to her Village. Photo Credit: Mirian Marques

Boal recalls her first experience at the gym and how everything changed for her ever since. “On my first day at the training center, frightened by the extraordinary flexibility of the rhythmic gymnasts I had seen, I cried and spent hours watching others practice. Everything was new to me, and it was terrifying. But then I began to like the sport, and so I have continued.”

More than a decade later, with an African championship under her belt, she is in Rio for the first time, waiting for her debut at rhythmic gymnastics’ first event on August 19. “Everything is still new to me, but I am really happy and excited”, she says. 

Ready to compete, she remembers her grandmother’s words. “She says, ‘imagine if I hadn’t done that for you, where would you be?” In Boal’s case, the sky is the limit.

Photo Credit: Federação Cabo-verdiana de Ginástica Facebook Page

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