Former gymnast fulfilled Olympic dream

Joey Payeur

2012 Canadian Olympian Rosie Cossar visited Fort Frances last week to speak at the “Celebration of Inclusive Schools” conference at La Place Rendez-Vous to share the story of her gymnastics career and her struggle, as an individual and an athlete, to come to terms with her same-sex preferences.
In Part 1, the Times looks at Cossar’s introduction to the sport, her rise to greatness, and her thoughts on the upcoming Olympic Games in Brazil and the anti-doping scandal currently sweeping through international sports.
It’s the rare person who racks up enough frequent flyer miles before the start of their teen years to qualify for their own free trip around the world.
If that wasn’t the case for Rosie Cossar, it had to be extremely close to the truth.
The 24-year-old Toronto native, and former captain of the Canadian women’s rhythmic gymnastics group all-around competitive team at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, was a veteran of flying not long after turning eight years old.
“I started in rhythmic gymnastics when I was five,” recalled the self-described tomboy.
“The main reason is that my older sister, Rachel, got into it and I followed along as a convenience to my parents,” she chuckled.
“Then at eight, I was considered good enough that I was sent to Moscow for training with coaches over there.”
Cossar made several trips to Russia over the next several years, and also found herself in the Maritimes on a more full-time basis when she was 10.
“A top-flight coach from Ontario moved to New Brunswick and Gymnastics Ontario recommended to my parents that I move there to train with her,” she noted.
“So my parents came into my bedroom one day and just told me that they thought it was a good idea for me to move to New Brunswick.
“I was 10 so I didn’t think there was anything strange about it and just said, ‘OK.’”
The move proved fortuitous as Cossar went from being 54th at the national championships before she left all the way to fourth at the end of her first year of training in New Brunswick.
In 2008, Gymnastics Canada decided it would create Canada’s first group all-around competitive team, with the plan to have it qualify for the London Olympics four years down the road.
It was equal doses of hard work and humility early on for the elite group of what were considered the best six rhythmic gymnasts in the country that were chosen to be on the team, including Cossar.
“We started from the bottom,” she said bluntly. “The first few international competitions we went to in 2009, be they World Cups or Grand Prix events, we finished in last place every time.
“In 2010, we jumped a few spots to where we would usually be second-last or third-last,” Cossar added.
“[Then] by 2011, we were in the middle of the pack and by the end of 2011, we were starting to place in the top eight and make it into the finals.
“Other countries were walking around, saying, ‘Canada is in the finals? What?’”
Eight hours a day, six days a week, Cossar and her teammates toiled through training sessions that were both physically and mentally gruelling.
“Birthdays, holidays—what where those?” Cossar mused rhetorically about the single-mindedness demanded of the athletes by their Eastern European native coaches.
“Other countries could afford to make mistakes. They were at a different level than us,” she noted.
“The odds against us qualifying were way bigger than for us not qualifying.”
At the Olympic qualifier as part of the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Montpellier, France in September, 2011, Cossar and the rest of the Canadian crew resolved they would not have the previous four years of sacrifice and commitment end up being all for nothing.
With everything on the line, Canada wound up 17th. But as the top-ranked team from the Americas in France, they were extended an Olympic invitation by the executive board of the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG).
The impossible dream now was a stunning and exhilarating reality.
“We pulled off two routines that were so perfectly done, the judges couldn’t refuse [to place Canada high enough to qualify],” Cossar recalled.
Canada subsequently wound up 11th at the Olympics, missing the finals, but still leaving Cossar with a bona fide sense of accomplishment.
“We started from scratch and we didn’t know if we were going to get anywhere,” she conceded.
“It wasn’t really a dream to go to the Olympics because it had not been an option before,” she added. “[But] things changed with the creation of the group program.
“We knew the mission was for us to qualify.”
Cossar chose to call it a career after London, yet still today has had to politely but firmly straighten out those who would make light of being retired at such a young age.
“Some people I meet think it’s hilarious but I’ve got in the habit of correcting them,” she remarked.
“I tell them that I dedicated 16 years of my life to this sport.
“I had to have a childhood that was so unique growing up to reach this level,” she added. “It’s not something that’s funny.”
While a student in the University of Toronto’s paramedicine program, Cossar also sits on the school’s athletic committee, is co-chair of the school’s “Positive Space” committee, and chair of the “Women in Sports” sub-committee.
That’s not even mentioning her recent appointment as leader of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s “OneTeam” LGBTQ inclusion program.
With the next Summer Olympics just two months away, Rio de Janeiro is set to host the world—although that’s not the sentiment of a steadily-growing segment of athletes worldwide.
Concerns about attending these Olympics have been voiced publicly and privately by several competitors, ranging from the presence of the Zika virus to the polluted waterways where the sailing and whitewater rafting events are scheduled to take place.
Terrorism also is on the minds of many at such a high-profile event while Brazil itself is plagued with issues such as incomplete Olympic venues.
But Cossar said those worried about attending the Olympics need to re-examine their perspectives.
“There’s risks at every Olympic Games and they’re always in focus to be captured in the media who like to talk about the risks,” she remarked.
“They are valid concerns but from an athlete’s perspective, you train your whole life to get to this highest pinnacle in sport,” she added.
“You have to hope the organizing committee in Rio, and your own national sport federation, have your best interests at heart.”
Cossar also has a clear take on the recent wave of doping scandals involving athletes from several countries being discovered as having ‘B’ sample tests from the 2008 games in Beijing and the 2012 London Games being found positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
“I’ve always been a very fair person,” she said. “I like competition, healthy competition, and I have no respect for cheating.
“Competition is a beautiful, healthy thing when everyone respects and abides by the rules.
“It’s not healthy for athletes to take any performance-enhancing drugs and in the long run, it’s not going to help them live better lives,” Cossar stressed.
Next week in Part 2—taking off the mask.