Q&A with Annette Nel: South Africa's most experienced Rhythmic Gymnastics Judge

Annette Nel or Tannie Annette, as many in the Gymnastics fraternity call her, is one of the most accomplished Rhythmic Gymnastics Brevet Judges in South Africa. She was the first Rhythmic Gymnastics Brevet Judge in South Africa has judged at more than 60 International Rhythmic Gymnastics Events across the world over the last 20 years and at two Olympic Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) on invitation.


Q. How did you get involved with Rhythmic Gymnastics in South Africa?

A. In the early 1980s, Suzy Kirk brought a German Rhythmic Gymnastics Coach to Stellenbosch and it was a sport that really interested me. So when Isabel van Achterberg officially rolled out Rhythmic Gymnastics in 1986 it was something that I felt I really wanted to support and help grow. I officially started in 1988 with Rhythmic Gymnastics in the Boland.


Q. Tell us a bit more about your Judging Journey

A. I really enjoyed judging Rhythmic Gymnastics and in 1994 I was fortunate enough to be sent to Canada to do my first Brevet Exam. Since then I’ve managed to complete every Cycle and finished with top scores at the last exam. 

In 2003 I did the first Expert Course and qualified as a Technical Expert. In 2006 I did the Expert Course again and re-qualified as a Technical Expert as well as a Brevet Category 1 Judge. At the time I was ranked as ‘5th best in the World’.


Q. What was the process like preparing for your first Olympic Games?

A. My first Olympic Games was Beijing in 2008. The Chairlady of the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Committee, Madame Egle Abruzzini, sent a DVD with snippets of all the apparatus and movements that we needed to judge. We then submitted our scores to her. From these results we were vetted to judge at the Games. I was selected to judge Difficulty.

Once I knew I was going I spent hours and hours watching and judging Rhythmic Gymnastics videos to get my eye in.

Q. Was the second time around as nerve racking?

A. The second time around I was invited - luckily there was no test. What was great was that I was invited by a number of Countries to judge at their  International Competitions as a Neutral Judge. This helped give me extra experience and aided greatly with my preparation for the London Olympic Games in 2012.

Q. How did the two Olympic Games differ for you?

A. Beijing was all about precision. There was no room for error. The organisers had thought of everything. Even though people were incredibly helpful there was still a bit of a language problem.
London on the other hand was incredibly warm and friendly. It was not as well organised as Beijing, but the people were extremely helpful. Obviously for English speakers there was no language barrier this time.


Q. What do you attribute your judging success to?

A. There are a couple of things. I really enjoy judging and believe that every Gymnast on the floor should receive my undivided attention. Furthermore I feel that I can contribute to fairness in the Sport. Lastly, throughout my International Judging career, I was well liked and was never isolated - this helped a tremendous amount.


Q. What excites you about Judging

A. As I said I really enjoy it and would rather judge than be a coach at a competition any day. I like being involved with the Gymnast in a different way and enjoy the fact that I am able to make a contribution to the final score of the Gymnast. 


Q. How do you see the future of Rhythmic Gymnastics in South Africa?

A. At this point in time I see a bit of an uphill battle. The reason I say this is because Rhythmic Gymnasts, Coaches and Judges need to stay motivated without having access to too many opportunities. International travel is incredibly expensive, so being exposed to really high level Rhythmic Gymnastics is limited to very few and even those few don’t get to travel enough.

We also don’t have money to elevate this sport to a world level standard. We have the material in South Africa, we just don’t always have the opportunity. 


Q. Do you have some advice for Judges. Coaches, Gymnasts and Parents?

Judges: You have to like what you do. Don't just judge because your child is involved and then stop when they stop. You need to cultivate a love for it. In this way we are able to build a strong pool of Judges with good experience.
Coaches: Passion for Rhythmic Gymnastics is incredibly important. You also have to have a passion for children. Those two make the hours that you put in not feel like hours. Every success a Gymnast then achieves is a massive accomplishment and pleasure. If you don’t get satisfaction out of small wins then this is not for you.
Parents: Support your child but don't meddle. Support your child's Coach but don't meddle. Most importantly is discipline and commitment - you will have to sacrifice some of your holidays to ensure that your child is able to train a bit more. Without this it makes the coach's life exhausting. 
Gymnasts: Discipline is vitally important - firstly to train, secondly to attend all your sessions and thirdly to not put something else in place of your training session. Enjoy what you’re doing and what you are able to master during your training. Doing well at competitions does not necessarily mean winning a medal, but knowing that you did your best for that day. Lastly don't be a perfectionist!


Annette is currently the Chairperson for Rhythmic Gymnastics in the Western Cape and coaches at Van Der Stel Gymnastics Club in Stellenbosch.

Michelle Kleu
Michelle Kleu