Q&A with Maureen van Rooyen: South Africa's most successful High Performance Rhythmic Gymnastics Coach to date


Maureen van Rooyen is a well known figure within South African Rhythmic Gymnastics. Together with Isabel van Achterberg, she has been instrumental in establishing and growing Rhythmic Gymnastics in South Africa as we know it today.

Maureen has had a tremendous journey starting as a High School Teacher to becoming a successful Business Owner. She has been a South African National Coach as well as a Brevet Judge for a number of years.

Her Club, Gold Reef Rhythmic Gymnastics, has to date produced the majority of South African Junior and Senior National team members. Maureen's most notable achievements include attending two Olympic Games as a Coach with her gymnasts, Stephanie Sandler - 2004 Athens Olympics and Odette Richard - 2008 Beijing Olympics.


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

I studied at Goudstad Teachers Training College - this is where I met Isabel van Achterberg. She was my Physical Education Lecturer for four years. After College I taught Biology and Physical Education at Blairgowrie High School for five years.

In 1985 I went to Burstadt, a small town in Germany, for a “Gymnastica" (Festival of Gymnastics). We went as a student group and Isabel was our Coach. This is where I saw all the gymnasts with ribbons, ropes, balls etc and I started enquiring about this lovely Sport. 

At this point I was teaching at Blairgowrie High School and if I think of it now it is so funny. I made ribbons for the girls and unitards. They did displays in groups of about eight girls. It was still very basic but the girls already showed a lot of interest and had lots of fun.

In 1988 I went back to Burstadt with another group and that was when I decided to learn more about the Rhythmic Gymnastics. I took unpaid leave from teaching and went to Germany where I trained at a Rhythmic Gymnastics Club for five months. I was twenty-six years old and trained with young girls - the coach was a Bulgarian lady (Tony Miesen). I practiced so hard that I had blisters from the clubs , but I was determined to learn as many skills as I could to bring back home.

When I came back I resigned from teaching and started the first Rhythmic Gymnastics Club at Blairgowrie High School. In 1990 the hall burnt down and that was when I found Berario Recreation Centre - the venue where I’m still coaching today!

Berario Recreation Centre became my Club's new home after the Blairgowrie High School's hall burnt down - Gold Reef Rhythmic Gymnastics Club is still at this venue today.


Isabel van Achterberg and the Inspectors of Physical Education Departments across South Africa, asked me to do courses for the Physical Education teachers. In one year I travelled across the country and did thirty-three courses at schools to promote Rhythmic Gymnastics. We started hosting competitions at Berario where the judges still sat on the four corners of the carpet and judged.

The early days of Rhythmic Gymnastics in South Africa.


Q: Where did your High Performance journey start?

My introduction to High Performance competitions was at the 1995 Four Continents Championships in Cairo, Egypt. I was selected as the Team Coach and we were represented by one Senior Gymnast (Michelle Cameron) and two Junior Gymnasts (Andrea Schermoly and Cheryl Philips).

From Left to Right: Isabel van Achterberg, Andrea Schermoly, Michelle Cameron, Cheryl Philips, Maureen van Rooyen on our way to the 4 Continents Championships in Cairo.


The 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur was my first big multi-discipline event where I was selected as the Coach. South Africa was represented by four Rhythmic Gymnasts (Michelle Cameron, Kim Baldry, Andrea Schermoly and Jo-Anne Nelson).

From Left to Right: Kim Baldry, Michelle Cameron, Jo-Anne Nelson, Maureen van Rooyen and Andrea Schermoly at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.


Q: You've attended a number of high profile events, including two Olympic Games - give us a run down of where you've been.

Let's start with the Commonwealth Games:

1998: Kuala Lampur - Coach

2002: No Rhythmic Gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games, however England hosted a "mock" event in Surrey which we attended

2006: Melbourne - Coach

From Left to Right: Shalene Arnold, Odette Richard and Stephanie Sandler at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

2010: New Delhi - Judge

2014: Glasgow - Judge

This competition was really a highlight in my life as both of my daughters (Julene and Aimee van Rooyen) represented South Africa.

World Games:

2001: Akita, Japan - Coach to Belinda Potgieter

2005: Duisberg, Germany - Coach to Stephanie Sandler


World Championships:

2003: Budapest, Hungary - Coach 

2005: Baku, Azerbaijan - Coach  

2007: Patras, Greece - Coach 

2009: Mie, Japan - Coach 

2010: Moscow, Russia - Judge

2011: Montpellier, France - Judge

2013: Kiev, Ukraine - Judge

2015: Stuttgart, Germany - Judge


Olympic Games:

2004: Athens, Greece - Coach to Stephanie Sandler

Stephanie Sandler with Ribbon at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.


2008: Beijing, China - Coach to Odette Richard

Odette Richard with Clubs at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


2010: First Youth Olympic Games, Singapore – Coach to Aimee van Rooyen. This was another highlight in my career being able to attend this event with my daughter. 

Aimee van Rooyen with Ball.


For South Africa the African Championships is one of the most important Competitions that we compete in. Some of these Competitions have also been the most memorable. I have represented South Africa at every African Championships since 2000:

2000: Tunisia - Coach

From Left to Right: Belinda Potgieter, Renata Janse van Rensburg, Odette Richard and Shalene Arnold.


2002: Algeria - Coach

2004: Senegal - Coach and Judge

2006: South Africa - Coach

2009: Egypt - Judge

2010: Namibia - Judge

2012: South Africa - Judge

2014: South Africa - Judge


Q: What do you believe the future holds for South African Rhythmic Gymnastics?

I see a great future for Rhythmic Gymnastics in South Africa. We are currently working on the new Levels Programme which will be launched in November 2017. It is really going to be different and very exciting and within the reach of Rhythmic Gymnasts and Coaches.

It is also amazing how many “retired" Rhythmic Gymansts are furthering their careers in coaching. I find that this is the most important aspect for the growth of the Sport.

I believe that every girl should do Rhythmic Gymnastics as it helps them in so many spheres of their lives. It cultivates a healthy living pattern, emphasises the importance of training and keeping fit and most of all it cultivates a positive outlook of yourself and self image.


Q:  Do you have any advice for aspiring Rhythmic Gymnasts?

Never give up!!


Q: Any words of wisdom that you can share with Rhythmic Gymnastics Parents?

I would rather want to thank the parents for their dedication to the Sport and assure them that they will never be sorry that their daughter participated in Rhythmic Gymnastics.


Q: Lastly any thoughts that you would like to share with the Rhythmic Gymnastics Coaches?

Don’t ever think you know everything, learn at every opportunity that is given to you.


Julene van Rooyen with Rope.

Michelle Kleu
Michelle Kleu