She says she’s unco-ordinated on the dance floor, but in the rhythmic gymnastics arena Danielle Prince is a five-time national champion. By Jack Kerr.

Credit: Danielle Prince.

Routine pleasures: Danielle Prince, 24, rhythmic gymnast

With rhythmic, you tell a story with your body. And with the apparatus, and the music. There’s such a huge creative element to our sport. It’s an Olympic sport, and we train 30 hours a week to do a 90-second routine, but it really is a performance at the end of the day when you are competing. The aim is to get people to enjoy what you do. 

Perfection is that ultimate balance between being technically brilliant and putting on a performance. It’s that mix of being amazed by the skills someone is performing, but then wanting to cry at the end of the routine as well, because they told a beautiful story with their body, and the way that the music carried the routine. It’s a really tricky balance to find.

But in a sport like gymnastics, you can never be perfect. The judges will always find something. It’s a very hard task. There’s definitely a lot of critique. I’ve just had a weekend of judges’ feedback, so you spend eight hours in a gym with people telling you what you’re not good at, what you need to make better. Even the world champion spends a lot of time getting feedback. Sometimes it’s nice to compete and just go with your own feelings. That’s probably some of the most enjoyable times I have.

You have to be an all-rounder. You can’t be a specialist in any one apparatus. So it definitely makes training more interesting, having to devote your time evenly to each apparatus. But there’s still a lot of repetition. We spend all our days doing the same thing over and over again, practising something 100 times until you get it perfect. That definitely suits my personality. I’m very much a perfectionist.

This year our code of points has changed. So the judges are really looking for difficult skills with the apparatus this year, and I’ve been working on a couple of new little tricks, particularly with ball and hoop. I do a nice catch with ball that I’ve been working quite hard on, rolling it down my arm while bending backwards and turning around. Lots of cool things like that. My goal is to take that next step up.

I’m about to turn 25. In the sport of rhythmic, that’s grandma status. I have been in the sport almost 15 years, and that is quite atypical, purely because of the strain the sport puts on your body, and the amount of hours that you have to train per week is incredibly taxing, obviously. But I started quite late in the sport, I was 11, so I think that slightly later start has helped give me longevity in the back half of my career.

Rhythmic is women only. I’m pretty sure it’s the only Olympic sport, along with synchronised swimming, that is still completely for women only. So we are kind of sexist in that sense, you could say. And we’ll probably keep it that way.

You’re definitely hearing girls with more modern songs, songs that you’d hear on the radio. Which I think is a really positive thing for our sport, because the more people hear songs like that, that they recognise, the more they can relate to it. We’re allowed two pieces of music that have lyrics now, which has definitely opened up the door for a little more creativity. But if you chose something too wild, you might lose a couple of points for musicality.

I have an INXS piece, using “Never Tear Us Apart”. That music, with the lyrics, I really relate to. I’m looking forward to Commonwealth Games in 2018 with a home crowd, and am really hoping the Australian audience can relate to me and that story as well. I’m really excited.

No, I’m definitely not good on the dance floor. Everyone always laughs at me when I tell them that, but I think every person has a certain amount of co-ordination and I use mine up in the gym. So as soon as I step out of the gym, my co-ordination levels are just zapped. I trip over my own feet. I walk into walls. I can’t walk in a straight line outside of the gym. And I can’t dance to save my life.

I returned from Rio thinking I was almost certainly going to retire. I’ve been lured back for the World Games [in July], and the Commonwealth Games in April next year will probably be my last competition. After that, I will probably look towards finishing my PE degree, which has taken seven years so far, and also looking forward to staying in the sport, coaching the younger talented girls who are coming up.


This week’s highlights…

• Gymnastics: 2017 Australian Championships

Until June 4, Hisense Arena, Melbourne

• Netball: Swifts v Firebirds; Giants v Lightning

Saturday, 5pm and 7pm (AEST), Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

• NRL: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST), Southern Cross Group Stadium, Woolooware

• Soccer: FA Cup final – Chelsea v Arsenal

Sunday, 2.30am (AEST), Wembley Stadium, London

AFL: West Coast Eagles v GWS Giants

Sunday, 2.40pm (AWST), Domain Stadium, Subiaco, Perth

• Cricket: ICC Champions Trophy – Australia v New Zealand

Friday, 7.30pm (AEST), Edgbaston, Birmingham

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 27, 2017 as "Routine pleasures".

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Jack Kerr is a dual Australian Sports Commission Media Awards winner who writes about the business of sport.

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