Georgina Cassar, Gibraltas’s first and only Olympian

in Features

There is no doubt that Georgina Cassar is an inspirational Gibraltarian who made history when she became the first, and only, Gibraltarian to compete at an Olympics.

Talking to her in July just three days before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games is due to take place (postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic), it seems the perfect time to revisit her journey and to talk about her experience as a member of the Team GB Rhythmic Gymnastics squad in 2012. 

Turning 28 years of age in September, Georgina was 18 when she took part in the London Olympic Games. She now lives in London and works in marketing. “I came to Gibraltar at the age of two, and like many Gibraltarians I have a mixed heritage, my dad is Maltese and my mum is English, but I definitely think of myself as Gibraltarian,” she says.

Georgina’s route into rhythmic gymnastics came through ballet. “My older sister was involved in after school ballet classes and so to make it easier for my mum she enrolled me as well and I enjoyed it, but as soon as I found out about gymnastics it was ‘goodbye ballet’,” she laughs. Starting at the age of 13, late compared to other international gymnasts, Georgina credits Sally Holmes, the Head Coach of the Gibraltar Rhythmic Gymnastics Association, as being instrumental in helping her to qualify for Team GB. 

Rhythmic gymnastics is a sport performed on a floor accompanied by music that combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance, and apparatus manipulation, including ribbon, hoop, ball, clubs and rope. Georgina explains that every Olympic four years there is a different rotation and one piece of apparatus is omitted but all the skills have to be kept up to the same high standard. “In 2012 Team GB did two routines with five balls, three ribbons and two hoops and my favourite piece of apparatus was hoop, but I really enjoyed ribbon as well,” she says. 

In 2010 Georgina proudly represented Gibraltar at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi where she came 16th in the overall competition. However, she had already started squad testing before then because the UK had a wild card as the host nation and to top that it was the first time a UK Rhythmic Gymnastics team had been able to compete in the Olympics. When the time came for the GB squad to participate in the three day test event things went a little bit pear shaped. 

“It was quite a story and it made the headlines at the time,” Georgina explains, saying that the day after the test event the team were all over the newspapers and also appeared on BBC Breakfast on the morning news. “We had a contract with British Gymnastics that stated we needed to obtain certain scores to qualify, and we got those scores on the first day, on the second day we missed one of the scores by a very small fraction, but on the third day we got both the scores again.”

The team missed the required benchmark score of 45.223 by only 0.273 marks in the group all-around competition and British Gymnastics stated that they would not submit a nomination to the British Olympic Association for a host nation place. The GB rhythmic gymnastics team appealed and the case went to court. “We had a very good lawyer who looked at the contract, laughed and said of course you are going to the Olympics, you have qualified and achieved exactly what British Gymnastics set out for you to do.”

Georgina says that it was tough but that the squad bounced back. “I think it helped on the day because we knew that it had almost been taken away from us, so we were almost relaxed because we knew that we had put in the training and we knew what a fight we had put up to get there and on the day of the actual competition it was just about enjoying it and going out and making sure that we did a good performance, and I think that we achieved that.”

Rhythmic gymnastics has been dominated by Eastern European countries, where gymnasts are born and bred to compete, and knowing this Georgina says that they didn’t expect to win medals. “We had the host nation spot and we knew that we deserved it and were capable and that all we needed to do was to make sure that we didn’t look out of place and we put up a good fight.”

With mental health issues at the forefront for athletes at the moment, Georgina say that governing bodies should be more supportive. “We never had therapists available to us in the run up to the Olympics or even afterwards and I think it is super important that after something like an Olympic Games all athletes should be offered some sort of therapy or life coaching,” she states. 

“I left school to train specifically and then went on to compete and suddenly you are left on your own, it is a bit like ‘good luck with your life’ and then you have to try and figure out the real world and some people can’t hack it.” Luckily Georgina has had, and continues to have, a very good support system with her parents, her family and friends. “Gibraltar has always been very supportive,” she adds. 

Georgina’s time as an Olympic gymnast had plenty of high points, one of which was coming away with six best friends that are able to share their unique experiences and memories from their training days. “Training at such a high level really taught me about discipline and the meaning of hard work, and about what I have to do if I want to get somewhere.”

Looking to the future, Georgina would like to move from marketing into events management. “I know I have to put the hard work in and it is the same mindset as with sport,” she comments. “I always said that unless I am on the Olympic carpet I am not going to believe that I am at the Olympics because at any point something can happen – you could sprain your ankle walking to the gym and you would be out – so you just have to put your head down, keep focused and keep working hard.”

Saying that it may sound a bit clichéd, Georgina believes that ‘everything happens for a reason’. “It is weird how our life and our journey coincides, for instance if my parents hadn’t relocated to Gibraltar when I was two then maybe I wouldn’t have found my calling in rhythmic gymnastics and I would never have been part of the Olympic team, so a decision like that could have affected my entire life.”

Every time she comes back to Gibraltar, Georgina takes time out to go and visit the Gibraltar Rhythmic Gymnastics Association and Sally Holmes.  “I spend days there watching the girls and seeing how far they have come, but I am not actively involved in the sport any more.” 

“Although I loved gymnastics and it was definitely a part of my world for a very long time, and it will forever be a part of me, there are other things that I want to do with my life.” In her spare time Georgina loves to do yoga. “This was something I found years after the games but it has helped me tremendously both physically and mentally. I try hard to keep my flexibility up as much as possible (although it’ll never be what it once was!) and when opportunities for gymnastics/yoga/movement filming or photoshoots arise, it means I am able to accept them.”

There is no doubt that with the steely determination of an athlete, Georgina will succeed at whatever she chooses to do in the future. 

Photo Credits: Gigi Umbrasaite @ggphphotographyofficial & Noelle Laguea, 

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