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Mason hopes pressure brings out her best

Clean and simple: Mason will compete on the biggest stage of her life tomorrow (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Sydney Mason will be fighting to keep her nerves in check when she steps into the unknown at the Toronto Coliseum for the individual all-around competition tomorrow.

At 17, the Bermuda gymnast will be one of the youngest competitors in the artistic discipline at the Pan Am Games, and hopes the daunting task of performing on the biggest stage of her life brings out her best.

The Bermuda High School pupil, the Island’s only gymnast in Toronto, will look to keep things “clean and simple” as she attempts to execute the skills she has been sharpening since she was four years old.

“It’s going to be a great experience because I’ve never competed at such a high level before,” Mason said.

“I’m also really nervous because I’ll be one of the youngest participants [in Toronto]. It’s going to be very new and different for me.

“I’m really focused on keeping things clean. At this point I can’t add new skills; it’s about perfecting what I already know. Hopefully the Pan Am Games will bring out the best in me.”

Mason qualified for the multi-sport competition at the Pan Am Championships in December, posting a personal best on the uneven bars en route to finishing 51st with a score of 39.55.

As soon as she finishes competing in Toronto, Mason will head to Anglesey, an island off the North Coast of Wales, for the Island Games, which start at the end of the month.

“I’ve mostly been trying to focus on the Island Games, but the Pan Am Games were always something I’d kept in mind,” Mason said.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been worth it because I’m getting to do things I never thought I would do. This is what you dream about as a little kid.”

Accompanying Mason to Toronto will be Duke Nelligan, the Bermuda Gymnastics Association head coach, and his wife Chris, who also coaches at the National Training Centre in Southside. Amanda Baughman, the Bermuda assistant coach, will remain on the Island to continue preparing Bermuda’s boys’ and girls’ teams for the Island Games.

Nelligan, a former University of Maryland head coach, believes the Pan Am Games will be the highest level of competition a Bermuda gymnast has competed in since he took over the national programme six years ago.

“This is the toughest situation we have ever put any of our athletes in,” said Nelligan, who travelled to London with Bermuda pair Caitlyn Mello and Kaisey Griffith for the World Championships in 2009.

“Sydney will be doing two [events] a day and will then race home before flying out to the Island Games.

“No one handed this to Sydney, she went out there and earned it and I know she is taking this very seriously.

“For Sydney to reach the all-around finals would be the culmination of a great training period.”

Nelligan expects the top Pan Am countries such as the United States to blood their stars of tomorrow, many of whom will be hoping to force their way into contention for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio.

“What you will see is everybody testing out backups — athletes who are doing really well, but who may not have the international exposure,” he said.

“The US will send a group of girls with some solids at the top and then give some chances to the others. They won’t want to risk any injuries a year before the Olympics.

“But they will also want to make sure they have enough athletes prepped and ready to go if they get the nod [for the Olympics]. Sydney will be up against some great, great talent.”

The individual all-around features uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise and vault, with judges awarding scores based on a D score and an E Score. The D score is an open score made of up difficulty and composition. The E score is comprised of an execution and artistic score to a maximum of ten. The final score is the D score plus the E score. The all-around score is the sum of the final scores from the four apparatus.