Eighteen year-old Emma Slevin made history last month when she became the first Irish female gymnast to reach an all-round final at the European championships. Not the only isolated event of note at the competition in Switzerland, Germany’s gymnast federation (DTB) and their athletes also made momentous statements at the contest via their clothing selection to protest against the “sexualization in gymnastics.”
Sarah Voss paved the way for her other teammates (Kim Bui and Elisabeth Seitz) and possibly gymnasts around the world and into the future when she wore a full body suit leotard, the first to do so while competing on the world stage, with the exemption of religious reasons.
Speaking after the event she told the BBC she took the decision to act as a “role model for young gymnasts who don’t feel very safe in every situation.”
“It does not say that everyone should do it, it just says that everyone can do whatever they want,” said Voss.
From Claregalway, Emma Slevin trailed a multitude of sports before settling on gymnastics, and so is well acclimatised to the culture and conversations that come with it. For her, the attire is “just what [she’s] grown up knowing” and so is second nature, but the young groundbreaker commends Voss’s action as a “really brave move.”
“I think the idea behind the full-length suit is really, really important that people know about. People do struggle with stuff like [body image] and I loved the meaning behind it, and I think it’s a really, really good idea to showcase the sexualization in gymnastics” she said.
“I think at the moment I’m just too focused on competition, but I can see why people would feel like that. And you know there’s no problem with feeling like that because it is literally a skintight leotard that only covers certain parts of your body.”
Speaking on her own pioneering achievement of placing 19th overall at the Europeans, Slevin reflected on her first performance after a year and a half out as “mad!”
“I thought after 18 months off I’d struggle a little bit with confidence and just normality in competition, but I think it went a lot better than I thought it would have” she says.
“It’s mad to me actually that, you know, it’s history, I suppose, but I think the pathways that Gymnastics Ireland and my coach had put in place are really starting to show that they’re working. The progression is very noticeably there in the sport as well just in us that were competing at Europeans.”
In a team dominated sporting perception that many claim exists in Ireland, the Galway teenager’s family were reluctant at first that Slevin felt herself “gravitating” towards gymnastics, but ultimately played out well in that her and her sister are both currently shining at a national level.
“I think it was hard for my parents to let me give up the GAA and stuff, cause we’re such a GAA family, but they knew this was what I wanted to do. Me and my sister ended up going two different directions, which now that we look back is probably the best decision” Slevin says.
Currently in 5th year, Emma Slevin’s choice to determine whether NCAA and the American collegiate route is the road she wishes to pursue is on her mind and that of many onlookers, but as of yet she is undecided what the next step is.
“There’s pros and cons to both I suppose, but hopefully in a couple of months I’ll have decided, but as of right now, I’m not sure” she says.
Having claimed 6th place at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina and given recent successes, lots of potential and optimism surrounds the Renmore club member. With the upcoming Games in Tokyo just out of reach, Paris 2024 is expected to be colossal for the promising Slevin.
“It’s only three years away now! That might seem like a lot, but in the gymnastics world that’s not that long. Qualifiers are only two years away and so it actually comes around quite quickly” she says.
For now though the “next big goal” is that of the World Championships towards the end of 2021 where Irish fans will no doubt be cheering this exceptional young athlete on!