If Belgian gymnastics has been on your radar since Nina Derwael and her teammates’ impressive performance at the Olympics this summer, the NCAA will soon provide you with more. Senior elite Margo Van Linden recently joined Western Michigan for the 2022 season.
For elite gymnasts who are used to gymnastics as an individual sport, the team aspect is often one of the most exciting parts of college gymnastics, but also one that takes time to get used to.
Van Linden, though, already knows what winning as a team feels like. Her favorite moment of her career is winning gold with the Belgian team at the French team national championships (Championnat de France par Équipes) in 2019. “It was an amazing competition with a lot of fun [and it was] also one of my best performances. … We won, we were champions of France,” she recalled with a hint of patriotic irony.
The team spirit is what Van Linden is most looking forward to at Western Michigan. “My biggest goal is to really become a member of the gymnastics team,” she said. “I’ve always had a big dream of training [on] a gymnastics team at a high level with people of my age. I think it is very nice to share the same passion and to work together towards the same goal.”
The enthusiasm she saw within the Broncos was a reason why Van Linden chose Western Michigan, together with the university’s welcoming attitude towards international students. Plus, she immediately developed a very good relationship with head coach Penny Jernigan and assistant coach Al Scharns. “From the beginning I had a nice contact with them. They seem very good coaches to me,” she said.
Leaving Belgium for the United States is going to be “a big adventure” for Van Linden, who hopes that her college years will be a learning experience and to make friends for life.
As with all international gymnasts, adjusting to life in the U.S. will take time, but luckily this is not Van Linden’s first time overseas. She competed at the WOGA Classic in Frisco, Texas, in both 2018 and 2019, finishing 14th and 10th in the all around, respectively.
Van Linden’s most significant learning experience is also linked to the WOGA Classic. In 2017, she was getting ready to compete at the meet when she suffered an injury that prevented her from taking part. She was devastated, as she’d been looking forward to her international debut for a long time, but she stayed motivated and focused on the future, eventually competing there the two following years.
As Van Linden now prepares for her next, bigger American dream, she’s tweaking her routines to prepare for college. A very elegant performer on floor and beam, she could help the Broncos on both of these events, but she believes bars is the apparatus on which she could have the biggest impact to the lineup.
Incidentally, it’s the same apparatus on which Derwael won her Olympic gold in August. Is it a coincidence? A sign? All Van Linden knows is that with an Olympic champion to look up to, the sky’s the limit for Belgian gymnastics. “Nina Derwael is a tall gymnast, just like me,” Van Linden said. “[Her victory] motivates me. If you work hard and you are motivated, you [will] reach your dreams.”
Article by Talitha Ilacqua
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