How’s this for impressive? Danielle Prince trains for 30 hours a week to perform a 90-second recital during competition. “Not a lot of time to show all of that effort and all the work behind it, so the pressure is high,” she says. No kidding! “You put your heart and soul into your routines, you do all the gym training, strength training, pilates, gymnastics, ballet. And then when it comes to the competition, sometimes you get torn apart and they say, ‘That’s rubbish, you need to try harder.’ That’s challenging, particularly when you’re younger. And often in sports like gymnastics, we’re perfectionists – you’re always trying to obtain the unobtainable.”
But the big question? How does Prince bounce back? “I’ve taught myself over the years that it’s not personal. Everybody wants you to be the best gymnast you can possibly be. You have to be able to try to channel that frustration and disappointment into your next training session. I find it easier to look from training session to training session.”
Real life theatre
Gymnastics, particularly the rhythmic kind, isn’t a sport we see much of outside the big multisport events such as the Olympics and Comm Games. But, when we do see it, we lap it up. “The amount of people that I’ve had say to me, ‘Ooh, I’ve got tickets to the final,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t even know you knew what rhythmic gymnastics was!’”
That’s probably because it’s a sport that crosses into the performance realm, almost like theatre. “You have one-minute-thirty to basically tell a story without any words. We put a lot of thought into the story we want to portray. It’s not just the routine, it’s the whole package: leotards, colour of the apparatus, music. The judges are judging you on the way the routine makes [them] feel,” says Prince.
“We lose some people in the sense of being told it’s not a sport, it’s just dancing around with ribbons. But our response is
you have to come into the gym and watch a four-hour training session. People don’t realise the amount of strength and flexibility that goes into that 90-second performance.”
Next up, Prince is looking forward to showing off her mad skills at a home-state Games. “I was a junior when the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games were on. My mum recorded the rhythmic competition for me and I probably watched that video more than 100 times. Seeing the crowd and how supportive the Australian public is of the gymnasts was enthralling for me. So that’s what I’m most excited about – competing in an arena full of Australian spectators.”
This is why she didn’t end up retiring after the Rio 2016 Olympics, like she said she would. “Leading into Rio, I said that was going to be my last competition, so I was crying wolf I guess. [My boyfriend] thought he was getting off easy when we were preparing for the ‘last’ competition ... ‘Then we can go on holidays, then we can do this and that’. But nope, not yet.”
Prince says the Rio Olympics was the highlight of her career. “I achieved my personal goal, which was to perform four clean routines and get solid, consistent scores. After the Olympics, I took a little bit of time and realised to finish my career in my home state, Queensland [would be amazing]. One of the only goals I haven’t achieved in my sport is to win an individual medal. I have a team medal at a Comm Games [she won team gold in Delhi in 2010] and now I’m just really excited for that individual medal.”
But, she promises the Gold Coast will definitely be her last comp. And then she and her boyfriend can take some serious time off. “I’ve only had one holiday in my adult life. We’re currently planning my retirement tour for June next year [in] Europe.” Nice!
Life after sport
Like many sportswomen, Prince already has career number two in the works: she’s also studying business management part time.
“I was doing teaching [to be a PE teacher], and then I changed into business,” she says. “I realised I’d gone into PE teaching because, as an athlete, you get into this bubble of wanting to work within sport. But I thought, ‘What do I actually want to do?’ A bit of re-evaluation and I came to business, majoring in marketing. I’m loving it.”
Prince also works part time. “I work with Gymnastics NSW. I’m doing a bit of work in the marketing department with them. And I do a lot of coaching and choreography work, so I guess that’s like my creative output.”
Speaking of creativity, Prince might have to find another avenue for sparkle in her life once she has retired. “My parents and my boyfriend do triathlons and Ironmans, so my mum is just dying to get me on a bike. My first question to her was, ‘Do you reckon I could put diamantes on the beam of the bike?’ And she was instantly like, ‘No.’” We think you should go for it, Dani.
Dani in 60 secs
HER IN 3 WORDS:
“Determined, energetic, ambitious.”
AS A KID:
“I danced since age three. Ballet, jazz, everything. My dance teacher suggested I try rhythmic, because I was naturally quite flexible and really enjoyed performing.”
STARTED RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS:
“At age 11.”
“My boyfriend. We met in Brisbane, but he’s been very supportive; we decided to move to Sydney for me to train with a coach here. His work also managed to line up here as well.”
“Rock climbing. You don’t have any space in your brain other than for the fact you’re halfway up a 5m wall; where are you going to put your hand next?”
“Italian, when I’m allowed to eat it. Pizza!"