By Anna Rose Johnson

Delighting the world with her lovely floor choreography and making leaps and bounds for Sweden, 17-year-old Jessica Castles recently won the European Games bronze on floor and is looking ahead to future competitions. Now 17 years old, Castles grew up in Qatar, trains in England at Heathrow Gymnastics Club, and has represented Sweden since 2017. We caught up with Castles to learn about her experiences at major competitions, her dancing training, and the solid upgrades she’s training!

Photo courtesy of Jessica Castles

Photo courtesy of Jessica Castles

Inside Gymnastics: How is your current training going?
Jessica Castles: Training is going really well. I am currently just getting back into the swing of things after coming back from the European Games in Minsk last week. I am playing around with some upgrades for later on in the year, with the main focus being on the World Championships.

Inside: Congratulations on being named to the World Championships team! How does it make you feel?
Jessica: I am really proud to be named to the Swedish Worlds team, and can’t wait to get out there and show what I can do. I also hope that some of my upgrades will be ready to put into my competition routines.

Inside: What was it like to compete at the European Championships and the European Games? What are some of your favorite memories from these meets?
Jessica: My best experience was making my first all-around final at a major championship. I was also very pleased to be able to go out there and better my scores in a final. I also enjoyed exploring Poland with my teammates.

[As for European Games,] it was an amazing experience to be at an Olympic-organized event because of the number of athletes from so many sports. I enjoyed the experience of staying at an athletes’ village, [and] being part of the Sweden Olympic team who were super supportive of me being the youngest on the team! My favorite part was when I realized that I had won a medal in the floor final, and later standing on the podium watching the Swedish flag go up. I felt such pride!

Inside: Are you working on any upgrades?
Jessica: Yes! I am currently working upgrades on every piece. On floor I am working on a triple twist, 2 ½ punch full twist and double twist forward. On beam I am doing a 2 ½ twist dismount and change leap ½. On vault, I am working on a 1 ½ twist and, finally on bars, I am working on a toe-on Tkatchev.

Inside: What are your short-term and long-term gymnastics goals?
Jessica: My short-term goals are focused on the upgrades and the execution of my routines for the World Championships later this year, and towards the European Championships next year. Long-term, I am hoping to qualify for the Olympics.

Inside: Do you think that the Swedish team is on the rise?
Jessica: We have a couple of really talented juniors coming through the ranks, and we are aiming to enter a full team on the senior side next year.

Inside: Do you hope to compete in the 2020 Olympics?
Jessica: Yes, I’m hoping and working very hard for this to become a reality!

Inside: Do you do any dance training in addition to your regular gymnastics training?
Jessica: I don’t have any regular dance training at the moment. The younger ones do ballet every week, but the older ones don’t. However, every year we have a big Christmas show where we do lots of different dances and performances. It really teaches us how to pick up different styles of choreography and how to perform. My coach, Michele Walduck, was part of the Royal Ballet in London in her younger years, and my other coach, Natalia Ilienko, was the [1981] World Champion on floor. Both are very keen on the artistic input in our beam and floor routines!

Inside: What is your favorite apparatus?
Jessica: I love competing on floor, because it’s the piece I feel the most confident on and I love performing to the judges and crowd.

Inside: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Jessica: I grew up in Qatar and didn’t start proper training on bars and beam until I was around 11 years old. However, I have been working really hard with my coaches to get to where I am today.

I want to share how grateful I am for all the support given to me by my club, Heathrow Gymnastics. Since I joined, the coaches have had a strong belief in me that has encouraged me to push boundaries and progress into areas I never thought I would. My teammates inspire me, and we have a great friendship where we motivate and drive each other forward [as we] work towards common goals. I am so lucky to be able to train in this environment.

I also want to say how grateful I am to the Swedish Gymnastics Federation and my Swedish Club Eskilstuna GF, who are always there supporting and encouraging me so I can compete for my country.

Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: https://annarosejohnson.contently.com