Barry Cheales OAM reflects on his Men's Artistic Gymnastics Career

Gymnastics Australia (GA) was privileged to chat with Barry Cheales OAM, a 1964 Olympian, the 1970 Team Captain and competitor at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and competitive nationally for 21 years in the Men's Artistic Gymnastics (MAG) program. 

After being involved in the sport for more than 50 years, Cheales was happy to provide some insight when asked about the history of gymnastics. 

“Australian Gymnastics in the first two decades, the 1950s and 60s was developed mainly through the influence of migrants,” Cheales said. 

“These MAG coaches Moved to Australia and passed on their knowledge, in the 1960’s we relied on this and the rare access to gymnastics publications and seeing films of the overseas competitors and attempting to replicate the skills.
“The only access for Australian gymnasts in those years to overseas competitions was the Olympics and attending Australia’s first appearance at a World Championships in 1970.

“I do recall the early days in the 1950s, cast Iron Parallel Bars, Rings hung from rope over rafters, the odd hay filled mat placed on the wood floor where the somersault was to happen. 

“Also the attempts to learn back toss and Demidov on Parallel Bars with feet tied to a rope over a pully to stay above the bars, and just going for the double back off the High Bar with a belt around the waist. 

“I feel that I had a part in influencing the Australian Government to understand that up until 1980 there was little national sports funding and I publicly lobbied the then Prime Minister Fraser in the 1976 Olympic Village where he was visiting to look at national sports funding programs. 

 “For the prior 10 years in my volunteer role as the first National Coaching Director in the 1970s, I managed to truly nationalise our training and development through writing and publication of the MAG Levels Manual. 

“Additionally, I established an annual training camp for coaches and gymnasts with an international guest coach at each and I introduced the first coaching accreditation system to register MAG coaches.

Cheales looks forward to witnessing and enjoying the development of gymnastics in the future. 

“With the changes to the equipment over many years including more safety and spring, the greater science in skill development and body preparation this artistic sport seems to have no boundaries,” Cheales said.

“With that, the necessity for consistency with no flaws is still required. I just cannot imagine what changes will appear in the future and I look forward to continuing to enjoy and respect the performances over the coming years.

After such a long time in the sport, it was hard for Cheales to pinpoint just one significant moment that stood out to him during his career. 

“Looking back at the selection to be part of the 1964 Olympic Team with two Queenslanders and four from NSW to be part of an Olympics was beyond belief,” he reflected.

 “I recall being the first in Australia to do the double back from the High Bar only to find at the Sydney Nationals they had erected the High Bar on the city hall stage which was another 3  meters off the floor leaving me looking at a grand chasm for the dismount.

 “I particularly enjoyed my role as manager and coach at the 1976 Montreal Olympics having had the experience of two previous Olympics I feel I was able to maximise the experience for the Australian gymnasts at these games.

“I remain proud that after a competitive career at national level since age 16 and including a role of national coach through the 1970s. I achieved a bronze medal at the Nationals and a number of apparatus gold at the age of 39 and was selected to be part of the Australian team to the World Championships.”

To be selected to compete at an Olympic Games is a moment that will always stick with an athlete. For Cheales it was no different as the experienced just made him fonder of the sport. 

“In those days to be selected to compete at the Olympics was for me beyond a possibility,” Cheales said.

“To be selected for those games, it really hit home when I was standing in the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games with 15,000 other athletes from around the World all equal and the best sports people together celebrating the traditions that go back to the Greeks many years ago. 

 “At the competition participating in an international event representing Australia and looking at the Japanese and Russians and the skills was inspiring. I regret that with the lack of personal photographic equipment I don’t have much of a record of this life changing event. 

“This experience served to spur me on to a deeper love of the sport and a want to train harder to go again and to contribute back which I believe I did in a number of ways.”

Looking back, Cheales is proud to have played his part within the MAG program. 

“I cherish the lifelong friendships nationally and internationally through gymnastics and enjoy corresponding and calling in on interstate and international visits on these friends,” Cheales said.

“I was proud to share the national MAG position with my brother Jeff and national judging director while I was national coaching director.

“I am proud of what gymnastics has now become and the part I have played in it.”

Post his athletic career, Cheales was honoured to receive an Order of Australia in 1994 for his services to gymnastics.