“Recently I’ve tried to look after Georgia the person before Georgia the gymnast,” she said. “That’s been a huge step in my journey this year, really trying to find me as a person and not have my whole identity as a gymnast, which has been challenging because gymnastics is very tightly knit into my life.”
Such an attitude is nearly revolutionary in a sport where gymnasts have often suppressed their needs while striving for success, stressed by the idea that careers draw to a close with puberty.
All this stands in stark contrast to what the sport has been pummeled for after athlete Athe Netflix documentary that chronicled the rampant abuses within women’s elite gymnastics.
athlete A sparked a global outpouring of gymnasts sharing their traumatic experiences, including in Australia, where more than two dozen former national team members took to social media to expose what many allege amounted to abusive treatment.
That sparked an official inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission, whose findings exposed the sport’s “win-at-all-costs” culture. Liddick, who is no longer a national coach, was sanctioned by the National Sports Tribunal earlier this year and acknowledged in a letter that she “engaged in unacceptable coaching behaviours, in particular the use of negative language which was belittling, offensive, and humiliating”.
The careers of Godwin and several of her teammates straddle the old way of training elite gymnasts and a more athlete-centric model where gymnasts and their personal coaches have more freedom to decide what’s best that is slowly coming into form in Australia.
The new methods — training hard but smart, taking time off to take care of injuries, and most of all speaking up when they have something to say — provide a blueprint for conduct that many athletes, including Olympic superstar Simone Biles, have now spent years advocating for.
When Godwin’s mental health needed tending to after a bout of post-Olympic blues threatened to halt her progress, she called a meeting of her team and told them point-blank how she had been feeling.
“And they were so helpful!” she marveled, adding that the Australian Institute of Sport’s mental health referral network found someone to help her. “For a long time we’ve internalized everything, and so it’s a bit of a challenge to try and change that, but I do want to see a big change in speaking up about your program and speaking up about how you’re feeling and things like that. I’m trying to show the young ones that it’s OK to be a little bit open and vulnerable. My main goal is to show them that you can enjoy the experience, plus you can do well.”
That has translated to small changes, like having the freedom to wander the Commonwealth athletes village — “to go outside, talk to people, enjoy being there,” Godwin said — and bigger ones, too. When Commonwealth Games beam gold medalist Kate McDonald was looking to change gyms late last year, she did a trial at the gym where she presently trains and was astounded when other athletes literally applauded her skill.
“And as soon as that happened I was like, wow, this is crazy, this environment is so different and I’m already in love with this place,” McDonald, 22, said. “That’s really given me such a good turn in my gymnastics, and I’m just so happy now.”
Godwin did not begin the sport with big ambitions. She dabbled in tennis and athletics as a child, but she kept returning to gymnastics, attracted by the fun of flying through the air but also by the building-block nature of the sport. But by the time she reached her upper echelons, the Olympics were well in view.
She swallowed the disappointment of missing Glasgow and stuck it out when Australia failed to qualify a team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She made it to Tokyo on the strength of her individual performance at the 2019 World Championships, then waited through the pandemic to be able to travel and compete again. She finished 37th all-around in Tokyo.
After an Olympics and Commonwealth glory, what comes next? “There’s no specific competition I want to tick off, but it’s just the experience and the atmosphere that I really want to dive into,” Godwin said.
McDonald, for her part, feels she is just getting started. “I feel like I still have so much time and so much more to give in the sport,” she said. “You can be 25, 26. Georgia’s 24 and she’s still producing amazing results.”
Godwin has yet to decide whether she will go for the 2024 Olympics, or even to return to England for the World Championships in Liverpool in October. She and her teammate Emily Whitehead, also a Tokyo Olympian, have informed Gymnastics Australia that they will reassess their status once they return home.
“We’ve already told GA where we’re at physically and mentally, and they’re starting to listen, which is nice. They’ve really put a hold on it and we’ll let them know,” Godwin said.
At the moment, London and Paris beckon for a long-awaited holiday. The 2024 Olympic host city is of particular interest to Godwin, who enjoyed a small taste of it during a pre-Games training camp.
“The vibe and the atmosphere in Paris was like one big party,” Godwin said.
“So I’m quite excited to go back post competing and actually get involved in the party.”
Blyth Lawrence is a freelance American journalist specializing in gymnastics and Olympic sports.