Founder of the Jandakot-based Olympic Gymnastics Academy to retire

Val Norris-Buffham works with gymnast Erina Hong.
Val Norris-Buffham works with gymnast Erina Hong.

DUAL Olympian Val Norris-Buffham says last weekend's Prime Gymnastics International Invitational in Singapore will be her last overseas trip as head coach of the academy she founded 40 years ago.

At 71, the four-time national champion says it is time to move out of working life.

But after five decades as an athlete, coach and ambassador for the sport, she was hesitant to call it a retirement.

‘It’s a passing of the baton,’ she said.

Spend just one hour with Val and husband Ken, a successful and admired sportsman in his own right, and it is evident how hard it has been for them to even contemplate leaving the academy they built together.

The transition to a quieter life started with the purchase of a home in Murdoch. That was six years ago.

Yet time spent at the gym meant they have not been able to complete the move, spending most of their nights at their Jandakot home.

‘This will be my last international trip,’ she said.

‘We’ve been committed to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week for decades.

‘It’s time to ease off.’

Mrs Norris-Buffham was 15 when she started gymnastics as a way of keeping fit.

Despite the late start, just six years later she was off to her first Olympics in Tokyo, 1964.

‘It became my passion virtually straight away. I think I worked hard. I had one goal and that’s what I worked on,’ she said.

Four years later she travelled to the Mexico Games as the only female gymnast from Australia.

‘Fortunately I was able to join in with the Hungarian team,’ she said.

‘So when I went to training they looked after me so it was really nice.

‘It’s pretty tough being on your own’

During her career were National Championship wins in 1965, 66, 68 and 69, as well as a North Holland Championship in 1967.

Following her athletic retirement, she founded what is now known as the Olympic Gymnastic Academy in a hall at Applecross Primary School in 1973.

In 1985 she opened the current centre on Lakes Way in Jandakot.

‘I just love seeing kids improving themselves,’ she said. ‘We’ve got students we taught at 10 and now they’re bringing their kids to the academy; it’s really lovely.

‘I’d like that to continue.’

The essentials
– Olympian in Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968.
– Represented Australia at the first World Championships in Germany in 1966.
– Four-time national champion (1965, 66, 68, 69).
– North Holland champion (1967).
– Gymnastics WA Life Member.
– City of Cockburn Sports Hall of Fame inductee (2004).