Idle hands are great for sport stacking.
Sixteen-year-old Stephanie Johnston is headed to the 2012 Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games later this month thanks to a somewhat random Christmas present she received three years ago.
“I got a set of the cups for Christmas and it was funny because everything else I got I really liked, but the cups were the most interesting to me,” Johnston said.
Johnston played with the cups for a while, but later put them in her closet. A couple of years later she saw sport stacking videos on YouTube.
“I was watching some tournaments and thought that I really wanted to do it,” she said. “I got the cups out again and started practicing.”
Competitive sport stacking starts with regulation-sized cups. Competitors stack them in a pre-determined pyramid and break them down again.
In the “3-3-3” event, Stephanie stacks three separate pyramids of three cups and breaks them down again.
Her best time is 2.56 seconds. The world record is 1.53 seconds.
The gift was a selection by Johnston’s mother, Tracey, who was looking for something to keep her daughter occupied.
“Stephanie is the youngest of three and her two siblings are quite a bit older,” she said. “She sometimes has to do things that amuse herself. She is also the type of person who needs to be busy all the time, so I thought stacking was something she could do in her downtime.”
Little did her mother know that Johnston would practice along with the DVD that came with the cups and get the practice down to a fine art.
“But nothing really surprises me when it comes to Stephanie,” her mom said. “She is one of those people that wants to try everything. She had a bucket list for a school project and one of the things was to compete at the Olympics. I suppose this counts.”
The Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics are the pinnacle of competition for a number of sports in North America. The games will draw more than 17,000 athletes to compete in 18 disciplines.
The games begin on July 25 in Houston, with the sport stacking championships to be held on July 27 and July 28.
The Johnston family is using Stephanie’s achievement as an opportunity to take a family vacation.
“We were going to go somewhere else, but when this came up we figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Tracey said.
Johnston qualified for the event by placing in the top-five in her age group at a World Sport Stacking Association qualifier in Markham on June 12.
“There were more than 200 kids there from all over Canada and the United States,” Stephanie said. “The Junior Olympics will feature all the best from North America and some parts of Europe.”
In addition to the “3-3-3,” Stephanie competes in the “3-6-3” event and the “cycle”.
Her best “3-6-3” time, which is similar to the “3-3-3” but with a larger centre stack, is 3.41 seconds.
The cycle, which is the marathon of sport stacking, involves using 12 cups and four stack sequences. Stephanie’s best time is 10.21 seconds.
Stephanie, a student at Brantford Collegiate Institute, has learned strong time management to get her sport stacking to a competitive level.
“I was practicing for maybe a half an hour a week until I found out about the Markham qualifier,” she said. “Then I ramped it up to an hour, maybe two, every day. It takes a lot of practice.”
The Junior Olympics are the top event for sport stackers and the competition will be stiff. Johnston’s mother said that the sport is huge in the United States, with several players with sponsorships and coaches.
She said her daughter will have to push herself to place well.
“In order to get a good finish, you have to take risks,” she said. “You are given three tries and it’s your best time out of the three that counts. You can be really good, but you have to take risks in order to go that much faster.”