Saturday, May 21, 2016

Watch List | New Elites in 2016

The year of an Olympic Games always brings some fresh new faces in the junior elite scene. With all eyes on the seniors contending for spots on the 2016 Olympic team, it can be easy to overlook the talented emerging in the junior field. We bring you a list some of the new names you'll see this season. Could some of these first year elites be the stars of the next quad?

Riley McCuster | MG Elite 

Riley moved to MG elite last year and already shows a lot of potential and promise. She qualified to elite in March and just recently secured her spot at the P&G Championships after a strong showing at the American Classic. Despite falling on bars, she finished 5th all-around and had a very solid beam set that got her the bronze medal. Earlier this year she won the all-around title at the Parkettes Invite and KPAC Cup. In February she was offered a full ride scholarship to the powerhouse Florida Gators gymnastics team and it was no surprise when she committed-- following in the footsteps of her teammates Laurie Hernandez and Jazmyn Foberg. Riley is a beautiful gymnast to watch thanks to her nice lines, great flexibility, and gorgeous toe point. Coach Maggie Haney has a way of turning her girls into stars regardless of how rough their first year of elite may go, so that gives me some piece of mind as Riley heads into Classics and Nationals-- not that we doubt her abilities to perform well this season, it's just nice to know that she's in the hands of someone who has lots of experience helping gymnasts reach their full potential. With a little more experience over the next few years and some upgrades, Riley is going to be one to keep our eyes on!

Irina Alexeeva | WOGA

Irina Alexeeva might be a name you're already familiar with. The gymnastics world first fell in love with her when she was about nine years old and she's been on the watch list ever since. When we interviewed Irina in 2012, she told us that she has dual citizenship and would like to compete for her native Russia someday, but ultimately it appears she has decided to stick with competing elite in the United States. She has competed at the elite level several times in the last few years at competitions such as the WOGA Classic, HNI, Gymnix and Elite Gym Massilia, but this will be her first year competing at the major US elite meets. At the American Classic this past weekend, Irina placed third all-around despite falling on bars, which is one of her strongest events. We don't see a laid-out jaeger too often, especially not from a junior! In addition to bars, Irina also shows a lot of potential on beam where she has a whopping 16.2 start value. Her style reminds me a lot of her WOGA teammate, Alyssa Baumann. Not only do they have similar lines, but they are both strong all-around gymnasts who specialize on bars and beam. Irina has posted some solid numbers under the elite scoring system so far, so I can't wait to see how she does this summer.

Jaymes Marshall | TIGAR

Jaymes Marshall turned heads when she competed an amanar vault at JO Nationals-- a vault that is almost unheard of from somebody her age and at a level 10 competition. At just twelve years of age, she has a floor routine that is equally as impressive. She opens with a double layout, does a whip to triple as her second pass (that is slightly under rotated in the video above, but she nailed it at the American Classic) her third pass is a sky high double pike and she finishes with an impressive tucked full-in. (That gives her a very solid 16.0 start value!) At the American Classic she placed 2nd all-around and first on vault with a 15.5, locking in her spot at the P&G Championships! As a level 10 earlier this year, Jaymes won the Regional title and placed 2nd all-around at States. Notably she has scored two perfect 10's on vault this year- one at the Pikes Peak Cup and one at the Colorado State Championships. With her big skills and high scoring potential, Jaymes could really make the junior field interesting this season.

Kiya Johnson | Texas Dreams 

As a level 10, Kiya has showed she is a strong and well balanced all-around gymnast. She is a two-time Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier and won the all-around, vault, and beam title in 2015!  At her first elite meet, the American Classic, she didn't have the best all-around performance but she debuted several new skills including a yurchenko double on vault which gave her the bronze. Kiya is great on floor as well, competing both a double layout and an arabian double front to stag jump. With 1991 World Champion Kim Zmeskal as her coach, Kiya is in very good hands as she heads down the elite route. I think with a little more experience, she will have an impressive elite career!

Sunisa Lee | Midwest

If you follow Sunisa on Instagram (@sunisalee_) then chances are you're probably already in love with this little one. Sunisa is very talented and shows great flexibility and potential. Last year she competed as a pre-elite where she won the all-around and bar title at the US Challenge. Sunisa has the skills, she just needs to work on cleaning it all up. She posts a lot of impressive training videos on her Instagram (even when she injures her arm and is in a cast.) We like this little one a lot and if she continues to work hard...we have no doubts she will become a star someday.

Cameron Machado | First State 

Cameron is another young one who shows a lot of potential. She doesn't have the most difficulty or as much polish as some of the other girls, but I could see that developing naturally over time. Like Sunisa, Cameron also posts a lot of training videos on her Instagram ( @cam.machado13) so we know the potential for big skills is there. At the recent JO Nationals, Cameron's best finish came on bars where she placed 3rd. At the American Classic she placed 7th on bars, 13th all-around, and qualified for the P&G Championships.

Which new elites are you excited to see this season? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Interview with Alexis Beucler

Alexis "Poof" Beucler is a former elite gymnast who just wrapped up her club career and will be competing for NC State next season. The road has been anything but easy for her, between injuries and leaving her family behind to continue pursing her dreams with a new coach, but ultimately she never gave up and that's what we love about her!

We recently chatted with Alexis to reflect back on her career and find out what the future holds.

How did you get started in gymnastics? 
I started gymnastics because I saw what my sister could do and I wanted to be able to do it too.

What was it like training side by side with her?
I loved training with my sister! We had a healthy competition. We pushed each other to do our best. We always tried to see who would get what skills the quickest and things like that. We are always there for each other and very close!

Alexis with her sister Marissa, who just completed her career at the University of Kentucky

For most of your career you trained at CGA under Mary Lee Tracy. What was that experience like? 
It definitely made me a tougher athlete mentally and physically, but I would prefer to not go deeper into this.

You've seemed to mature a lot both mentally and in your gymnastics since that time. What advice would you give to young athletes when it comes to the mental aspect of the sport? 
You can never stop believing in yourself and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. I always went by 'fake it till you make it,' because I wasn't always confident and that helped me become it. With me having to make the decision to move from Ohio made me mature pretty quick being without my family.

How has Brandy Johnson's gym been different and perhaps better for you? 
It is a more positive atmosphere where I could continue to grow as a gymnast. The coaches have helped me get back on track mentally. I immediately felt like I was apart of a family as soon as I stepped in the doors. I enjoy this gym so much that I've given up living with my parents and siblings for over three years.

Through all your ups and downs, what pushed you to keep going? 
I had a fire in me to prove people wrong and do the best that I could and improve myself. I watched meet videos to remind myself what I could do and keep myself motivated.

In the gymnastics world you are known as "Poof," how did that nickname come about? 
The nickname came about because I have super curly hair!

What has been some of the highlights of your career so far? 
The highlights of my career so far have been hitting 8 for 8 at Visa Championships, tying with Simone Biles on floor in 2nd place at the American Classic, and at this years JO Nationals it was great being able to hit 4 for 4.

Do you have any pre meet rituals? 
My mom couldn't always make it to my meets so she would always send me bible verses and a quote the day of the meet. If I have a late session, I take a nap before it. I have my teammate, Payton, braid my hair and I always have to be chewing gum!

What is something that most people might not know about you? 
I love watching Criminal Minds!

You were originally committed to the University of Georgia but signed with NC State last November. What went into making that decision? 
I didn't have a choice with that decision but I do feel that God does everything for a reason and he's putting me exactly in the place that I'm supposed to be. I'm very excited to be apart of the pack! Go Pack!

Are you working on any upgrades or new skills for college? 
On bars I'm working on tkatchevs and toe fulls. On beam I'm working on back handspring-back handspring-layout, side aerials, switch halfs, and front aerials. On floor I'm working piked full-ins, double arabians, and double layouts.

What are some of your goals for the future? 
I hit my goal for this season by hitting 4 for 4. My goal for next season will be to compete all-around for NC State. I can't wait to be in the team atmosphere and help the team make it to Nationals!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Interview: Jay Clark

Only six teams have won an NCAA Championships in the history of collegiate gymnastics. Since Jay Clark's arrival in 2012, the LSU Tigers have been inching closer and closer to adding their name to that list. Prior to LSU, Clark served as the assistant coach/associate head coach at the University of Georgia for 20 seasons. After their legendary coach Suzanne Yoculan announced her retirement following the 2009 season, Clark stepped in as the head coach and remained there for four seasons. Now in his fourth season at LSU, Clark is helping the Tigers do big things, including breaking numerous school records. In 2011, Clark was voted as the #9 recruiter in all of women's college sports. This season LSU brought in the top ranked freshman class in the country with big names such as Lexie Priessman, Sarah Finnegan, and McKenna Kelley.

In our interview, Jay talks about how his coaching career began, his thoughts on this season so far and he shares his opinion on the trend of early recruiting.

PC: Emily Brauner

How did your coaching career begin?
My coaching career started in an unconventional way. With the exception of having taken gymnastics classes when I was younger, my background was in every other sport and not extensive in Gymnastics. I had always wanted to be involved in UGA athletics since I was a youngster. My parents and entire family are UGA Grads, as am I, so while I was an undergrad I became good friends with several of the gymnasts: Heather Stepp, Sandy Rowlette, Jen Carbone and others. Through that friendship and sort of hanging around the gym, I began to help with equipment, camps, etc... 
Doug McAvinn tore his bicep tendon, and Suzanne needed a guy to help with spotting duties and such in the gym. Thus began my unlikely career, and in the fall of 1990 I was officially on the payroll at UGA as a greenhorn coach.

Doug took me under his wing and taught me a great deal about techniques and spotting in the gym. We watched hours upon hours of VHS tape where he would break skills down for me. I was eager to learn as much as possible, so I also began to work other people’s camps. I worked at Alabama’s camp as well as coaching at a local gym. Then I met Stormy Eaton who had a camp in Arizona called Super Camp. Suzanne had let me recruit by this time, and I thought a great way to go get Kim Arnold would be to have Stormy let me work his camp for free! He told me that "If I could find it, then I could work it". Well, I found it on my own dime, and that started another mentoring relationship that was hugely influential on me. In the process we also were able to sign Kim, which is one of my most memorable and exciting recruiting moments ever. Kids from that gym had always gone to Utah, so it was big to be able to go get her.

Suzanne began to give me more and more autonomy and responsibility even though my experience didn't really warrant it. For those many opportunities to grow, I will always be grateful to her. She saw my enthusiasm and allowed me to mature and make mistakes.

So from there it just continued to grow and grow. At one point I owned a private gym. We had kids make JO National Teams and go into college and continue their careers. That gym was successful primarily because of my wife Julie and my business partner Grant Coulter. They made that place go and we had about 9 awesome years together in that.

All the while I was continuing my career at UGA and loving every minute of coaching at my alma mater. Of course, we went on to win so many championships both Nationally and at the conference level, and it was an amazing time full of memories that I will never forget.

As they say, all good things come to an end and my career there was no different. That is a subject we could go on for hours about, but suffice to say it was one of the most painful periods of my life in many ways…which led me to LSU, and the absolute joy that I have found in being here with D-D and Bob and everyone here. This place is incredible, the people are incredible, and we are doing fantastic things here in Baton Rouge. Attendance has been as high at 13,000-plus and is averaging around 10,000. New facilities, great recruits and relationships here have rehabbed my confidence and enthusiasm for what it's all about.

PC: LSU Gymnastics

You are known for being a top recruiter in college sports. (Voted #9 in ESPN Magazine in 2011) What do you look for when recruiting athletes?
Well obviously in recruiting you are looking for the best talent available, but that doesn't always mean they are a fit. I also want to try and ascertain personality traits, work ethic, values from a standpoint of how they relate to their parents, coaches and teammates. Also, does their gymnastics complement areas where we are already strong and improve us where we may be weak? I like a team that has variety of skills, experience level and personality. Culture matters immensely, and we try to make that clear to recruits up front.

How would you describe your coaching style?
My coaching style is fun loving, consistency and efficiency oriented, easy going so long as the production is high. I like to tell the girls I am a mirror reflection of what you give. I like to know each gymnast on a personal level so that I can extend to them exactly what they need. I also believe in what one of my mentors taught me. "You can't respect someone you don't know." You can respect the position, but not the person. For that reason I think they also need to know us as human beings and not just coaches barking out orders. If they, as 18-22 year old young women, are to respect us, then we need to take the time to know each other and the how’s and why’s of each other. That’s very important to me. 

What are your thoughts on the trend of early recruiting and commitments? 
On the early recruiting, I despise it! It is no good for all parties concerned, and I have written and proposed legislation on it for 4 years now only to have it tabled. Our coaches association is in agreement that all unofficial visits (i.e. on or off campus contact) should not begin until September of the 11th grade year. However, until the NCAA changes it, the genie is out of the bottle, and we all have to play the game we are presented with. This is a subject you could do an entire blog on, and I could provide you a litany of reasons that it needs to change.

What are your thoughts on the yurchenko full being devalued? 
I agree with the changes on vault. I think what we saw from Bugs last week is a great example of why. That DTY would have never been seen if not for the rule change. Our sport is progressive by nature, and we had become stagnant on that event to a compulsory level. I think it was the right decision and hopefully will encourage variety as well as difficulty.

What are some of the highlights of your coaching career so far? 
I have had so many highlights in my career and am thankful for each one of them and the people involved. If I had to pick one, I would pick two! The 2005 National Championship was amazing because of the way it happened. It was a freshman-dependent team that went through real growing pains with four losses in a row and barely making nationals as the 12 seed. But those kids were special and were invested in one another. They actually are very similar to this team here at LSU this year!

The second would be last year, and we sold out the PMAC here at LSU. 13,179 people attended our meet versus Minnesota a week after 12,000+ had attended our home meet victory against Florida. It is so fun to see this happen here at LSU after seeing it happen at UGA 20 years ago. It's an exciting time to be at LSU!!

LSU had an amazing new training facility built, do you think that makes a difference in training?
We actually just got into the facility last month. We are just now making the adjustments to the new equipment, but the facility is fantastic. Facilities don't win championships by themselves, but they don't hurt! This is beyond a doubt the most spectacular facility in the nation. We are very fortunate and grateful, and every recruit in the world should come check it out just to see if LSU might be a possibility. It’s unbelievable!

PC: LSU Gymnastics

What are your thoughts on how the team is doing so far this season?
This season has been exactly as we thought it might: Amazing performance coupled with a few hiccups. We have 5 freshmen, upperclassmen in new roles, and have had some untimely injuries to start the season. However, I have rarely been more excited about a team over the last 26 years. If culture and love for one another won championships alone...we are already there, but we also have an enormous amount of talent and variety on this team that is rivaled by few. I think we are on the cusp of breaking out over the next few weeks and seeing things explode in a positive way. We love coaching this team!

LSU has improved tremendously over the last few years, do you think this year will finally be LSU's year to win a National Championship?

You are correct when you describe the growth here at LSU over the last several years. We have seen growth in our performance, our media exposure, our crowds, our overall footprint, and buzz about this program has increased exponentially! A lot of people have worked hard and gotten on board with our vision for this program. D-D is an iconic figure here in Baton Rouge, and I am enjoying seeing all her years of work come to fruition! She deserves it, and this program deserves it. As for winning a championship this year…I can tell you this: There are so many things that must fall into place for that to happen. It is something that we work for but cannot force, so I don't make predictions. I believe we have more than enough talent to do it. I believe in the culture of this team immensely. I believe in their heart and their desire, and I believe we are doing the right things so far. Will we win this year? Who knows? Why not us? But I know this! We are going to win one here at LSU at some point. That is what we are about, and that is what we want our recruits to desire when they come here. It's a special place full of special people all pulling in the same direction! When you have that great things are going to happen!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview: Greg Marsden

When it comes to college gymnastics, Greg Marsden is royalty. From its inception in the mid 70's until his retirement after the 2015 season, Greg coached the University of Utah Gymnastics team to a long list of accomplishments. For 40 years he lead the Red Rocks to success on the competition floor and in the stands. The Utes won 10 National Championships under his leadership and have the highest attendance record in all of women's collegiate sports. In 2009 they set a new average attendance record of 13,861 fans per meet. Their meet against Michigan last season had a record breaking 16,019 fans in the stands! They are also the only team to qualify to every single National Championships that has been held and they've never placed lower than 10th. After his 40th season of coaching, Greg announced his retirement, passing the torch to Tom Farden and his wife, Megan. Although he has retired from coaching, Greg is still very much involved with the sport. A few months after retiring he was hired as an analyst for Pac-12 Networks and can be heard commentating at several meets this season. Greg is also on Twitter sharing all his ideas and plenty of knowledge. (You can follow him by clicking here.We recently caught up with Greg to reflect back on his coaching career, hear his thoughts on this season so far and hear his opinions on early recruiting and team success.

How did your coaching career begin? 
I was a diver at a small college in Arkansas and took a gymnastics class, because I thought it would help my diving. I wound up competing a little bit of low-level AAU gymnastics. After teaching high school for a year, I came to Utah to work on a graduate degree in Psychology of Sport, with the intention of teaching. As part of my graduate assistantship, I was teaching winter camping, lifesaving, handball and a gymnastics class. Title IX was requiring Universities to start varsity women's sports teams. I was asked if I would help start a gymnastics team. I was paid $1,500 and my budget included 5 in-state tuition waivers and $4,500. We put a notice in the student newspaper and held tryouts. Somehow, that first year, we qualified to Championships and finished 10th. I fell in love with coaching and the rest, as they say, is history.

Note in The Daily Utah Chronicle, fall of 1975
What would you consider to be some of the highlights of your coaching career? 
This is going to sound cornball but my entire career seems like a highlight reel. I've had too many great memories to single any out. 

Can you talk about making the decision to retire? Was it a difficult decision to make? 
No. I knew it was time to pass the torch on to a new generation of talented young coaches. I loved coaching, from day one, to the very last day of my career but somehow I just knew it was time for me to move on to new challenges. 

How are you enjoying life on the other side as a commentator and fan? I know the gymnastics world really loves reading your opinions on Twitter! 
I really had no ambition to be on TV but when the Pac-12 Networks called and said they thought I could bring a unique perspective, I agreed to give it a try. I'm not convinced I'll be any good at it but if not, I'll be happy to step away. The Pac-12 Networks actually encouraged me to get a Twitter account. I'm glad to hear that someone enjoys my thoughts. I'm excited about the number of programs that are working to improve their attendance and the number of live television broadcasts. I strongly believe that the future of NCAA Gymnastics is tied to attendance and television viewership. 

Utah has always been known for having a huge crowd at home meets. What can other teams do to get people interested and fill up those stands? 
First, create a fast moving, informative and entertaining meet format. If you get people to come and the format is not good, they will never be back. Then, it's hard work and more hard work. Get out into the community with your team to meet people, tell your story and get them to your meets. If they have a good experience, they will spread the word. Utah has been going to Elementary schools and professional organizations for more than 30 years and it continues to be the most important thing they do in order to develop new fans. Building an audience has to be a priority of the head coach. You cannot leave that to others, because they will never have the same passion for gymnastics or for your program that you do. If you look at the programs that are successful with their attendance, it's ALWAYS a priority of the head coach.

Having been the coach of a very successful team, what do you think are the key components for success? 
Well, that depends on your definition of success. I always thought of success as doing the best we could with the personnel we had, while developing strong, confident, independent young women. If we could do that, I considered the year to be a success. Sometimes that also translated in to success on the score sheet. For what it's worth, to me, it's always been about the process, rather than the outcome. If you have talent and the process is well thought out, implemented consistently, with discipline and enthusiasm, the outcome will take care of itself. With that approach, many teams have a chance for success and many young women will go to have successful lives, in part, as a result of their experience with gymnastics. 

What are some changes you would like to see made in NCAA gymnastics? 
  • Add the directional and out of bounds lines to the vault landing area.
  • Count all scores, with no exhibition routines.
  • Whenever possible compete with two teams, but NEVER with more than four, including at NCAA Regional meets and NCAA Championships.
  • Either do away with individual awards and become a "team sport" or bring back event finals.
What are your thoughts on the trend of early recruiting and commitments? 
One of the reasons I felt it was time to retire is that I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with where recruiting is going. To be a 65 year-old man talking to 12 or 13 year-old girls about recruiting, just seemed creepy. And the math just wasn't working out anymore, when it's going to be three or four years before they are even on campus and then have four years on the team...unless I was going to coach to 100! It's ridiculous that girls that young are making that type of commitment before they're really old enough to make an informed decision. It's forcing coaches to be disingenuous when they make commitments that they may or may not be able to keep. There are simply too many variables for this to be good for either side. But now that the genie is out of the bottle, it's hard to put it back, as both sides feel pressure to get this done. 

The only thing that I can see that MAY work, would be to allow NO INTERACTION between college coaches and recruits and their families until a certain time, such as their junior year of high school. That means, no correspondence, no phone calls, no unofficial visits, no incidental contact at clubs or meets and no working through the club coach to recruit somebody prior to their junior year. Whenever recruiting begins, the NCAA should allow universities to pay for official visits, so that families are no longer asked to pay for the gymnasts to visit campuses. In fact, they should also allow universities to pay for a parent to accompany the gymnast in order to cut down on some of the shenanigans that goes on during official visits.   

Who do you think will be the dark horses this season? 
I think LSU or Michigan have a chance to become the seventh school to win a NCAA Championship and I think Boise State may have a chance to make it to NCAA Championships. 

What are your overall thoughts on the NCAA season so far? What teams are you most impressed with? 
I am impressed that more teams are becoming competitive. How about George Washington! On a given night, many teams have a chance to upset higher ranked teams and we are already seeing that happen. Florida and Oklahoma seem to be the teams to beat but the season is young and there are a number of teams that may be capable of doing that. It's going to be a fun season of NCAA gymnastics and I look forward to watching it develop. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Moving Forward | An interview with Hollie Dykes

If you were a gymnastics fan during the 2005-2008 Olympic quad then you probably have heard of Hollie Dykes. With her beauty, grace and perfect technique, Dykes was instantly a fan favorite and lauded as the next star for Australian Gymnastics. She was a true talent- the kind of gymnast you could watch all day long. Hollie broke out onto the international senior elite scene in 2006 when she won gold on floor at the Commonwealth Games as well as the gold medal with the Australian team. In addition to her two golds, Hollie won a silver on beam and a bronze in the all-around. As a member of the Pacific Alliance team she helped the Australians to a second place finish behind the United States as well as finishing third all-around. Hollie's world class beam work earned her a 16.0 in the team competition- the first time a score that high was awarded on beam under the open ended scoring system. Later that year, Hollie competed at the World Championships where the Australian team placed seventh. Individually she placed seventh all-around and was one of very few athletes to make it through the competition without a fall. Unfortunately mistakes kept Hollie out of the beam finals where she easily would have been a medal threat. Notably her score from the all-around final would have been good enough to win her the gold had she made event finals! After such a dominate year in 2006, things slowed down for Hollie in 2007 as she faced injuries. Dykes was a member of the 2007 Australian World's team which would be her final competition. The gymnastics world was shocked when Hollie announced her retirement from the sport in January of 2008, just months before the Olympic Games in Beijing. Although her career ended so soon, Hollie will forever be remembered for her beautiful gymnastics and poise. 

We were fortunate enough to chat with Hollie about her gymnastics career and see what she is up to today! 

How did you get started in gymnastics?
I started gymnastics at the age of 4 1/2. My mum took me just for a bit of fun being that I was so young.

Who were some of your idols or inspirations growing up?
I didn't have one that young- I was really just having fun, but as I got older, around my teenage years, my inspiration was my dad. He was a motocross rider and competed at a high level so I always looked up to him. My idols growing up were Lleyton Hewitt, Lilia Podkopayeva, and Michael Klim.

At what age did you realize you had the potential to go far in gymnastics?
I got moved into the elite stream at around age 6. My coaches saw my talent and moved me up quite quickly. I realized around age 7 when I got talent scouted by Ju-Ping Tian at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) when my club, Gold Coast Gymnastics Club attended a competition there.

With the 2000 Olympics being held in Australia, you and a few other girls got to perform an exhibition routine in the Olympic arena. What was that like?
It was such an amazing experience. I still remember training so hard and practicing that routine in sync with the other girls to get it perfect. It was one of the best experiences and so inspiring to be able to meet gymnasts competing in the 2000 Olympics. I remember how excited we were to get their autographs on our t-shirts, we were in awe! Also, whenever I hear Vanessa Amorosi's song "Shine" it brings it all back to me as this was the opening song to the ceremony. It is the best feeling.

You were always known for your grace and beautiful lines, did you ever have any dance training? 
No, I didn't have any formal training. Most of my gymnastics training was from the Chinese and I found they spent more time with us doing basics and quality control, Ju-Ping Tian was a major part of my quality basics and clean lines. We did do ballet everyday from around 8 years old which definitely gave us a strong foundation.

What would you consider the highlight of your gymnastics career? 
The highlight of my career is hard to pinpoint to one thing. The 2006 Pacific Alliance in Hawaii was such a highlight. I was at my peak and I medaled on the podium with Chellsie [Memmel] and Nastia [Liukin]. I had also scored the first 16.0 on beam ever in the new code which I will never forget. The 2006 Commonwealth Games was something I will never forget and gave me extra experience and confidence for my career. Lastly, the 2007 Worlds in Denmark, finishing 7th all-around was definitely a highlight. All of these experiences had their ups and downs, but they are what I remember the most and I'm most proud of.

What was your favorite part about gymnastics? 
My favorite part was pushing myself and working with my coaches to reach a goal, training hard then showing what you can do in a competition. The traveling part was awesome too, I never got sick of it!

What was your least favorite part about gymnastics? 
My least favorite part was probably being held back by injuries and not being able to push your body to where you wanted to be. Also, the sacrifice you have to make in order to be successful, nothing else matters in gymnastics. It was quite challenging through the teenage years with body changes, injuries, hormones, etc.

Your retirement came as as surprise to many. Can you talk about what went into making that decision? 
Yes it did come as a shock to many. I think it had been leading up to that point. I had been injured for quite some time and the coaching structure had changed dramatically. I was not happy and I was taking my attitude to the gym with me. I also struggled communicating my feelings which made it that much harder. Everything had built up and I had had enough. I was also starting to focus less and was bringing fear to my training which isn't safe. I lost my ambition and was put in a place where I did not want to continue. All in all, it was a build up of frustration from injuries, fitness levels, coaching staff and changes.

Was it hard to move on? 
It was one of the hardest times in my life and to be honest, I have only just found peace and "normality" in the last few years. I struggled adjusting to everyday life- not having a specific goal and training everyday to reach that goal. Finding a path in life, changes in my body, learning how to eat well and properly, and letting go of the only thing you is such a difficult time for elite athletes. It took me a long time to accept myself and not regret retiring when I did. I kept saying I should have done this or I should have done that, but I realized that I retired for a reason, I was at the lowest point mentally and could not continue, so I did what I thought was best at the time. It is easy to say now that I should have done this or I should have done that, but I was a different person then and I hadn't matured enough to take control of the situation. If I hadn't of went through of all that, I wouldn't be who I am today and I love who I am today and what I have experienced. I am very blessed and grateful.

Do you stay involved with gymnastics at all today? 
Not anymore. I did coach for a while and absolutely loved every minute of it! I did however need to move on and was struggling to do that properly in the gym. I still watch videos here and there and love seeing what everyone is up to. Maybe one day I will return to coaching!

What are your thoughts on the current state of Australian gymnastics? 
To be honest, I don't actually follow it enough to comment. However, I think Australian Gymnastics has the potential to rise further and further with the up and coming development programs. It's also amazing to see the veterans continuing with their passion. It has definitely changed a lot since I was training in terms of age and the benefit of being that little bit older. I think maturity is a huge part of succeeding in the sport, which is why I think we have seen more success from the more experienced girls. Also, being that little bit older helps as you know exactly what you want. You push your body because you want it! I must say I love following Larrissa [Miller], she is an inspiration to so many. I hope Australian Gymnastics can continue to rise.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given? 
The best piece of advice I was given would have to of been: compete the way you train and take one step at a time. Enjoy everything you do and once that stops then it's time to find a new passion.

Looking back now, what advice would you have given your younger self? 
The advice I would have given to my younger self would be live in the moment, not the past, not the present, but now. Don't worry what people think about you, just do what makes you happy, you will still be loved and accepted. We all make mistakes and that's what makes you stronger! Life is about challenges and learning about yourself, not pleasing people all the time. Lastly, rather than aiming to be perfect, aim to be better than yesterday!

What have you been up to lately? 
I am very happy and grateful for the life I have and I'm so lucky to have such amazing people in my life. I wouldn't be in the place I am now if it wasn't for my fabulous fiance, we recently got engaged and had a beautiful son last year who we are absolutely in love with. My fiance is with [Australian Government Department of Defence] so we are currently posted interstate and moving again in June. I am not currently working, however, I am looking to go back in July. I have not decided what my next career move will be, whether or not I will go back into Real Estate or pursue a new career, I will wait to see what happens and follow my passion. I am enjoying my time at home with my son and making the most of it while I can!

Monday, September 21, 2015

10 Freshman to Watch for This Season

Olivia Karas - University of Michigan

Olivia Karas is one of the freshman we are most excited about this season! Liv, as she calls herself for short, trained at IK Gymnastics in Illinois and was a powerhouse level 10 who had lots of success during her JO career. She's a three time JO National qualifier with her highest finish being in 2014 when she won the all-around and vault titles. In 2015 she placed 4th all-around and claimed the vault title yet again. She's also a two time Nastia Cup qualifier, placing 3rd all-around and 2nd on vault in 2015. With the yurchenko full being devalued starting this season, many teams have been forced to learn new vaults that start from a 10.0. Luckily for the Wolverines, Liv has consistently competed a yurchenko 1.5 for the last two years and should be a staple in their vault lineup. Liv also comes to Michigan with some big tumbling- on floor she does an arabian double front (which she has also competed in the piked position and it's amazing!) and a beautiful whip to double twist. It's also noteworthy that on beam she does a standing layout step out (that she plans to connect to a split jump) and on bars she dismounts with a very unique toe on front pike- which we love! The Wolverines are lucky to have her for the next four years!

Katelyn Ohashi- UCLA

One of the biggest names joining the NCAA this season is Katelyn Ohashi. Katelyn is best known for being one of the top elite gymnasts in the country during the 2012 quad and was considered by many to be a contender for Rio until injuries took her out of the game in 2013. Luckily for UCLA, she's healthy now and should make a great impact on all their lineups, but especially on beam. Katelyn was the beam queen during her elite days and once had a start value as high as 17.3 (which easily could have won her a World or Olympic gold medal if she was able to compete.) Ohashi was known for her beautiful lines and signature back handspring layout full. Prior to coming to UCLA, Katelyn trained at WOGA and was a national team member from 2009-2013. She is the 2011 Junior National Champion and won the American Cup in her only competition as a senior elite in 2013. We can't wait to see what Katelyn will accomplish at UCLA!

Sarah Finnegan- LSU

Another big name joining the NCAA this season is Sarah Finnegan. It's been a long time since we've seen Finnegan compete- her last major competition was the 2012 Olympic Trials where she was named an alternate to the 2012 Olympic team. Finnegan was a national team member from 2010-2012 and trained at GAGE for most of her career. In 2012 she won a silver medal on beam at the Visa Championships and took home three medals from the Jesolo Trophy meet in Italy. (Gold with the team and bronze on floor and in the all-around.) The anticipation is building for Finnegan's competitive return this season. She will likely be a key contributor in the beam and floor lineups; the two events she's known for and we can only hope she'll still compete those gorgeous wolf turns!

Lizzy Leduc- University of Illinois

Balance Beam - Lizzy Leduc ---- WoW!
Posted by Asia Gymnastics on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Leduc, who was originally committed to LSU, is a huge pickup for Illinois. From 2009 to 2010, Lizzy competed as an elite in the United States- qualifying to the Visa Championships in both of those years and stealing the hearts of many. In 2011, she decided to drop down to level 10 after spraining both of her elbows. She sat out the next two seasons with injuries and finally returned to competition in 2013- placing 4th all-around at JO Nationals. In 2014, Lizzy became the Texas State and Regional Champion and placed 2nd all-around at JO Nationals. In 2015 she began competing internationally for the Philippines. At the Southeast Asian Games she helped the Philippines team to an historic 3rd place finish. Individually she finished 6th all-around and qualified to beam and floor event finals. Lizzy is a powerful gymnast and could contribute on all four events for the Illini. We're super excited that she decided to come to Illinois because she can really be the star of that team.

Alicia Boren- University of Florida

Alicia Boren is a tank and I fully expect her to dominate in college gymnastics. To start, she's a four time JO National qualifier and a four time JO National Champion. Yes that's right...she has consecutively won the last four JO National Championships. She's also a three time Nastia Cup qualifier. At the 2015 Nastia Cup, Boren won the vault, beam, and floor titles. A fall on the bars kept her from completely sweeping the competition, but she still managed to place 5th all-around which is very impressive. Alicia competes a yurchenko 1.5 on vault with ease and ends with a full-in on floor. She's definitely a powerhouse and is going to do so well in college!

Lexie Priessman- LSU

Lexie Priessman is another former elite standout who is ready to shine in college gymnastics. A junior National Champion in 2012 and a national team member from 2010-2013, Lexie's promising elite career came to an end after dealing with a string of injuries. She left her long time coach Mary Lee Tracy in 2014 and announced her retirement from elite in June of 2015, confirming that she would be joining the Tigers this season. The gymnastics world first fell in love with Lexie when she won the inaugural Nastia Liukin Cup back in 2010 and was touted as one to watch for on the road to Rio. Throughout her elite career, Lexie competed at various international competitions and competed difficult skills such as an amanar on vault, a full-in dismount off beam, and a double double and laid out full-in on floor. Although she hasn't competed since 2013, Lexie can do big things at LSU when she's a full strength.

 Emma McLean - University of Michigan

Emma Mclean is the second member of the Michigan freshman class and she is going to be another great one! Emma, who trained at Stars & Stripes Gymnastics in Michigan is a three time JO National qualifier and a 2015 Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier. Her best performance at JO Nationals was in 2015 when she placed 2nd on floor, 4th on vault, and 3rd all-around. Emma is a powerful gymnast and will probably make the biggest impact in the vault and floor lineup. (Check out the height on that first pass!)

McKenna Kelly- LSU

LSU brings in another big name this season and it's the daughter of 1984 Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton.  Mckenna Kelley is a two time JO National qualifier, placing 5th all-around in 2013 and 1st on floor in 2014. Mckenna tied for first all-around at the 2014 Nastia Cup and began her quest towards qualifying elite. She attended several national team camps in 2015 and showed videos of some big upgrades done with ease on her Instagram. (She posted videos of her doing a double double and a laid out full-in on floor and a standing arabian and standing full on beam.) Unfortunately, she struggled to pass her elite compulsories and never made it to elite status, but Mckenna is super talented and will make a great college gymnast for sure.

Haylee Roe- University of Illinois

Haylee joins her Metroplex teammate Lizzy Leduc at Illinois this season. Roe is a five time JO National qualifier and is the level 10 Illinois State Champion in the all-around and on bars and floor. Roe's highest placement at JO Nationals was in 2014 when she placed 3rd all-around. We have followed Haylee's career for a long time and we're super excited to finally see her compete in college this season!

Peyton Ernst- University of Florida

Peyton Ernst is another former elite who trained at Texas Dreams under World Champion Kim Zmeskal. Ernst competed at the elite level for four years and was on the national team for two. At the 2013 Secret Classic she placed 2nd all-around and 1st on beam. She also competed at several international competitions such as the Tokyo World Cup where she placed 2nd all-around. Peyton is a beautiful gymnast to watch and will compliment the Florida team very well.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #14 July 2015)

Dear Gymternet, 

This month I had the Secret Classic in Chicago and my little sister, Ava, started level 1 team in gymnastics. :)

The Secret Classics went pretty well. I had already qualified to the P&G Championships at the American Classic, so I was using this meet to adjust to competing on podium and to prepare for P&Gs which is in 2 weeks. Leading up to the meet, training had been going great. On the meet day I started on vault and did really well. I did a yurchenko full and got a 14.00! I was really happy with that score. Bars was a little rough but not too bad. I was late on my toe full and had to do a kip cast before my pak. I hit my feet a little bit on the low bar when I did the kip after the toe full. I was disappointed because I don't usually do that. I got a 13.35 which was better than I thought it was going to be. In a weird way it excited me because I know I could've done much better and should score higher next time when I hit my routine. On beam, I wasn't really nervous. I had been nailing all my routines in practice at my gym. I was the last one up and the only one going in the whole meet because all the other events had finished that rotation. I was excited to show everyone what I was doing on beam and how much I had improved since last year. On my series, I went crooked and ended up hanging underneath the beam ... I didn't fall to the ground, instead I climbed back up, and finished my routine pretty well. When I climbed back up everyone started cheering for me. It was my favorite part and least favorite part of the meet. I was in shock and so mad at myself because I don't feel like I could've been more prepared to compete on beam. I finished the meet on floor and did okay. I landed a little short on my full in and went out of bounds on my double pike. I didn't have a perfect meet but I'm motivated to do better at P&Gs!

PC: Christy Ann Linder

I had a bunch of family that came to watch me at the meet. It is always great to have a lot of support and have my family there cheering for me. I also met the girl that does a fan page for me on Facebook. She is from Italy and she came all the way to Chicago to see the meet. It was so cool to meet her and talk to her in person. She is so sweet and she brought me a gift that she gave to me after the meet. Hopefully I will see her again someday.

My sister Ava, who is 5, started level one team! It's going to be so cool to watch her compete in January and to see her progress through gymnastics. I've been teaching her new skills like a back handspring and I just taught her a back tuck on trampoline. I'm so proud of her! I gave her all my old leos and she loved them!!! 

Training has been going great since I have been back from Chicago! I'm so excited for P&Gs and can't wait to compete again!

~ Elena Arenas