Thursday, September 18, 2014

Catching up with former National Team Member & Oklahoma Sooner Natasha Kelley

During the 2008 Olympic quadrennium, Natasha Kelley was easily a fan favorite. It all started when she won the junior division of the Visa Championships in 2005. In addition to her all-around title, Natasha also became the junior national champion on beam and floor. Later that year she traveled to Japan where she won gold on beam and in the all-around at the Junior Japan International. Coming into her first year as a senior, Natasha's name was on everyone's radar. She continued her success at the 2006 US Classic where she won the all around title along with Ashley Priess. Then at the Visa Championships she finished second all-around behind Nastia Liukin. Natasha was named to the 2006 World Championship team and won a silver medal with the United States team. She also replaced Chellsie Memmel in the floor finals and finished 7th. Natasha began the 2007 season at the American Cup where she finished second to Shawn Johnson. Then injuries struck and she was unfortunately left off the 2007 Worlds team after not having her best performance at the Visa Championships. Natasha signed her letter of intent to compete for the University of Oklahoma and retired from elite gymnastics shortly before the 2008 Visa Championships. Natasha joined the Oklahoma gymnastics team in 2009 and was one of their most anticipated recruits. Although her career was plagued with injuries, Natasha made the most of every opportunity. In 2010 she helped the Sooners to an historic (at the time) second place finish at the NCAA Championships during their first Super Six appearance ever. The following year she helped the Sooners to a third place finish and earned All-American honors on beam. Natasha was forced to retire during her senior year after the second achilles injury of her career. We caught up with Natasha to reflect back on some of the up's and down's of her career and find out what she's up to today! 

Photo belongs to:

How did you get started in gymnastics? 
I started gymnastics when I was three. I was always flipping around the house, so my parents decided to enroll me in a "mom and me" class. After that, there was no stopping me!

When did going elite and training for the Olympics become a realistic goal for you? 
I think when my family moved to Houston for me to train. Once I got there, everything just seemed to fall into place. I started learning new skills and making a lot of progress right away.

For most of your career you trained at Stars Gymnastics, where Mary Lou Retton's daughters also train. What was it like having Mary Lou around and did she ever give you any good advice? 
Mary Lou Retton is amazing. She has always been one of my biggest supporters. She was always there to talk and give me advice through the good and difficult times. She always knew what to say and how to motivate me. It was easy for me to talk to her because she had been down the same road before and knew exactly what it was like. I couldn't have asked for a better role model and supporter.

What was the hardest part about being an elite gymnast? What were some of the best parts? 
I think the hardest part about being an elite is all of the sacrifices. My parents and I moved away from my family when I was thirteen so I could train with other coaches. I also rarely had any free time. My life revolved around gymnastics. Competing is definitely one of my favorite parts of elite gymnastics. I am very competitive and loved seeing all my hard work pay off. The sacrifices were definitely worth it in the end.

Was the decision to retire from elite a difficult decision to make? 
Retiring from elite was a pretty easy decision for me. I fractured my shin and it became really hard on my body. At the time, I knew it was in my best interest to start focusing on college.

Why did you choose Oklahoma for college gymnastics versus some of the other top schools at the time? 
I fell in love with Oklahoma right when I stepped foot on campus. I always knew I wanted to stay close to home. Before visiting Oklahoma, my top choice was LSU. I grew up around that area and always thought that was where I would end up. I was ready to commit, but my parents thought it would be a good idea to visit at least one other school. I chose Oklahoma because it was close to home. I absolutely loved the coaches at Oklahoma. KJ, Lou, Tom and Jenn the trainer were wonderful and made me feel very welcome. Overall, it just felt like the right fit. Everyone was focused on helping me reach my goals and cared about me as a person.

Photo belongs to:

What do you think about all the success the Oklahoma gymnastics team has had in the last few years? 
Oklahoma gymnastics is amazing. The coaches have done a phenomenal job with the program. I am honored to have been apart of the team. The program was already successful when I arrived at OU and that success has continued to grow every year.

Can you talk about making the decision to retire from gymnastics all together? 
Oh gosh, retiring from gymnastics is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was both a hard and easy decision. It was easy because I knew my time was up and it was my calling to be done. However, it was so difficult for me to let go. Mentally, I was not ready to be done, but I had to accept everything that happened. I left on a positive note and was able to see all of the good in the situation. I accomplished so much during my time at OU and even before I came to OU. I felt like there was nothing left on the table and I had no regrets. I loved gymnastics and gave it everything I had. I pushed myself so hard to come back from all of my injuries. In the long run, they ended up making me the person that I am today. I learned a lot about myself from the whole process of competing and retiring.

Looking back, are you satisfied with everything you accomplished in your career? What were some of the high and low points for you?
I am definitely satisfied with everything that I accomplished. Two of the high points of my elite career were winning Visa Championships as a junior in 2005 and making the World team in 2006. They were a couple of my biggest goals and are the two memories that stick out the most in my mind. The only low part that I can think of in my career is all the injuries I had to face.

Do you still keep up with gymnastics today? 
Yes! I definitely follow OU gymnastics. I keep up with elite gymnastics here and there. It's weird for me to watch because I used to know all of the elite gymnasts and now I don't really know anyone!

What have you been up to lately? 
I have had a lot of new changes lately! I received my master's degree in May in Elementary Education. I recently became a 4th grade teacher and I absolutely love it. I also just got married in June, which has been so exciting! My husband plays football for OU, so our schedules have been very busy!

Photo belongs to: Natasha Kelley (Evans) 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ava Verdeflor's Aspirations for Philippine Gymnastics

When gym fans think of artistic gymnastics in Asia- China, Japan and South Korea come to mind. Ava Verdeflor wants to change that.

Verdeflor, 15, is a Filipino-American elite gymnast who trains at WOGA. She was born in the Tarlac province of the Philippines and later moved to the U.S. with her family. The Verdeflors have dual citizenship in the U.S. and the Philippines, which allows her to compete for her birth country.

She first competed as a Philippine gymnast in 2013 at the Philippine National Games, where she won the all-around and was named to the Philippine National Team. Then she began representing the Philippines in international competition in February of this year. Although it has just begun, going elite has always been the plan.

“My parents are both from the Philippines. The idea of me competing for the Philippines has always been there from the beginning,” Verdeflor said. “As I progress more in my gymnastics, the idea became a plan. When I was about 11, my mom contacted the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines (GAP) and we met with the officials during one of our Philippine visits, and that was the start.”

While USA Gymnastics requires gymnasts to go through a detailed process to qualify to the elite level, that’s not the case in the Philippines. “There are actually no tests in the Philippines to be an elite gymnast, so there is no elite gymnast title,” she explained. “There are not enough gymnasts there for elite testing to make sense.  And it’s sad to say that the skill level (in the Philippines) is not that good yet, not even close.”

Although the skill level of Philippine gymnastics is not high enough to contend internationally, Verdeflor says the GAP is "trying to improve their program to be more competitive.”

Photo Credit: Whitney Riney 

One way of increasing their competitiveness is by competing internationally, which Verdeflor has been doing throughout this year, thus bringing attention to gymnastics in the Philippines and their gymnastics programs. She first did this at the 2014 Nadia Comaneci Invitational.

“The first time I competed for the Philippines was also the first time I competed as an elite,” Verdeflor said. “It is so different from competing as Level 10. I enjoyed my first elite experience but it was also stressful because I was not familiar yet to the elite competition format.”

She used the stressful situation as a learning experience to help her in future elite competitions. Two months after the Invitational, Verdeflor competed at the Junior Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in April, which qualified her to compete at the recent Youth Olympic Games. “My experience at YOG was amazing. I enjoyed everything about it,” Verdeflor said. “It was really fun to get to know my team, including our Young Ambassador.”

 Her favorite parts included spending time with her team, meeting other Youth Olympians and “competing alongside the best gymnasts in the world in her age division,” and now that she’s competed at the Youth Olympics, Verdeflor has her eyes set on Rio.

“I hope to win medals for the Philippines in the coming competitions, specifically at the Southeast Asian Games in June 2015,” she said. ”I also hope to qualify to Worlds and ultimately, to represent the Philippines in Rio 2016.”

That’s just one of the few ambitious goals she has set for herself. Another one of those goals is to earn a college scholarship. She has already visited a few schools and hopes to make a decision soon. As a WOGA gymnast, which she is proud to be, there’s definitely hope for Verdeflor to get a scholarship like many of her fellow WOGA teammates. But that isn’t even her highest hope.

“I hope that I can make a difference somehow, someday, (to) maybe inspire more Filipino kids to try gymnastics.”

For more information on Ava, be sure to check out her website. (Here)

Written by: Amanda

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Team USA- Who Will It Be?

With so many injuries, the United States has one of the smallest selection fields in years. However, they are still capable of sending a very strong team to Nanning for the World Championships. Check out our picks for the World Championship team below.

Simone Biles
Obviously. The only thing that can stop Simone from making this team and totally dominating at the World Championships is a serious injury. Simone will likely be used on vault, beam, and floor during the team competition and can easily make all four event finals if she hits during qualifications. Simone does difficult gymnastics and more importantly she does it well day in and day out- that's why she's the best gymnast in the world. Because she is so strong in comparison to the rest of the world, I could realistically see her walking away with five medals- team, all around, vault, beam, and floor. How many of those will be gold? We'll just have to wait and see!

Kyla Ross
Kyla may not have the most difficult routines, but she's clean, consistent, and will get the job done. One thing that Kyla has that many of the other girls don't is experience. She has been around for several years and has competed on the World and Olympic stage, so she is the perfect leader for the team. Kyla will definitely be used in the bar and beam lineup during the team competition and she could also potentially be used on vault. Kyla is the United States second best shot for an all around medal behind Simone, and she could medal on bars and beam in the event finals as well.

Mykayla Skinner 
Mykayla has come quite a ways since last year. She may not be the cleanest, but thanks to her high difficulty and her strong performances at the P&G Championships and Pan Ams, it's safe to assume Skinner is a lock for the team. At the beginning of the year, not many people would have predicted Mykayla to be on the Worlds team, but she's done enough to secure her spot this year. She will likely only be used on vault and floor in the team competition and if she hits she could easily medal on those events in the event finals too.

Ashton Locklear
Perhaps the most unexpected contender for the World team this year, Ashton has really done herself a solid by nailing her bar routines and proving that she's currently the top bar worker in the United States. Ashton will definitely be used on bars and could also potentially be used on beam in the team competition if needed. Her bar routine has a high scoring potential (16.6) and could easily secure her an individual medal. US Classic Champion, National Champion, Pan Ams World Champion next?

Madison Kocian
Kocian may be fragile, but her bar routine is too consistent to pass up. Originally I thought it would be Locklear OR Kocian, but now I'm looking for them both to make it. Kocian could definitely be used on bars and she is also good on beam. (Depending on who does better in qualifications and in the practices, I think Locklear or Kocian will make the beam lineup.) When Kocian steps up, you know she's going to hit, so I think she would make the perfect lead off on bars during team finals.

Brenna Dowell

For the sixth and final spot, it comes down to Dowell and Baumann. Both who have recently had some minor injuries (Dowell- sprained ankle and Baumann- hyperextended elbow) but are expected to be back in time for the Worlds selection camp. Originally I had Maggie Nichols down for the last spot, since I thought she proved her case in the last few meets with her consistency. Now that she is out with a knee injury, I think Brenna Dowell would be the next best bet. Brenna only did bars at Classics and Nationals and only hit one out of three routines. However she is suppose to be back doing all four events by the selection camp and will hopefully show Marta that she can at least be used on vault and floor. Brenna is awesome on bars as well, but with the consistent trio of Kocian, Ross, and Locklear, she may not be needed. However it's good to have her on the team because she will be a strong back up and can step in anywhere.

The World Selection camp is September 15-17. According to USA Gymnastics, all P&G Championships qualifiers are invited to the selection camp. We can expect to hear the official team announcement on the 17th via USA Gymnastics.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Catching up with 'Coach of the Year' Aimee Boorman

Coming into the 2013 season, Simone Biles was just the newcomer. Not many people knew her, nor did they expect her to have the success she did. Fast forward a year later and she is a gymnastics superstar- National Champion, World Champion, and the queen of throwing all the crazy skills we never imagined were possible. Under the guidance of her long time coach Aimee Boorman, Simone has taken the gymnastics world by storm. Just a few weeks ago, she claimed her second consecutive National title by a landslide. At those championships Aimee and Simone were recognized for their success and were voted 'Coach and Gymnast of the Year' by their peers. Now with the World Championships a little under a month away, the duo are in the gym working hard to ensure more success in Nanning and beyond. We caught up with Aimee last week to hear her take on Simone's recent success and plans for the future. 

Photo Credit: John Cheng

Triple Twist: First of all, congratulations on being named Coach of the Year! What does it mean for you to earn that title and to have your gymnast named Gymnast of the Year as well?

Aimee: It was a great honor to be named Coach of the Year. Simone was thrilled by getting voted Gymnast of the Year.  It was an overwhelming year for both of us, so to be given that award from our peers was an amazing feeling.

Triple Twist: Can you talk about the progress Simone has made from her first year of elite in 2011 until now? How is she a different athlete?

Aimee: When Simone first started elite, she was very rough around the edges. She only did what was fun, and what she felt like doing. Over the past several years, she has come to realize that training for gymnastics is not always FUN, but it is always worth it. She understands that there are sacrifices that she has to make, but they all lead her to a greater place and greater experiences that most 17 year olds don't get to have.

Triple Twist: At this point it is evident that Simone is well above the rest of the field in terms of difficulty. Do you feel like adding more difficulty in the future is necessary?

Aimee: We are not so focused on "upgrading" her difficulty. If her routines become more difficult, it is because we just went along with her natural progression. Once a skill becomes so easy for her that she can do it in her sleep, we work on making it more challenging for her. Our main concentration for this year is to continue to improve on her execution scores.

Triple Twist: Where are some places that you could realistically see Simone adding more difficulty in the future?

Aimee: Simone is capable of adding difficulty to all four events. We will plan to put new skills and combinations in routines as they become very consistent in practice. No promises on what or when!

Triple Twist: With all the success that Simone is having, how do you keep her grounded?

Aimee: Simone knows that she is winning, but I don't think she sees herself as being "successful". She is just Simone. She comes in and trains like the rest of her teammates, she is expected to get her school work done and she has chores at home. Her family is incredibly grounded, which of course, keeps her grounded. Her new found "celebrity" isn't even really a topic of conversation. We just keep doing our thing!
Photo Credit: Christy Ann Linder

Triple Twist: In your opinion, what is the key to success for an elite athlete?

Aimee: I don't think that there is a perfect answer to this question. Each athlete is different, each has different needs to find their success. Fortunately, we have found what works for Simone to get her to where she is. She loves to compete. She loves to play to the crowd. She loves cheering on the other girls. Those things keep her calm. Her "zone" is different than some of the other girls, but that is what works for her.

Triple Twist: What are some things that Simone is working on between now and the World Championships?

Aimee: We are just working on having really clean, consistent routines. That will be the key to being successful going into selection camp.

Triple Twist: Do you have a "plan" with Simone as far as how to keep her at the top for the next two years?

Aimee: We will continue to do what we are doing. If Simone is meant to be on top, that is where she will be. She knows what work needs to be done. You can never just sit back and expect things to happen for you in this sport. For now, my job is to keep her healthy and happy. If she does her job, and I do mine, her gymnastics will speak for itself.

Triple Twist: Can you give us the latest with the new gym? 

Aimee: Just this week we moved into a temporary facility, which we refer to as "The Warehouse". We started our team workouts this week and we will begin classes next week. The final location is still being worked on. We will be at the Warehouse until then. We were really fortunate that AIM Athletics allowed us to train out of their facility for so many months, but it is good to be in our own place.
Photo Credit: World Champion Centre Facebook Page

Dear Gymternet- Journals from Elena Arenas (Entry #4 September 2014)

Dear Gymternet, 

These past couple of weeks have been so amazing and fun! I had been training so hard for the P&G Championships and it paid off. All of the training days were great and I was ready to compete. When I walked into the arena I was a little bit stunned because it was so big! As warm-ups for the meet started to end, more and more people started flooding in and I was getting more and more excited. During march in I could see myself on the big screen and when they announced my name I was like oh my gosh this is actually real! When it was time to compete I went out there and did the best I could and competed like I had been training. To me, this meet wasn't about winning, it was just about having a good time and getting experience competing in a big arena ... although my goal was to medal on something. :) I wasn't used to competing two days but it felt the same as doing one day. I ended up hitting 8 for 8 routines and I placed 7th on bars and got a medal!!! I was super excited and the medal was huge! After the meet, I signed autographs and took pictures with a bunch of people ... it was really cool and fun!

 I also went to see the Abby Lee Dance Company with Maile O'Keefe. The studio is known for the show Dance Moms. Sadly it was closed, but I did meet Holly (Nia's mom) and got pictures! Oh and I also got to meet my favorite gymnast NASTIA LIUKIN!  She came to one of the training days and I got to talk to her and she was so nice. I'd say it was a pretty awesome week! :)

After P&Gs I went to visit family in Oregon.  My grandma had old videos of my mom doing gymnastics so I got to watch some of those! I also went to a river and slid on rocks and my cousins and I tried to make stepping stones through the water. We played games every morning and night. I had so much fun on vacation and couldn't have asked for a better week!  I flew home on my birthday and when I got home my parents had planned a surprise party for me at my house. When I walked in the door my friends yelled surprise and I actually fell over! :)  They all spent the night and then we went to a water park all day the next day ... it was a great birthday!

I had a great week off, but I really missed training and couldn't wait to get back and learn new skills. I have been back home for a few days now and I have learned a new tumbling pass on floor and landed a yurchenko double full on a mat in the pit!  I hope to keep gaining new skills so I can increase my difficulty scores.

The next big thing for me is training camp in a few days ... I leave for the ranch on September 10th and will be there for 5 days.



Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 Things You Don't Know About...Deanne Soza

1.  I like bright colors.
2.  Watermelon is my favorite fruit.
3.  I broke my wrist playing on the swings when I was 3 yrs. old.
4.  I love swimming.
5.  I don’t like pickles and mustard.
6.  I'm afraid of bees.
7.  I love to go shopping for new clothes.
8.  I love the beach.
9.  My dream vacation is Hawaii.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Highlight routines from Day 1 of the 2014 P&G Championships

Photo Credit: Christy Linder

Jazmyn Foberg- Floor (14.4) 
Jazzy concluded a strong day of competition with this incredible floor routine! I was so excited watching this live because she absolutely nailed the first 2 passes! Of course, her recently added double layout was gorgeous as ever and it was nice to see her loosen up and crack a smile after that second pass. She had an outstanding day overall, as one of the only top competitors to hit 4 for 4. I tweeted something earlier during the broadcast that I wanted to mention on here. Last year Jazzy failed to qualify to nationals after a rough meet at the Secret Classic and here she is today...the leader after day 1! So proud of how she performed on every event today and I hope she can keep it up on day 2.

Nia Dennis- Vault (15.1) 
This vault is huge! Although Nia had a bit of a rough day, this vault was definitely the highlight for her (and the highest score of the day!). She gets pretty good height and of course the stick is always a nice little bonus. I'm looking forward to seeing an amanar from Nia in the near future because she certainly has the power to get one around. Nia currently sits in 3rd place with 2 falls already under her belt. Hopefully on day 2 she can turn things around with a stronger performance on bars and beam...where she's capable of scoring much higher!

Sydney Johnson Scharpf- Beam (14.2) 
What impressed me the most about this routine is how confident Sydney presents herself. She's one of the only juniors who can take her eyes off the beam and play to the audience a bit (it was much more apparent in the live stream but she made eye contact with the judges and it was super fierce!). Sydney has really improved on this event and she's much more consistent then in the past. If Sydney can stay on during day 2, she's looking at a possible top 8 finish (maybe even higher!)

Ragan Smith- Floor (14.5)
Fresh off claiming the floor title at the Secret Classic, Ragan looked even better on day 1 of competition. Her landings (while not perfect), where much more solid! Not to mention her dance was cuter than ever! Ragan currently holds the highest score on floor, so with one more solid routine that national title could easily be hers! I know winning floor was her goal, so I'd love to see it happen!

Simone Biles- Beam (15.7)
A 15.7 on beam?? That is absolutely insane. While this beam routine wasn't perfect, Simone was still pretty solid and made everything look easy. Typical Simone. This was her first event of the day and it certainly set her up for a strong all around performance. She'll look to clean up some of the wobbles and missed connections for day 2. Right now, Simone has a comfortable lead over the other competitors. As long as she doesn't implode, you're looking at the 2014 National Champion!


Ashton Locklear- Bars (15.850)
Ashton is really making a strong case for her spot on the worlds team this year! She doesn't have any international experience, but wow is this routine incredible! Ashton has beautiful lines on this event and really floats on her releases. It's beautiful! My mouth literally hung open as I watched this. It kinda makes you wonder, is this routine too good for Marta to pass up? USA could use this routine


Brenna Dowell- Bars (15.4)
Brenna looked so thrilled after this routine and I know I was too! This was exactly what she needed to do in order to prove her case for the worlds team. She can still use a little bit of fine tuning on this event but the fact that she put all her connections together is so exciting! This routine is jam packed with difficulty and I can definitely see if on the world stage if she keeps improving. Certainly one of the highlights of my night was watching her nail this routine! I hope she can do an even stronger routine on day 2!